How To Make Landscape Scatter Materials On A Budget – Thrifty Thursday Model Building Tip, #1

Coffee granules - budget dirt for model railwayIf you’re looking for soil, dirty or sand material for your landscape, park any thoughts of buying scatter materials and head to the kitchen with this weeks Thrifty Thursday Model Railway Building Tip.

Dirt, soil and ground cover On a budget

This tip is one of my favourites, not just because it’s a great model budgeting tip but because the results are just damn brilliant.

Instead of spending between £1.50 and £3 on scatter, materials go and make yourself your favourite hot drink. And while you’re about it, nick a bit of the tea, coffee or chocolate you’re using.

Now sprinkle the tea leaves, coffee granules or chocolate powder on your layout and secure with a small amount of watered down PVA.  Now go and enjoy your drink while it the glue dries.

The colour and texture can be changed by mixing tea and coffee and different strengths and flavours of coffee in particular. Mixing a light roast coffee with dark tea leaves, for example, can create very realistic soil for example.

When mixing the glue, use a higher glue to water mixture than would normally be used (for ballasting etc). High water content can cause the colours to run or the granules to breakdown. For some landscape modelling, running colours can be useful (around water features for example) but in most cases, this isn’t useful. Alternatively, paint the PVA onto the surface to be covered and let it dry a little first before scattering the scatter.  I’d recommend testing and perfecting your technique first before applying it on your model railway layout.

Finally, if you have some chalk pastels grinding these up and adding them to your drink based scatter can add an extra element to the colour and texture of your ground cover.

The only problem you’ll have with this technique is keeping your little figures from eating the scenery 🙂

> A final, personal, note: I spend a huge amount of time testing, photographing, writing and researching techniques for these articles and pay for all the running costs of MRE out of my own pocket. If you found this article useful you can support me by making a donation on my fund-raising page. Thanks and happy modelling, Andy.


Founder of ModelRailwayEngineer, Andy Leaning

Andy is a lifelong modeler, writer, and founder of He has been building model railways, dioramas, and miniatures for over 20 years. His passion for model making and railways began when he was a child, building his first layout at the age of seven.
Andy’s particular passion is making scenery and structures in 4mm scale, which he sells commercially. He is particularly interested in modelling the railways of South West England during the late Victorian/early Edwardian era, although he also enjoys making sci-fi and fantasy figures and dioramas. His website has won several awards, and he is a member of MERG (Model Railway Electronics Group) and the 009 Society.
When not making models, Andy lives in Surrey with his wife and teenage son. Other interests include history, science fiction, photography, and programming. Read more about Andy.

Afflliate disclosure:The links on this page may take you to carefully selected businesses, such as Hornby, Amazon, eBay and Scale Model Scenery, where you can purchase the product under affiliate programmes. This means I receive a small commission on any orders placed although the price you pay does not change. You can read my full affiliate policy here. I also sell my my own ready to use, pre-made and painted buildings and terrain features. browse the range.
    • James, I admit I had that concern intially but I’ve had some down for 3 years now and it’s not grown any ‘extra features’ yet. I suspect it’s probably due to the chemicals in coffee now but whatever the reason it’s been good so far. Andy

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