Deke’s Techniques 112: Designing a Model Railroad Track in Illustrator

There are model railroad geeks. And there are vector graphics geeks. In this episode of Deke’s Techniques, the two groups of geeks get to meet. Because this week, I show you how to make a railroad track in Illustrator, using nothing more than a single perpendicular path outline and a whole lot of strokes.

Here’s the official description from

In this week’s free video, Deke shows you how to create train tracks in Illustrator. And not your simple Thomas the Tank Engine tracks, but real honest-to-goodness wooden ties with shiny rails using nothing more than strokes in Illustrator. Okay, so the technique involves a total of 19 strokes heaped onto a single path outline. And you have to keep track of what you’re doing. But the bottom line is that, at least where the drawing is concerned, all that’s required is a single perpendicular path. The rest is just a bunch of colors and numerical settings applied from the Appearance panel.

The key is leveraging Illustrator’s ability to apply a multitude of attributes to a single path and carefully offsetting them so that you create the shadows and highlights that really sell the effect. The result is this authentic railroad track that will make any HO-scale train nerd proud.

Just so you have an adequate appreciation of what’s going on, here’s your everyday-average Illustrator train track effect (just 3 strokes):

The 3-stroke train track in Illustrator

And here’s Deke’s subtly more sophisticated effect (19 strokes):

The 19-stroke train track in Illustrator

If you’re not a straight-and-narrow (gauge) type of artist, Deke has an exclusive movie for members this week, in which he shows you an alternative technique that allows you to create curvy tracks.

Speaking of those curvy tracks, here’s the story: The curvy approach is slightly simpler—just 17 strokes as opposed to 19—but the effect is mitigated my its symmetrical highlights and shadows, which don’t happen in “real life.” But you wouldn’t know it from this graphic:

The big model railroad event

And since when are model railways “real life” anyway?

Oh, check back in tomorrow night. Adobe and I have a special treat that’ll blow your mind.

Next entry:Photoshop CS6 Enters a Several-Week Period of Free Public Beta

Previous entry:Deke’s Techniques 110: Making Synthetic Lightning in Photoshop

  • Stroke challenge

    Why not hold a small competition to see who can product the most detailed illustration using a single stroke?

  • Deke, you are a genius.

    I just watched this “Train”-ing tutorial on At first I wanted to watch it because it seemed so ridiculous. One minute into the video I was riveted. I don’t get much call to create railroad tracks but now I can see limitless possibilities (and challenges) with the stroke and appearance panels.

    Thanks again Deke for putting me in my place. Just when I think I know a lot about Adobe apps, you prove that I still have plenty to discover.

    Keep on “Chuggin”


  • Deke, You are the Man. I

    You are the Man. I have never seen such dedication to a persons work and as previously said “You are a Genius” I find it hard to believe (CS6 Beta) is free, I’ll be waiting for the message “Your trial period has expired”
    My Wife is now a class “A” PC Widow.
    Thank you so much for all your intel. Please keep up the incredible work**********
    Oh and a very belated Happy Birthday!!


  • Railroad Track Pattern Brush

    I really got inspired by your Railroad Track tutorial so I took it a step further and created a high detail RR Track pattern brush. You can check it out on my site at

    Thanks for all your tutorials and inspiration. You are my hero Deke!

  • You did that all with Illustrator strokes?

    That shit’s some good shit, Jerry.

    Like it long time. Hoot hoot!

  • That’s a great idea

    But we have a better competition coming up.

    Gimme a coupla months people. The bells will ring.

    This one’s gonna be fun.

  • I cheated. It’s a repeating

    I cheated. It’s a repeating pattern brush. I wasn’t sadistic enough to try that with multiple strokes. ;)

    Glad you dig my sheeot so to speak. Keep the good stuff comin Deke!

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