A model aircraft is “[…] only as good as the effort that went into the research of it.“ Dan Santich

The Essential Guide to Buying Your First Scale Model Aircraft Kit

Image Source: dqscaleworks.blogspot.com

When it comes to buying plastic model airplane kits you can never have too much information. Even experienced modellers can pick up tidbits of information that will prove useful. So, whether you are a first-time buyer or have experience in buying, you should find the following tips useful.

One of the general principles to use in buying a model aircraft is that there is a strong connection between the amount of technical information the manufacturer provides and the detail level of the scale model.

That rule is: the more detail there is, the more accurate the details of the scale model.

Choosing a Vendor

As a first time buyer, you want to be sure to go to a store that is both knowledgeable and provides high-quality materials so you can get the maximum benefit from your experience.

The best way to do this is to employ another general principle: if a deal looks too good to be true, it probably is.

It is a good practice to consider vendors you have done business with before. Did you buy a model car through a website and it turned out that the plastic was so flimsy that it cracked when you were building it? Or, did you go to a website, order a model boat, and find that the product was of high quality and the directions were very clear? If you haven’t ordered models before, that’s fine. Just ask around to see if anyone has already ordered one, and could recommend you a good source (we have great Facebook and G+ communities here and even an active G+ group).

Finally, it’s important to check the online reviews, even if someone recommends a specific hobby website. You can help yourself tremendously by taking the time to do your homework about the type of aircraft you are interested in buying, any local dealers, and what experienced online buyers are saying in blogs and on discussion boards.

If you know someone who has personal experience in dealing with a vendor, talk to them about the pros and cons in dealing with the vendor. No vendor is perfect, no matter what your friends say. A vendor can know a lot but still sell low-quality material models. Go beyond just the physical aspects of the model and also consider the instructions that come with the model.

Checking Out Prices

There are some very serious people about modelling who are willing to pay some quite high prices to pursue their hobby. As a first time buyer, you do not need to max out your credit card or bank account to get started. So, if you are a first-time buyer, it is strongly suggested that you aim low on the price end.

Another important principle: Start low and aim high.

Why? Because despite your best intentions, building a scale aircraft model is a skill that improves over time. Several years from now you will look back on your first attempt with sentimental tears. But it is equally likely you will have taken your work of art and hid it in a place where no man has gone before – or will ever. You can learn from your mistakes, but you don’t have to pay a high price for them.

Another consideration is whether you will finish the project at all. Prices for kits can be amazingly high, and spending money on a model that potentially goes unfinished or takes years to complete has to be given very careful consideration. Rushing through it is a mistake, but taking years to complete it is also a mistake. You will fit somewhere between these two ends of the spectrum, but until you are sure you know where you want to go with model building in the future, it is best to keep your sights low and your price lower. The general rule is to take it slow and create a history of completed projects before spending big money.

Size of Scale

Or maybe it is the Scale of Size. In any event, as a first-time buyer, you need to keep the scale small. The more popular 1/72nd scale is a good starting point, though a 1/144th scale is best for beginners.

There is a general principle to be applied with regards to scale – the devil is in the details.

You have probably heard of it before, and when it comes to building scale models, the details can stress you out to the point of giving up before you actually get started. It takes time to develop modelling skills, and even if it comes naturally to you, there will still be a learning curve.

So, the first time buyer needs to start out with the smallest scale, as the larger ones have more details; learning how to craft the smaller scales will greatly improve your skills and take advantage of the amount of detail on larger scale models.

Difficulty Level

scale aircraft modelling
image source: SELLaBIZ.gr

While we recommend starting with a smaller scale if you find yourself catching on quickly and want greater challenges, do one beginner level and then move up to an intermediate level. Just because you’re a beginner, that doesn’t mean you need to stick to beginner level all the time, although it is definitely a good place to start. Feel free to try an intermediate level model aircraft if you have enough time on your hands. However, save the advanced models for after you’ve gained some more experience.

The guiding principle here is – do not tie your own hands trying to meet someone else’s expectations.

This also applies in reverse. If you feel staying at a beginner level for a while is best for you, then do it. If you are on a tight budget, it may be the best way to go. Building scale aircraft models is both an art and science, and you can practice your skills on all scales of aircraft.

It is very important to figure out which difficulty level a scale model is before you buy it. Sometimes, vendors help you with descriptions of each difficulty. As an example, a beginner level model may only require fitting pieces together and applying stickers. An advanced aircraft may require more difficult assembly, detailed painting, etc.

Model kits usually come in one of the five skill levels that describe how difficult the kit will be to be finished:

  • Level 1: very easy model kits. Pieces join together and don’t require glue and paint to complete.
  • Level 2: easy kits; they need glue and painting to fully complete. This type of model kits usually contains less than 100 pieces.
  • Level 3: moderate kits, with over 100 pieces.
  • Level 4: advanced model kits with extra-fine details. They definitely include over 100 pieces.
  • Level 5: for expert modellers only. These kits include super-detailed elements, with hundreds of pieces, and usually have moving parts, such as rotating propellers.

Occasionally, you’ll discover model kits with no skill level displayed. In these situations, you can safely consider that it is at least a 4 difficulty level kit.

Paint Scheme

Experienced modellers love a complex paint scheme for both the end result, but mainly because of the challenge of painting. Most of these schemes, like a WWII German aircraft camouflage pattern, for instance, are hard to achieve and often call for complex masking and a top quality airbrush. So, pick an aircraft that has a rather dull colour paint scheme, for your first scale model kits, with just a couple of colours; a WWI fighter could be a good idea. It is quite depressing to finish a model and then ruin it just because the paint scheme was too complicated.


You may want to start a building scale model aircraft as a hobby, but you probably don’t have an unlimited amount of time. Some vendors actually list how much time it takes to complete a model. If the time isn’t clearly listed, you can do one of two things:

  • first, you can take into account the difficulty level, materials required, etc. and figure out how much time the project will take from that information. Usually, painting and dealing with advanced assembly can be big time sinks.
  • if that doesn’t work, you can simply ask customer service and their knowledgeable staff should be able to assist you.

Quality of Material

Novices who are just beginning to enter into scale aircraft modelling have already been cautioned not to spend too much at the beginning. But with lower price comes a lower quality of material.

The reality is: working with a lower quality material means you should expect lower quality results.

It only makes sense. Building a desk from thick cardboard will end up with a different result than by using wood. Keep your perspective and expectations within reason. Avoid comparing your work with others until you have some experience under your belt and have a better idea of what you can expect.

As you develop your modelling skills, maintain a proper perspective of your results. Your initial efforts will almost certainly pale in comparison to your results years later. One of the biggest reasons for this is because you are paying more for models and are working with higher quality material.

Total Number of Parts in the Model

The “devil is in the details” also applies when deciding on how many parts of the aircraft there will be to build. Beginners may look at their first model, usually made of plastic, as a relatively simple job. If you know what photo-etched brass and resin parts of the model are and have built them, then you have advanced beyond the beginner level. The greater the number of parts, the more detail will be required, and the more advanced skills will be needed to create a work of art.

One rule you can apply to almost everything you do is: it is always easy to do until you have to do it.

Your first scale model airplane will seem like an easy task – just like mowing the lawn. It looks easy, and in some ways it is. But to do it right and continue to get better at it requires patience and experience. It is more than just going through the motions. It is about finding better ways to do things and developing your own personal signature to your work.

A related topic to the detail is the amount of available time you have to commit to model building. The more parts there are, the more detail there will be, and the longer it will take to complete the building project. When buying, consider how much time you have and how much time you want to spend building. Both of these measurements will change over time. Many kits will display the average amount of time it will take to complete building the model.

Building Scale Aircraft Models – General Considerations

Building a model aircraft has some particular challenges that are unique from other types of models. One of those areas is the canopy of your model plane, a delicate element which is usually made of clear plastic. Fitting it correctly is one challenge but applying the cement can be a greater one because even small mistakes stand out. So choose a model that has as little clear plastic as possible to minimise your frustration level. Helicopters, in particular, should be avoided until you get some experience under your belt.

One of the biggest challenges for model aircraft builders is being able to create the metallic finish so often seen on planes. Plastic is a very difficult material to get the right paint colour and finish to come through as realistic, so like clear plastic, keep your expectations low until you get some experience with painting. Be warned that the metallic finish would cost you more money for the special paints and colours needed to achieve the desired result.

A Final Word

Creating model aircraft can be a great way to spend time, especially for beginners just getting into the hobby. Just be sure to follow the advice above, and you’ll be on your way to successfully building a model.

Approach buying and building your first model as an experiment of sorts. Maybe you have decided to build a model of one of those legendary aircraft, but you really won’t know how much you will like it in the end, or how much time you will have to spend on it. Spending a lot of money and then seeing it in a heap on a desk or workbench three weeks later will unsettle you. Keep things simple, go into it with the attitude that you will enjoy it, and be patient with yourself. As most first time builders discover, you will be proud to have completed your first project and will show it to your friends.

We hope this brief guide has been useful to you and wish you the best on starting and completing your first modelling project. Visit our website often to read more about scale aircraft modelling and experiencing the entire model aircraft universe.