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This is a reprint of a Form 19 article from April of 1979

by Dave Messer
Structure Lighting


The purpose of lighting model structures is to make them a more realistic part of the total
model scene. The objective is to achieve a realistic illumination effect appropriate for the type of
structure. This is accomplished by paying attention to the level (and even color) of illumination and
segregation (and/or variation) of the light sources.

Type of Structure

The type of structure involved is the key factor on which all of the other considerations in
achieving a realistic lighting effect are based. A retail store, for example, generally calls for a high
intensity of light, particularly in a contemporary scene, whereas a signal or humpyard tower would
call for a very low level. Most other buildings would fall between these two extremes. The type of
building would also determine the proportion illuminated at once.

Light Intensity

In general, the light intensity commonly found in model structures is too high. The objective
here is to make the viewer aware of the light but not overwhelmed by it; i.e. a glow, rather than light
beams blazing in all directions. This is usually achieved by using two or more small bulbs (Grain- ofwheat)
in series so that each bulb is operating at about one-half its rated voltage. (Also, bulb life is
significantly increased and chance of heat damage is virtually eliminated.)

The "lighthouse effect" from structure lights - even if a relatively high intensity is desired - can
also be reduced by positioning the bulb(s) high within the structure so that the light is cast primarily
downward, outside the walls. If this is not possible in a multistory structure, then multiple bulbs are

Lighting Variation

Not only should there be variation in lighting from building to building, but also within buildings.
This can be accomplished by having no lights in some buildings, and partitioning off sections of others.
More subtle variation can be achieved by using different types of bulbs (size and color), wiring
combinations and positioning. The effect of such variation is particularly striking in a multi- window
structure such as a hotel or apartment building, but can also be effective, for example, in a station,
where the baggage room would be dimmer than the waiting room.

Interior Detail

A lighted building need not have elaborate interior detail to look realistic. Depending on
location, sometimes a very few items visible from the normal viewing angle will suffice to suggest
more detail within. Use of frosted window material, awnings, shades, signs, and interior partitions all
help to enhance realism while reducing the need for extensive interior work. In fact, even plain
acetate picks up some light itself and "screens" out a clear view. All wiring should be positioned out
of sight, preferably on the back of the wall facing the viewer.

General Considerations

Avoid light leaks - nothing looks worse than light escaping from underneath, around windows,
even through plastic walls. Lighted buildings should have floors, and all edge joints and the edges of
window and door openings should be sealed on the inside with black paint. Translucent materials,
particularly plastics, should be painted on the inside with black paint. In all cases, test the lighting
for leaks and overall effect under darkened conditions, preferably in the final layout location.

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