O Scale Model Railroad structures from pictures?


I am very excited to see the delivery time drawing near for my Glowforge!

The reason for my purchase is that I really enjoy building my O Scale Model Railroad (https://www.facebook.com/NSHDRR/). I have built several wood and plastic kits/kit bashes and even made a few buildings from scratch based on actual buildings.

I am thrilled with the prospect of designing buildings and then having my GF engrave and cut them out for me to weather and assemble allowing me to expand on my Operations Sessions!

This got me thinking . . . Will the software in GF allow me to scale the photos to 1:48 and allow me to create models of actual buildings based on photos I take? If the answer is yes, I might just go ahead and have a heart attack at an abnormally young age! If the answer is no, would I be able to achieve this though Sketch-up (Yes, I am a totally novice, novice!)



Wow, that’s some gorgeous work!:relaxed:

If you want a two dimensional render of the building (as in a really tiny photo of a flat building) you would be able to scale it down and then maybe cut out around the flat picture of the building, but that’s all the GF software would be able to do.

If you want to create an actual 3D model of the building, you’ll need to get involved in some kind of 3D modeling software and re-create it in 3 dimensions, break it into parts that could be cut out of flat materials like plywood, and then cut and engrave it and assemble it.

(Hopefully that saved your life.) Chuckle! :wink:

I’m not familiar with Sketchup…the program I’m using now for 3D modeling is AutoDesk Fusion 360. (It’s free for hobbyists although you have to re-register annually, very powerful, and there are lots of Youtube videos on how to use it.)

Plenty of time to start poking around in it before delivery…takes a month or two to pick up on it, so if you’re familiar with Sketchup maybe you should stick with that one. (I can’t say if that one will do what you need though.)



Thank you for the compliment! There is still so much to do, and I can’t wait to get doing it. I’ve pretty much stopped constructing any new buildings because I am envisioning the details being so fantastic when I create with GF that it will make the other buildings look like they were constructed by my toddler! :joy:

I am not familiar with how sketchup works other than knowing I downloaded it with the goal to become proficient with it before my GF arrived. That was a year ago, and I still haven’t moved beyond the download stage.

I would want to settle on one program so that I can get really go with it. It sounds like your program might be pretty well in line with what I am wanting to do. I’ll have to see if it will run on a MacBook.

Thanks again for your reply! If you come across any other programs that you think would be good for my applications, please let me know!


Best thing to do is start watching some of the Youtube tutorials for Fusion 360…it’s a different way of thinking when you design in 3D, but the videos are excellent.

I’m still working my way through this list, and they have more:


The Glowforge software is not yet a design and drawing program. It can scan images and do some cutting and engraving, but for making full models, you are going to need something else. Sketchup is fairly easy and one thing about it is that there are thousands of 3D models of buildings already existing.


One question, can you get from Sketchup to Glowforge? or Sketchup to Inkscape? I haven’t figured out how to do that without buying a Pro copy to be able to export.

1 Like


Yes, I was eyeing all of the buildings there, but then I had to wonder how do I take that 3D structure and break it all apart into a 2D structure that can be engraved and cut out?

I also am wondering a few steps ahead of myself, but is there any software that would take those 2D pieces and give me the best layout so that I would waste as little wood a possible.


The advice here is great - starting with CAD software like Fusion 360 or Sketchup will be the best place to accomplish what you’re looking to do.

There are some plugins to export Sketchup to SVG, I believe, which your Glowforge can process. I believe Fusion 360 does it natively too.


Looks like I’m going to have to get smart on those programs!

Any idea if there are any programs that will shuffle all the pieces in a project to eliminate as much scrap waste as possible? I wouldn’t even know what to Google to find that.


Your work is gorgeous!

I concur with the other comments: youtube tutorials are your friend wrt learning 3D modeling tools. I also highly recommend learning (2D and free) Inkscape. 2D might be just what you need for making mini-buildings. You can quickly draw the building sides, cut out windows, engrave embellishments, etc.


Great point! For simple box shapes like buildings, 2D modeling is actually easier. :+1:


There is a plug-in for Inkscape that will arrange your parts to a workspace to reduce the wasted space as much as possible. I’m an Inkscape dilettante (I’m a Corel & AI guy primarily, just use Inkscape for class) so don’t know what it is but one of the Inkscape experts would know. I think someone here also found one that takes SVGs and fits them - that would work with Inkscape files or potentially SVGs exported from one of the other programs.



Thank you for taking a look at my page! I’m glad you liked it.

I’ll have to give Inkscape a look and see what it can do for me.

I do think I want to stick with 3D because the buildings I intend on creating will be complex and have actual depth to accomodate Operation Sessions and various cargo transfers, not just flats to line the walls for scenery.

Thanks again for the tip!


Do you know the name of that particular plug-in? I’m on their web page and want to make sure I download the right one.


Sorry. And I’m lousy with searching on the forum here. Maybe make a separate thread for “SVG layout optimization” and a query as to what the app or plug-in is would get the attention of the folks who are better at that then I or who use it. I recall a post or two about it here on the forums but don’t know how to find it.

In 2D with Inkscape you can create the walls with finger joints and then put them together to form the 3D buildings. Take a look at this video to get the basics:


@polarbrainfreeze did a great series of tutorials on YouTube for this very aspect. The extension for Sketchup is flightofideas and works well.

I find Sketchup to be very easy to use. The only problem is that it isn’t parametric so if I have to change material thickness it won’t update everything automatically.

I’m at the point that Fusion360 or OnShape is going to save me time even though it will take more time at this stage.

However, @polarbrainfreeze has me covered with a tutorial there.


123D Catch can be used to model a building in 3D using a collection of photographs taken from all around the building. Here’s an example:

I used the program to model one of my wife’s stuffed toys, converted that to an STL, and then 3D printed it. That job came out really well. The program is available from Autodesk, though they are about to re-organize their product line.


Not trying to be pedantic, but it is parametric… Parametric support just isn’t an option in the free version. And they offer Education discounts in case you have a 6 year old with access to a laser cutter. :smiley:

The SVG exporting on SketchUp is kind of sketchy (pun intended)… there’s a plugin to assist in exporting faces that helps, but it’s not part of the distribution and it’s a fork of another package someone wrote but seemingly abandoned.

I’ve spent a lot of time with SketchUp and I’m trying to now get more familiar with Fusion 360, but I can still far more quickly bang out models in SketchUp because I can manipulate the objects in the GUI a lot faster than I can in Fusion and its context switching.


Hi Dan - is Sketchup Pro parametric by default or do you require a plugin, and if so which one?