Sunday, August 30, 2020

7 suggestions for beginners

 I can’t imagine what it must be like coming to the hobby today. Even if your interests are restricted to just aircraft, armor, ships, cars, there are hundreds of kits, aftermarket, and finishing products available that could be overwhelming to the newcomer.

That wasn’t my experience in the 1980s. There were only a handful of kit manufacturers, just two or three aftermarket companies, and no one was producing any weathering products at all.

There's a lot to explore these days, and I see a lot of new modelers asking questions in Facebook groups looking for recommendations on kits, paints, airbrushes, etc. Here are my high-level suggestions if you’re new to scale modeling. Clearly, you’re free to take whatever path you choose, but I think these ideas will put you on a solid path as you learn about scale modeling.

Select good kits

I think it’s important that your first few kits are well-engineered and relatively easy to build. You don’t want to spend time fiddling with assemblies that are over-engineered or trying to fix problems that are the result of poor kit design. Most modelers will recommend Tamiya as the standard of quality no matter your interests — aircraft, armor, ships, automotive — and I agree completely.

Ignore inaccuracies

If you spend more than 10 minutes in any Facebook group or discussion forum you’re sure to see guys pointing out inaccuracies in the kits you have or would like to build. These criticisms are justified, but as you build your first 10 to 20 kits, focus on mastering assembly and painting. You can learn how to fix kit inaccuracies later in your career. You may even learn to love the so-called rivet counters!

Skip the photoetch and resin

There are dozens of manufacturers that offer photoetch and resin to improve your kits, but they often present challenges that will challenge the skills of a beginner. Start introducing aftermarket products as you master the basics.

Buy an airbrush

I hate to recommend that you spend a lot of money from the start, but most modelers will say that an airbrush is a necessity. Yes, you’ll see really good looking models that are brush painted, but those modelers are wizards blessed with skills from the heavens. Most of us rely on airbrushes, even for small subassemblies. With practice you’ll find that an airbrush can produce results beyond a paintbrush. 

Don’t obsess with weathering

Like aftermarket products, there are dozens of weathering products on the market these days. Making sense of them all, much less mastering their use, is challenging. Focus on applying a clean paint job to your model with your airbrush, and then introduce weathering products and techniques later.

Don’t strive for perfection

I really don’t think this is a problem with most beginning modelers, but don't be too disappointed if your first efforts don't look as good as you'd like. Look at each model as a learning experience. Make mental notes (or better yet, written notes) of what didn’t turn out as well as you’d hoped, and look to improve with your next model.

Ask for help

Finally, ask for help. Scale modelers are a friendly bunch, and we’re eager to answer your questions. That can be a double-edged sword at times, as you’re likely to get conflicting advice. Also, don’t be afraid to experiment; each of us has products and techniques that work for us, but you’ll need to find what works for you.

There you go. None of us got where we are overnight, so pace yourself, look at others’ models for inspiration, and enjoy the experience.

Welcome to the hobby!


  1. Nice article- it takes me back to simpler times!
    A really good piece of advice I received early on was to build subjects you actually care about. That way, there is a higher chance of the model actually getting finished, especially with a more difficult kit.
    Dom Barr

  2. Excellent advice, Steven. I've been back at the hobby for fourteen years, and I still have no interest in weathering - perhaps because I still struggle with basic assembly and painting...

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