Model Airplane Kits Posts

Why Do You Do The Scale You Do? How Collectors Decide on a Model Scale

Ron Ruelle hobbyDB

Someone recently asked a question on one of the Facebook pages we follow – “What makes you pick the model scale you do?” Seriously? You have to ask? Because the answer is obviously… ummm… Actually, that’s a great question!

This query was from a gentleman in the UK regarding Airfix model kits. Airfix is a long-established, highly regarded company best known for their military models. Mostly planes. In certain scales. And eras. And nationalities. But that’s not all they make. So there’s some wiggle room in there. Which means the folks who chimed in on this question likely had a common core interest, but with some variances due to… well, what, exactly?

Airfix facebook

It all started with a simple question…

Let’s break it down.

  • Who’s responding to this question? The question was about what scale you “do.” Not just collect, not just build, but invest your time and money into. Could it be modelers, or collectors? Is there a difference? Well, yes, as it turns out. When someone is building and detailing a model, the factors of what is possible and what is practical are a bit different from someone who is purchasing pre-built miniatures.
  • Do you have a split loyalty? Do you have multiple scales you work on/collect?
  • Are there scales you love or don’t like for some particular reason? Maybe some scales that just feel too small to be appreciated for quality over quantity? Or too big to be appreciated at arm’s length?

There’s so much to unpack here. So let’s look as some of the factors that influence the decision and how they relate to modelers versus collectors. These were all cited by folks who responded to the original question…

Shelf space – Usually, this skews towards smaller sizes like 1/64 and 1/43. Unless someone only wants a few key models, in which they might go bigger.

Cost – In general, smaller models should cost less, but that’s not always the case. There are plenty of very high-end 1/43 models that can easily break the bank more than similar models in larger sizes.

Airfix spitfire

A lot of models come in multiple scales. Which do you choose and why?

Availablity of a Specific Model – For collectors, this is strictly about what has been made of the cars or planes you like. For modelers and customizers, there is more flexiblity with such things, depending on how much you are willing to scratchbuild.

Availablitiy of certain parts – For someone scratchbuilding a car, tires are one feature that they will most likely acquire preformed from some other source. So tire size is an important attribute when figuring out how big or small to go. A lot of people don’t think about it, but when designing a model in Lego, the wheels and Minifigs are the two most likely factors in determining the scale..

Brand loyalty – Some companies specialize in one particular scale, and that’s that.

Airfix interior

How much detail? How good is your eyesight? How crazy do you want to be? All play a part in scale selection.

Eye hand coordination – This is of interest for modelers and customizers. Generally, bigger is better, up to a practical point.

Taking satisfaction in crafting tiny details – In this case, it’s all about the challenge, eyes be damned! A tiny N scale train with accurate details is an amazing sight (for those who can see it!)

Pride in crafting a humongous tribute – On the other hand, if you have a lot of room or work in a museum, you might want to create an impressively giant model. The bigger the kit, the more you can mimic real materials and assembly techniques. Why create rivet patterns, when you can have actual rivets holding parts together?

The bigger the scale, the more detail you can work with.

How big is this scene? – If you’re making a diorama, do you want to show an complete, enormous battle in one small space? Or do you want to focus on a small vignette in great detail?

Other modeling interests – Airfix makes a lot of airplanes at 1/72 scale, but tanks and ground vehicles at 1/76. Why the small difference? The plane scale came first, and at 1/72, a 6 foot person is exactly one inch tall. 1/76 matches OO scale trains, so when they made land-based vehicles, it made some sense for them to match the trains. (1/48 planes go well with 1/43 model trains) or minifigs. (By the way, if you’ve ever wondered why certain scales even came to be in the first place, we covered that a while back.)

Airfix boeing 727

Large commercial aircraft are usually done an really small scales like 1/144 (half of 1/72).

Wide range of models – If your interests are broad, and you want to stick to one scale, 1/64 and 1/43 are most likely your best choices for model cars. For planes, it could be 1/72 for most small military planes, or 1/144 or even 1/400, if you’re into jumbo jets. Large warships are often rendered in 1/1,200 scale, resulting in a still pretty big finished model.

airfix bismarck

For really big flotillas, scales as small as 1/1,200 are common.

Popularity – You got into this hobby to be popular, right? Maybe not, but working in the more common scales will present more opportunities to trade, share, and otherwise connect with fellow hobbyists. For model car kits in the U.S., 1/24 or 1/25 are far and away most popular choices. Is it because the market spoke and the manufacturers listened? Or do modelers just buy what’s available? Strangely enough, this scale is not nearly as popular for pre-built cars.

Going Against the Grain – Some modelers just dare to be different. Pocher/Rivarossi makes a series of 1/8 scale cars that are quite frankly enormous. They contain some colossal detail, and sometimes require building components such as wire wheels. And they are pretty expensive. But if you only plan to build a few models in your life, that may add up to your cup of tea..

pocher mercedes benz

Pocher makes a series of 1/8 model cars, which are huge, hyper-detailed, and pretty expensive.

It’s sort of made up – For many fictional vehicles, such as spacecraft, it can be hard to nail down a scale. You can sort of figure out how big it’s supposed to be, but accuracy is loose. Models of the USS Enterprise from Star Trek are often listed at 1/1000, as it makes a plausible ratio for a decent sized model. 1/6,250 is about the smallest size, suitable for a model of, say, the Death Star.

Airfix Space 1999

Some fictional creations like the Eagle Transporter from Space:1999 don’t have a scale, some do.

Love at first sight – Did you get a model as a gift at some age that you just loved? Maybe you just found a particular brand or range, and whatever that scale was, it stuck with you forever.

Whatever’s going – Several modelers in the forum said they build whatever strikes their fancy in any scale, feeling that a lack of dedication to one scale or brand can be liberating and fun. And isn’t this whole collecting thing supposed to be fun?

We’d love to hear your stories of how you decided on a particular scale or scales for your collection… Let us know in the comments.

Math, Science, Randomness: The Origins of Model Scales

One of the key attributes of collectible vehicles is the scale in which they are reproduced. Most collectors know about 1/64 scale cars, such as Hot Wheels, as well as other popular sizes such as 1/18 and 1/43. But have you ever thought about HOW and WHY these particular model scales became the standards in their hobbies?

Buick Riviera scale models

1:43 and 1:64 Buick Rivieras

There are many reasons why model companies gravitate towards certain scales. As it turns out, a lot of scales are the result of simple math involving division by 2 or by 10. But several scales are the result of scaling down model trains, or more specifically the track they run on, which we’ll discuss in a moment.

So put on your thinking cap, get out your calculators, and let’s hop into the hobbyDB Shrink-O-Matic to discover the origins of the scales! (All images are approximately to scale.)

1/1 through 1/6 – The scales in this range are simple ratios, easy to calculate. These are of course, large scales, so they’re usually reserved for real items that are not particularly big. Of course, there are some larger objects modeled at full size.

1/8 – Hey, we skipped 1/7! It turns out you don’t get into a lot of prime numbers outside of single digits. Seven is hard to divide by. But 1/8 equals half of a half of a half, so the math is pretty easy. This scale has become popular in recent years for super detailed model car kits. 1/8 scale is often used for replicas of race car driver helmets as well as standalone models of engines.

1/10 – Not that commonly used, but, the math is pretty easy when you multiply and divide by ten. Think metric!

1/12 – Here, one inch equals one foot. This is very common in the world of action figures, as an “average” person of six feet tall scales down to six inches. 

1/16 – Not really used all that often, but it equals half of a half of a half of a half, so the math is pretty easy to convert.

1/18 – This is a widely used scale for model vehicles, but has only been in use since about the mid 1970s. It translates to two thirds of an inch equalling one foot, which is a weird ratio. In this case, its origin likely lies in model cars measuring in at a pleasing size technically known as “big enough for lots of nice detail but not too big to fit on your shelf.”

carousel1 jim clark lotus

Carousel1 Jim Clark Lotus F1 racer in 1:18 scale

1/22.5 – Wait, what? Perhaps you recognize this as “G scale,” popular for large scale outdoor model railroad equipment. It’s based on a measurement of 1.75 inches between the rails, yielding a strange ratio. G scale is often mistakenly referred to as “LGB” or “Lawn-Garden-Basement” scale, which are common locations for such layouts. However, LGB is just a brand name that has nothing to do with those words.

1/24 – This is a popular scale for model car kits, particularly in the U.S. But why? It’s pretty simple if you don’t live in the metric world… one half inch equals one foot at this size. Meanwhile, in other countries…

1/25 – On the other hand, this is a popular scale for model kits everywhere else in the world, as it divides nicely into 100, which is great for the metric system.

1/32 – This size shows up in cars meant as toys as well as some brands of model kits. Its use in toys probably comes from being small enough for little hands but not so small as to be a choking hazard. As with several scales we’ve visited before, the math is easy to calculate, equalling half of a half of a half of a half of a half.

1/36– This size shows up in cars meant as toys as well as some smaller model kits. Corgi popularized it as an alternative to smaller scales because it resulted in larger models without too much extra material, so it felt like a good value to the consumer. It’s also half of 1/18 scale, which may shed light on how that scale came to be.

1/40 – A scale divisible by four and by ten would be ideal for metric and English, perhaps: It never really took off, so who knows? Diapet is one company that used this size.

1/42 – Not familiar with this scale? It’s not really used that often. Tri-Ang, a British toy company settled on this size for their model trains and were consistent when adding model cars and trucks to their line. The standard railroad track measurement of 4-feet, 8.5 inches (don’t get me started on where that oddball measurement came from!) reduced to 33 millimeters, then rounded down slightly equals 1/42. For some reason, other companies settled on a different scale…


1/43 – Honestly, this one’s a head scratcher. It’s one of the most-used scales for models of all kinds, but the ratio makes very little sense. It does come out to 7 millimeters per foot, but that’s a weird juxtaposition of measuring methods. The standard track measurement reduced to 33 millimeters, rounded UP slightly equals 1/43. Or close to it, anyway. Confusing? You bet. And having to multiply or divide by 43 all day will make your head hurt. Many theories suggest that 1/43 originated as a rounding error that went too far to fix. While popular for cars and trucks, this scale never really caught on for trains, and was eventually replaced by yet another scale, which is not too much smaller…

lionel o scale catalog

Chewbacca lego minifig1/48 – This is technically the exact definition of “O Scale,” the size popularized by Lionel trains among other brands. It rounds out to 1.25 inches between the rails, which makes some sense. And 1/48 works out to .25 inches per foot, which makes for some easy math. When we get to smaller ratios like this, the difference of a few points is hard to notice, which is why 1/43 cars go along with 1/48 trains and no one seems to complain. This is sometimes called “O27” scale (that’s a letter O, not a zero), meaning an O scale train capable of handing a 27 inch radius curve.

Fun fact: a Lego Minifigure is equal to about a 1/48 six foot tall person, so this scale plays nicely in Legoland, too.

1/55 through 1/63 – You know what? we’ll come back to these seemingly random ratios in a minute. But first…

1/64 – This scale serves so many purposes in the hobby world. In its earliest uses it became known as “S Scale,” or “Standard Scale,” the size of American Flyer brand trains. The distance between the rail is .875 inches, but more importantly, 1/64 is basically half of a half of a half of a half of a half of a half. Whew! 

Of course, this is probably the most popular scale in the diecast world, representing most offerings from Hot Wheels, Matchbox, Johnny Lightning and countless other brands. But hold on a second… Many of these cars aren’t really 1/64. They’re all about 3 inches or 10 centimeters long. Even though the vast majority of them fall well above or below this exact scale, “1/64” it has become a convenient shorthand for vehicles around that size. So what gives? Well…

majorette jaguar xke

1/55 through 1/63 and 1/65 through 1/80 – Back to those larger scales we skipped a moment ago, plus some smaller ones. Many cars called “1/64” size are really smaller or larger than that. The key is that the model companies often use the wheels as the basis for what size the model will actually be. A toy Mini Cooper model might use the same wheels as a Hummer H2 and therefore be about the same length, but their scales will be radically different. Majorette is one brand who puts the proper scale on the bottom of their cars, usually falling in the ranges listed here. Tomica is known for this practice as well. Which brings us to…

3-Inch Scale – The wide range of 1/64-ish vehicles we just discussed ultimately fall under this umbrella, all about three inches long. This could include anything from a 1/30 scooter to a 1/2,000 model of the U.S.S. Enterprise.

1/72 –  Popular for many military kits such as planes, tanks and helicopters where the more standard kit scales produce very large models. They don’t look too out of scale when placed on an HO scale model railroad. The ratio itself is kind of a mystery, but Tri-Ang used it for many trains and accessories, similar to the way they used the “almost but not quite” 1:42 scale.

1/76 – Also known as OO, EM or P4 scales, this is a popular size in Europe. The exact origin of this number doesn’t relate to any particular ratio that makes sense mathematically. OO rails are 16.5 mm apart, which isn’t accurate to that ratio. Truth is, it’s a mishmash of a one scale of rail (the equivalent of HO, which you’ll see in a moment) and a slightly larger body. According to many sources, the larger body was to accommodate wind up clock mechanisms that were just a tad to big for smaller bodies back when this scale started. Got all that?

1/87 – You probably recognize this as the most common scale for model trains in the world. 1/87 is better known as “HO scale,” an abbreviation for “Half of O scale.” But it’s not precisely half, it’s just sort of close. HO represents .625 inches between the rails. Technically, the ratio is 1/87.0857142, rounded to 1/87.1 if you want to be a tiny bit less precise. The names “HO” and “OO” are often used interchangeably or as “HO/OO” since their appearance is close and they use the same track.

ho and n scale locomotives

Athearn HO scale and LifeLike N scale locomotives

1/120 – Also known as TT Scale, this is popular in Russia.  The ratio would be easy to divide by 12 or by 10, so it’s handy for English or Metric scales. TT stands for “Table Top,” by the way.

1/148 – 1/160 – 1/160 is known as “N Scale,” or more accurately “N Gauge,” which sets the distance between the rails for a standard train at .375 inches. Confused? In model railroading, “gauge” refers only to the rails, while “scale” refers to the size of everything else. There’s some wiggle room in that some models might be built to slightly larger sizes (all the way up to 1/148), but regardless of the discrepancy, the rails and the wheels that run on them must be exactly 1/160.

While we’re on the subject of “N Gauge,” this track is sometimes used on HO scale railroads. See, in many steep, mountainous locations around the world, railroads were built with rails much closer together than the standard width. If you were to create a narrow gauge railroad in HO scale, it would conveniently use N-Gauge track but with the height of the rails (and everything else) in HO scale.

1/220 – Also known as “Z Scale.” In this case, the track is .25 inches between the rails, which is tiny, about as tiny as a working electric train can be without needing a nanotechnolgy. As with the other train sizes, only the rail gauge is perfectly accurate, while many objects and details are slightly larger, especially the couplers that connect the rolling stock.

Gemini Jets Boeing 757

This Gemini Jets Boeing 757 doesn’t look so huge at 1:400 scale

1/400 and beyond- We’re getting into some really tiny scales now, best used to make manageable models of enormous objects like airplanes, ships and buildings. These scales simply take nice round numbers in multiples of 100.

1/1,200 and 1/1,250 – Somewhere in the vast range of tiny scales we should mention these two. Both are used for models of large warships, the first being a traditionally British model scale, and the latter being German.

There are many more scales of course, some of which are rarely used. If you know how any other scales came to be, let us know in the comments.

Designer Notes: Heller Morane-Sauliner 406

Philippe de Lespinay Heller Cox Philippe de Lespinay started with Heller, the French model kit company in the 1960s as a designer and project engineer. He also also worked for Cox, who are now known for their remote control and gas powered vehicles, but also created many kits over the years. More recently, he was the curator of the Los Angeles Slot Car Museum. And he’s on the hobbyDB Advisory Board, so yeah, he’s our kind of guy.

hobbyDB will be regularly sharing his insights on particular models he has worked on including production kits, never-produced projects, and his own custom builds. We hope you enjoy the journey through his career as well.

Read more about his history in the toy and model business here.

Heller Morane-Sauliner 406

Heller Morane-Sauliner 406

The kit had been designed by Jean-Michel Trochain, a really good guy in the R&D department at Heller and a WW2 aircraft expert.

Heller Morane-Sauliner 406

I was responsible for creating the finished drawings for the assembly instructions for the 1/72 scale model of the MS406. 

Heller Morane-Sauliner 406

Hre’s a shot of a finished model of the Heller MS 406

Heller Morane-Sauliner 406

Arthur Ward, Airfix Expert, Joins hobbyDB Advisory Council

Photo of Arthur Ward © The Argus, Brighton and used with permission.

Arthur Ward is the latest collectibles expert to join the hobbyDB Advisory Council

. His specialty is Airfix kits, including military aircraft, tanks and trucks, as well as their soldier figures.

Arthur has a long history with Airfix, building his first models over 40 years ago. “My father was a good modeler and helped me construct my first kits,” he said.”Back in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Airfix kits were a most affordable treat – I could purchase a Series One kit and a tube of cement for less than three old shillings.”

Airfix Spitfire Supermarine kit

As you may have guessed by the Airfix affiliation and mention of shillings, Arthur is from England, Pulborough, to be exact. As a kid, he was an “Army Brat,” also living in Hong Kong, Northern Ireland and West Germany.” Back in the day, every British boy was infused with stories about the Battle of Britain, Douglas Bader and all that,” he said. “So my first kits would have been Spitfires and Hurricanes, soon to be accompanied by Messerschmitts and Focke-Wulfs of course.”

Arthur Ward Colliectingfriends
His love of the brand became more than a hobby, and he has written several books about this brand of models. His first book in 1984 was an ambitious production. “‘The Model World of Airfix’ was unusual in that it was a book/kit compendium and came in a slip case with specially produced examples of kits which weren’t available in the Airfix range at the time.,” he said. He’s written several other Airfix books, as well as titles guides to TV toys, Film toys,  military collectables, and an illustrated history of British Army Cap Badges.

Arthur Ward Wartime Collectibles

Despite not working in the model kit industry directly, his publishing made him an insider and he has gotten to know many people in the business. “Back in the day the great work of artist Roy Cross, whom I know well and even worked on his first biography, Celebration of Flight, really inspired me,” he said. “His box art for the 1:24 Spitfire Mk 1 ‘Superkit’ was fantastic and I loved that kit when it first appeared.” For several years Airfix/‘Palitoy used photos on the boxes, but have since gone back to art. “I also know the new artist, Adam Tooby and he was involved in Collectingfriends’ Guinness World Record winning Spitfix event at the RAF Museum, which was sponsored by Hornby/Airfix.”

His interests go well beyond the Airfix models. “I’m afraid I’m an inveterate collector, always have been. I collect old model kits, old toys, action figures, postcards, militaria, cap badges, the list is endless!” Just the kind of person we love knowing at hobbyDB.

(Photo of Mr. Ward at top of page © The Argus, Brighton and used with permission.)