Saturday, December 1, 2012

Lighting - Day & Night

Layout with accessory lights and nighttime lighting mode
Adding proper lighting to a layout can literally turn it into a completely different model, and goes far beyond the main ceiling or valance lights. Installing accessory lighting allows details and scenes that were once typically less noticeable (such as detailed building interiors), to now be a main focal point. I knew from the start that I wanted lighting on my layout. This would include interior lighting on most of my buildings, street lamps, and some type of night-effect lighting to illuminate the overall layout.
 
To assist with adding accessory lights as I constructed my layout, I planned all of the wiring into my master wiring plan at the start of construction. I pre-installed power bus wires under my benchwork, and installed switches on my control panel to turn power to the bus wires on and off. The bus wires are powered directly by a dedicated, 12V 2A DC power supply, and are split into two separate circuits, accessory 1 & accessory 2. These two circuits are each controlled through two automotive-type relays connected to a corresponding toggle switch on the main control panel.

Overview of my layout with daylight lightingOverview of my layout in night mode

The majority of my structures had lighting installed during their construction (see any of my posts regarding structure kits for details). I left a long wire lead protruding from either the bottom or side of each building, which I then passed through a small drilled hole in my benchwork and tied it into the pre-installed power bus below. Any visible wire leads on top of my layout were simply hidden with scenery material.

Close up detail of brass street lampAutomotive-type relays used to switch on accessory 1 & 2 circuits

The brass street lamps along my streets were installed with the same method, however I did need to wrap the base of each lamp a couple times with electrical tape to provide a snug fit once I inserted them into the drilled holes. The street lamps are rated for 12 volts, but a full 12 volts produced way too much light, so I added a 110 ohm resistor to each street lamp to provide a softer, more realistic glow. Both the building lights and street lamps are wired onto the accessory 1 circuit.

Industrial section with daylight lightingIndustrial section with nighttime lighting

Accessory lighting on your layout is most effective when, quite obviously, the room that houses your layout is dark. However, having a completely dark room, void of any light, is much too dark and the majority of your layout will not be visible. You can create low levels of ambient room lighting by simply dimming the room lighting, but this is only effective if you use halogen or incandescent-type bulbs as most fluorescents are not dimmable. If you use fluorescent lighting (like I do), you will need to completely turn off the lights. More so, dimming your layout room’s lights still doesn’t create a realistic night-time light, so the most effective method (in my opinion), is to have separately installed “night mode” lights.

Industrial section with daylight lightingIndustrial section with nighttime lighting

For this “night mode” effect lighting, I wanted to recreate a moonlit scene, so the light needed to have a soft, bluish-white glow. To create this type of light, I constructed three light diffusing boxes out of styrene measuring 2 1/2” x 4 1/2” with a curved diffusing lens protruding out from the base by about 1 ¾”. I then installed one super bright white and one super bright blue LED into the base of each diffuser box, about 1” apart from the center. After adding the proper resistors to each LED, I wired all three of the diffuser boxes to my accessory 2 lighting circuit and installed them to the ceiling above my layout.

Town center section with daylight lightingTown center section with nighttime lighting

The diffuser boxes combine the intense light from the blue and white LED’s and emits an even, soft bluish-white light similar to moonlight. This emitted light provides just enough of a natural nighttime effect that the entire layout is still visible, while allowing your scenery lighting to stand out and be the main focal point.

Night mode styrene light diffuser box installed over layoutStyrene light diffuser box installed beside main layout mini-spiral florescent bulbs

As I mentioned before, I use fluorescent lighting for the main lighting of my layout. I originally had installed standard incandescent bulbs over my layout, which were fine during construction, but recently changed to mini fluorescent spiral bulbs. I use 6 of these bulbs (3 bright white and 3 warm white) in combination to produce a bright, natural daytime light. I found that incandescent bulbs alone produced way too much yellow-red light, and the typical bright white mini spiral florescent alone produced an unrealistic blue hue. I also uninstalled the large florescent ceiling light next to my layout, as it cast a very blue, overpowering light onto the right half of my layout.

Overview of my layout with accessory lights and night mode activated

Street lamp and vehicle at nightOverview of my layout in night mode
 

2 comments:

  1. This story reminded me of how I got started building model trains many years ago. It was rough at first, I have to admit. I would get caught up surfing the Internet for ours on end for answers or would spend too much time going through the painful process of dealing with inexperienced sales people at my local hobby shop. But somehow I learned to create my own detailed model train layouts without having a big budget or a lot of space, even though I wasn't good with my hands nor was I an electrician, a carpenter, or an artist. Now me and my two boys spend all our free time with this wonderful hobby. I'm glad that we are having fun together and they are doing something educational with their time. By the way, if you're interested in learning about model trains quickly, you might want to check out this great article, which will save you tons of time and money and keep you from making a lot of easily avoidable mistakes:
    http://www.bestquicktips.com/modeltrains
    Hope it helps anyone reading this!

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  2. Adding lighting effects to a railroad scenery is quite a task. It is nice that you have managed to pull it all off. The results are amazing and mesmerizing. I wonder how it would look like if all the house lights were off. Good work! Thanks for sharing :)

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