Scale model

From Academic Kids

A scale model is a representation or copy of an object that is larger or smaller than the actual size of the object being represented. Very often the scale model is smaller than the original and used as a guide to making the object in full size.

Scale models are useful:

  • in engineering for testing the likely performance of a design object at an early stage without the expense of building a full-sized prototype.
  • in architechture for showing the look of a new construction before it is built
  • in entertainment for constructing objects or sets that cannot be built in full size

Scale models are also built or collected as a hobby: aircraft; cars; vehicles; figures; matchstick models; miltary vehicles; railways; rockets; and ships. These models — especially aircraft, cars, and ships — may be radio controlled.


History of the scales

Before the plastic model kit industry

Hobbyists' scale models derive from those used by the firms which made the full-sized products. Originally, a "scale" was a physical measuring instrument, a notion which survives as concerns weight. First among scales is the ruler used in English-speaking countries that is triangular in cross-section and called an "Architect's scale". The terminology used was of this manner: "scale size to full size", or the reverse. An Architect's scale was used to make the first affordable models: doll houses and their furniture. Its popular scales for these miniatures were "one inch to the foot" and "one-half inch to the foot"; there is also "three-quarters inch to the foot".

The proportion of the model to the prototype was originally called "size", as in "full-sized" or "half-sized", as used on a blueprint for making something that would fit on a workbench.

Shipyards were the first to use the scales to make models of things larger than a house. The scales they used were expressed in a different manner: "one-foot-to-the-inch" through "six-feet-to-the-inch" were common. During the Second World War, battleship models were made "eight-foot-to-the-inch", in the later phrasing, "one-eighth-inch to the foot"; you will find these models used for training workers in maritime museums. The model ship would be referred to as "one-ninety-sixth size", or "1/96th", but rarely, as there were few scales commonly used; it couldn't possibly be "1/98th scale", for example.

There were also rotary instruments in which one would line up marks on two dials to be able to translate measurements from units on the prototype to units on the model. After the production of kits to make plastic models became an industry, there were developed rulers marked in the model units and which are called scales.

Comparing scales

Phrases used are those of "larger" and "smaller" scales. The scale of 1/8"-to-the-foot is a larger scale than 1/16"-to-the-foot, even though the denominator is smaller. So a larger model is made to a larger scale. You can remember this in that a full-size, or full-scale, model is larger than a half-size model.

Origins of the plastic model kit

For aircraft recognition in the Second World War, the RAF selected making models to the scale of "one-sixth inch to the foot" (which was two British lines, a legal division of length which didn't make it to America, besides being a standard shipyard scale). Although some consumer models were sold pre-war in Britain to this scale, the airmens' models were pressed out of ground-up old rubber tires. This is of course the still-popular "one-seventy-second size".

It wasn't predestined to succeed; there were competitors. The US Navy, in contrast, had metal models made to the proportion 1:432, which is "nine-feet-to-the-quarter-inch". At this scale, a model six feet away looked as the prototype would at about half a statute mile; and at seven feet, at about half a nautical mile.

After the war, firms that moulded models from styrene entered the consumer marketplace, the American firm Revell notably offering a model of the Royal Coach around the time of the 1953 coronation. In the early years, firms offered models of aircraft and ships in "fit-the-box" size. A box that would make an impressive gift was specified, and a mould was crafted to make a model that wouldn't ludicrously slide around inside. Modellers could not compare models, nor switch parts from one kit to another. It was the British firm Airfix that brought the idea of the constant scale to the marketplace, and they picked the RAF's scale.

In the 1960s, the company Monogram offered an aircraft actually labeled as ¼" scale, which may have been a common contraction in factories. They meant "one-quarter-inch to the foot", or "one-forty-eighth size". Shortly thereafter, hobbyists lost the ability to distinguish the two, and now the proportion is referred to as scale.

Terminological change

The terms and the means of writing them down have changed, and for model kits they are now standardized for the European Union. In English-speaking countries, such terms as "1/72" were used. But as it appears clumsy to Europeans to have a decimal point in the denominator, "1/76.2" is not permitted; it's "1:76.2" instead. Further, international organizations wish to use the slash for specific purposes, such as a range of time measurements or corresponding units; and anyway, the metric system is supposed to do without what they call "vulgar fractions". Beyond all this, the original and true use of the term "scale" (fractions of inches to the foot) is rejected by them utterly.

Rational choice of scales

The nominal height of a man is simple in the inch-based system: six feet. Many traditional scales are derived so that a figure of such a height against the model can be readily imagined as a simple relation to an inch. Although the metric system has specified a limited series of scales for blueprints and maps, when it comes to models, there may be a problem with these scales for a readily imagined person of 180 centimetres. Model railways have the additional difficulty of having to present the rail gauge as a simple number, the height of a person being secondary. Trade authorities in metric countries are attempting to specify scales that are simple mulitiples of 2 and 5, but neither tracks nor people seem to fit. Or it could be that they are using the statement of rationalization for competitive advantage, so that people will buy models of their scale and not those of another manufacturing country?

Typical scales of models

Model aircraft

The premier scale for model aircraft vehicles is 1:72. Airliners are at 1:144, with a few at 1:288. A scale with more room for detail is 1:48. Other, arguably more luxurious, models are available at 1:32 and 1:24. A few First World War aircraft were offered at 1:28 by Aurora. Other scales which failed to catch on are 1:64, 1:96, and 1:128. Repressings of old moulds are often revived in these scales, however. There are also the most common carrier aircraft at the scales of their ships (see below).

Although the Soviets did not supplant 1:48 with their scale 1:50, nor 1:32 with their scale 1:30, the Japanese tried to offer the scale 1:100. There is a major European project to bring about 1:150 to replace 1:144, just as they have small toy airliners in decimalized scales. And the French firm Heller SA, unlike any other in the world, offers models in the scale 1:125.

Model rockets and spacecraft

Model rocket kits began as a development of model aircraft kits, yet the scale of 1:72[V.close to 4mm.::1foot] never caught on. Scales 1:48 and 1:96 are used. There are some rockets of scales 1:128, 1:144, and 1:200, but Russian firms put their large rockets in 1:288. Heller is maintaining its idiosyncratic standard by offering some models in the scale of 1:125. Fantasy spacecraft, of course, can be of any scale, as they aren't going to be compared to anything on this planet.

Model railways

Missing image
Mamod live steam locomotive and train on a garden railway layout

Model railways use the term "gauge", referring to the width of the tracks just as full-size railways do. Although railways were built to many gauges, generally it's the 'standard gauge',4ft 8.5inch,that is referred to, as it is in this section. Meaning the distance between the inside vertical edge of opposing rails, gauges for model railways were originally in inches, but later they were standardized in metric units, even for companies which put models in traditional Architect's gauge proportions on such metric tracks. A range of scales were accepted by model railroaders for each gauge for mere convenience's sake.

The most popular scale to go with a given gauge was often derived at by the following roundabout process. German artisans would take strips of metal of standard metric size to make things to blueprints whose dimensions were in inches: hence "4 mm to the foot" yields the 1:76.2 size of the "00 gauge". This British scale is anomalously used on the standard H0 gauge (16.5 mm) tracks, however, because early electric motor magnets were awkward in small 3.5mm/foot loco. models.

The Germans have a more developed terminology, which can explain this a bit better. Baugrösse is the alphanumeric designation, which has nothing to do with physical measuring. It's used for gauge, as in "No. 1 gauge", "HO gauge", or "Z gauge". Massstab is the proportion, with a colon, as in the corresponding terms "1:32", "1:87.1", and "1:220". Spurweite is the distance between the tracks, or correspondingly "1¾-inch", "16.5 mm", and "6.5 mm", and again gauge is used for this in English. One might add to these the old use of the term scale, of "3/8 inch to the foot" and "3.5 mm to the foot" for the first two, while the last really isn't expressible in this manner. 1900s German mass-prod. toys had a measured ga. rail CENTRE to rail centre,of rolled tinplate rail, of much latitude between flange & rail.

There are three different standards for the "0" Gauge, each of which uses tracks of 32 mm for the standard gauge. The American version continues a dollhouse scale of 1:48. It is sometimes called "quarter-gauge", as in "one-quarter-inch to the foot". The British version continued the pattern of subcontracting to Germans; so, at 7 mm to the foot, it works out to a scale of 1:43.5. Later, MOROP, the European authority of model railroad firms, declared that the "0" gauge (still 32 mm) must use the scale of 1:45. That is, in Europe the below-chassis dimensions have to be slightly towards 4ft.6inches,so to allow wheel/tyre/wh.splasher clearance for smaller than realistic curved sections.

"Live steam" railways, that you actually ride on, are built in many scales, such as 1-1/2", 1", and 3/4" to the foot. Common gauges are 7-1/2" (Western US) and 7-1/4" (Eastern US & rest of the world), 5", 4-3/4". Smaller Live Steam gauges do exist, but are hardly "rideable".

Model cars

Missing image
Revell model of 1964 Ford Thunderbolt
Missing image
Revell model of 1933 Ford hot rod

Although the British scale for "O" gauge was first used for model cars comprised of rectilinear and circular parts, it was the origin of the European scale for cast or injection moulded model cars. MOROP's specification will not alter the series of cars in 1:43 scale, as it has the widest distribution in the world.

In America, a series of cars was developed from at first cast metal and later styrene models ("promos") offered at new-car dealerships to drum up interest. The firms AMT, Revell, and Monogram produced them in a scale derived from the Architect's scale: 1:24. Other firms used 1:25. Some cars are also made in 1:32 scale, and rolling toys are often made on the scale 1:64.

Model robots

Japanese firms have marketed toys and models of what are often called "Giant Robots", fighting vehicles in the shape of a knight in armor. For some reason, model robots are marketed in scales 1:100 and 1:144, as though they were model aircraft, instead of the more natural model railway gauges. After all, they are best displayed in scenes crashing against houses.

Currently, there's a Japanese company called Bandai to release a large number of 'robot', which commonly known as Mecha to anime fans. The domination of Gundam kind of mecha are distributed in various scale, 1:100, 1:144, and also there's a PG, MG and SD termination. Most of the model of PG and MG are highly posable.

Model tanks and wargaming

Just before the twentieth century, the British historian (and science fiction author and forgotten mainstream novelist) H. G. Wells published a book, Little Wars, on how to play at battles in miniature or on flat ground. He used rather large toy soldiers and shot them with a catapult (slingshot) according to a series of rules. Later, dice replaced this toy mayhem for consumers.

For over a century, toy soldiers were made of white metal, a lead-based alloy, often in Architect's scale-based ratios in the English-speaking countries, and called tin soldiers. After the Second World War, such toys were on the market for children but now made of a safe plastic softer than styrene. American children called these "army men". Many sets were made in the new scale of 1:40. A few styrene model kits of land equipment were offered in this and in 1:48 and 1:32 scales. However, these were swept away by the number of kits in the scale of 1:35.

Those who continued to develop miniature wargaming preferred smaller scale models, the soldiers still made of soft plastic. Airfix particularly wanted people to buy 1:76 scale soldiers and tanks to go with "00" gauge train equipment. Roco offered 1:87 scale styrene military vehicles to go with "H0" gauge model houses. However, although there isn't any 1:72 scale model railroad, more toy soldiers are now offered in this scale because it is the same as the popular aircraft scale. The number of fighting vehicles in this scale is also increasing, although the number of auxiliary vehicles available is far fewer than in 1:87 scale.

Armies use smaller scales still. The US Army specifies models of the scale 1:285 for its "sand-table" wargaming. There are metal ground vehicles and helicopters in this scale, which is a near-rationalization of a notion of "one-quarter-inch-to-six-feet". The continental powers of NATO have developed the similar scale of 1:300, even though metric standardizers really don't like any divisors other than factors of 10, 5, and 2, so maps are not commonly offered in Europe in scales with a "3" in the denominator.

Consumer wargaming has since expanded into fantasy realms, employing scales large enough to be painted in imaginative detail. Firms which produce these do so in so small production lots that they are necessarily made of white metal. And the quite successful British firm Games Workshop even offers plastic fantasy war machines, like Warhammer 40,000.

Model buildings

Other than as an adjunct to model railroading or in forming dioramas with model war machines, this has not caught on as a hobby. So the expected standardized sizes from architectural practise have not developed. Hence Heller can offer a model of the Eiffel tower at the unique scale of 1:650, which couldn't be compared to anything.

Model ships and naval wargaming

Just before the Second World War, the American naval historian (and science fiction author) Fletcher Pratt published a book on naval wargaming as could be done by civilians using ship models cut off at the waterline to be moved on the floors of basketball courts and similar locales. The scale he used was very strange (maybe 1:550), but as the hobby progressed, it was progressively replaced by the series 1:600, 1:1200, and 1:2400. These had the advantage of approximating the nautical mile as 120 inches, 60 inches, and 30 inches, respectively. As the knot is based on this mile and a 60-minute hour, this was quite handy.

After the war, firms emerged to produce models from the same white metal used to make toy soldiers. One British firm offered a tremendously wide line of merchant ships and dockyard equipment in the scale 1:1200.

A prestige scale for boats, comparable to that of 1:32 for fighter planes, is 1:72, producing huge models. For the smaller ships, kits are offered in the traditional shipyard scales of 1:96, 1:108, or 1:192. Airfix makes full-hull models in the scale which the Royal Navy has used to compare the relative sizes of ships: 1:600. Monogram makes some kits to half the scale of the US Army standard: 1:570. Some American and foreign firms have made models in a proportion from the Engineer's scale: "one-sixtieth-of-an-inch-to-the-foot", or 1:720.

But the continental Europeans have an on-going project of getting rid of all conversions and measurements which they consider non-standard. As they saw how four Japanese model-making firms (Tamiya, Hasegawa, Aoshima, and Fujimi) formed a cartel to apportion out the project of putting out waterline kits of the whole fleet of Japanese warships of the Second World War on the market in a proportion that no firm from any other country did - 1:700, the Europeans are attempting to have the scale of 1:400 standardized for full-hull model ships, even though some Japanese firms have produced larger ships in the luxury scale of 1:350. And in scales more conducive to wargaming, Europeans are now marketing waterline kits in the scales 1:1250 and 1:2500 to supplant the British and American lines. The Chinese are joining them. Such trends toward standardization has not affected the Japanese firm Nichimaco, which still produces fit-in-the-box sizes from old molds, and 1:450 size models.


Model railways have peculiar scale/gauge designations, such as: Z; N; HO; OO; EM; P4; O; S; 1.

Model figure scales are usually expressed as the height of a six-foot (1.83 m) figure; for example: 54 mm.

Other model scales are generally given as a ratio.

Ratio Scale foot Comments
1:2500 0.122 mm A European size for naval wargaming ship models.
1:2400 0.127 mm A size for naval wargaming ship models.
1:1250 0.244 mm A European size for ship models.
1:1200 0.254 mm A size for ship and harbor models.
1:720 0.423 mm This was a standard size for ship models.
1:700 0.435 mm This is the scale that Tamiya, Aoshima, Hasegawa, and Fujimi chose to produce the largest series of waterline plastic model ships and submarines. Later Skywave joined in.
1:600 0.508 mm Popular for ships, especially liners and capital ships. This is the traditional scale for comparative drawings of ships, used by the Royal Navy because it's about one-tenth of a nautical mile to the foot.
1:570 0.535 mm This scale was used by Monogram for some ship models because it was one-half the size of the standard scale for wargaming models used by the US Army.
1:500 0.610 mm This is a scale used by Europeans for pre-finished airliner models. Trumpeter produces ships in this scale.
1:432 0.706 mm The scale used during the Second World War by the US Navy for aircraft recognition.
1:400 0.762 mm A European size for ship and submarine models.
1:350 0.871 mm A Japanese size for ship.
1:288 1.058 mm A scale for aircraft and rockets.
1:285 1.070 mm The US Army scale for sand-table wargames.
1:250 1.219 mm Used by Heller for model ships.
1:220 1.385 mm Same as Z gauge.
1:150 2.032 mm Used by Heller for model ships, and proposed by the Japanese to supersede 1:144.
1:144 2.117 mm Popular for aircraft, especially airliners, and rockets and spacecraft.
1:128 2.381 mm A few rockets and some fit-in-the-box aircraft are made to this size.
1:108 2.822 mm An historic size for ships, also used for rockets and spacecraft.
1:100 3.048 mm A Japanese scale for aircraft, spacecraft, and giant robots.
1:96 3.175 mm An historic scale for ships, also used for spacecraft.
1:90 3.387 mm A scale proposed by some European manufacturers to supersede HO scale.
1:87 3.503 mm Civilian and military vehicles. Same as HO scale.
1:82 3.717 mm An intermediate scale (H0/00) intended to apply to both H0 and 00 scale train sets.
1:76 4.011 mm Military vehicles. Same as 4 mm scale (OO gauge, etc.).
1:75 4.064 mm Used by Heller for model ships.
1:72 4.233 mm Aircraft, military vehicles.
1:64 4.763 mm (3/16in.) Ships, die-cast cars. Same as S gauge. Also called 3/16in. scale.
1:48 6.35 mm Military aircraft. This is the scale used by Americans with the 0 gauge. It is not exact.
1:45 6.773 mm This is the scale which MOROP has declared must go with the 0 gauge, because it ends with a five.
1:43 7.088 mm Still the most popular scale for die-cast cars worldwide, metric or otherwise. It originates from the scale that the British use with the O gauge.
1:40 7.62 mm Plastic soldier figures occur in this scale; there are a few kits to make vehicles for them.
1:35 8.709 mm The most popular scale for military vehicles and figures.
1:32 9.525 mm Military vehicles; 54 mm toy soldiers are supposed to use this scale as well. Same as Gauge 1.
1:28 10.89 mm Biplane fighters.
1:25 12.2 mm Cars, figures. AMT (now combined with Ertl), Revell, and Jo-Han made cars in this scale. This is preferred in Europe to 1:24. Holland has whole toy villages in this scale.
1:24 12.7 mm Cars, figures. Monogram made cars in this scale; Tamiya still does.
1:20 15.24 mm Cars.
1:19 16.04 mm This is the scale for those "four-inch" adventure movie figurines.
1:18 16.93 mm Cars.
1:16 19.05 mm Live steam trains (ridable)
1:12 25.4 mm Figures, Cars, Live steam trains (ridable)
1:8 38.1 mm Live steam trains (ridable)
1:6 50.8 mm Figures.

See also

External link

Template:Scale modelfi:Pienoismalli


Academic Kids Menu

  • Art and Cultures
    • Art (
    • Architecture (
    • Cultures (
    • Music (
    • Musical Instruments (
  • Biographies (
  • Clipart (
  • Geography (
    • Countries of the World (
    • Maps (
    • Flags (
    • Continents (
  • History (
    • Ancient Civilizations (
    • Industrial Revolution (
    • Middle Ages (
    • Prehistory (
    • Renaissance (
    • Timelines (
    • United States (
    • Wars (
    • World History (
  • Human Body (
  • Mathematics (
  • Reference (
  • Science (
    • Animals (
    • Aviation (
    • Dinosaurs (
    • Earth (
    • Inventions (
    • Physical Science (
    • Plants (
    • Scientists (
  • Social Studies (
    • Anthropology (
    • Economics (
    • Government (
    • Religion (
    • Holidays (
  • Space and Astronomy
    • Solar System (
    • Planets (
  • Sports (
  • Timelines (
  • Weather (
  • US States (


  • Home Page (
  • Contact Us (

  • Clip Art (
Personal tools