Modeling Contemporary Billboards in Photoshop
Photoshop is a handy tool in a modeler's bag of tricks. One of the things I've been using it for recently is recreating some billboards I've photographed on FCEN's rails along Route 441. Billboards are great way of anchoring a scene in a specific time and place, so in selecting a billboard to model, I look for three things:
  • • Something that establishes era
    • Something that establishes location
    • The X factor: that extra element makes the design meaningful or fun for you.

Here are two billboards I am modeling for my prototype. For now they exist only as print-ready files, but they’ll eventually become part of actual billboard models.


[Image: billboardrp.jpg]
I took this photo last weekend. Wink
  • • Era anchor: Establishes the scene in the contemporary timeframe. (How much longer we'll have a space coast is anyone's guess.)
    • Location anchor: Once again, there's only one Cocoa Beach (home of the characters from "I Dream of Jeanie")
    • X-factor: Any prototype modelers want to take a stab at this one? Wink

This one posed some minor challenges. The image was usable as-is, but the text along the edges was clipped as it wrapped around the edges of the billboard. I used What the Font? ( to identify the font (Myriad Pro) and layered in the word “Coast”, the web address, and the clipped “h” to match the other text. I also extended the photo a bit on the top and sides and erased the parts of the walkway that intrude.

Here's the result (I see some areas I need to improve upon).
[Image: cocoabeachspacecoastbil.jpg]

Night of Joy
[Image: source01.jpg]
  • • Era anchor: Solidly anchors the scene in mid- to late summer and in the contemporary timeframe.
    • Location anchor: There's only one Magic Kingdom, so an ad aimed at local residents puts the scene in Central Florida. So does the radio station. A two-fer.
    • X-factor: I like the juxtaposition of Christian hope and September 11. It's a personal connection, but that's what the X-factor is about.

ClearChannel 06266 is located in Zellwood, FL, approximately a "block' from the point where FCEN's northern branch arcs away from 441 toward Tavares. This billboard is always used by Z88.3 fm, a central Florida contemporary Christian station.

Here's my recreation:
[Image: nightofjoybillboardmind.jpg]

When I started this project I stretched it to fit BLMA's billboard. However, soon after, Lance Mindheim devoted a blog post to his own billboard adventures (, November 20), I decided to go back to prototype size. I used Lance's billboard as a starting place, but added my own ClearChannel logo and board ID.

If you're lucky with your source photos all you have to do in Photoshop is correct the photo for perspective and color, crop, resize, and print. I wasn't that fortunate for this one. I did resize the photo to lock down the size of the images, logos and fonts, but the photo itself was too washed out by lens flare to use. From there it was a matter of internet sleuthing to locate useable design elements. What made this project doable is that Disney had a high-res graphic of the guitar castle squirreled away on its Night of Joy event site. What the Font? turned up the fonts; the font used for the date I approximated rather than used; I didn’t want to buy it right then (I’ll probably do so before printing the final version for the model). There is a very good Disney font out there, but I saved some money by scanning in a logo from a Disney brochure and recoloring it. The radio station logo is pretty low-res, but it worked with a little coaxing. Don't forget the trademark symbols!

I hope this inspires you to try some Photoshop modeling! (Photoshop Elements can do all of this and costs a lot less, BTW.)
Good stuff. I'll soon be doing a MetroBank sign and will use similar techniques.

Once you print these out, what steps do you take then? Are you using an overspray to protect the printing?
Not sure yet, Gary. If I print the master with a laser printer, probably. If I print it as a decal, I'll treat it as such.
I hadn't considered doing a decal. On the old layout, I had made some paper signs with a printer, but they didn't hold up well through the temperature and humidity changes in my non-climate controlled garage. I was thinking that a heavy dose of dullcote or some other sealer may have helped. Keep us posted on how you decide to do these.
In my (warped) opinion, billboards aren't modeled enough, unless the layout is set in the 40's or 50's. But a billboard actually goes a long way towards marking a layouts era to the casual non-railroad knowledgeable visitor.

Me, I've had this one on my workbench under construction for some time: (I need to get back to work on it)

Tom Carter
Railroad Training Services
Railroad Trainers & Consultants
Stockton, CA
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[Image: gaugetraingifsigUP.gif]

Are you just using Photoshop Elements?

Kurt (CNW 1961) used this LandShark billboard on his Miami Layout. In his thread Kurt mentions that he found the photo on It is a great find on his part. I started searching and found it about 32 pages into the site in the Florida Rail Pictures section. Of course that was last year so it is probably buried slightly farther in the site.

I took the photo resized it and then cut it out using a scalpel removing the background. It was then mounted on a .020 sheet plastic.

[Image: landsharkcropped3.jpg]

The good or maybe bad side to modelling Miami's billboards is the Miami ad school as they seem to have free run of the cities boards, like this for instance

Other inspiration here some really creative boards too

My Miami NW 22nd St layout and modelling blog Please come by and leave a comment.
Wow Dave! Those are amazingly creative ads! I wonder how many car accidents occur around such billboards because of how distracting they might be?

We did have a lot of issues with the billboard that Tom posted above here in England back in the 1990s, they were taken down eventually after a few protests.
My Miami NW 22nd St layout and modelling blog Please come by and leave a comment.
Tom: Nice billboard.

Larry: I'm using full Photoshop, but based on the seminar I attended at Protorails this year, Photshop elements can do a a lot of this stuff as well for much less money.
Thanks for posting the LandShark billboard. I did run across Kurt's project a while back; nice. And I've seen that ad around here as well. I like the way the fin breaks the box; a lot of boards do that now.

Dave: Those are great billboards.

Here’s a work in progress: a billboard promoting the Universal Studios Harry Potter attraction; these are all over Orlando. This one is sized for BLMA’s billboard. The photo is not a match for the actual billboards; the search goes on for that one. But I did find this photo (which is also used to promote the attraction) and the attraction logo online. I'm still deciding if the design will work.

[Image: harrypottery.jpg]

Billboard technology keeps progressing. I'm seeing a lot of boards that rotate between three ads, and others that are jumbotrons.
Some great ideas!
I came up with this one, which should give my layout a local flavor.
These guys are a real morning radio show here in Connecticut. This billboard will be mounted on the side of a building.
Thats when another idea hit. A strip of velcro mounted on the building and the back of the billboard will allow me to change the billboard at will, changing eras, or just to keep the sign fresh.

Attached Files Image(s)
Torrington, Ct.
NARA Member #87
I went to my Happy Place, but it was closed for renovations.
OK guys...You inspired me!
I knocked this out this afternoon.
Its printed on Kodak photo paper, with the printer setting at "Best Photo". Glued to .020" plastic and borderd by .020" stirp styrene. I even set up a mini scene on my desk.
The velcro idea was a bust.

Attached Files Image(s)
Torrington, Ct.
NARA Member #87
I went to my Happy Place, but it was closed for renovations.
Looks good!
88, the sign looks good. And thanks for the tip on using photo paper. My previous experiment with regular paper failed after awhile. Would there be any point in overspraying the print with decal bonder or some other spray fixative stuff?
One thing I want to try when the time comes to print the art out is to put a digital fade on it beforehand. Put a light blue layer over the final art, and turn transparency to 5 to 10 percent. That would (hopefully) simulate viewing the billboard through the very light haze you get looking at something in the middle distance.

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