Scale Explained: How to Choose the Best Model Size for You
So you’ve decided to start your first scale model, and you’re now scrolling through our range of models to decide which is your favourite. There are a number of factors that may settle your decision – a recommendation from a friend, the way it looks, or the fascinating story behind it. But what about size? How do you decide what scale is best, and what does model building scale even mean? Models come in a range of scales, the most common being , , , , , , , and Choosing a scale that works for you is the first big step in mastering your model builds.
Once you have an understanding of the size you are working with, you can really show off your creative building
Unless you get transported into an alternate universe, or you are filthy rich, scale models are always several sizes SMALLER than the real-life object they represent. When reading the scale then, the number on the left side of the colon (usually 1) represents the model, and the number on the right-hand side represents how many times larger the original object is by comparison.
To clarify this concept a little better, we’ve listed a few of our current items with their scales, model sizes and original sizes:
|Senna McLaren MP4/4|
|D51 Steam Locomotive|
|Suzuki GSX R Hayabusa|
As you can see, the larger the original object is, the more it needs to be scaled down to a manageable model size. You’ll also notice that we’ve included the Millennium Falcon in the list, with a scale of This particular model is the exact same size as the prop used in the Star Wars films, not the actual Millennium Falcon. The official length of this legendary starship is metres – could you imagine building a scale model that size?!
So apart from removing the need for a football field to display your finished product, what else is there to know about scale?
Simply Put, Size Matters
A lot of the models on offer from ModelSpace are big, with our ships in particular being very large. While this could potentially make displaying them harder, there are a couple of key benefits:
- The parts are bigger and therefore easier to handle.
- The detail you can achieve is much greater, and gives you a lot more freedom to add your own interpretations and flourishes.
Note: We have a range of sturdy and practical display stands available to suit any of the ModelSpace models, so you can easily display your finished models without any hassles.
Conversely, while smaller models are generally much faster to complete and can be displayed almost anywhere, they can be quite fiddly when you have to put them together or paint them – of course for some this challenge is what it’s all about.
Scale Keeps It Consistent
Let’s say you’re putting together your brand new Hummer H1 model. You’ve completed the model according to the kit, but you’re feeling inspired, and you want to convert this standard Hummer into a post-apocalyptic battle machine. All that’s needed now is a slick paint job, a couple of cannons, and a mean roof-mounted machine gun to seal the deal. But how big should these attachments be?
Scale takes the guesswork out of modifications. For example, if you’re using a real cannon as your reference, simply take the measurements of the original cannon and divide it by the scale of the Hummer (i.e. divide by 8, taken from the scale) to give you the scaled cannon size.
By using your current model as your point of reference, you can easily keep the breadth, width, length and height of your modifications uniform, thus avoiding compromising the overall look of your model by using incorrectly sized parts.
Scale Conversion Calculator
If youre still a bit confused, this Scale Conversion Calculator from Jimbob-Wan allows you to calculate the scale size accurately. If you have the measurements of a full-size vessel or any part of it, you can use this calculator to match any part to almost any scale both in inches and millimetres.
Whether you want several models that you can spread out on the shelves, or one large model to take pride of place on the coffee table, scale is one of the first aspects you should consider. Once you have an understanding of the size you are working with, you can really show off your creative building something we love and wholeheartedly encourage!
Do you have a scale model you’re working on or about to start? Share your build diary and some photos on the ModelSpace forum or on the ModelSpace Facebook page – we’d love to see them!
List of scale model sizes
An understanding of scale is fundamental to scale modelling and fortunately the basic principles are easy to understand. This article explains the principles of scale and the reasons for the many different scales available to modellers.
This model of the Sulaco from the movie Aliens is 1/th scale. This is a very small scale made necessary by the huge size that the spacecraft represented in the movie
The Basics of Scale
The scale of a model is expressed either as a ratio e.g. or more commonly as a fraction e.g. 1/35th and indicates the size of the model compared to the original object that it is replicating. For example a 1/th () scale tank has dimensions exactly times smaller than the original. If the original tank was 10 meters long, the model would be 10 cm long at 1/th scale.
A model that is scale (or 1/1th scale) would be obviously be exactly the same size as the original.
Strictly speaking, all dimensions on a scale model should be reduced in size in accordance with the scale being used. The overall height, width and depth of every single part of the model should be reduced in the same proportion compared to the original. In practice, this does not always happen. Sometimes a part of a model may be deliberately out of scale to make the model appear more realistic, or for practical reasons. This may seem odd and the following two examples explain why this is done:
- On a sailing ship, the thickness of the sails may only be a few milimetres. A typical scale for a sailing ship is 1/th and at this scale the thickness of the sail should only be a fraction of a millimetre. Even if a model sail this thin could be produced, it would be very fragile.
- An armoured vehicle is usually adorned with hundreds of bolts and rivets. At 1/35th scale, which is probably the most popular armour scale, every bolt and rivet can be faithfully reproduced although they will be very tiny. However, on a 1/72nd scale tank, details such as bolts at the correct scale may be too small to be seen by the naked eye and certainly too small to produce. To be totally accurate, all of this detail should be left off because it could not be seen. However, if this was done, the model would look very simple and toy like. Thus most modellers will include these details even if they are over scale. Sometimes there is a conflict between scale accuracy and apparent realism and most modellers in these cases will choose realism.
The general rule is that as far as practical modellers will try to keep to scale, but the prime aim is to make the model look realistic. Where scale and realism conflict, the latter will normally win. However, the final choice is always up to the individual modeller.
The Proliferation of Scales
This photograph compares a 1/35th scale model with a 1/72nd model. Although the models are of different subjects their real size is very similar. The 1/72nd scale Warrior on the right appers to be much smaller that the 1/35th scale Piranha on the left because of the relationship of dimensions to volume. This is why smaller scales are much easier to build up a collection and put on display.
The second article about scale lists most of the popular scales currently being used and it can be seen that there is a huge number. The reasons for this are both practical and historical.
Scale model armoured vehicles can be found at scales ranging from 1/6th to 1/th and part of the reason for this is that some modellers prefer to make big models, some prefer small models and some like a variety.
Some modellers like the challenge of a really big model with hundreds of parts, where every detail can be faithfully reproduced. These models have the disadvantage of being expensive, difficult to store and take a long time to build. Other modellers prefer small scales and this may be for practical reasons such as cost, ease of building, display and storage etc. Another reason for choosing very small scales is that some modellers like the challenge of reproducing every detail in a very small model. Building in small scale is not necessarilly an easy option and some of the better small scale models have the same number of parts as their larger scale big brothers.
Another practical reason for different scales is the size of the original that the models are based on. Warships are often built in scales of 1/th or 1/th because warships are generally very, very, big. If one tried to make a 1/35th scale model of a World War II battleship it would probably not fit into most modellers houses. This is the reason why the larger the size of the original the small the scale that will tend to be commonly used.
Ship modellers tend to work at scales of around 1/th, aircraft modellers work at 1/76th or 1/48th depending on the type of aircraft, armour modellers hover around 1/35th scale and car modellers tend to use 1/12th scale. It is just common sense.
The 1/35th scale Piranha and 1/72nd scale Warrior compared side by side again. From this angle it is easier to see how much smaller the 1/72nd model is. It is possible to put the same level of detail in the smaller scale model as the larger one, but it requires immense skill as some of the parts are miniscule.
Scale modelling grew up over a period of time from small beginnings. Different manufacturers all over the world began to produce injection moulded plastic kits and there was no real reason for them to coordinate their efforts, so they produced models at scales that they each felt appropriate.
Thus, one manufacturer might be producing a range of aircraft at 1/76th scale whilst another might bring out a similar range but at 1/72nd scale. In the early days of the hobby standards were much lower than today and the exact scale did not seem so important. Some models particularly those of cars and fictional subjects (such as science fiction craft and monsters) did not even quote a scale.
Over time there has been a tendency for scales to become standardised as the market has become more globalised and dominated by a few large manufacturers. However, manufacturers still surprise us. Up to , military vehicle (MV) modellers had two main choices of scale, 1/72nd and 1/35th. At the end of that year, Tamiya announced the introduction of a brand new scale that at 1/48th was bang in the middle of the two and tried to capture the advantages of each existing scale. The 1/48th scale had been popular with aircraft modellers for a long time, but this was effectively a new scale for MV modellers.
Since then Tamiya have been churning out new models in this scale at a prolific rate and other manufacturers have begun to do the same, so in the space of a couple of years a new scale has appeared and been accepted.
Why does all this matter?
Perhaps for some modellers this is only of acadamic interest. Some modellers will choose each individual project without any overall plan depending on their fancy. Building a 1/th scale warship may be followed by a 1/12th scale racing car. There is nothing wrong with this.
However, a large number of modellers tend to buld to a plan. They will prefer to stick to a certain genre such as aircraft or marine subjects. Some modellers become quite specific and may only build WWII German Armour, or even may have the aim of building a model of every type and colour scheme of Spitfire fighter aircraft every built.
Personally, I prefer to work with scale for armour. The reason why is that the size of the details and the models themselves are just right. Finished model once completed are perfect size to reveal enough details but do not take up too much space in the display cabinet. Even figures are joy to paint and are detailed enough to paint even – say eye pupils.
As mentioned above, Tamiya has recently released scale for tanks, but am not too keen on it. Too small in my opinion.
With aircrafts, I prefer to go with scale but this is mostly due to the fact that I mostly paint fighters. WW2 fighters in scale are mostly ~20 cm long – JUST RIGHT. This scale is also big enough if you want to do some alternations like open few hatches/covers, insert aftermarket engine, etc.. There is something ‘magical’ when you start opening the hatches and exposing the plane internals. This really takes your modelling onto the next level. I will write more about this in later articles.
I haven’t done many scale planes but will do some in the near future. TAMIYA has released nice ZERO, SPITFIRE and MUSTANG all in scale which judging from the reviews are really NICE! Lots of details and superbly engineered. It would be a sin for a modeller not to have one of those babies in his/her collection.
I do not know why, but since is close to , I have always wondered why aren’t planes actually sized to This way the planes would fit beautifully in the dioramas together with scale figurines and armour. Few times I have looked for the scale planes but the choice is very limiting. Only BRONCO does model planes in that scale. Pity I say!
If you are aiming to build a collection, whether it be tanks, warships or motorbikes then you will probably want the majority of examples in your collection to be the same scale so that they can be compared and displayed together. In this case the choice of scale is important and you may wish to consider the following in your decision:
- Cost the larger the scale the more you are likely to have to spend on each model.
- Time larger scale models generally require a larger investment in time.
- Availability what is the availability of your chosen speciality in each scale? Also in addition to the basic models how many after market manufacturers make accessories and detail sets for your chosen scale?
- Storage and display before you embark on a collection of 1/32nd scale aircraft you have better have a large space reserved to store and display them.
- Satisfaction what size and level of detail model do you most enjoy making and what size will you get most satisfaction from when you stand back and look at your completed project?
In the second article on scale, we will list the most popular scales for different subjects -stay tuned!
scale is the most popular scale for model military vehicles, with an extensive lineup of models and aftermarket parts available from a wide variety of manufacturers.
The roots of as a military modelling scale lie in early motorized plastic tank kits. To accommodate electric motors and gearboxes, these models needed to be made in a larger scale. There were many companies making such tanks, but it was Tamiya's example that made a de facto standard.
Company chairman Shunsaku Tamiya explains the origins of the scale in his book Master Modeler:
After the success of the Panther, I thought it would be a good idea for us to produce other tanks from different countries in the same scale. I measured the Panther and it turned out to be about 1/35 of the size of the original. This size had been chosen simply because it would accommodate a couple of B-type batteries. Tamiya's 1/35 series tanks eventually got to be known around the world, but this is the slightly haphazard origin of their rather awkward scale.
Early kits in the scale, built around bulky motorization components, often sacrificed scale appearance and detail, but their large size and potential for intricate superdetailing appealed to hobbyists.
Over the years, kits have become more and more detailed and accurate, and nowadays there is a whole industry in dedicated to offering aftermarket detail parts for kits. After a new kit is released, companies like Aber and Eduard usually make detail sets available for it, allowing modellers to replace kit parts with more accurate photoetched alternatives.
In terms of model range, is typically limited to military land vehicles and figures. Some helicopter kits also exist in the scale, whereas large airplane kits are more commonly done in scale. In recent years, there have been some aeroplane releases in as well, typically of vehicles operating in close contact with ground forces, such as the Fieseler Storchliaison aircraft or the Horsa glider. The figures are usually designed to go with the AFV's though, and are largely based around World War II. World War I figures are unusual and pre figures are very rare indeed.
- ^Tamiya, Shunsaku (). Master Modeler: Creating the Tamiya Style. Kodansha International Ltd. p. ISBN.
Scale 1 comparison 35
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