So you’ve decided you want to build Gunpla, but you have no idea where to start. Well that’s what this guide is for! Give everything a thorough read, it’s quite a bit of information but it’ll be your foundation for all future PlaMo exploits. However, keep in mind that this is a guide, not a full on tutorial or instruction manual. Keep in mind that plamo will require some on the fly thinking at times, and it’s impossible to describe every single scenario in this document.
V. Safety Tips
VII. Advanced Techniques
For those of you with questions to be answered but not enough time to read, have a quick FAQ:
Q. What does GunPla/PlaMo mean?
A. They're portmanteaus. Gundam Plastic Model and Plastic Model respectively.
Q. Wait, I thought PlaMo was Japanese for plastic.
A. プラモ (literally puramo) is a loanword from english. If you’re unfamiliar with the Japanese language, know that anything written in katakana is from a different language; it’s the alphabet used to represent foreign ideas or words.
Q. Should I start with HG or MG?
A. HG. MG isn't ridiculously hard or anything, it's just that HG is cheaper.
Q. How hard is it to move from HG to MG?
A. Zero difficulty. The only difference between the two grades are that MGs have more parts, mostly to make them more color accurate, give them an inner frame and to lower the amount of seam lines.
Q. What model should I start with? I'm totally new to Gundam.
A. HGUC RX-78-2 Revive. There are other good first kits below in Getting Started.
Q. What model should I start with? I'm familiar with Gundam.
A. Pick your favorite design from the most recent show. There’s probably a decent model kit of it… unless it was from Reconguista in G.
Q. I found a model I like for $$$. Is that a good price?
A. Most HGs should be around $20 before shipping, but MGs are all over the place. Try searching for the model on Amazon to get a baseline price.
Q. Should I get the limited edition Extra Finish kits?
A. Unless you're fine with really obvious nubs, no.
Q. What's panel lining/seam welding/modding/top coating/whatever?
A. I could give explanations for each, but that's what this guide is for! Scroll down to the appropriate sections.
Q. Should I paint/panel line/seam weld/mod/top coat/whatever?
A. If you want. Skip to the conclusion for a more in-depth response.
Q. What tools do I need to buy?
A. A pair of micro flush cutters (aka nippers) and a hobby knife are the basic necessities.
Q. What paints should I get?
A. Model Masters or Citadel are high-quality paints that can be either hand brushed or air brushed. Vallejo is even better, but it's a bit harder to find.
Q. What paint thinner should I use?
A. If you're using a brand name paint, use the corresponding brand name thinner.
Q. *Insert Gundam series* sucks!
A. First off, that's not a question. Second, bitch about it on /m/. /toy/ is for toys, and you shouldn't let the gunpla commerc- er, the shows discourage you from buying designs you like.
Also, http://otakurevolution.com/content/laymans-gunpla-guide has a ton of useful guides. The writer goes by Falldog on /toy/, say thank you if you meet him!
Quick link: http://tinyurl.com/GunplaGuide
When it comes to tools, you’ve got a choice to make: do you want to buy specialty equipment, or do you want to repurpose something else? Either way can work out, and in all honesty your best bet is to mix and match. Here’s a list of basic necessities for building PlaMo and their alternatives.
First off, you’ll need something to actually cut the plastic off the runners.
Sprue cutters like the pictured Xuron 410 (which is excellent) are the recommended pick, but you can also make do with some miniature wire-cutters (though in this case be careful, wire-cutters don’t cut plastic as much as they stress it until it snaps) or even a toenail clipper if you’re in a pinch. Just don’t use scissors.
Second, something for nub removal. Your two “official” choices are either sandpaper (you’ll need a medium grit and a fine grit, try starting with 400 and 1000) or a hobby knife (an X-Acto brand with a #17 blade is a good pick). Meanwhile your “unofficial” choices are either a nail file or (if you’re desperate) once again a toenail clipper.
Third, panel lining tools. Assuming you want to keep things paint-free, gray and black fine-point markers will be your weapons of choice. Good choices are Sakura Micron 005, fine point Gundam Markers, and super fine-tipped Copic Markers. And for you wannabe MacGuyvers, a mechanical pencil will also work! Look for 0.3 mm lead.
These are pricier options than what are recommended above.
So you’ve got your tools, made sense of my guide and decided on what you want. Good, now here are a few plastic crack suppliers. Remember to shop around, aka check a bunch of different retailers on their prices, including shipping. Even if you only save a few dollars, that can be the difference between being able to buy a Big Mac or not.
Your Local Hobby Shop
Not all towns have one, but if yours does there’s no reason not to check it out. They might not sell Gunpla, but they’ll probably at least sell the tools.
Your Local Art Supplies Shop
Most towns at least have this, and they’re a great source for paints and tools.
My favorite retailer. They consistently beat other retailers’ prices and they update their stock constantly. The only issue with them is that they are very popular and will run out of stock quickly. So if you really want something, pre-order it. I’ve had numerous orders from them and they always respond quickly to emails.
For those of you who visit us on /toy/, you may occasionally hear eBay as a suggested place to buy your plastic/resin crack. I’m sure you have your reservations, but it’s a good site to check if you are looking to buy one or two kits (especially if the person will combine shipping). Just make sure you know where your package is coming from and be sure to check the seller’s rating.
Surprisingly, Amazon isn’t a bad place to look for gunpla either! However, you need to make sure you are buying from Amazon directly, not a store using Amazon. If you are buying it from Amazon, your shipping will be fairly cheap, and if you have Amazon Prime you can get free 2-day shipping. Just don’t expect cheap baseline prices.
Despite the name, they sell a ton of Japanese toys. Their prices are pretty in line with Japan based companies. Shipping is either via USPS (pay by weight) or FedEx (pay by order value). Flat $9.99 for Fedex on orders less than $100, maximum of $18.95 charge for orders in excess of $300. Only thing to watch out for is that they will let you order backordered items currently, and they’ll hold your whole shipment until the backordered item is in (generally two weeks). They’ve got a pretty rad website design and open up their location on Fridays, Saturdays and restock days. Last time I went they had a few kits at reduced prices that they didn't put on the site because they came with damaged boxes from their shipment.
Actually called 1999 in Japan (when you google hobby search, it pops up, it’s the right site). Being based in Japan gives them a massive advantage, the day a kit is released, it’s available for purchase and if you pre-ordered it, they’ll send you the bill. They have standard international shipping rates and the occasional sale on kits or shipping. I’ve had several good experiences with them and they respond well to emails.
Hobby Link Japan is a great store for buying kits, figs and the like. Their best feature is known as the Private Warehouse. Simply put you can order a bunch of stuff and have it stored for you and then choose to ship it out in mass at a later date vastly reducing shipping costs. Their prices are generally great for models are average for other things. Combined with the shipping they can often be your best option for buying, especially if you are doing it in bulk.
While nothing special, they do carry a wide range of products for a good price. They will run some nice specials from time to time. Be warned, they are a Japanese retailer so it’s entirely possible that your shipping may be pushed to EMS.
A Japanese based site that sells many different items including gunpla. It’s good for some kits you can't find anywhere else, and not so good for regular kits you can find on AmiAmi discounted. Doesn't have a shipping calculator so make it 1000 yen for SAL ($12) and 1750 for EMS ($22) on a single HGUC package. It has a 500 yen ($6) handling fee if your order is under 5000 yen (~$60), so when estimating the shipping factor those 500 yen if you're ordering less than 5000 yen worth of stuff. (Thank you kind anon)
A bit of a new player, but I (GG) have bought quite a bit from them, both kit and supply wise. They carry the standard array of kits with cheap shipping, but the supply selection is a cut above. They carry AK Interactive acrylic paints, along with the regular Tamiya, Mr. Hobby, and Gaia Notes.
The name is a lie. Almost everything is on sale, but their base prices are higher than other sites so everything’s actually more expensive. This makes them pricey for small order, but they’re decent to good for bulk orders. Why? 1) Free shipping within the US on orders over $100. 2)The coupon code BUY100 takes $20 any order over $100.
Another California-based online retailer. They have a wide range of items for good prices, and if you happen to live in the Bay Area they’ll waive shipping costs and let you go to their warehouse to pick up your order.
Riktasi says this is a decent US based store with good prices and a couple exclusives. You’ve probably run into them if you buy on eBay or Amazon since they’re pretty reliable sellers. Unfortunately their website design blows so just look for them on those two sites.
Zombster, for the Australians
I was told of this retailer during one of the Gunpla General threads. I don’t know much about them but the anon said it was his primary retailer.
P-Bandai is Bandai’s premium hobby shop.
Bandai themselves have started selling some of their P-Bandai stuff directly.
I personally haven’t used Gentei Kits for anything P-Bandai, but I know he does it and I’ve never heard anything bad in the past.
I used NY for my MG Jesta Cannon and had zero issues with them. Shipping was reasonable (~$20 for RSAL) and it was well packed.
Not just for decals anymore! In addition to P-Bandai he also takes pre-orders for Dragon Momoko products. I’ve used him twice for kits, once for MG Tallgeese III and again for my DM MG Akatsuki. Both times shipping was perfectly reasonable for RSAL ($20-25) and there where no other issues. Ordering from him is a little weird, you have to email him what you want and then he sends you a payment request.
USA Gundam Store
Not just for P-Bandai (which they’re pretty good for). Good selection and pricing, and shipping is $10 under 6lbs. From what I can find they used to be a big eBay shop then got their own site.
A parts provider. I haven’t personally used them, but Mind Zai from Discord reports that their service and pricing is excellent.
Gunpla friends not from the US, I feel I have a duty to inform you of something. Unless you live in Canada or Mexico, do not order from a US based retailer. The shipping costs will be astronomical, if they’ll ship internationally at all (those of you in US territories, I have no idea). Please make a note of this when you are searching for models. As such, check your country’s version of Amazon first, then go look at Asian based retailers.
First off, let’s establish that Bandai is not the only model kit company in town. There are lots of alternatives, like Kotobukiya or Tomy. What Bandai is, though, is the best manufacturer. They’ve funneled a lot of their money into R&D, and as a result have superior plastic quality, model kit engineering, and even cheaper price points (all things considered). Pretty much the only reason you should buy from a different company is to get the kits Bandai doesn’t make, like Super Robot Wars OG or Zoids.
Now let’s talk about Gunpla.
First, go to dalong.net. It’s a korean site that has detailed pictures of almost every kit since 1995, and as such a great place to pick something out. Scan through the HG, 00, and AGE sections and choose whatever appeals to you most.
Still undecided/too lazy? Well fine, let me help.
Pretty much the best HG to start with is...well there’s quite a few these days. Pretty much anything from the HGUC Revive line is going to be great. HG AGE-1 Normal, HG Graze (and variants), and the Hi-Mock are also excellent choices. I’m going to level with you, it’s become very, very difficult to recommend one kit in particular as stock levels fluctuate wildly now (circa May 2022). In general, any kit in the $10-$20 range is an excellent starting place, and these days there are very few bad HGs being released.
However I feel like the Hi-Mock deserves a special mention again, because dear lord this kit is cheap and easy to build. It’s honestly cheap enough that I’d also suggest it for painting practice, and doing things like this:
So you've had your fun with the little guys and you want to move up to the big leagues. But while you’ve decided you want to build a MG, you don’t know much and they just look so big and scary. Well have no fear, I've got the perfect kits in mind.
First up are the Impulses. And by that I mean Force and Sword because Bandai hates Blast Impulse with a passion. Even if they aren't your favorite suits, Sword and Force Impulse are still pretty cool, and fairly simple builds as far as MGs are concerned.
Oh and this should be obvious but just in case, don’t get both. Just get the one you like more.
What? Do you want me to recommend one?
Well the Sword Impulse has a boomerang...
If you’re some kind of crazy boomerang hater, try one of the Seed vRM kits. They’re pretty cheap as far as MGs go, are recent so they’ve got some great engineering, and cover a wide range of interests.
And if you’re a UC supremacist (which I’m going to tell you right now is a fucking silly mindset), you can't go wrong with the 2.0’s of the RX-78-2 or the RX-178 Gundam Mk II.
Some people hate the RX-78-2 2.0 because of how cartoony it looks.
Well the 2.0 doesn’t give a shit, talk to the feet. The feet are apparently Korean.
Understanding the Manual
The second you crack open the manual, the first thing you’re going to notice is that it’s in Japanese. I think it’s safe to assume that the vast majority of the people reading this guide can’t parse moon, so let me reassure you: you don’t need to know Japanese to read PlaMo manuals.
Here’s an excerpt from the MG FA Unicorn’s manual. While there’s some Japanese on it, notice how all of the pieces are labeled with stuff you can understand. For example, this particular bit says we need
pieces 4 and 7 from the WC runner,
as well as the final results of steps 19-1 and 19-2.
Really, the only things that might confuse you are these symbols. Most of them are easy enough to figure out, but just in case, here's a translation. From left to right, and starting with the top row:
Got all of that? Okay, just one last piece of advice before moving on: READ THE FUCKING MANUAL. THEN READ IT AGAIN!
So you’ve got your kit and tools and you know you need to put the thing together. Your first step is to make a workspace somewhere, as big as you can manage, and as far away from cats, dogs, small children, and anyone/thing you feel could mess with your pieces.
Okay you’re done? Well let me just take a look an-
NOPE NOPE NOPE
The above isn’t a workspace, it’s just a pile of stuff. And while in the end it’s up to you to determine how you want to sort things,
Wouldn’t you agree this looks much better? Admittedly most of us don’t have such a wealth of free space, but just doing your best to imitate what you see here (open instruction manual in clear sight, necessary runners laid out individually, tools not haphazardly strewn around) can go a long way.
Removing pieces from the runner is pretty straightforward. First we have an image explanation, second, here’s a video for it: https://youtu.be/FXHVgH6mC6c.
When you look at the runner, take a look at where the runner is attached to the piece you’re removing. This is the gate. As you can see from the marked red lines, I’m going to cut close to the thicker part of the gate (leaving the majority of the thin portion attached to the part), so that we leave a nub.
Now that we have the part removed from the runner, we’re going to make a second set of cuts, leaving just a millimeter or so remaining.
As you can see, now that we’ve made two sets of cuts, there’s a lot less nub for you to deal with.
As soon as you cut a piece off the runner with whatever tool you’re using, you’ll run into nubs. What happens next depends on your denubbing tool of choice.
If you have an X-Acto knife, lay the flat part of the blade (the bottom is completely flat, the top, where it has an incline is the blade. Yes, I’ve had to explain this before) on the piece, right in front of the nub. Now simply go forward and the nub will come off, you may have to wiggle or get a pair of side cutters or toenail clippers if a piece is really thick, but nine times out of ten this works best.
Video guide: http://youtu.be/bPs9zhQ7OAY, a second, new video https://youtu.be/wpbPoYNAcSA. In the second video guide you will see me completely removing the nub on the peg at the bottom of the fuel tank, rather than leaving a smaller nub. This is because there’s no need to worry how clean this nub is, as it’s simply going to be in a hole and covered.
If you have sandpaper, just rub the nub down with your medium grit and then use your fine grit to smooth out the result. For best results use a variety of grits and work your way up from lowest to highest. And to avoid spreading plastic dust everywhere, wet your sandpaper before use.
If you did things right, you’ll have a slightly discolored bit of plastic where the nub is. You can try scratching it with your fingernail, but if you want to make it go away entirely you’ll need paint.
Also: if you ever find yourself having to pack up and continue some other day, try not to just leave your pieces sitting around. Put them in a jar, or a thick plastic box, or something to keep them from getting lost.
So you followed the instructions to the letter and now you have a finished kit. Problem is, you also have a bunch of decals on a sticker sheet and don’t know what to do with them. Honestly you probably should have put those stickers on while you were building, but hey no biggie. Just treat them like regular stickers and place them where the instruction booklet says to (which sticker you should use is usually indicated with a japanese character, if you’re not good with those just put the sticker sheet next to the picture and match). Pulling them off can be a hassle, but hey you have the shiny X-Acto knife, put it to use. If you have to you can also cut the decal out from the sheet and pull it off. This is also a good technique if there are excessive amounts of nothing (clear areas) on a decal and you are having trouble placing it.
Now dry apply/waterslide, those are a different story.
With dry apply, you’ll have a transparent sheet over some wax paper. It is absolutely crucial to remember which side of the sheet was facing the wax paper, as that is the side that should come in contact with the model. Cut out the decal of your choice and tape it to the surface of the plastic. Then rub on it with something (a stylus or some other blunt tool is ideal, but your fingernail works too) until you think it’s been fully applied. Then slowly strip off the tape; if at any point you see that some of the decal didn’t stick, gently put the tape back where it was and get back to rubbing.
It is crucial to remember which side of the sheet is the back, since if you screw up, you’re going to end up with the decal permanently stuck to the tape. Also use small strips of tape, or you could end up covering (and ripping off) an already placed decal.
With waterslides, you’ll have a blue sheet of paper. This thing is actually a sandwich of sorts; there’s the blue, water-resistant paper, the actual decal, and a thin film on top that dissolves in water. Cut out the decal of your choice then dunk it in water for about twenty seconds or so. Then slide the decal off (this is probably the hardest part of the process, so don’t feel too bad if you make a mistake) the paper and place it on the model. It’s recommended you wet the surface of the plastic too so you can have some leeway with positioning the decal. Leave the decal to dry for a bit (a process you can speed up with Mark Setter, if you have any), and voila.
Waterslides can be reactivated if you drop some more water over them, and if they break up you can kind of reassemble them on the model kit. They also tend to look a lot nicer than dry apply, so due to all of these reasons they’re the favored decal choice. Too bad they’re usually sold separately. Anyways, I recommend putting them on first since putting water on dry apply/stickers is a recipe for disaster.
Next up, panel lining. I hope you at least bought black and gray or whatever pen you chose. The methodology here is super simple: fill in lines. However, don’t go insane and make the lines super thick (well you can, but...), they end up looking terrible, and you’ll probably end up hating them as well. Try to get them as thin as you can, use a cotton swab, a piece of tissue, your finger, whatever you can to rub off the excess. Clean, thin lines look far better than the crazy thick monstrosities dalong uses. Speaking of him, using his pictures isn’t a bad way to see how the lines should be done, however like I said try not to make them quite so thick. (Video guide: http://youtu.be/js5EFWqX5S8)
If you’re adventurous and believe you will be building models for a long time to come, I highly recommend investing in Tamiya Panel Line Accent or Mr Hobby Mr Weathering Color. Shake before use (vigorously), and apply with the included brush or your own super fine brush. Through capillary action it’ll spread through your lines. Wait at least 10-15 minutes (or longer) and clean these up either with lighter fluid (such as Ronsonol or Zippo) or using Tamiya’s X-20 ENAMEL thinner (there's two types of C-20). Get some on a q-tip and lightly rub the excess off of the line, this may take some practice.
As for which color to use (or which tool). I generally prefer to use pencil lead or a gray marker on lightly colored kits, white, light blues, and the like. For darker colors I tend to use black, or in rare circumstances, gray, but never pencil lead (you can’t usually see it). However, much like everything involving models, it’s your damn kit and you can damn well do what you please, don’t listen to me, listen to yourself, if you think black looks better, then do it.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Personally I like to use a darker shade of whatever color surrounds the panel line; dark red on bright red, gray on white, etc. And for really dark colors, silver panel lines look spiffy.
The Super Pro way to panel line, and definitely something you should learn. Go here. Or, if you don’t want to mess with enamels, scroll down to Advanced Techniques and check out SgtSagara’s.
Let’s say you’re a big fan of Turn A Gundam, and you want a Turn A and a Turn X. You go online and start searching, and eventually you find some products. Overjoyed, you immediately purchase them (ignoring the “MG” next to the Turn A’s name and the “RD” next to the Turn X’s because pffft reading) and wait until they ship. Days later they finally arrive, and you excitedly rip open the box. But much to your confusion, the Turn A is a bunch of plastic plates while the Turn X is an action figure! And more than that, once fully assembled the Turn A is over twice the size of the Turn X! Did you just get ripped off?
No you dummy, you just bought two entirely different things.
First off, the size difference. Every single model kit ever is going to have a scale, usually either 1/144, 1/100, or 1/60. If you’re not good with math, that means that the toy you bought is going to be a fraction of the size of the fictional bot. Exactly how big any given kit will be depends on what it is (a 1/144 of the Psycho Gundam is going to be larger than a 1/100 of the Victory for instance), but in general
1/144 kits tend to be around five inches tall,
1/100 kits are around six to eight inches,
and 1/60’s stand at a towering foot.
Well that explains the size issue, but why were the Turn A and Turn X completely different toys? Well believe it or not, but Bandai doesn’t just make one thing. They’re a very large toy company, and they know that not everyone wants to spend all of their free time working with plastic. So they have two main lines: model kits and action figures. And inside these are even more lines, each with a handy name so you can tell the difference. Let’s start with the former.
First Grade (FG) is a 1/144 kit for beginners. Well I say “beginners”, but preschooler might be more appropriate. Featuring very few parts molded in just as little colors, the only things good about these are the price. ($4 - $10)
Advanced Grade (AG) are sort of spiritual successors to FG. Exclusively featuring models from Gundam AGE, building these things is as simple as slotting parts onto a pre-built frame. They also include small computer chips that can be used in a Japanese arcade game. (~$10)
High Grade (HG) is where things get confusing, because a lot of things fall under its umbrella. The term itself was created in 1990 when Bandai released 1/144 models of all the lead Gundams up to the ZZ, but if anyone actually talks about them they’re probably referring to the one of the many lines below. Prices vary, but generally range from $10 to $40.
Next up are the 1/100 kits.
1/100 kits are just beefed up HGs. Solid engineering-wise, but the only reason you’re ever going to get these is if the next line doesn’t have the kit you want. And that happens a lot actually, so don’t be shy about picking one up. ($20 - $50)
Master Grade (MG) is Bandai’s longest running line, and usually the best bang for your buck. Featuring intricate detail, excellent articulation, and a slew of optional decals, this is the line you’ll want your favorite MS to show up in. Spoilers: unless your favorite is the RX-78-2 or the Zaku II you’re going to be waiting for a while. ($30 - $100+)
Inside the MG line are a couple sub-categories.
HG and MG are the lines most people will usually work with, the rest are for the more dedicated.
Real Grade (RG) is a bit of an oddball. Incredibly high detail (Perfect Grade level!) on a 1/144 frame, these kits are often the best-looking version of a design you can find. Their main selling points are their two-tone color separation (something MG has recently adopted), an insane level of parts separation, and a revolutionary near pre-assembled inner frame. There’s a very small selection though, and all but the MkII (pictured) tend to have idiosyncratic issues. These kits are not recommended for beginners, especially if you’re bad with small parts. ($30 - $40)
Perfect Grade (PG) is 1/60 and possesses, quite literally, perfect articulation and detail, as well as a ton of bells and whistles (all require you to do some wiring to fit in LEDs). A modern PG is an excellent centerpiece for any collection. Just like with RG, though, they tend to have a lot of idiosyncratic issues. The pictured PG 00 Raiser, for instance, can’t balance for crap when you put the Raiser on. Prices run at lowest $150 with most prices around $250.
The HY2M Glorious series are basically PGs. Good luck finding one though.
NGs also come in 1/60 scale. Once again they’re just scaled up HGs, so don’t let their bulk intimidate you. Relatively pricey, though not nearly as much as a PG. (~$60)
Mega Size Models (MSM) are 1/48 behemoths. Double the size of your average MG, they are surprisingly simple. With easy to remove parts and HG level construction, these would make good beginner kits if they weren’t so huge and expensive. ($80- $100)
And now for something completely different. Super Deformed (SD) models are incredibly small and just as cheap. With few parts molded in fewer colors, they’re perfect models to practice painting with. There are two big groups, G-generation 0/F and BB Senshi. Stick with the latter if you can. (~$10)
EX Models (EX) are just as unique. Focusing on battleships rather than mobile suits, these 1/400 kits require a lot of paint to look good. If you consider yourself an experienced painter, put your skills to the test with these! ($20 - $80)
And last, but certainly not least, the legendary 1/24 RX-78-2. If you got this you have more dollars than sense, I’m sorry.
That’s it for Gunpla. Every other kind of toy you can find is an action figure rather than something you assemble, and since this guide is for model kits I’m only going to give brief descriptions.
Despite what you might have heard, resin isn’t really harder to work with compared to plastic - it's just different. This guide will teach you all the basics to get started, but first let’s establish some important notes:
Original Casts vs. Recasts
Ideally the kit you want will be available on the caster’s site, but if it’s sold out try Yahoo Japan Auctions or Mandarake. If you’re looking to buy an original cast, start with whichever design you like the most. You can’t go wrong.
You’ll want to be a bit more selective on where you buy your recasts, but for the most part the places/groups listed above are safe choices.
Note: This is my preferred building process. Adjust the steps as needed to fit your own preferences.
I could write a bunch of words about this, but why bother when Falldog already made an incredible guide? Check it out.
Believe it or not, modeling can be a dangerous hobby. You’re working with sharp edges and various chemicals all the time, so things can get rough… if you’re stupid. I’m kind of sorry to say this to anyone who’s experienced an accident, but a lot of the dangers present in this hobby can be easily avoided with some common sense. If while scrolling through the following notes you at any point think “huh, I didn’t know that”, that’s a bad sign.
1. Your knife is sharp.
Yes, that hobby knife you’re using to trim plastic is sharp enough to make you bleed. Practice proper knife safety at all times, and if you ever drop your knife don’t try and catch it.
2. Spray paint in a ventilated area.
Did you know that inhaling atomized paint is bad for your lungs? Good, you did. Even if you wear a respirator while painting, if your chosen location doesn’t have some sort of ventilation it’ll turn into a gas chamber before long.
4. The chemicals you’re working with are hazardous to your health.
Remember when I said that one of the benefits of acrylics is that they were non-toxic? Yeah they’re pretty much the only safe chemicals you’ll use, everything else can harm you. Wear some sort of respirator if you can, and at the very least don’t sit around snorting lacquers.
5. Don’t build while you’re sick.
Just don’t, you’ll regret it. The best case is that you wake up the next day to a poorly assembled model, the worst case is that you wake up in a puddle of your own blood.
6. Don’t build while you’re naked.
Whether or not you should paint is completely up to you, most kits look fine out of the box nowadays. But as the person trying to help you get started, I’d really recommend it since one of the main draws of gunpla is that it’s really easy to paint. What I don’t recommend, however, is that you paint your first kit; build a few to gain some experience before you buy one you want to pretty up. And maybe get a SD kit to practice on first.
Here’s a handy resource from Mech9, it’s a translated color guide so you can mix the paint to match what it should be in the manual.
With that disclaimer out of the way, let’s talk about the three kinds of paint.
So what paints do you want? Well that depends on how you want to use it. You have three options:
Skip to the next dashed line if you don’t want an airbrush.
Physically, there are two airbrush styles to consider - gravity feed and siphon feed. The style is really personal preference based on how you hold the brush and how you're storing, delivering, and cleaning up paint, and has nothing to do with the quality of the brush. Each style will have dozens of brush brands and tiers to be confused by, and will pretty much all look identical anyways. Popular brushes are the Badger 150 (siphon) and the Iwata HP-CS (gravity).
There are considerations to take when deciding if an airbrush is right for you. The first is location. Painting in a climate controlled indoor area is ideal - do you have a space that can be properly ventilated, and the money for a fume hood or the time/skills to build your own fume hood? If not, is the climate where you live going to be extremely cold or hot, or extremely dry or humid? If you live in a temperate area, a garage or outdoor porch may work for most of the year, but consider it before you make the investment. Paint is formulated to be sprayed at room temperature and 40% humidity. Fume hoods can be purchased in a range of shapes and sizes to suit your work area, and there are many DIY solutions that Google can point you towards.
The second is cost. You will easily find complete kits to get you started on eBay or Amazon, particularly from a company called TCPGlobal. It's hard to narrow down the exact recommendation for a kit, because there is a seemingly endless array of mixed packages. The price range is $100-$300. The bottom end will get you a Chinese knock-off compressor and brush and a cheap hose. The top end will get you a Badger or Iwata brush, a Paasche or equivalent compressor, a nice nylon hose, a regulator, and a tank.
A tank will store compressed air so that your compressor is not constantly running, which makes some noise and vibration. Connecting a new tank to an existing compressor can be wishy-washy; if you have the $300, get a complete unit the first time. If you don't, don’t worry! There’s no need to commit to your equipment, this is a product geared towards swapping and upgrading. So if you skipped getting a tank or settled for a Chinese compressor in order to afford a real brush (Badger, Iwata, Paasche), that’s fine! That compressor might last ten years instead of thirty, but you can swap it out by then. A fresh nylon hose is like, $10 if your kit comes with a crappy one. As long as you at least have a compressor and the appropriate hose adapter, your brush will work.
EDITOR’S NOTE: There used to be recommendations here, but they’re kind of outdated now. I’d put in new ones, but all I could really tell you is what’s cheap and good enough. If you want super amazing quality, ask away in the thread.
Speaking of budget options though, this is a good compressor: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B001738DXU?ref_=sr_1_2&qid=1451710183&sr=8-2&keywords=tc20t&pldnSite=1
And this airbrush has never steered me wrong: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B002W84GTO?ref_=sr_1_1&qid=1451710200&sr=8-1&keywords=badger%20patriot%20105&pldnSite=1
You’ll need an adaptor to get it to work with the compressor though: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B004RM2DIO?psc=1&redirect=true&ref_=oh_aui_detailpage_o03_s00&pldnSite=1
There’s even more I could add (airbrush repair, compressor maintenance, general techniques, etc) but you really should just go elsewhere for that.
You should at least know that you should always clean out your airbrush after you use it and whenever you switch paints, though! Just blast some lacquer thinner through it and that’s probably good enough.
Next up is actually painting. Kendal wrote a great guide for this, and if it’s not enough then there are more guides all over the net.
What paint should I use?
If you have an airbrush then use Acrylic or Lacquer. If not, then use Acrylic or Enamel. Enamel is a pain to use in an airbrush but it’s really good for hand painting. Lacquers can be hand painted but since the lacquer base is so strong it will likely eat away at the bottom layer if you work it too hard.
Lacquer is natural or synthetic and is the strongest of all the 3 major paints. It is also the most difficult to remove which is a plus and a minus. You will find with acrylics that they will easily chip, this is not the case if done right with lacquers or enamels.
Paint in layers. Doesn’t matter what tool you’re using, do multiple coats. If you’re hand painting, have each following coat be perpendicular to each other to mask the brush strokes.
Thin your paints. Unless you’re using a spray can, this is an all-important step that will determine how well everything goes. Properly thinned paint will flow well, stick on well, and cure well. Poorly thinned paints will not.
If you’re using acrylics, SgtSagara wrote up a guide for thinning them. Check it out below!
Sand-> Prime -> Lacquer -> Gloss Coat -> Enamel or acrylic -> Details* -> Top coat
*If you plan on weathering or what not, then apply a glossy clear coat here.
**Decals go either before or after weathering and fine enamel or acrylic detail. It depends on if your weathering the decals as well. Apply decals on a glossy coat!
Paint Cure times
This is NOT when the paint is dry to the touch. This is when the paint has finished with its chemical process and fully bonded to the plastic. It is advised that you wait out this entire period in any serious hand painting project (anything beyond small details) before you play with your newly painted kit.
With that said, while you’re painting an hour between each coat should be enough time.
Thinning Acrylics with Mediums for Airbrushing (Thanks SgtSagara)
A lot of people think it’s best to use the appropriate thinners for each brand of paint, but with acrylics it generally doesn't matter. It’s all the same shit, just with slightly different mixture and pigment ratio/sizes. Do note that Tamiya has a special alcohol-based thinner though, and enamels/lacquers are completely different types of paints. This is for water-based acrylics only.
You probably want to start cheap and easy and just get a small bottle of Golden or Liquitex airbrush medium. It has retarder, flow aid, and acrylic thinner all mixed in.
Retarder is a chemical to slow the drying process so the paint has time to hit the surface and flatten out. Flow aid helps it even out and get smooth, perfect surfaces with no textures. And acrylic thinner is basically clear, slightly runnier liquid plastic that acts like water, but doesn't give the paint the watery properties that mess up the flow and make it so runny that it pools.
Transparent extender is another medium that tries to make paints, well, transparent. I have had no luck trying to use it for actual transparent paint, but it can be used to thin a paint so it can layer and blend easier.
Future floor polish (now Pledge with Future) is super strong acrylic floor coating. It works great as a flow aid too, and when added to acrylic the final, dried result will be rock solid. Note that it’s, so when you spray it with an airbrush expect some fumes.
For PSI (the pressure the compressor is set to) you want to go no higher than 10-20 if you don’t have to. If your paint is thinned well enough you can spray it at these lower pressures without it drying from too much air flow on the tip or in mid-air. With the retarder and flow aid it will still be plenty wet and dry evenly, and you get the added benefit of more control, less wasted paint, less dry tips, less stuttering, etc.
I would also recommend you get an airbrush paint mixer like this. It will mix your paint into the mediums much faster and much better than you can ever hope to and results in paint with no lumps that sprays cleanly and evenly.
It may also be a good idea for you to get some small plastic cups with lids that seal well to mix paint in, as you do not want to add the thinner to your paint bottles. I have around 50-100 small cups I mix paints in and extras of mixed colors so in case I ever want to use a certain shade again I can just pour it into the airbrush. This conserves paint and saves time.
Aside from painting, there’s a lot of other stuff you can do. Modding, weathering, seam welding... wait, what was that last one? SgtSagara is here to explain again.
Seam Welding/Filling (Thanks SgtSagara)
Get Tamiya cement and Tamiya Extra Thin cement. The normal cement is thicker and will take longer to dry, but will better melt the plastic and get much better welds hoping to remove seams. Occasionally though, you will find a spot you missed, drip a bit of the extra thin cement into that part to melt it and hold it closed.
Speaking of holding it closed, rubber bands and alligator clips are your friends. Running a few rubber bands around a part will vastly help to hold it together and make nice sharp welds. Alligator clips can do the same when rubber bands cannot be used easily, but be careful as they can leave tooth marks on parts. Using some stop gap cardboard or such between them and the part can alleviate this issue.
For cleaning up after the weld has dried, a file or sanding stick will often be your best bet to eat through any large chunks that have pushed through. Be careful not to flatten curved parts though. After that some gentle wet sanding will smooth it out and leave the part looking like it was always one piece.
Oh and another thing: you only want to use these techniques on parts you do not need to take apart again and generally do not have moving parts and polycaps in them. Some parts like upper arms that just have a polycap female end are fine, but ones with moving caps you generally don't want to be gluing and filling since you can damage or clog the moving parts.
In other cases, such as large leg panels where you have a large obvious seam in the center you don’t want to risk welding, you can instead paint the parts together as one part. Prime then paint, and once it cures, just pull them apart to put in the caps and other parts. If your paint wasn't too thick, disassembly will be easy, and you’ll get a clean seam that won’t really show when the parts are pushed back together. If the paint was too thick, and the parts are stuck together, you can use an exacto knife to lightly relieve the seams so they pull apart but still fit back together nicely.
Using Gesso To Prime Plastic (Thanks SgtSagara)
Lifetime supply since you thin it to hell.
I have two batches, one with lots of black paint added to make it a dark gray, and another with just a bit to make it a light gray (which I use most of the time).
To thin this, add it into a tupperware container with water and Future. Your ratio should be three parts gesso, one part water and one part Future. Mix with a spoon, then try pouring it from said spoon. If it drips cleanly like it was cream, it’s good for hand brushing. You can slop it on pretty carelessly as long as you don't pool it too much. It dries in a perfectly smooth shell that doesn’t destroy detail.
To airbrush this, I add the mixture to a squeeze bottle. This time the ratio is about two parts pre-thinned gesso, one part airbrush medium, and one part magic thinning sauce (which itself is one part future, one part water, and a few drops of retarder). I spray this with an older airbrush I don't care much about at around 30-40 psi.
If you plan to airbrush it, you should have at least an exhaust fan and possibly a mask. You’re literally spraying glue and chalk dust around, so while it’s non-toxic it’s not exactly good for your lungs.
Using Acrylics for Panel Washing (Thanks SgtSagara)
First off, mix Future with Tamiya’s Flat Base at around a 3:1 ratio to create a flat thinner that’ll leave your lines flat instead of glossy. Then mix the thinner solution with your acrylic paint of choice at about a ratio of three to five parts thinner to one part paint. You’ll probably have to experiment for a bit, different paints have different pigment densities.
Dip a small long detail brush (I use 20/0's) into the mixture and lightly dab it onto your panel lines. Just like in an enamel wash, via capillary action the thinned paint will quickly fill in the indents without spilling out of the lines.
You’re almost certain to end up with some small spots of paint where the brush touched the panel line, which leaves things looking less than clean. Since this mixture is Future based, you can just use a q-tip/paper towel lightly soaked in Windex to wipe it off before it fully cures.
Acrylic washes are just like enamel washes, but without the toxicity or the potential threat of damaging the plastic. And thanks to the Flat Base you get a flat effect without the need for a base coat. They can also be safely used over lacquer/enamel based clear coats, as the Windex won’t damage them like mineral spirits can. Conversely, however, they can not be used over acrylic-based clear coats or acrylic paint.
Now that you’re done building your kit, there’s only one thing left to do: play with it! Don’t be a stick in the mud, you didn’t buy that toy just so you could build it and never touch it again. Pose it, display it, take pictures, hold one in each hand and make fight sounds, whatever you want. Just have fun!
Alright, are you done? Good, now let’s talk about how to do all of that right.
If you have kids, younger siblings, or cats, keep these models out of their reach, preferably in some kind of display case with a door they can’t open or don’t know how to open. Cats are vicious little buggers with models and I have a collection of chewed up beam sabers and a Unicorn v-fin to prove it.
Even if you don’t have anyone like that, it’s still a good idea to keep your kits someplace safe. It really sucks when you trip, slam your desk, and all of your cool models topple over.
Don’t go crazy with your poses, if you want to take a few pictures to show off the articulation, go ahead, but yoga poses can look stupid. Try to keep the poses “natural” looking, as in keep the arms at proper looking angles and have the feet slightly apart. Basically, do the pose yourself in a mirror to see how things should look.
Here’s a set of pictures with nice examples.
Also, do you have an Action Base? Use it!
Action Bases exist so you can make a kit do its full range of poses without worrying about balance, and come in a multitude of colors. There are three types: Action Base 1 is primarily for 1/100 scale, though HGs can fit (and look silly). AB 2 (pictured) is for 1/144. And AB 3 is also for either, and has a gimmick where you can put a postcard in it to make your model look like it’s flying out of the picture. Action Bases can be connected to each other so you can pose two models at once.
A detailed before and after that also shows off what you can do with an Action Base. Thanks USB desk anon!
Posing tips from Silentman0 on the SA Forums:
1) Make sure the feet aren't parallel. When a person stands up, their feet naturally splay out in opposing directions. When the feet are parallel, it appears more stiff and wooden. Only pose them with parallel feet if they're standing in formation or are docked. The best way to do this is to manipulate the joints where the hips meet the pelvis.
2) Have them look/aim off to the side. Humanoid robots have necks and waists, use them! It allows them to have a smaller profile, and cover more of their body with a shield, if they have one. Just like with the feet, they only need to be facing straight forward when they're not really being used. It also helps to bend the elbows in a natural way.
3) Idle hands look boring. If a model has a big gun/sword that looks like it would need both hands to hold, use both hands! Even if you can't open the fingers, just putting the hand near where it should be will help a lot. If it's a small gun, put a small sword in its off hand, or if it has a shield on that arm, make it so it's covering itself with it.
4) Try and imagine how the weight is distributed. Yeah, robots are big and strong and metal, but imagine if it were you. Would you have to brace yourself if you were holding a big gun in front of you? Where would you put your feet? Would you put more weight on one of your legs than the other?
Making pew-pew noises:
For something like this, your only limit is your imagination and possibly your alcohol tolerance. Grasp those kits firmly and fucking pew pew pew ka-shing BOOM whiz the fuck out of nearby ears.
And remember: beam swords don’t go pew-pew. Unless it’s a gun beam sword.
Your kit’s posed in the perfect display, and you want to show it to the world. While taking the whole shebang in some sort of traveling circus is an option, it’s easier just to post it online. And to do that, you’ll need to take a good picture. For the purposes of this guide I’m going to assume the only thing you know how to do is turn your camera on.
Okay, the easy part’s over, time for the annoying and finicky bit. Now that your camera settings are good to go, it’s time to get an area for your pictures.
You’ve got some options here. You can go outside and find a nice clear space, or you can make one. Making an area is simple. Just find a clear spot on your desk or table and whatever, and add a background. Simple? No, not really. You need to make sure the surface the model is standing on is one color, and the background should also be one color. My advice? Get some of that poster board crap and use that as your background, white, black, or any other light color (not yellow) works well. If necessary, get a second piece of posterboard for the standing surface.
Another good (and relatively cheap) option is a Light Tent/Cube. They cost about €15 on eBay, come in 12" or 20", have 4 backdrops (Black, White, Blue and Red) and have a door/cover with a slit in it so that when you're photographing a reflective object you don't get yourself in the shot. Also the material (I think it's nylon) diffuses the light, preventing sharp shadows. So you can take the shot either in natural light outside or with a couple of desk lamps inside and you won't notice the difference. Plus it collapses into a small bag. (Thanks anon!)
This can be the trickiest bit of taking pictures, getting the lighting right. If you’re outside, chances are it’s a sunny day and you can largely ignore this. Otherwise, read on.
The basics of lighting are pretty simple: Get light on the direction you’re taking the picture in. A really easy (and cheap) way to do lighting is to get a desk lamp (one that is moveable) and stick that near your area. Just move it around as you need. Now, about the bulb you’re using. LEDs are my preference, although they are a bit more expensive at around $12 for the cheaper ones at Lowes. Honestly you can use whatever you want, halogen, fluorescent, or incandescent. Okay maybe not that last one, hopefully you have a bit more funds and can avoid incandescence. And of course, you have other options than a desk lamp, but that’s up to you. I’m just covering the basic and easy method here.
Something important to keep in mind is that your lighting will determine your camera settings. In other words, the solution for all of your problems is to add more light. Can’t get the ISO low enough? Make it brighter. Your lens isn’t focusing well enough? Shine on harder. And so on.
Please, for the love of all things good and holy, resize your pictures. I know, most people don’t have dial-up anymore, but I think the average download speed is like 6Mb, which is rather paltry if you have to load up 40+ pictures. So to avoid clogging up some poor schmuck's bandwidth, you’re going to resize, because you’re a nice person (I hope). You’ve got a few options with this one.
So what do you do if your images come out looking crazy? Well, here’s two options. In Photoshop, find the Auto Tone, Auto Contrast, and Auto Color options. One of these should help you. In Photoshop Express, find the white balance option.
That model is yours. If you don’t like the way I do something in this guide, then do it the way you want to. If you feel like painting something bright pink and covering it with purple dots, go right ahead. Hell you might even make it look cool, don’t let the internet put you off. Just don’t write off criticism as someone being an ass, sometimes people are honestly trying to help you improve. Though there are some elitists, it’s 4chan.
Now to all of you novices, remember something: you don’t have to sand your kit, paint it, panel lines, or top coat it. Everything beyond actually assembling the kit is completely optional. But damn if a kit doesn’t look better after some or all of that. In the interest of showing you what you should shoot for, I’m going to show you a few of my kits, and explain what I did to them.
This is my HGUC GM Custom. On this kit I applied sticker decals, panel lined, and did some very basic touch up work (painting the thrusters and the verniers) as described by the instruction booklet. I did no major painting or top coating.
Here’s my HGUC Zaku II FZ. Once again, I applied its sticker decal (on the shoulder shield), panel lined, and did basic touch up painting. But this time I also top coated this kit with Krylon flat finish. It doesn’t show up well in the picture, but then again it isn’t as obvious in person either.
And finally, here’s my HGUC Jegan Echoas Type. Of these three kits, this is the one I put the most work into. I panel lined it, applied decals, extensively painted it, and top coated it with Tamiya flat coat. It’s much more obvious than the Krylon and a lot nicer looking. Try comparing it to the pictures on dalong.
The GM Custom is how most of my kits are (minus the touch up paint) and I only have two top coated kits, the Zaku shown and the Jegan. It’s not something I always do because it’s time consuming. However if that’s what you want your kit to look like go for it. But once again, there is nothing wrong with just filling in panel lines and applying sticker decals. Do what you want, the kit is yours and we can’t reach through the internet and make you do something different.
Just one final piece of advice: be careful. Just like following the instructions it sounds so simple, but if you’ve read this entire guide you’re likely starting to grasp that a lot goes on in building a kit. I’ve messed up several models with very basic errors that could have been avoided if I’d simply paid more attention to the instructions, the model itself, or even stuff in this guide.
On that note, I bid you good day. Happy building!
Feel free to email me any changes you find appropriate, I’ll add them in. And just so everyone knows, I’m not going to give anyone else editing privileges until five years have passed.