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Plastic Model Kit History

The history of plastic modeling originated shortly before WWII, albeit in very limited form. Mass produced plastic kits came in the post WWII era, but you can not look at the history of plastic model building without considering the long history of model building in general, which dates back at least to ancient Egypt. Some burial sites contained models of chariots and of ships. Throughout history models were used to represent ideas and to record constructions. Before photography models ranked with art to record contemporary events. In the lobby of the El Presidente Hotel in downtown Santo Domingo is a model of the Santa Maria. It is 20th century model used to illustrate the islands history. In fact, most models from the past seem to be ships and many are well crafted. Most warships were constructed in model form before the actual vessel was built. Up until the mid 20th century model building was a hobby that took great amounts of time. With the availability of mass marketed plastic model kits and the disposable income in the (relatively) prosperous times following WWII and the rebuilding in Europe and Japan, a new hobby was born Plastic Model Building.

One of the prime selling points was a connection with history. Another was a hunger for an understanding of how various machines functioned.  Model building creates an interest in subjects that will build into every thing from what is the color of the engine in Richard Petty's car, or what color was an F6F-5 Hellcat. Model building allows anyone to own a representation of the USS Constitution or to hold Darth Vader's Tie fighter.

More Plastic Kit History

The first plastic models were manufactured in the 1950s by the British firms Frog and Airfix. American manufacturers such as Revell, AMT, and Monogram gained ascendancy in the 1960s as French Heller SA in Europe. Since the 1970s, Japanese firms such as Hasegawa and Tamiya have dominated the field and represent the highest level of technology. Brands from Russia, Central Europe, China, and Korea have also become prominent recently. Many smaller companies have also produced plastic models.

While injection-molding is the predominant manufacturing process for plastic models, the high costs of equipment and making molds make it unsuitable for lower-yield production. Thus, models of minor and obscure subjects are often manufactured using alternative processes. Vacuum forming is popular for aircraft models, though assembly is more difficult than for injection-molded kits. Resin-casting, popular with smaller manufacturers, particularly aftermarket firms (but also producers of full kits) yields a greater degree of detail moulded in situ, but as the moulds used don't last as long, the price of such kits is considerably higher. In recent times, the latest releases from major manufacturers offer unprecedented detail that is a match for the finest resin kits, often including high-quality mixed-media (photo-etched brass, turned aluminum) parts.

How to Build Plastic Models

Most plastic models are injection-molded in polystyrene, and the parts are glued together with plastic solvent. While often omitted by novice modellers, specially formulated paint is applied to assembled models. Complex markings such as aircraft insignia are typically provided with kits as slide-on decals.

A recent trend has been to offer kits where the parts snap together, with no glue needed, and with a paint scheme preapplied to some or all of the parts.  Plastic ship model kits typically provide thread in several sizes and colors for the rigging.

Model Scales

Almost all plastic models are designed in a well-established scale. Each type of subject has one or more common scales, though they differ from one to the other. The general aim is to allow the finished model to be of a reasonable size, while maintaining consistency across models for collections. The following are the most common scales for popular subjects:

Aircraft:    1/24, 1/32, 1/48, 1/72, and 1/144, with 1/48 and 1/72 being the most popular

Military Vehicles:    1/35, 1/48 ,1/72, 1/76

Automobiles:  1/12, 1/16, 1/18, 1/20, 1/24, 1/25, 1/32, 1/35, 1/43

1/96, 1/200, 1/350, 1/450, 1/700, and other odd scales

In reality, models do not always conform to their nominal scale; there are 1/25 scale automobile models which are larger than some 1/24 scale models, for instance. For example, the engine in the recent reissue of the AMT Ala Kart show truck is significantly smaller than the engine in the original issue. AMT employees from the 1960s note that, at that time, all AMT kits were packaged into boxes of a standardized size, to simplify shipping; and the overriding requirement of designing any kit was that it had to fit into that precise size of box, not matter how large or small the original vehicle.


Many modelers build dioramas as landscaped scenes built around one or more models. They are most common for military vehicles such as tanks, but airfield scenes and 2-3 ships in formation are also popular.

Conversions use a kit as a starting point, and modify it to be something else. For instance, kits of the USS Constitution ("Old Ironsides") are readily available, but the Constitution was just one of six sister ships, and an ambitious modeller will modify the kit, by sawing, filing, adding pieces, and so forth, to make a model of one of the others.

Scratchbuilding is the creation of a model "from scratch" rather than a manufactured kit. True scratchbuilt models consist of parts made by hand and do not incorporate parts from other kits. These are rare. When parts from other kits are included, the art is technically called "Kit Bashing." Most pieces referred to as "scratchbuilt" are actually a combination of kit bashing and scratchbuilding. Thus, it has become common for either term to be used loosely to refer to these more common hybrid models.

Kitbashing is a modelling technique where parts from multiple model kits are combined to create a novel model form. For example, the effects crews on the various Star Trek TV shows frequently kitbashed multiple starship models to quickly create new classes of ship for use in background scenes where details would not be particularly obvious


The demographics of plastic modeling have changed in its half-century of existence, from young boys buying them as toys to older adults building them to assemble large collections. In the United States, as well as some other countries, many modelers are former members of the military who like to recreate the actual aircraft they flew in, ships they sailed in, and so on.

Technological advances have made model-building more and more sophisticated, and the proliferation of expensive detailing add-ons have raised the bar for competition within modeling clubs. As a result, a kit built "out of the box" on a weekend can not compare with a kit built over months where a tiny add-on part such as an aircraft seat can cost more than the entire kit itself.

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