If you want to bring your model railway to life you’ll want grass. But there are hundreds of makes and types to choose from. Here’s what you need to know.
Grass is everywhere.
And not just in the countryside.
Even in residential and built up areas, you’ll find grass in playing fields and gardens, breaking through roads and pavements or growing between sleepers of old railway track.
It’s no exaggeration to say that if you want your model scene to look genuine and realistic you must have grass on it too.
And just like the real thing, there are seemingly endless varieties and types of faux grass for modellers to choose from.
Here’s everything you need to know, starting with the fundamental types and differences between mats, scatter, flock and static grass and what to use when.
Grass mats — ideal for begineers
For covering large areas in grass, the easiest, cheapest and fastest way is without doubt grass mats.
As the name implies, Grass mats are sheets of short fibres that create the look of grass or short vegetation.
Typically available in sheets or rolls of 3 feet by 2 feet and cost from £5 to £10 per roll they’re the most cost effective way of adding vegetation to a large area.
Even better, the sheets can be cut to shape and glued into place (with standard glue) with none of the mess associated with scatter and static grass.
They do however have the disadvantage of looking flat and lifeless. The same texture and pattern repeating over and over looks artificial.
Having said this, grass mats have improved greatly in quality recently. Silflor mats, for example, can look as good as static grass (see below) but cost significantly more than the basic mats and still suffer from the problem of looking somewhat artificial due to the uniform length of the individual grass stems. The Silflor mats are available here.
Noch and Woodland Scenics make the most popular grass mats. Experienced modellers will recommend that of these two, the later Summer/Autumn colours tend to be better, with more natural looking shades.
Scatter: cheap and simple
The most common method used for simulating grass on model railways is scatter, small particles of differently coloured material giving the impression of grass, vegetation or even dirt and soil.
To apply, sprinkle the scatter material over PVA glue. It’s as simple as that and the huge variety of colours available means you can create just about any ground cover required.
However, the uniform size and shape of the particles produce a somewhat false appearance compared to static grasses (below) and it can be expensive to cover large areas.
But static grass has the best look
For realistic grass, there’s currently no alternative to static grass.
Short synthetic fibres, also known as flock, are scattered over an area to which a static charge is applied. The static causes the fibres, usually Raylon or Nylon fibre, to stand erect, simulating grass and giving a very life-like effect that has won the favour of modellers world-wide.
Available in different lengths, from 2mm to 20mm, and every possible colour to match different modelling scales, grasses and seasons static grass is now the preferred material for creating natural grassland.
The downside is its relative cost. Static grasses cost upwards of £5 for a few grammes covering just a few inches of ground
Both static grass (aka flock) and scatter materials are also messy to work with and difficult to apply precisely.
> If you’re working with static grass, read my tips for applying them and the static grass applicator I use.
When to use which?
If you’re just starting out with a model railway starter kit, grass mats are ideal. They’re easy to roll out, track sits easily on top and by introducing hills with rolls of newspaper underneath it can create credible fields and pastures for your trains to pass through.
They’re easy to roll out, track sits easily on top and by introducing hills, scrunched up newspaper underneath, can create credible fields and pastures for your trains to pass through.
For building a model railway layout on a baseboard, use mats to cover large areas in the background with scatter material for variety and static grass towards the front for detail. This gives you the best economy of mats with the variation of scatter materials and realism of static grass.
If your model making has reached an advanced level where realism is everything, static grass is the only real choice.
But even here you can save some money by laying grass mats first and the adding static grass on top. You could also use mats for gardens or lawns where a uniform length won’t be unlikely.
Alternatively, if money isn’t an obstacle, and you work in bigger scales — OO or HO — Nylon fur can be used to cover large areas, edging this with Silflor will mask the artificial base of the fur. For detail area, use varying lengths of static grass. See Joe Fugate’s excellent guide on doing this for examples and inspiration of how to do this.
How to apply grass for the most lifelike look
For the best finish, paint the baseboard in an earth or vegetation colour (green, brown or black), allow time to dry and then apply a thin coating of PVA and cover with a layer of scatter material (Noch and Woodland Scenics are my preferred choices).
Once the scatter has set, dab on more PVA and apply different lengths and colours of static grass. Use either a static grass Puffer commercial or home made static grass applicator to distribute the fibres. (If you’re looking for a way to add a charge to static grass but don’t want to shell out for one of the very expensive applicators take a look at the best static grass applicator).
Finally, glue and place patches of Silflor and perhaps gently spray paint some of the static grasses for variation.
Placing small animals such as cats amongst the grass will also add to the realism.
Although the most expensive approach this multi-layer technique creates the most realistic finish.
While very cost effective for large areas expanses of grass mats can look artificial with the same repeating texture and colour producing an unrealistic finish. Use balls of newspaper under the matting to create an uneven surface and deposit either scatter or static grass over the top to create depth for added realism. You can also add grass tufts which add variety.
And there’s a neat trick to making your own DIY grass tufts.
I’ll now contradict myself. Having just said use different colours, there are times when you should keep to the same colours of static grass. If you’re modelling a Spring time scene, for example, use greens but different shades to mirror the rich growth that occurs at this time of year. Only use different colours — green and browns for example — to reflect Autumnal grasses or if you’re not worried about matching seasons.
Lastly, if cost is an issue, you can make your own scatter material by dying sawdust. this can be bought in bags online, go for the finest possible. Alternatively, some branches of B&Q have a cutting area where, if you ask nicely, they will let you have the shavings.
- Standard Grass mats: Ideal for beginners. Available from Amazon here.
- Silflor mats: For the most realistic look. Available here.
- Scatter Grass: For large areas, ideally away slightly out of close view range or topped with static grass. Available here.
- Static Grass (flock): The best looking and most realistic look: Available here.
- Static Grass Applicator: Needed for applying static grass. My preferred choice.
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