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Scale Auto FAQ

Frequently asked questions about car modeling
What is a scale model?
A scale model is a miniature representation of either the real thing or a vehicle from the builder's imagination. Most scale models are made from kits, but some are made from scratch. Modelers strive to build with care so the result looks like the real thing. Careful research from books, photos, and observing the full-size subjects comes into play. Builders try to eliminate seams and create realistic paint jobs, along with adding extra details.

What is meant by scale?
The scale of a model determines its size in relation to the real thing. A model in 1/25 scale is one twenty-fifth the size of the original. In other words, it would take 25 models end-to-end to span the measurement of the actual subject.

Where can I buy kits and aftermarket accessories?
A hobby shop is a good source. Well-stocked hobby shops carry domestic and foreign kits, paints, accessories, tools, books, and magazines, such as Scale Auto. If you aren't near a hobby shop, you can order almost anything from mail-order businesses that advertise in Scale Auto and other hobby publications.

How do I order from overseas vendors?
Many overseas firms accept major credit cards such as VISA and MasterCard. If you don't have a credit card, or if a vendor won't accept it, you can order kits with international money orders available at post offices and banks. First, write to the company to inquire about price and shipping costs, and include an international reply coupon (IRC, available at the post office) for their response.

Are there clubs I can join?
Many large cities have modeling clubs. You don't have to build strictly plastic models to become a member, though. There are hundreds of modeling clubs around the United States and the world. If you're having a tough time finding a club in your area, check with your local hobby shop.

Are there contests, conventions, and swap meets I can attend?
Several contests, conventions, and swap meets are held around the country each weekend. They usually include modeling seminars, museum tours, and other programs, in addition to vendors who sell kits and accessories. A good place to find modeling events is in the Coming Events section of Scale Auto.

What is an injection-molded kit?
If you have ever built a plastic kit, it was probably injection-molded. The parts are formed in plastic that are attached to frames known as sprues. After removing the parts from the sprues, you put the kit together as a three-dimensional puzzle, helped by detailed instructions. Plastic parts are glued together with plastic cements such as the tried-and-true tube glue, liquid cements, superglues, or epoxies.

What is a vacuum-formed kit?
Like an injection-molded kit, these are made from plastic. But vacuum-formed kit parts are heat-pressed into sheets of styrene plastic. Each part must be cut from the sheet, the edges of the parts must be sanded, and a few other special steps must be introduced to the building process to get these kits together. A vacuum-formed kit can be assembled with plastic cements, superglues, or epoxies. They usually are not for beginners, but often may be the only kits available of certain subjects. You should have a couple of years of experience with injection-molded kits before trying one of these. Vacuum-formed kits are generally manufactured and sold by small aftermarket companies.

What is a resin kit?
Instead of being molded with hot plastic as injection-molded and vacuum-formed kits are, resin kits are made from liquid resins poured into silicone rubber molds. The liquid resin sets after a few minutes, and the molds are separated to release the parts. Resin kits usually are of subjects that are not available in injection-molded kits, and they can be expensive. You must use super glue or epoxy to build resin kits. Like vacuum-formed kits, resin kits are made and sold by aftermarket companies.

What are photoetched parts?
These are fine detail parts that usually are obtained as aftermarket items. Parts such as instrument panels, seat buckles, louvers, and grilles, are photographically transferred onto thin sheet metal. Areas outside the images of the parts are etched away in a chemical bath. These add-on parts take some experience to handle and install, but they can improve the look and detail level of a model.

What is an airbrush?
An airbrush is a small spray gun used to apply paint to models. You usually must thin model paints before using them in an airbrush. An airbrush allows the modeler to apply a fine coat of paint that doesn't obscure the model's fine details. Airbrushes usually cost $50 or more, and you must have a compressed-air source to operate them, such as a compressor or a cylinder of compressed air or inert gas.

Why do my decals look silvery?
Silvering occurs when air is trapped under a decal because it won't conform to the paint. Decals won't snuggle down well to flat paint, so apply either gloss paint to begin with or a clear gloss coat where the decals go. After the clear coat dries, apply the decals and brush on setting solution. When the decals are dry, apply a clear flat coat or more clear gloss to produce a uniform sheen the model's surface.

What kind of cement should I use?
Most plastic kits can be built with tube or liquid-type plastic cements. Superglues (also known as CA for cyanoacrylate) and epoxies also can be used on plastic kits, and will work with other materials such as resin, metal, and wood.

How can I use superglue on my models?
Superglue can be used to put kits together, and gap-filling superglues (thick formulas) can be used to fill seams and depressions. Cured superglue can be sanded and polished just like plastic.

Are there kits for people just starting out in modeling?
Yes. Dozens of simple kits have parts that snap together. You won't need glue to assemble them, and you may not need to paint them, either. You can move on to more complex kits after you get your feet wet.

What kind of paints should I use on a scale model?
Several brands are available, usually in hobby shops. Enamels are oil-based paints and they require paint thinner to thin and clean up. Enamels are easy to apply and come in a wide assortment of colors. Enamels also are available in spray cans, many matching bottled paints in the same line. Water-based acrylic hobby paints are becoming more popular. They are more difficult to airbrush, but they are less toxic than enamels. Most acrylics are thinned and clean up with water. Automotive lacquers, such as touch-up paints, are also used by many builders. Their advantage is they go on thin. These paints require the use of primer, and are very toxic, so a two-stage respirator and sufficient ventilation should be used when spraying them.

How does a modeler decide which scale to build?
Some modelers prefer to work in one scale only so they can see the size relationship of their subjects. But others may not be concerned with constant scale. If there is only one kit of the subject they are looking for, then that is the model they will build. Usually, large scale models have the best detail, but the variety of subjects is limited. Automobiles usually are found in 1/24 or 1/25 scales. There are some kits in 1/12, 1/16, and 1/20, and 1/43 offers a wide variety of kits and finished models.

What is weathering?
Weathering is simulating the effects of weather, wear and tear, or mishaps on a model. Modelers can produce these effects with paint, thinned-paint washes, dry-brushing, pastels, and airbrushing. To simulate damage, less subtle devices such as drills, grinders, and heated blades can be employed.

What is a wash?
A wash is an application of a thin, dark color to emphasize deep corners and recesses of a model's surface. As the wash dries, the dark pigment settles into the crevices, embellishing the shadows and producing a "deep" appearance.

What is dry-brushing?
Dry-brushing is a method to subtly accentuate the high points on the surface of a model and create the illusion of depth. After dipping a flat brush into a light-colored paint, the modeler wipes almost all of the paint onto a clean rag. The remaining "dry" pigment on the brush is wiped onto the raised details of the model.

What is a conversion?
A conversion is a model that is modified from the version provided in the kit box to a different version. This process can involve aftermarket conversion parts, "kitbashing" (combining parts from two or more kits), or scratchbuilding. For example, you could convert a 1969 Pontiac Firebird into a '67 using an aftermarket resin body.

What is stretched sprue?
The material that the parts of a plastic kit are attached to is called sprue. Modelers occasionally use this raw material to produce new parts for their models. For example, by heating the sprue over a candle flame, it can be stretched as thin as hair or bent to produce other shapes. Stretched sprue often is used to represent antennas.

What are pin marks and mold seams?
During the injection-molding process, certain blemishes appear on the parts. Ejector pins that push the parts from the mold often leave small circular marks on the part. Mold seams sometimes are visible too. They appear as small raised lines along the line where the halves of the mold separate. Modelers try to eliminate these blemishes on their models with filler and sandpaper.

What is detailing?
Modelers often add details to their models that are not provided in the kits. Some details, such as improved instruments, seats, seat belts, antennas, engine accessories, and decals, are available as aftermarket items, but some modelers make their own improvements.

What are high-tech kits?
A kit that contains detail parts made of die cast or photoetched metal usually falls into the realm of the "high-tech" kit. Experience usually is needed to put these kits together.

What are dry transfers?
Specially made "dry-transfer" or "rub-on" decals can be used on models. Rather than the typical "water-slide" decals, dry-transfer markings are self-adhesive ink images released from plastic sheets.

What is RTV and what is it used for?
RTV stands for room-temperature vulcanizing mold material, usually made from silicone "rubber." Resin kits and detail parts usually are made in RTV molds. Modelers can purchase RTV to make molds to produce resin or metal castings.

How can I learn more about modeling?
Read Scale Auto magazine. Scale Auto is published six times a year, and you can subscribe online or by writing to Kalmbach Publishing Co., P.O. Box 1612, Waukesha, WI 53187.


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