A Beginner’s Guide to Model Building: Part 1 of 4

Model building is an art form that involves replicating real-life objects. The idea is to get as close as possible to being able to tell the difference between a model and its real counterpart. Let’s now take you through some of the basic principles of model building, how to get started with it yourself, and which tools you need in order to do so successfully.

What is Model Building?

Model Building

Model building is an activity that involves both creativity and skillful execution; modeling professionals must possess both an eye for detail as well as an understanding of how models work in order for them to be effective at their jobs. 

While there are various kinds of models that can be created using different materials, the most common type used today are those made from plastic which tends to last longer than anything else out there due to their durability compared with other materials, such as paper or cardboard versions.

Model building is a hobby that involves creating models of objects. Models can be found in various forms, including those used for art and engineering purposes. Model building has been a hobby since the dawn of human civilization, but it’s only recently that the practice has become more widespread, thanks to advances in technology.

What are Model Kits?

Model Kits

Model kits are put together with glue and paint. They are usually made of wood, plastic, or metal and can range in size from one inch to several feet in length. Model kits come in all shapes and sizes, from ships to planes to cars to buildings. You can paint them with acrylics, oils, or enamels, depending on the type of finish desired.

Model kits can be used as art pieces or for educational purposes. Architecture schools have used them for decades to help students learn about different styles and techniques. Model building is also very popular with children who can use their creativity to create something unique.

Types of Model Kits

By Materials

1. Plastic Model Kits

Plastic Model Kits

These are usually made of plastic and designed to be assembled by hand. Some even come with glue or paint included, so you don’t have to worry about getting the model dirty while building it. The assembly process is typically very straightforward: just match up the pieces and put them together with a little bit of force. The most complicated part might be gluing everything together once you’re done.

2. Diecast Model Kits

Diecast Model Kits

Diecast model kits are made of metal, not plastic. These models require more skill than plastic models because they often have more parts and details that need to be painted and assembled by hand before they can be displayed. 

Moreover, diecast models also tend to cost more than their plastic counterparts.

3. Wooden Model Kits

Wooden Model Kits

Wooden model kits are a great way to get started with model building as a hobby. They are particularly popular with younger model builders who may be just getting started with the hobby, but they can also be enjoyed by adults and older children.

One of the advantages of wooden kits is that they are easy to use and make it possible for you to create detailed models without any woodworking experience. As long as you follow the instructions provided, you should be able to build a quality model with minimal effort.

4. Resin Model Kits

Resin Model Kits

Resin kits are some of the most popular types of models because they are inexpensive and easy to assemble. Resin kits feature plastic parts that are molded in colored resin, so you don’t have to paint them yourself like with other types of models. 

While resin kits may not be as detailed or accurate as other models, they are perfect for beginners since they do not require any experience with painting or sculpting. Resin kits also come with instructions that make them easy to build, even if this is your first time assembling a model kit.

By Category

1. Mini Figure Kits

Mini Figure Kits

These are also very popular in many ways because they allow for more customization with paint jobs, clothing, etc., but it does require more work than just snapping pieces together, as most plastic model kits do. It takes a little more patience, but it’s worth it if you want something unique.

2. Snap-Fit Kits

Snap-Fit Kits

Snap-fit models are made up of pre-cut parts that connect together by snapping or clipping into place. They’re easy to assemble because there are no tools required — all you have to do is put the pieces together. The downside is that these models don’t hold up well if you try to remove them from their frame once they’re assembled.

3. Glue-Together Kits

Glue-Together Kits

Glue-together model kits require, as the name suggests, some glue for its several parts to stay together. They have more complex parts than snap-fit models but can be more durable once assembled. However, you may need more experience with gluing before attempting this type of kit.

4. Sci-Fi Model Kits

Sci-Fi Model Kits

If you’re interested in sci-fi modeling kits, there are several options available. These kits are typically made from plastic or resin and come with everything you need to create a 3D model of your favorite spaceship or spaceship set piece from a TV show or movie. 

The pieces may be pre-painted or unpainted, so it’s up to you whether you want to paint them yourself or leave them as they are when they arrive. 

If you’re looking for something specific, like Star Wars models, there are several online retailers that specialize in selling these kinds of kits, but they can be pricey depending on how big, and detailed they are.

5. Live Steam Model Kits

Live Steam Model Kits

Live steam model kits are a great way to get started in model building. A live steam kit comprises a boiler and an engine connected by a drive shaft.

The boiler heats water in order to create steam, which is then used to power the engine. The engine converts the steam pressure into rotational energy, which is then used to turn the flywheel and make the model move.

These types of models are especially popular with younger children because they are easy to use and require little maintenance. Most of these models also come with operating instructions so you can start immediately.

6. Robot Kits

Robot Kits

Robot kits are a series of pre-made robot parts that you can assemble to build your own robot. Each kit comes with a different set of parts and instructions on how to build them. If you’re new to building robots, these kits can be a great way to get started without having to worry about all the different components or programming. You just follow the instructions, put together the pieces, and presto! You have a robot.

Some robot kits are designed for adults, while others are easy and made for children. Some kits include batteries and motors, while others require these items to be purchased separately.

What is Scale in Model Building?

What is Scale in Model Building

Scale is the term used to describe the size of a model. When you see a model airplane, for example, it might be the same size as its full-sized counterpart. In this case, it is said to be in a 1:1 scale. Model airplanes can also be smaller or larger than their full-sized counterparts; this would mean that they are in 1:2 or 1:5 scale, respectively.

It’s important to understand that scale doesn’t just determine how big your finished model will be—it also has an impact on how detailed it will look and what type of materials you need for construction. 

For example, if you want a more detailed model with more details than required by your chosen scale, then you may need more expensive materials in order to achieve this level of detail.

Skill Levels in Model Building

Skill Levels in Model Building

Model kits are designed for people of all ages and abilities and are sold according to five different skill levels, making all categories accessible to every hobbyist. This ensures that every model builder can enjoy a similar experience and have fun regardless of the level.

Model skill levels vary from level 1 to level 5, with level 5 being the hardest. Kit levels range from Level 1, which has 10 to 30 pieces, to Level 5, which can have as many as 1,000 or more, depending on the piece count. 

The simplest kits (Level 1) are usually snap-together and require no glue or painting. All other levels require glue and painting.

Skill Level 1 Models: For Beginners

Skill Level 1 Models: For Beginners

Beginner-level models are great for those who are just getting started or those who want something easy but still want good results. They don’t take much time or effort, so even with limited experience, these projects will still be fun. 

For example, these models demonstrate how a car’s body, frame, and wheels work together. Having gained an understanding of this process, you will be able to understand and distinguish between different types of cars.

Skill Level 2 Models: For Intermediate Builders

desktop view from above of assembly and painting of retro scale model fighter plane concept background. modeling tools airbrush gun paint kit parts blue green cutting mat knife and brush work desk

This skill level is for children aged ten and older. It includes fun designs that you can paint and glue. It allows you to create a different image by choosing different colors or using the colors recommended in the instructions.

These models are highly detailed and made of many small parts (around 80), so they can be challenging to assemble. To create a realistic effect, you can use water-slide decals. They take practice and patience but can make your model really stand out.

Skill Level 3 Models: For Advanced Builders

Skill Level 3 Models: For Advanced Builders

Skill level three models can be as intricate as skill level four or five. They often have more intricate decal schemes, and you should be adept at building skill level two models before attempting to build one of these kits.

If you find that following the painting instructions becomes more difficult, mask off some areas before painting.

Skill Level 4 Models: For Professionals 

Skill Level 4 Models: For Professionals 

As the skill level increases, so does the number of parts – smaller parts and intricate details. At this level, you will be working on the interior as well as the exterior of your model.

Skill Level 5 Models: For Experts 

Skill Level 5 Models: For Experts 

The level of detail in these models can be very impressive, with hundreds of pieces or over a thousand. Some models include moving parts, like working suspension on cars and motorcycles, rotating propellers on planes, and movable turrets on tanks.

These models can take days or even weeks to build, depending on their complexity. These are often highly detailed ships, planes, and cars. Moreover, they can be quite expensive, sometimes $1,000 or more, and may result in a collector’s item.

Tools Required for Model Building

desktop view from above of assembly and painting of retro scale model fighter plane concept background. modeling tools airbrush gun paint kit parts blue green cutting mat knife and brush work desk

For Beginners:

1. Scissors

Scissors

Scissors come in handy for cutting out small pieces from the plastic sheets that come with kits. They’ll also do an excellent job of trimming excess material away when you’re building large models. However, make sure to sharpen your cutting tools from time to time – this will ensure your models have nice clean edges.

2. Ruler

Plastic ruler isolated on white

A ruler is a simple tool that can be used to measure the length of your model and take any measurements if needed.

3. Protractor

Protractor

Protractors are hand tools used for measuring angles; they’re particularly helpful when working on an intricate part, such as wings or propellers.

4. Glue 

Glue 

You can use glue for many things, including securing parts together and creating joints. You can also use it to fill gaps between parts if you need to create a smooth surface. 

There are many different types of glue, but the one you choose will depend on the type of project you’re working on and what materials you’re using (for example, wood will require a different kind of adhesive than plastic).

Some glues dry clear while others dry white; some are thick while others are thin. A good rule of thumb is that if you’re building something small, buy ready-to-use glue in a bottle with an applicator brush attached—but if your project is bigger or more complex (like a car), buy powdered epoxy resin instead; this has less chance of causing an accident since it’s harder to spill or drip onto anything else.

Types of Glue

Polyvinyl acetate (PVA)

Polyvinyl acetate (PVA)

Polyvinyl acetate, also called PVA, is a glue used for landscaping or building dioramas. It’s affordable, easy to use, and good for adding fine details like stones or grass. Although it is not as strong as clear adhesives, PVA can be removed quickly if you make a mistake.

Cyanoacrylate (CA)

Cyanoacrylate (CA)

Cyanoacrylate, also known as super glue, is a popular adhesive in the model-making community. It works best on metal and plastic.

As it sets quickly, you should make sure to align the parts carefully when you assemble them. Do not touch it with your skin or let it come into contact with your skin because it can bond fingers together.

Epoxy resin

Epoxy resin

Two-part epoxy glue is used to bind surfaces together. The glue consists of an adhesive and a hardener, which must be mixed before application. It generally takes longer than cyanoacrylate to dry, but faster mixes are available.

While the epoxy resin is extremely strong, it is not commonly used for building model kits because it must be mixed, takes a long time to harden, and tends to make a mess.

Aliphatic glue

Aliphatic glue

Aliphatic glue, also known as wood glue or carpenter’s glue, is faster to set and more resistant to sand and water than polyvinyl acetate. It is ideally suited for bonding components made of wood.

Canopy glue

Canopy glue is great for bonding plastic components together. This glue has a good bond and dries transparently, so it won’t leave any white marks on your model. Although it is not as strong as super glue, it is useful for attaching small pieces.

5. Paint

Paint

You can use paint to add color and detail to your models. If you’re working on a wooden model, make sure it’s dry before applying any kind of primer or basecoat; if you’re using plastic parts, just clean them off with soap and water before painting them.

When painting a model kit, modelers generally use one of two types of paint: acrylic-based and oil-based. The type of paint used depends on the situation.

Oil-based paint

Oil-based paints were used for model kits until acrylic paints began providing similar results. They combine linseed oil or other dry oils with pigments, and when applied, the drying oil reacts with oxygen in the air and forms a hard, durable finish.

Oil-based paint is popular because it dries slowly and can bind to many kinds of surfaces. Disadvantages of oil-based paint include its long drying time and its need for turpentine to clean brushes.

Acrylic-based paint

Acrylic-based paints are the most common type of paint used in model kits. Acrylic polymers, water, and color pigments are combined to create the final product.

6. Tweezers

Tweezers

Tweezers are a handy tool for positioning small parts. Although one pair will generally suffice, having different types of tweezers on hand can prove useful in a variety of situations.

7. Hobby knife

Hobby knife

Hobby knives are used for cutting styrene sheets into smaller pieces. They work best with thin sheets of material; thicker materials may require more force than what this tool can provide.

8. Brushes

Brushes

Although many models come pre-painted, you may want to paint your own or modify the colors. The following brush types are needed: fine point brushes, soft, wide brushes.

9. Sprue cutters

Sprue cutters

These cutters are designed to cut through a sprue (the plastic tree that holds all of the model parts together) without damaging any other parts on the tree. This is useful when you need to remove small sections from a much larger item like an engine block or wing.

10. Cutting Mat

Cutting Mat

Sharp tools can damage the surfaces you are working on. A cutting mat will protect your work surface from damage and keep it free of marks or scratches. However, if you are cutting with a dull blade, it will not cut between the fibers.

11. Tape

Tape

Tape can be used to mark out paint areas or panel lines, hold together loose parts or hold glued components still. Transparent tape is particularly useful for this purpose.

You are ready to Begin Working on Your First Kit!

In the end, model building is an excellent hobby that’s fun, relaxing, and community-oriented. It can also be addictive; after you complete your first project, you may find yourself continually searching out new kits to build and techniques to perfect.

With this information in hand, we hope you will feel confident in choosing your first model and the accessories required to complete it. 

For the next part (Important Steps for Model Building), Click Here.