Building a plastic model can be a little more difficult than it seems. But it can also be very enjoyable and rewarding when you have realistic goals and the right tools for the job.

Let’s look at some things to keep in mind when buying your first plastic kit.

What are your interests?

Straight away I’m sure you’re starting to think of what kind of model you want to build, right? Well that’s fine because that is really the first step. The best thing about plastic models is that there are thousands and thousands of different types. From planes and cars to spaceships and dinosaurs, there has been a plastic model made of just about everything.

So the type of model you get is really about what you’re interested in and would love to work on a miniature version of. Love WW2 history? Maybe try a classic fighter plane of the era like a Spitfire. Or maybe you’d like to make a tiny replica of a vehicle from Star Wars, the choice is yours.

Don’t bite off more than you can chew.

When you first go shopping for a plastic kit you might pick up some really elaborate or large ones and imagine how cool it will look once you’ve painted it and have it on display in your room. Just remember to try and be realistic when first starting out. You want a model that isn’t too small but isn’t enormous either. A good example for a car would be a 1:18 scale kit or a 1:72 scale fighter plane kit. {1:18 scale means the model is one eighteenth the size of the real one. 1:1 scale would mean it’s a life size replica.} The reason you want a decent size plastic model without going over the top is;

  1. Larger parts generally mean the build will be a little easier.
  2. A lot of surface area to hold when gluing and painting.
  3. A decent size model will display nicely and be easy to handle when built.

You also need to remember to stay within your limits as far as difficulty is concerned. Most model kits these days have an indication of how difficult it will be to build on the box. If you’re in doubt, ask someone at the store for advice on a good model for your skill level.

How long does it take to build a plastic kit?

When you’re spending time on your interests you should be taking your time so you can learn from what you’re doing and more importantly enjoy yourself! That doesn’t mean building plastic models will take you forever, you can have one completed in a day or two if you have enough time set aside. That being said, you must also have patience. If you don’t have any now you will learn to through building these kits. You will make mistakes, you will learn from them and you will get better at it. But even mistakes can usually be patched up, and if they can’t you can pretend the vehicle is damaged or something. There are no rules!

What else will I need and how much is it all going to cost?

Apart from the model kit itself, you will be needing a few other supplies and tools. This initial outlay isn’t usually too much and what you buy should last you through many projects.

You’ll occasionally find a model that has everything needed to build it like paints, brushes and glue included in the box, but these kits are not common so let’s have a look at what we’ll typically need when building a plastic model.

HOBBY KNIFE – The plastic pieces of the kit should not be twisted free from the frame that holds them. You’ll need to cut them out neatly and for that you’ll need a hobby knife. You’ll find it will come in extremely useful. They’re small and very sharp like a scalpel and will cost you around $5.

GLUE – Glue used to assemble plastic models is different from standard craft glue or super glue. It’s designed to not set instantly to allow slight adjustments if needed and you never need to apply much so it should last you awhile. That being said, there are different types for different materials (resin cast for example) so it’s always best to ask if it’s right for your project. Glue will set you back around $5.

PAINT – Depending on your project and it’s colour scheme, the cost of your paint will vary. You might want to get a can of spray paint to cover a large area that is all the same colour, but somewhere down the track you’ll need to use individual pots of coloured paint. You’ll probably want to look at the model you’ve bought, decide on the colours you’re going to paint it and then buy those colours. And those paints should last you for ages if capped properly, so you can amass quite a collection of them over the years. It depends on the brand but paints usually sit at around $5 to $8 each.

BRUSHES – To go with the paints of course. You’ll only need a couple of sizes when you start out, a thin one for detail and a larger one to cover larger areas. Individual brushes run at about $2 each but you can get sets of them as well.   Those are the essentials but just like a carpenter’s tool collection, your collection of tools will more than likely grow with your skill level. You can do wonders with some wood, a saw, a hammer and some some nails but eventually you’ll need a drill, a screwdriver, screws, sandpaper…. When buying these supplies it’s a good time to check with someone at the shop if you are getting all the right things for the job.

Aah! I’m stuck! What now?

So you’ve got some questions that need answering or you’ve got yourself in over your head with a large project? There are large communities of plastic modelers of all skill levels all over Australia and the world and someone is always willing to lend some helpful advice. If you’re a local living in South Australia a great community is the South Australian Plastic Modellers Association (SAPMA). They welcome people of all skill levels and hold exhibitions every year.

You can find their website here

It would be worth joining their facebook page if you had a question, and take note of the next expo they’re staging if you’d like to have a look at people’s completed works up close. Some other forums that are around that might be helpful are on covering all types of plastic kits and for aircraft kits specifically, while is focused on military kits. These sites all have active forums and should be able to help if you’re stuck.


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