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HO gold leaf sign

Started by Bill Gill, May 18, 2021, 10:39:50 AM

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Bill Gill

I added parts of this thread to an older thread from 2019 that showed part of the pharmacy interior so the entire pharmacy project can all be together in one place. This sign hread will remain because I wasn't able to transfer the original comments from here to the new thread. I hope this doesn't cause too much confusion.

The sign has been on and off for quite a while. Some time ago Ed Traxler (eTraxx) converted a sign I designed for my layout to a 3D printable piece using SketchUp. I don't remember if Shapeways did the actual printing or another company, but Ed did all the hard stuff prepping my 2D art.

The printing was complicated. Not only was the lettering small, but I wanted the raised letters to have a curved cross section rather than straight sides and a flat face. And, just to make it harder, I wanted the letters printed as they would be on the sign but raised on tiny stems above the carrier sheet so that they could be goldleafed without getting gold on the background.

Amazingly, Ed managed to do all that. Unfortunately I was too klutzy to manage the tricky process of trnsfering the individual layers to the signboard without breaking several of them.

Bill Gill

Fortunately Ed anticipated problems and also had the letters printed directly on a correctly sized resin signboard. (First photo below)

I, however, spent a long time trying to find a way to apply the gold to the letters (23k patent gold leaf - the kind attached to a tissue paper backing) I had done some 1:1 goldleaf letters on a sign and a few other items for Mystic Seaport Museum. This project was in a different league.

After many failed experiments I finally managed to get ...acceptable...results. My previous experience involved oil based size for the goldleaf. That wasn't working well at that size, so I experimented with various acrylic materials. Eventually Wellbond PVA glue thinned to milk consistency with water, and with a tiny bit of red oxide acrylic craft paint (so I could see where the glue "size" was applied and it worked.

The signboard had a few printing artifacts that also took so fiddling. if you look very closely, besides the layer lines there are also some faint lines under the G and S in drugs. They are in other places as well that don't show in the photo. Sanding was not feasible annd scraping dind't work well. Eventually this is what I found worked as best as I could at the time:

1. Clean the 3d print with original Dawn dish detergent and warm water
2. Rinse with water, then methanol
3. Prime with flat black spray paint
4. Paint the tops of the raised letters with dark yellow acrylic paint and let cure several days
5. Dilute WellBond to milk consistency, add pinch of red oxide acrylic.
6. paint the "size" on one letter at a time and immediately lay the gold leaf on top of the size and press down firmly with tip of finger.
7. Remove tissue and press again with bare finger tip.
8. Gently brush off excess gold with small soft brush.
9. Repeat for next letter.
10. Let cure for day or so, then touch up any missed spots with same technique.
11. Coat the background signboard with a thin mix of black acrylic, water and matte clear acrylic varnish and imediately sift on thin layer of baking soda using a fine nylon mess teabag to screen the baking soda. Let cure. (The slightly grainy texture of the baking soda hid the printing artifacts on the signboard and very effectively represents the fine crushed black glass "Smalt" often applied to the backgroung on gold leaf signs.
12. Apply thin washes of black acrylic over the baking soda without getting on the letters.
13. Touchup both gold and background several times.

Here is the resin sign after cleaning. it is 2.25 in. (5.72 cm. long). The finished sign at this point is only digitally added to the storefront using GIMP.
Click images to enlarge.

The results aren't perfect, but the results do look passibly like an older gold leaf sign that's been out in the weather for some years.


That's an insanely difficult project, especially in HO. I doubt any of us could get very different results but somebody here might come up with another method. -- Russ


Very nice Bill.  An a great job by Ed!

Why isn't there mouse-flavored cat food?
George Carlin


Hi Bill
great building one of the nicest HO buildings I have seen in a while. Being a fan of u Tube  I stop by HO modelling once in a while the engines and rolling stock are great examples of manufacturing the rest is rubbish with exceptions[ to cover my arse] and yes the sign is lovely.

Bill Gill

Thanks, Russ. Sometimes  projects are more difficult than others, the "insanely" seems yo be my stock & trade.

Jerry, Ed's work is what made the sign even possible. He does do great 3D stuff.

Thanks, Kim! The interior of this building has been another ongoing project. Finally finishing the sign will now allow me to start assembling the insides again. The top half is an old Sylvan resin kit, the bottom was scratchbuilt.

Ray Dunakin

Amazing results for such a small scale!
Visit my website to see pics of the rugged and rocky In-ko-pah Railroad!

Ray Dunakin's World

Bill Gill

Thanks, Ray. One reason I wanted to use goldleaf was because everything else (including a goldleaf spray) was far too grainy for HO scale. (See first photo below). This 3D print was my first version. The idea was to apply the gold to the idividual letters  (printed on tiny stalks to raise them above the base) Then individually apply each letter to the balck signboard. The letters were too fragile. I broke some just looking at them.
Ed's second version, with the letters on the background worked better.

The irregularities in the finished Finnuken's sign letters are due to my fiddling with trying to fill gaps in the leaf from working with tiny scraps and doing several touchups.

The second photo shows a full size sign I did some years ago. It had been out in the weather over 20 years when the photo was taken. It has flat rather than raised letters, but you can just make out the textured black smalt background.


A quick way to apply a "Gold Leaf" look to anything, is to use an ALPS printer and have a decal made of whatever you want.

When using the Gold ink in an ALPS, it prints it out as one SOLID colour, NO pixilation at all.

So a simple sign in any scale, will have the same look as if you used the Gold Leaf method, with NO dots or any defects showing, unless you stuffed up and tore the decal or rubbed thru it.

Well worth finding out if somebody owns one nearby.

The other alternative to an ALPS printer, is a ROLAND printer, a lot of decal makers use the Roland printers and they can do the exact same things, as an ALPS Printer can.

Bill Gill

greenie, Thanks for that information  Yes, I am familiar with an Alps printer using a "gold" metallic foil for printing "gold" decals. The model railroad club at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institiute once had an Alps and the club did print "gold" decals until the printer died years ago.
In this case, however, not sure decals would work because the letters on the sign are 3D printed and raised off the face of the signboard. Exactly matching their size to a decal size and then aligning the decal perfectly on top of the raised letters would be quite a feat (at least for me).


Bill, just to express my deepest respect for that defiant work and execution. It's the first time I heard of someone using that technique in the model railroad hobby.
I'll make it. If I have to fly the five feet like a birdie.
I'll fly it. I'll make it.

The comprehensive book about my work: "Vollendete Baukunst"

Bill Gill

Thank you, Völker, your comment is very much appreciated.
I t has been a very challenging and interesting project.


I told Bi8ll I would call him out for procrastination . .except I did my taxes on the 16th!! I had honestly completely forgotten about this project

Now .. let's talk SERIOUS procrastination .. look what is sitting on my computer desk ..

Ed Traxler

Lugoff, Camden & Northern RR

Socrates: "I drank WHAT?"


Hey, Ed! It's been years since you've posted anything here. You were our 3-D CAD/printing guru and you helped me a lot with SketchUp. Nice to hear from you. -- Russ


nice challenge well realized.