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Removing Manufactured Lettering

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  • Member since
    December, 2010
  • From: Portland, Oregon
  • 198 posts
Removing Manufactured Lettering
Posted by Attuvian on Saturday, March 18, 2017 4:46 PM

When retirement calls in a few months, there will be time to hit some projects that have been benched since I returned to the hobby a few years ago - with a bit more focus than in the '80s.  One task is back dating some old Athearn BB cars and a handful of newer ones from other makers.  This should bring their built or reweigh/repaint date numbers in line with my chosen era, the early 50s.  To my knowledge, none of the redating will conflict with or pre-date the existence of the car style itself.  I'm also thinking of removing the large, fully spelled "Southern Pacific" from a really nice Intermountain AC-11/12 tender so I can reletter with a simple "SP MW".  It's to be used behind a rotary plow.  Surely don't want to mess up that beauty!

What suggestions for products and special techniques can you provide that will not alter or degrade the surface of the plastic underneath?  In all cases that I'm considering, the lettering to be removed has been applied directly to the colored plastic of the body, none is over other paint.  Replacement lettering/numbering will be by decal.

Thanks, all.  JB

  • Member since
    March, 2017
  • 33 posts
Posted by Canalligators on Saturday, March 18, 2017 5:29 PM
Sometimes you can remove it with a pencil eraser. Start with a soft white one, progress to a pink wooden pencil eraser, then try a hard "pen" eraser.

Genesee Terminal, freelanced HO in Upstate NY Loon Bay Transit Authority

CP/D&H, N scale somewhere on the Canadian Shield

  • Member since
    January, 2001
  • From: US
  • 110 posts
Posted by EMDSD40 on Saturday, March 18, 2017 9:54 PM

I have used 3M automotive scratch remover on a wooden Q tip successfully to remove painted on factory numbering-lettering. Work slowly as this process is technique sensitive however a smooth polished surface will present itself ready for decaling. I follow up with a coat of Testor Dullcote to finish the job. Used this on Athearn, Kato, Atlas equipment with good results.

  • Member since
    April, 2004
  • From: Ontario Canada
  • 2,984 posts
Posted by Mark R. on Sunday, March 19, 2017 12:04 AM

Solvaset, a Q-Tip and some patience. Keep the surface wet and keep rubbing with the Q-Tip. It will eventually start to take off the lettering without affecting the base finish.


¡ uʍop ǝpısdn sı ǝɹnʇɐuƃıs ʎɯ 'dlǝɥ

  • Member since
    January, 2004
  • From: Canada, eh?
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Posted by doctorwayne on Sunday, March 19, 2017 3:30 AM

I'm not aware of any Athearn Blue Box rolling stock that's factory-lettered on bare plastic.  The hundreds that I've had or still have either came painted and lettered or undecorated - no paint or lettering.
Older Athearn paint could be easily stripped using methyl hydrate, but removing only the lettering with it was hit-or-miss, as it usually removed the paint, too.

An X-Acto #17 or #18 chisel-type blade is useful for removing some types of lettering.  Hold the blade perpendicular to the work and scrape with the non-tapered edge leading. This technique is also useful for applying re-weigh data.  I usually scrape off the "NEW" weigh date and sometimes part or all of the weight figures, then re-do the weights and apply a re-weigh date suitable to my era.  The scale info can be any, as many cars were not necessarily weighed on home-road scales.  Don't forget re-pack data, too.

If the lettering which you're altering isn't applied too thickly, you can simply paint over it with a suitable (not necessarily matching) paint, as was done on the prototype and then apply the new data.

I also airbrush blank decal paper with various shades of boxcar red and black, cut out appropriately-shaped patches and apply them right over existing lettering, then add the new data on that.

A few examples...


  • Member since
    December, 2008
  • From: In the heart of Georgia
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Posted by Doughless on Sunday, March 19, 2017 7:46 AM

I'm with DoctorWayne.  I scrape off the lettering, usually with a curved bladed hobby knife, but any blade will work if you hold it in a position as to not dig into the paint.

I've found that using liquids that rub off the painted lettering often will cause the lettering to blend with the the red Union Pacific lettering blending with the yellow body to form an orange hue surrounding the area.  White on black is no big deal...but color over color can sometimes cause an issue.  Other's experiences may differ.

  • Member since
    January, 2004
  • From: Canada, eh?
  • 7,295 posts
Posted by doctorwayne on Sunday, March 19, 2017 11:14 AM

I neglected to mention that the examples I offered are not re-letterings, but total re-paints with new lettering, as all of the cars shown were modified to some degree.
I have relatively few cars with factory lettering, but this Walthers boxcar has factory paint and mostly factory lettering...

The re-weigh data is dry transfer lettering, and appears to be applied over an area where the original lettering was scraped off as described.  I either paint that area or, if it's in good condition, mask it before weathering.  After the initial weathering, the masking is removed, revealing what looks like new paint, and the re-weigh data is applied.  
The re-pack info, on the small black patch on the right-hand side of the car, is a Champ decal, while the black background is either painted directly on the car or is a piece of clear decal, painted black as part of a larger sheet, then cut out and applied prior to the repack info.
After the data has been updated in this manner, many of these cars get some additional weathering, depending on the date shown in the re-weigh data.
In my layout's late '30s era, most cars required re-weighing every 30 months, but that time period varied over the years, so you'll need to check the requirements for your chosen era.

All of my photos are in photobucket, and clicking on the picture will take you there, where a full-screen view is available. 


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