Hints & Tips

Realistic modern Billboards in N scale

After scenicking my Susquehanna Ontario and Western Railroad, which is set in the modern era, I found that my N scale streets and highways looked "bare" without some modern advertising. So I made some research about prototype billboards and started building some of them in N scale.
You'll find below some prototype data and a description of the techniques I used to build the billboard structure and to design my own billboards, using my Personal Computer.

Prototype Billboards

Prototype billboards come in many sizes. However, several sizes are standard and can be found everywhere. There are three main types of billboards :

  • The "8 sheet" billboard (named after the number of poster sheets that are posted to it). The poster size is 11x5 ft. These billboards are often framed and the frame size is usually 6 in. all around, which brings to a total size of 12x6 ft. These billboards are rather small and are made to be seen by motorists as well as pedestrians. The can be found in towns and suburbs. They are supported by a single post.
  • The "30 sheet" billboard. The poster size is about 22x10 ft. Some are framed but most of them are un-framed. These billboards are large and can be found in suburbs, as well as along highways. They are mounted on a steel structure supported by a large column or several posts, and are equipped with a running board for maintenance. They can be single sided but most of the time, they are double sided and both sides can be set at an angle, for better visibility.
  • The "bulletins" which are large or huge and come in a variety of sizes : 8x24 ft, 10x40 ft, 14x48 ft, 20x60 ft, with occasional extensions at their top or their sides. They are mounted on a steel structure supported by a large column or several posts, depending on their size and are equipped with a running board for maintenance. Like the "30 sheet", they can be single sided or double sided and for the smaller size (8x24 ft) two billboards can be mounted on top of each other. They can be seen in suburbs for the smaller ones and along highways for the larger ones.

The "8 sheet" and "30 sheet" type billboards are posted with printed posters of more or less complex design, while the "bulletins" are painted and are usually of simpler design. All types of billboards may be lighted, for night viewing, by means of projectors mounted on the edge of the running board.

Since my layout is mostly set in suburbs and does not have any main highway, I've modeled only the smaller sized billboards : "8 sheets", "30 sheets" and 8x24 ft "bulletins".

Making model Billboard structures

My model billboards structures (in N scale) were built using styrene sheets and strips, following prototypical construction.

The figure at left shows how I built the structure for a double "8x24 bulletin" Billboard. All my billboards are based on the same construction technique, so it's easy to build another type of billboard using the same technique.

The construction starts by building the H structure that will hold the remaining of the billboard. It is made of one 0.1" H column disposed horizontally and two vertical I beams (1.4 " long) glued at both ends of the H column. The resulting assembly is then glued to a 1/8" rod which serves as the supporting column. Then the supports for the "posting boards" (6 x .040x.040 - 1.75" long) are glued to the two vertical I beams and the trims are glued in the middle and at the bottom. Finally a square piece of .080 styrene (approx 1/4x1/4") is filed to shape, in order to simulate the concrete base for the supporting column, then drilled (1/8") and glued at the bottom of the column. Keep the column long enough below this concrete base so that you can "plant" your billboard on your layout.

After the basic structure is built, I add the running board. To do that, I glue two short pieces of 0.1" I beam (0.3" long), square under the main vertical I beams, that will serve as support for the running board. The running board itself is made using a leftover boxcar roofwalk which is glued to the two supports as shown in the figure at right. I then simulate the projectors with pieces of styrene filed to shape and attached to the underside of the running board.

It's now time to paint the whole structure according to your taste, before we add the actual advertising.

Designing the Billboard posters

Using any image editing tool on your computer, you can make very realistic posters. The secret here is to observe "real" billboards and design you own based on the real world. Any advertising is made of text and images (stock photos, your own photos, or cliparts) and it's really easy to design a realistic advertising. Your imagination is the limit.

There are however some "technical" constraints to observe in order to get the best quality. The fist one is to own a photographic quality printer. The second one is to use photo quality paper for printing (the matte type since reflections are not good on a model layout). The third one is to work with high resolution images (at least 200 dpi - 300 dpi is better) when designing the poster, so you get the better final quality.

At left is a sample of some billboard posters that I designed for my layout. Most of them are based on prototypical advertising and look very prototypical on my layout. Again, your imagination is the limit and I'm sure that you can easily make some "life-like" model advertisement on your layout. The same technique can be used to make older billboards although their structure is different and usually made of wood.

Attaching the Billboard posters to the structure

I usually print a whole sheet of posters. I then glue this sheet to a .010 styrene sheet using 3M spray adhesive for photo mounting (the permanent type) and let dry for several hours.

When the adhesive is fully set, I cut out the individual posters using a hobby knife and attach them to the structure, using styrene cement. You may need to scrape the front face of the supports, if they have been previously painted, so that the cement adheres well.

At this point, what's left is to touch up the back of the posting boards with appropriate paint.

The figure at right shows the final billboard ready to be "planted" on my layout.

Other types of Billboards

I have also built other types of modern billboards :

The first type is a simple "30 sheet" Billboard (10x22 ft). This one is of simple construction as it is supported by three posts. The figure at left shows this billboard under construction (rear view) and completed (front view).

The second type is of more complicated construction. It is an angled, double-sided "30 sheet" Billboard. It is supported by a single column and requires some special bracing, as shown in the figure below (from left to right : front, side and top view under construction and completed billboard).

The third type is of very simple construction. It is an "8 sheet" billboard. The posting area is 11x5 feet and is surrounded by a frame which yields a total size of 12x6 feet. The basic frame is made of .060 styrene rod for the post and two pieces of .040x.040 styrene for the board supports. The rod needs to be notched where the board support are glued, in order to get a good contact area. The frame around the poster can be made using styrene strips. In my case, I preferred to print it as part of the poster (the image for the frame was taken from a photo of a real Billboard).

Hope this article will help you make your my model streets/highways look more realistic and "alive".

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Page created by Jean-Louis Simonet
Last update : 05/18/2000
© 2000, Jean-Louis Simonet