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How to Model Water

Modeling water is not that hard to do and there are a ton of ways to do it using various epoxies, plastic sheets, or resins.  I'm going to teach you how tom model water the way I know best.


There are three phases to modeling water.

  1. Prep the area where your water will be

  2. Pour the water

  3. Add any effects (waves, ripples, current, etc.)


The two products I used to do this are made by Woodland Scenics.

Woodland Scenics Realistic Water


This is a product that you pour into your water area at no more than 1/8 of an inch at a time.  It goes on milky, but dries clear.

Woodland Scenics Water Effects


This product is used to model waves, fast moving rivers, ripples, and even waterfalls.  It acts just like clear caulk.  Goes on white, dries clear.

I'm going to avoid the usual step by step in this process and give you instructions/advice for each of the three major steps because each project is different and unique.  What applied to me may not apply to you such as my lake being on the edge of my layout.  I'll explain that how-to at the bottom.

Step 1: Prep your area

  • Identify where you want your lake, pond, river, etc. to be.

  • Start removing the foam or whatever baseboard you're using to dig out your area.  You don't need to go too deep because the depth is not controlled by how deep your water are is, it's actually controlled by the color paint you use.  More on that later.  Don't forget that most bodies of water have a shore line or bank rather than a steep drop into the water.

  • The area must be sealed in one way or another.  One popular method is to use plaster cloth strips.  I used Woodland Scenics Foam Putty.  I mixed it with water to make it a soupy consistence and used a plaster knife to spread it out.  The Realistic Water will find any holes left and will be happy to drain through them.

  • Paint your water area.  The paint is what ultimately shows the depth of your water.  I wanted my lake to appear deep so I painted it a mixture of dark blues, browns, and some black.  I painted all three at the same time so they would swirl together to it didn't appear as one solid color.

  • If you're doing a stream or river you may choose to put in some rocks or even make the entire bottom rocks rather than painting it.  If you want tall grass or cattails in your ponds or lakes it's best to add those after pouring the water.  I tried adding them before pouring and found that the water was too thick to go around the reeds and it looked awful.  I added them at the end and they looked much better.  You can add any other bank or shore detail at this time.

Step 2: Pour the water

  • Some people, including myself, like to tint the water before they pour it.  It can help to give a little more dimension to the depth.  I also decided to do it because the Realistic Water dries clear and I wanted to make sure that people wouldn't see the painted bottom of the lake.  A little paint goes a long way.  I recommend trying it out in a plastic cup first to see how much paint you need to use.  You can tint it darker for the bottom layers and the lighter for the higher layers or you can leave the higher layer clear.  You can also go for a darker blue on the bottom and a hint of green in the top layers.

  • Pour the water evenly into the area making it no more than 1/8 of an inch thick at a time.  Make multiple passes if you need to, but be sure to give each layer enough time to dry which is typically 24 hours.  If your bottom is not an even surface then make sure to let the lower portions dry before continuing.  Not allowing enough time to dry or adding too much at once can cause the drying time to increase significantly and could mean that the underneath layers may never dry and will remain a milky color.  Each previous layer should be clear before moving onto the next.

Remove any air bubbles by using a toothpick to coax them to the surface where they should pop.

Step 3: Add effects

  • Give your water an extra day or two to make sure that it's completely dry before adding the water effects.

  • Water Effects is pretty easy to use.  You can put it place by using a paint brush or toothpick and give it 24 hours to dry.

  • You can model surf or a boat's wake by using a little white paint, again, a little goes a long way.

  • You can model higher waves by adding additional layers on top of layers that you've already put down and have dried.

Here are before and after pictures of the wake for the speed boat.  The picture on the left shows the Water Effects I put in place using a paintbrush and a tooth pick.  This was not mixed with paint so it dried clear.  I then once it dried I dipped the end of a toothpick in white paint and mixed it with the Water Effects.  I then used a paintbrush and applied it to wherever I wanted to show whitewater from the wake.  Once that dried I had a pretty convincing boat wake.  I also used Water Effects (no paint) and put little ripples around the dock and the canoe.

Click on the pictures below to enlarge them.  I also used water effects on the person jumping off of the cliff as their splash.

Modeling Water on the Edge of a Layout

A lot of the time people put bodies of water somewhere in the layout where they don't need to worry about the problems encountered when you model one on the edge.  The only tricky thing about modeling on an edge of the layout is that you need to find a way to make a barrier to hold the water that is water tight so the liquid doesn't leak out before it gets a chance to harden.

I accomplished this by using two strips of thin clear plastic.  In order to ensure it was water tight I first put a generous amount of caulk on the edge of the layout and let the plastic stick up well above my layout.  I pushed the plastic pieces into place and let the caulk ooze out from all directions.

I accomplished this by using two strips of thin clear plastic.  In order to ensure it was water tight I first put a generous amount of caulk on the edge of the layout and let the plastic stick up well above my layout.  I pushed the plastic pieces into place and let the caulk ooze out from all directions.  Once that was dry I put a bead of caulk on the inside of the plastic where it met the layout and used my finger to smooth it out.  I then did the same thing to the bottom of the plastic.  I did all of this before painting the base of the lake.  The end result was a water tight enclosure for the Realistic Water.  Once the water was all set and dry I used an x-Acto knife and cut the plastic down until it was flush with the surface of the water.  Removing the plastic pieces after everything is all set is not an option as it would damage the layout.

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