Model building scale: what does it mean?

When you buy something using the retail links in our posts, we may earn a small commission. does not accept money for editorial reviews. Read more about our policy here

Accurate scale is an essential component of most model building

Accurate scale is an essential component of most model building

Model building is an extremely detail oriented activity that many people enjoy from childhood through their adult lives. One of the most important aspects to understand about model building is scale. Model building scale is the representation of the size of the model compared to the actual size of the object represented. For instance, the scale of a model ship may be 1:500, which means that the model is 500 times smaller than the actual ship.

A scale model is a three-dimensional rendering of an actual object. Every part represented on a scale model is made with dimensions that are in the same proportion to the actual item. Model builders, both hobbyists and professionals, enjoy the challenge to build a model of consistent scale for a totally accurate representation.

About Model Building Scale

Model building scale is represented as a ratio, for example 1:50. The first number represents the size of the model in any unit of measure from centimeters, to inches or meters. The second number represents the actual size of the real object in the same unit of measure as the first. The comparison reads out loud as ?one to fifty?, as in ?this model ship is one fiftieth the size of a real ship?.

Letters have been assigned to identify the most popular model building scale ratios. “HO” is 1:87 scale. “N” scale is at 1:160 ratio.


While Lego builders use the Miniland scale of 1:20, model builders who focus on larger objects like ships, planes and buildings will use a scale of 1:200, 1:500 and larger. The larger an item is in real life, the larger that second number will be.

For scientists and teachers, models representing extremely small objects will be built on a scale of 20:1, for example. In this case, the model is twenty times larger than the actual item.

Model building is a craft that strives for perfection. It?s a challenging activity that can completely absorb you for hours at a time. Some model builders start out with familiar subjects, like cars, and move on to more complex structures like air craft, ships and railroad lines complete with towns, rivers and people.

Engineers, architects and stage set builders are a few of the professionals who create scale models as part of their work. A true three-dimensional rendering enables them to clearly convey exactly what a finished design will look like.

Scale Model Books and Kits

Scale Model Books
Experienced model builders can find many model pattern books and instructional materials for anything from ships to planes to dollhouses.

Scale Model Kits

Many model builders construct their projects from kits. Most model building kits come in light weight material like plastic, and are built to precise scale. The assembly process is slow and takes patience. Model builders take pride in their construction; they cut, glue and buffer each part with care. Once assembled, you can paint intricate details on your model and find a creative way to display your newest creation.

Model building gives you the satisfaction of making something with your hands, and it?s a fun way to study the details of something you?re interested in, like a specific type of car or motorcycle. As you work, consider every part and the true size of the object you are representing. Have fun and take your time.

Model Makers
Scale Auto mag