From Plastics Wiki, free encyclopedia
Plastic models, often just called scale model, are models manufactured as kits which are assembled by hobbyists, and intended for static display.
The most popular subjects of plastic models by far are vehicles such as aircraft, ships, automobiles, and armored vehicles such as tanks. The majority of models depict military vehicles, due to the wider variety of form and historical context compared to civilian vehicles. Other subjects include science fiction vehicles and robots, spacecraft, buildings, animals, and human figures.
Construction and techniques
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.
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: 1/12,1/24 1/25 1/32 1/43
- Ships: 1/96, 1/350, 1/450, 1/700
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 fom Russia, Central Europe, China, and Korea have also become prominent recently. Many smaller companies have also produced plastic models, both in the past and currently..
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 'after-market' 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 aluminium) parts.
Many modellers 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. Scratchbuilt models usually incorporate parts from other kits, and the materials and techniques are the same (though more sophisticated) as kit building.
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, many modellers are former members of the military who like to recreate the actual aircraft they flew in.
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.
Though plastic modeling is generally an uncontroversial hobby, it's not immune to social pressures:
- In the 1990s, various countries banned Formula One racecars from carrying advertising for tobacco sponsors. In response, manufacturers such as Tamiya removed tobacco logo decals from their racecar kits, even those of cars which appeared before the tobacco ban.
- The Nazi swastika, which appears on World War 2 Luftwaffe aircraft, is illegal to display in Germany, and disappeared from almost all manufacturers' box illustrations in the 1990s. Some makers still include the emblem on the decal sheet, others have "broken" it into two elements which must be reassembled by the builder, while others have omitted it altogether. Aftermarket decal sheets exist that consist entirely of Luftwaffe swastikas.
- A long lasting legal conflict exists between aerospace corporations and the manufacturers of plastic models. Manufacturers of aircraft have sought royalties from model makers for using their designs and intellectual property in their kits. Hobbyists argue that model kits provide free advertising for the makers of the real vehicles and that any royalties collected would be insignificant compared to the profits made from aircraft construction contracts. They also argue that forcing manufacturers to pay royalties and licensing fees would financially ruin all but the largest model kit makers. Some proponents of the aerospace industry contest that the issue is not of financial damages, but of intellectual property and brand image. In contrast, most of the world's commercial airlines allow their fleet to be modelled, as a form of publicity. Many cottage industry manufacturers, particularly of sci-fi subjects, avoid the issue by selling their products under generic untrademarked names(i.e. selling a figure that clearly depicts Batman as "Bat Hero Figure").