On Scales

The Combat Workshop poses an interesting topic for September’s Sprue Cutters’ Union:

What’s your preferred scale(s)? What do you like, what do you not like, and why?

I’ve put a lot more thought into scale than probably any right-thinking human should, and so my longer answer is…complicated. But the TL;DR version:

My preferred scales are:

  • 1/32 for World War I and World War II aircraft
  • 1/48 for modern aircraft
  • 1/35 for armor

That’s not to say there aren’t exceptions. I have several 1/32 jets, I’ve built a 1/16 tank, and so on. But in general, those are my scales.

Why? For many reasons.

The “Ideal” Box – The bigger the scale, the more presence a kit is going to have. That’s just the way it goes. A 1/48 kit is going to have a lot more presence than a 1/72, and a 1/32 more than 1/48, and 1/24 more than 1/32 and so on.

But you have to consider the size of the kit as well. How much display space it occupies. How much bench space it eats up while it’s being built and painted. Beyond a certain size, it just gets unwieldy, if downright impossible to accommodate.

For me, that ideal box is about 15″ x 15″. Roughly the size of many WWII fighters in 1/32 scale. There are a few WWII aircraft that blow through this bound – a B-25 or Mosquito for instance – but Corsairs and Spitfires and Mustangs fit comfortably here. Most modern jets also fit within that box or some permutation of it (10 x 20…) in 1/48.

1/32 jets, on the other hand, are just in general too big. I still have a few, because they’re awesome and because their shorter wingspans make it possible to squeeze them in. But in general, the ideal box is my scale limiting factor.

I’m making an exception for the A-6, but damn it’s huge

Kit Selection – Another factor in my scale preferences is kit selection (and quality). In some cases, one manufacturer provides enough quality kits to keep things interesting – for example Wingnut Wings with its 1/32 WWI aircraft. In others, there’s a diverse collection of great kits. This is definitely true for 1/48 jets and increasingly for 1/32 props. A new, amazing kit seems to land every other week from the likes of Tamiya or Trumpeter or new players like Great Wall Hobby and Kitty Hawk.

But some scales are…sparse. 1/32 jets in particular. There are a few great and very good kits. Tamiya’s F-16. Trumpeter’s A-6 Intruder. Rumor has it, Academy’s legacy Hornets. But for many subjects, you’re either SOL, or stuck with a Trumpeter kit of variable quality.

Aftermarket – Hand-in-hand with kit selection is aftermarket availability. It’s been ramping up fast for 1/32 props, but 1/32 jets still lag. Consider the A-6 Intruder mentioned above. In 1/48 you can get seamless intakes, wonderful wheels, and decals for pretty much any Intruder that ever flew. In 1/32, there are no seamless intakes as far as I know. No good aftermarket MERs. And the decal selection is very, very limited.

The scales I’ve landed on generally see alignment in these three criteria. 1/32 props and 1/48 jets fit my ideal size, have great kit selection and strong aftermarket support.

If there’s one scale that kind of pisses me off, it’s 1/35, which is generally the standard for armor.

The Problem with 1/35

Here’s the thing. 1/35 armor is basically equivalent to 1/48 aircraft. It can work pretty well, size-wise, for modern armor and for some of the larger WWII AFVs. But a lot of smaller tanks (like the M3) and softskins get really small, really fast. They may be great kits, but they lack presence.

That’s a 5×7 frame…

But 1/16 is just too big. I built Panda’s Pz.Kpfw 38(t), and it’s massive, about the size of a large shoe box.

The Pz.38(t) next to a 1/35 Sherman, for size comparison

Now…1/16 kind of works with the 38(t) because it’s tiny. But even medium-sized tanks like the Soviet T-34 become downright gargantuan. It’d be like jumping from 1/48 to 1/24 aircraft.

What armor needs is its own 1/32 equivalent. Something about 50% larger than the standard scale (1/16, like 1/24 for aircraft, is effectively 100% larger).

1/24 scale would be perfect, I think.

It will never happen of course, short of a consortium of manufacturers making a concerted effort. But a guy can dream.

13 thoughts on “On Scales

  1. I am somewhat in agreement.
    I LOVE 1/32nd scale in general for World War 2 prop fighter aircraft
    Bombers 1/48 scale or 1/72nd scale.

    BUT
    Since my 10 year old son got me back into the hobby again I have a different opinion these days.
    I have come to appreciate the 1/72nd scale line of aircraft since the technology of injected moulded kits has exponentially improved.
    I refer to what AIRFIX is doing with it’s new tooled kits. Tamiya(if you want to spend the money) is awesome too, as well as Revell of Germany which seems to put out a really awesome kit of a very reasnable price!!.

    I think 1/32nd is a great scale for the fighters of World war 2 followed by 1/48 scale as my son seems to handle those better.

    The bombers I am liking 1/48 or 1/72nd scale.

    I don’t mean to confuse people BUT room to place these completed models does become a situation.
    No kidding but my son has about 67 ( and we didn’t count all of them) which he has assembled . Most are unpainted as I need the time to get the Airbrush up and running also I have avast collection of Compucolour and Precision Paints which are wonderful paints BUT since discovering Vallejo Acryllic paints we now can spray paint in the basement with minimal exhaust and not “stink” up the house.
    Not to mention cleanup is so easy !!!!!

    • Yeah obviously YMMV depending on what you’re building for. As a kid, most of my builds were 1/72, though I did bump up to 1/48 toward the end of my run.

  2. Display space is important. For any finite space, you can show twice as many 1/48th’s as 1/32nd’s.

    I decide scale according to the level of detail. 1/48th A/C have infinitely more detail than 1/72nd. But I don’t see much increase in fine detail going from 1/48th to 1/32nd.

    May I mention… Ships? (The things that come in big boxes for spectacular prices.) Again, 1/350 is where details begin to count. Ships are so busy, the bigger the better. But the 1/200’s don’t actually have more detail than 1/350’s, and there are few aftermarket items available,

    • I think the detail different really depends on the kit. If you’re looking at the Hasegawa Ki-84, yeah I’d argue the difference isn’t massive between 1/48 and 1/32. Or the Trumpeter A-6 Intruder, which I’ve got some intimate experience with. In most respects, it and the 1/48 Hobby Boss kit are the same, only different sizes.

      But then there’s Tamiya’s Corsair, or HK’s B-25, or anything from Wingnut Wings, or Kitty Hawk’s OV-10s.

      I was wondering if someone would mention ships…I’ve decided I’m not going to go down that route, but agree with the 1/200 vs 1/350. It’s like some 1/24 or even 1/18 aircraft. Detail’s not really any better than in 1/32, and aftermarket is severely lacking. That’s the reason I sold Merit’s SBD Dauntless and plan on selling my VFS P-47. Detail’s only okay, and aftermarket just isn’t there at all.

      • Okay, I admit that after seeing your Wingnut builds, I immediately bought three Wingnut biplanes in 1/32. And now you’re telling me I have to get a 1/32 Corsair? $150? Have mercy, please. Where will I put them?

  3. I heard somewhere that 32 scale is the ‘new’ 48 scale these days and I probably would agree..certainly for WWII fighters….but mebbe not for the bigger stuff. Looking at my latest build a 32 scale Revell new tool Spitfire and imagining a HK models Lanc in the same scale…phew!!! I, m sure when HK finally produce the Lanc, it, ll get built….I had pre ordered one with my local on line store ( my Dad was on Lancs during the war )…,but bailed out eventually and picked up Tamiya’s 48 scale example. However roll on a new tool Beaufighter, ME 410, ME 262, possibly even a Wellington in 32….I, d go for them all……but might have to rent a larger appartment.
    regards Howard

  4. The balance of size vs detail has just always looked right to me in 1/48. Especially now that so many vehicle and armor kist are available in the scale, I love that all my subjects can scale correctly next to each other. Sure a 1/48 jeep is tiny, but parked next to the B-25 it should be…

  5. So 1/72 scale armor is right out the window, then!

    Tamiya has done pretty well making 1/48 armor a thing on its (mostly) lonesome, so I think it would be possible for one manufacturer to make 1/24 armor a ‘thing’ (more than the few lonesome kits that currently exist in that scale, anyways). However, it would long term dedication, good kits and a modicum of affordability.

  6. My preferred scale for aircraft is 1/48. I build almost exclusively modern jets.
    I prefer 1/35th for armor. I just don’t find the detail and work involved in 1/72 too satisfying.

    To blur the line between 1/48th and 1/35th I build helicopters in both scales.
    I do have some ship models in the stash and my preferred scale for them is 1/350th scale. 1/350 pushes sizes limits in some cases but satisfies my appetite for detail.

  7. Tend to agree with you, Doog. 1/32 for some WW2 ….tho multi engines are stretching it. 1/48 for jets and some multi engine. I’ve given up on armor as 1/35 just doesn’t work for me. Too small. I agree 1/24 would be perfect.

    If I’m stuck in builds where it seems nothing is getting completed, I sometiimes pickup a 72nd scale aircraft and whip it together. Gets my head back in the game. Go figure.

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