A Complete Guide to Model Building for Beginners
For a lot of people, starting something new can be overwhelming and even downright intimidating. The same can be said for model building. It’s simply a lot to take in when you’re faced with so many unfamiliar terms and concepts. Where should you begin and what should you do next?
In this beginner’s guide, we’ve outlined the basic steps to model building. We’ll take you through each one and explain everything you need to know so that your journey to your first model is as smooth as possible.
What Is Model Building?
Before anything else, let’s go over what model building is. Basically, model building entails creating a final model by assembling ready-made kits. Once you have enough experience and skill, you can also create models using components and materials that you’ve acquired yourself.
The models you’ll find generally fall under two categories. First, there are models that have been designed to resemble real-life objects such as landmarks and car models. There are also scale replicas which are accurate copies of real-life objects but in a much smaller form. Second, there are models that recreate fictional characters and concepts such as anime characters and robots.
The Basic Steps of Model Building
While each kit differs in design, difficulty level, and material, the building process remains the same no matter if you’re a beginner or a pro. This building process includes the following steps.
- Finding the right model kit for you
- Gathering the tools you’ll need
- Preparing for assembly
- Assembling the model
- Adding finishing touch
- Displaying the completed model
As you grow as a builder, you’ll find yourself tweaking these core steps to create a building process that’s more comfortable and efficient for you. But, for now, let’s explore each vital step.
Finding the Right Model Kit for You
The first step is, of course, to find a suitable kit for you. Not only should it spark your interest, but it should also be on par with your skill level among other things. To make your search for the perfect model kit much easier, we’ve listed the factors that you should consider.
It goes without saying but no one wants to build a model that they’re not interested in. So, think about what makes your heart pound. What is it that inspires you? What kind of model would you like to see on your shelf or desk every day?
Some of the popular model genres include:
- Aircraft models like airplanes, helicopters, and hot air balloons
- Animals and mythical creatures
- Anime models like Pokemon, Dragon Ball, and Neon Genesis Evangelion
- Architecture models such as buildings, landmarks, tourist attractions, and castles
- Carnival models like carousels and Ferris wheels
- Interactive models like marble runs and gramophones
- Lego models
- Mecha models like Transformers, Gundams, and Zoids
- Military models like submarines, tanks, and weapons
- Miniatures like doll houses, tabletops, and figures
- Music-related models like musical instruments and music boxes
- Sci-fi models like Star Wars and Star Trek
- Space exploration models like rockets, space stations, and space shuttles
- Train models
- Vehicle models like motorcycles, cars, and trucks
- Watercraft models like boats and ships
Once you’ve decided what kind of model design you want to build, the next step is to find a kit of that design in a difficulty level that matches your skill level. This is easy because most design genres are available in different difficulty levels to cater to builders of all ages and experiences.
Manufacturers come with their own system of grading the difficulty level of their products. You’ll also know if a kit is geared towards new builders if it says it’s a starter kit in the product name.
Here at Robotime, the more stars the kit has, the harder it is to assemble it. For beginners, we recommend kits with three stars or less.
- One to Two Stars- These kits often come with larger pieces and can be quickly assembled even by kids.
- Three Stars- These kits are geared towards the average builders, including teens and adults. It can be built in 2 to 4 hours and sometimes comes with lights.
- Four Stars- These kits have more intricate designs and smaller pieces so they’re more fragile and harder to handle. They also sometimes come with mechanical parts that allow them to move and produce sounds. These take 4 to 8 hours to build and are created for more experienced builders.
- Five to Six Stars- These are the kits that we’ve created to challenge even experienced builders. The estimated assembly time goes anywhere from 5 to 12 hours.
Model kits come in four main types of materials. Weigh the pros and cons of each one and consider whether you like their look and heft to pick which material you’d like to work with.
- Plastic- Plastic model kits are widely available, cheap, light, and easy to work with, making them great for beginners. That said, they often have less intricate details and a less realistic surface texture. A lot of plastic sets also require some cleanup to remove the seam lines.
- Metal- Metal models are heavier, making them harder to handle and transport. However, some people love their heft and durability. They can also be easily stripped. Painting one requires more preparation and they’re limited in terms of detail and posing.
- Resin- Resin models are highly popular because of their exceptional details and more realistic surface texture. They’re also lightweight and easy to paint on. Be prepared though because they’re quite expensive and fragile. They also take longer to assemble since they require more preparation, like sanding and cleaning, to make sure that the pieces fit perfectly.
- Wood- Aside from being affordable and lightweight, wooden models have a timeless look that makes them look great even without painting. They’re also more eco-friendly and don’t give off fumes like plastic and resin do. Still, they are quite fragile, making them harder to work with.
Size and Scale
For those with limited space, most kits come with the measurements of the completed model so you can check if it will fit where you’re planning to display it. It will also give you an idea of how big or small the parts you’ll be working with are.
On the other hand, the scale of the kit is useful to know if you’re planning to build a campaign or modify you’re models in the long run. Consistency in terms of scale will ensure that you don’t end up with a soldier that’s bigger than your truck or a gun that’s too small for your character. The measurements will be in perfect ratio and proportion throughout your project.
In a 1:16 scale replica, the number on the left, which is “1”, represents the model while the number on the right, which is “16”, represents the number of times the model has been scaled down compared to the original. That means that on a 1:16 scale kit, the model is 1/16 the size of the original or that the model is 16 times smaller than the original object. The higher the number on the right, the more the model was downsized.
Gathering the Basic Tools You’ll Need for Model Building
Having the right tools will give you an easier and faster assembly process. Some starter kits come with the tools you’ll need to assemble them, albeit very basic. So, if you’re planning to do more kits, it’s good to start investing in these basic tools.
- Self-healing cutting mat to prevent slips and protect your table
- Sharp scissors with a pointed tip
- Clippers for removing model pieces from sprues
- Tweezers for handling very small pieces
- Hobby knife for cleaning up the sprues and mold lines
- Sandpaper to smoothen rough edges and help out with tight fits
- Glue, the type depends on the model’s material (check this glue guide for more info)
- Clothes pegs, elastic bands, or even tape to hold parts together while drying
- Paint brushes in different sizes
- Paint, sometimes included in the kit
Preparing for Assembly
Once you have your model kit and tools on hand, it’s time to prepare for the assembly process. This step is crucial otherwise the assembly might take longer due to disorganization and even end in frustration when you find out that you glued the wrong parts together. So, set aside some time to do the following steps before you head start with the assembly.
- First, take out everything from the model kit box and spread them out on a flat space.
- Ready your tools and find the assembly instructions or manual.
- Use your clippers to cut off the model pieces from their sprues. Just breaking them off from their sprues can damage the parts, especially the fragile, smaller ones.
- Using your hobby knife and sandpaper, carefully remove the seamlines and leftover sprues from the model pieces.
- Identify each piece from the assembly instructions and check where they’ll be going to avoid incorrectly gluing parts together. You can also group the pieces according to when you’ll be needing them or which part they’ll go to to make locating them during assembly easier.
- Clean up your workspace by discarding the empty sprues and clippings.
Assembling the Model
Now that you’re done with the preparation, it’s time to move on to the assembly.
- Do a dry-fit first wherein you check if the pieces will go together smoothly without using adhesives. If you find that some pieces are a tight fit, it’s important not to force them to prevent breakage. Instead, grab your trusty sandpaper and sand them little by little until they’re able to slide in smoothly.
- If you’re planning to paint your model, take note of which parts are obscuring other parts. Later on, you’ll need to leave them unglued so you can paint the parts underneath them for maximum detail.
- Disassemble the pieces you’ve dry-fitted.
- Now, reassemble the model, applying a thin layer of glue to the connecting areas of the pieces. Remember to not glue and attach the pieces that obscure the other parts.
- Use clothes pegs, elastic bands, or tape to hold pieces that are drying together. Leave them to dry overnight.
- Once the glue has fully cured, apply paint primer to the model and let it dry.
- Paint the model and let it dry.
- Attach and glue the remaining pieces that have been left because they obstruct the other parts. Let the glue fully cure.
- Apply paint prime and let it dry before painting it.
- Allow it to completely dry before adding the finishing touches.
If you have a good grasp of where the pieces go, you can also prime and paint them before the assembly.
Adding Finishing Touches to the Model
Add whatever finishing touches that you want to make your model more detailed. You can draw in some cracks or maybe add some weathering. If the model kit includes decals, apply them according to the instructions. Use your tweezers if you’re having trouble attaching the smaller decals.
Next, determine what kind of finish you’d like your model to have. A glossy paint will give you a shiny finish while matte paint will give you a flat look. Satin paint will give you a finish that’s somewhere between glossy and matte. Once you’ve chosen what kind of finish you want to use, apply a coating and let it fully dry.
If you’re satisfied with your model and are done with customizations, apply a coat of sealant like clear acrylic and let it dry before proceeding to the final step.
Displaying the Completed Model
The final step of model building is to determine how you want to display it. After all, it’s your labor of love and hard work. You want to make sure that it’s protected from dust and falls while still showcasing its true beauty.
Some model kits already include base stands or clear enclosures but you might also want to look into a customized cabinet or display case. When choosing how to display your model, it’s important to consider how it will look from all angles or how you will light it up. For music boxes and interactive types of models, it’s better to put them in a display cabinet with a glass door, so you can easily take them out whenever you want to use them.
Congratulations on creating your first model!
Model building is a long and tedious process that requires a lot of thought and patience. Take it slowly, take your time, and you’ll find out that it’s actually a very relaxing process. Nothing compares to that rewarding feeling and satisfaction once you’ve completed a model. Even as time passes by, you can take pride in your works of art and share them with your family and friends.
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