Saturday, March 26, 2011

Train layout blueprint

With the layout done in a CAD program, I figured I could easily print it 1:1, lay the printout down on the plywood, and begin assembly on the plywood.  That way there's no need to do painful measurements -- I simply put the parts on the blueprint, and I'm done.  This of course, ignores cork roadbed and how I'm going to get the blueprint out after I've attached the track, but one thing at a time.

So first, we need to get the layout printed 1:1.  XTrackCAD can do this natively, by dividing the layout into 8.5x11" sections -- sections which you then glue back together.  This brings back memories of pasting together banners with Print Shop on Apple //e's with dot matrix printers.  This blog post describes what you need to do to get XTrackCAD to print this way.  One advantage of using XTrackCAD is that you can ask it to include marks for the cork roadbed.  The disadvantage of doing it this way is that you have to cut margins from a zillion individual pages (18 for my layout) and painstakingly align and tape them together.  With CutePDF on Windows, you can at least convince XTrackCAD to put the whole thing in a PDF for printing.  On the Mac, it prints as PS, which you have to convert to PDF for printing.  I ended up doing it on the Windows machine, as I had no end of trouble trying to get Preview to open the PS files (and didn't feel like installing ps2pdf).

Once we have the layout printed on 8.5x11, we have to summon the urge to do all that cutting and taping.  I tried and tried, but it wasn't to be.  Wouldn't it be simpler to print the whole thing out on one sheet of blueprint paper?  I wasn't able to convince XTrackCAD to print on large paper -- it seemed to want to restrict the maximum page size to 8.5x11.  It certainly didn't want to try printing to a 36"x48" blueprint page.  So now, the adventure begins.  I figured a bit of time invested fiddling with software would more than pay off if it freed me from the need to play cut'n'paste.

Here's what I ended up doing:
  1. In XTrackCAD, select Select All from the Edit menu.  This selects everything, of course, but also causes the Export and Export DXF items to activate under the File menu.
  2. Export DXF.  Save the file somewhere.
You may be able to stop here, if your printer (or print store) will accept DXF.  I wanted to be extra sure. DXF is opaque to me, but PDF is not.  I wanted to get a PDF which would print to 36x48, and wanted to visually verify that.
  1. Install EDrawingsViewer -- a free viewer for DXF files.  It's available for PC or Mac, though I used the PC version.
  2. Open the DXF file with EDrawingsViewer, and print it.
    1. Select a 1:1 print:

    2. Select the CutePDF printer
    3. Hit the Properties button to configure CutePDF for this print.
    4. Select the Layout tab.  You'll probably want Landscape.
    5. Select the Paper/Quality tab, and click the Advanced button
    6. Under Paper/Output, you'll see Paper Size.  Change the value to "Postscript Custom Page Size".
    7. Click the Edit Custom Page Size button.
    8. Set the dimensions of the page.  For me, it was 36" by 48".
    9. Print the document
    10. CutePDF will open a dialog box, asking you where to save the PDF file. Pick a location, and save it.
  3. Take the PDF file to your local print store. I took mine to Staples, where they printed it out on blueprint paper for just over $5.  One thing to note about Staples: While their online tool claims to support wide-format printing, it doesn't have a rotate button.  If it disagrees with the rotation of your PDF file (as it did with mine), you have to place the print request in person.
Here's the result:

That's the blueprint (the glorious one-sheeted blueprint) sitting on the sheet of plywood.  I added a turnout just to verify that the sizes were right, and they were.  The turnout fits exactly.

I will miss the roadbed outlines.  XTrackCAD can generate them when writing PostScript, but apparently not when writing DXF.  Sigh.  I'd rather have one sheet of paper than roadbed outlines, though.


  1. It looks like you have center lines. What do you need the roadbed outlines for?

  2. Completeness, I guess. An extra level of reassurance. But you're right -- the centerline is sufficient.