What Are the Basics of Model Building? Complete Starting Guide

Various pieces of a red model car laid out on a blue cutting mat for assembly.

When entering the world of model building, it can feel very daunting.

There are so many aspects to it, there are so many different models to build from many various makers and genres, and the complexity differs from model to model as well.

Getting started can be a little intimidating, but once you understand the basics, you’ll find that it really is a lot of fun and very rewarding too.

What are the basics of model building? Finding the right model kit and using the right tools, doing the prep work, assembling the model, applying finishing touches, and displaying the model are all part of model building basics. Each model build is unique, but the fundamentals will always remain the same.

The world of model building is very intricate, and there is a lot to learn for someone who is just beginning their model-building journey.

Fortunately, entry into this world is easy for anyone, and it is quite simple to get started. Let’s go over some of the basic aspects of model building for beginners.

What Are the Basics of Model Building?

The basics of traditional model building are the assembling of a model kit into a finished product, designed to resemble or be a scale replica of either a real-world object or a re-creation of a fictional concept or character.

This is done by cutting and removing model pieces from a sheet of pre-fabricated parts known as a sprue, assembling and joining the pieces of the model together with various glues and adhesives, and often painting and finishing the completed model.

After this, displaying the model well is something that model builders take great pride in after all the time and effort spent completing their model.

There is much to say about the basics of model building, and any model builder will tell you that each build is unique and the experience varies for each builder.

That being said, there are some fundamental basics that remain the same for every build of every level.

The constant basics of model building are:

  • Finding the perfect model kit to build.
  • Acquiring and using the right tools and materials to build models.
  • Pre-assembly preparation.
  • Assembling the actual model.
  • Applying final details and finishing touches to the assembled model.
  • Displaying the fully completed model.

Each aspect of model building on this list is important, and each model builder has their own methods and application of these basics.

Nevertheless, they will always be the vital core aspects of any model build.

Let’s explore each of these model-building fundamentals. 

Finding The Perfect Model Kit

When choosing a model kit to build, it is important to first choose a kit based on your interests in a genre that excites you.

There are thousands of different model subjects, and choosing the right kit will keep you interested and help to ensure that you do not leave the model incomplete due to a lack of motivation to see the model completed.

Choosing the perfect model kit is essential, so let us take a look at the various model types and the difficulty levels of model kits.

What Are The Different Types Of Models?

The first step to choosing the perfect model kit is knowing what the options are and choosing a kit that excites and inspires you as the builder.

There are many various types and genres of models available today, and almost every genre has models that come in kits of various skill levels as well as custom models that are designed and built by the modeler.

Some of the most popular styles and genres of models include:

  • Aircraft models.
  • Boat models.
  • Buildings and architecture models (including castles).
  • Cars and other vehicle models.
  • Gundam models (mechs).
  • Military models (aircraft, vehicles, ships, boats, aircraft carriers, infantry, weapons, etc.).
  • Miniatures (figurines, table-top models, etc.).
  • Science-fiction models (Star Wars, Star Trek, anime, etc.).
  • Ship models.
  • Train models.
  • Rockets and other space-related models.

There is a type of model to pique the interest of every model builder of any age.

Take the time to find the kit and model type that best suits you, and once you have decided, be sure to choose the right skill level for your model-building abilities.

Need some inspiration to get started? Check out my Model Kits page to see the possibilities and learn more about basic model-building techniques.

Model Materials

There are many different materials that models can be made from, but the four main types of materials that models are made from are: plastic, metal, resin, and wood.

There are advantages and disadvantages to each of these materials, but they are all used to make fantastic models.

Plastic Models

Plastic models are the most forgiving when it comes to assembly.

They are often more accurate with more details, they are lighter and easier to ship, repairing and replacing parts is very easy with plastic, and there are more plastic models available now than models of other materials.

Plastic is the best material for beginner modelers.

Metal Models

Metal is usually used for cars and other vehicles, aircraft, ships, and military models.

These models can only be assembled and are very difficult to modify. Repairs and replacing parts is tough, but painting metal models is easy compared to other materials.

In this article, you’ll find 9 of the best metal models as well as amazing car, plane, and kid-friendly metal models to try.

Resin Models

Resin models are very similar to plastic models, but they usually require more prep work than other plastic models.

This prep work and cleaning of the model pieces before assembly is not hard with resin because the material is so soft, but it is time consuming.

Wood Models

There are fewer models made from wood than the other materials nowadays, but they are still around.

Wooden models are very delicate, and assembly is challenging because of this.

It can be difficult to paint and add details to wooden models as well, so these should only be built by more experienced modelers.

Head over to “The Top Wood Model Kits for Adults” to learn what to look for and to see some fantastic recommendations for beginners.

Each type of model material has its own features, but plastic models are the best to start with for beginners, as there is an abundance of different plastic models available from all genres.

They are the cheapest, easiest to assemble, most forgiving, and easiest to repair models.

The Different Skill Levels

When you have decided on the kind of model you would like to build, the next step is to consider the difficulty level of the model kit.

There are five levels of difficulty for model kits.

Level 1 model kits are the simplest to assemble and consist of snap-together parts that require no gluing or painting and have very few pieces.

Level 5 is very advanced and is the highest level of difficulty when it comes to model building.

It is important to choose a model kit that will be somewhat of a challenge so that it keeps you interested, but it shouldn’t be so difficult that you become discouraged during the build.

Level 1 model kits are easy and safe to assemble due to the snap-together parts and pieces and the fact that they require no gluing or painting.

These are ideal for children or first-time model builders who want to get started with something very simple.

Level 2 and level 3 model kits are more suited for adult model-building beginners.

Level 2 kits have fewer than one hundred parts and require minimal gluing and painting. 

Level 3 kits require more gluing and painting, have over one hundred parts to assemble, and are more detailed, but they are not too difficult for an adult beginner to complete.

Level 4 and 5 kits require a good deal of experience and know-how to properly assemble.

The most important aspect of choosing your model kits are choosing subjects that are interesting to you and choosing from a skill level that is conducive to the amount of time you have to build as well as your skill level.

Using The Right Tools

Acquiring and using the right tools is an essential aspect of model building.

Without the right tools, building any model can be a very frustrating and overly time-consuming process.

Don’t miss out on my comprehensive list of Model Tools and Supplies – beginner gear, fun extras, and advanced tools for specialized model building!

Setting yourself up with the right basic tools for modeling will make a big difference in your enjoyment of model building as well as how effective your builds are.

Some of the basic tools that every model kit will require are:

  • A good quality cutting mat (preferably a self-healing hobby mat).
  • Sharp, hardy, fine-nose scissors or clippers.
  • A set of tweezers.
  • A scalpel, hobby knife, or other sharp, hard blade.
  • Sanding sticks or soft files.
  • Glues – preferably CA and PVA glue.
  • Clothes pegs and elastic bands for holding drying parts together.
  • Assorted paintbrushes (these are perfect and priced low).
  • A roll of narrow masking tape.
  • Paints – this may be supplied in the kit that you buy.
  • A good desk lamp or a head-set type lamp/magnifier that provides enough light for fine work.

It is possible to begin building without some of these tools, but having everything on the list will make building models a lot smoother, especially when you are just starting out.

I’d also recommend investing in a basic model-building tool kit.

You’ll not only have the essentials, like a sprue cutter and an assortment of files, but you’ll also be equipped with a variety of tweezers, a polishing cloth and several polishing bars, rulers, and screwdrivers.

All that and more in one convenient storage case.

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Pre-Assembly Preparation Work

Now that you have chosen the model that you are going to build, you have all of the necessary tools and equipment for assembling the model at the ready, and you have set aside a good chunk of time, it is time to begin the building process.

The first step in the assembly process of any model is doing prep work.

Prep work is essential for any model and is the best kick-start to the workflow of the project.

Without proper prep work, the model will take longer to complete, the assembly will be disorganized, parts may go missing, and instructions may be misunderstood.

All of this is very frustrating and can be avoided by getting yourself and your model ready before assembly begins.

Here is an overview of the prep work that is required before beginning the assembly of a model:

  • First, remove all of the parts, pieces, and sprues from the box for the model kit.
  • Spread out on a flat surface, locate the assembly instructions, lay out your tools, and settle in for the build.
  • With clippers, remove all of the model pieces that you’ll be using in the beginning stages of the build from their sprues by cutting them free from the plastic posts that hold them.
  • Use the scalpel/hobby knife and sanding sticks/files to remove all of the excess plastic from the model pieces left over from the sprue.
  • Locate each piece in the assembly instructions, and identify and determine the exact position of each part. This helps you learn which parts go where and avoid incorrect assembly.
  • Discard empty sprues and clear your work surface of any small plastic trim and clippings, as to not confuse them for parts of the model.

The next step is to begin the assembly process.

Assembling the Model

When you are ready to start the assembly of the model, first perform a “dry-fit.” 

This is attaching all of the corresponding pieces of the model together without using any glues or adhesives.

This is to ensure that all of the pieces are present and fit together well and also to check for and make a note of any parts of the model that might obscure other parts while painting.

If any pieces of the model are obscured, you may need to leave them unglued until the beginning painting process to ensure that you are able to paint the model entirely.

Removing any pieces that create obstructions to paint underneath them is important for achieving maximum detail of the model.

Now it is time to begin the final assembly of the model.

Disassemble the dry-fit, and begin reassembling the model, but this time adding a thin layer of glue to all connecting areas of the pieces of the model.

Be sure to avoid gluing any pieces that you previously identified as obstructions.

During this process, use the clothes pegs and elastic bands or even a product such as museum putty to hold the pieces together while they dry to ensure that the pieces of the model are attached correctly and aligned well.

Once assembled and appropriately glued, leave the model to dry for a few hours or even overnight before priming and painting the model.

Once the glue has fully cured, apply paint primer to the model. (These primers are my favorite for overall quality and performance.)

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Once the primer has cured, begin painting the model, taking care to remove the obstructive pieces that you identified earlier before painting them. 

Some model builders prefer to paint their model before assembling it, applying paint to each piece of the model individually to ensure maximum coverage and detail in the paintwork.

However, it is also possible to paint the model after fully assembling it, although there may be less detail overall.

Adding Final Details to Finish the Model

Once the model has been painted, leave it to dry entirely before continuing the finishing process.

This is now the time for adding fine details or decals and any cracks, rust, dust, chips, or other weathering to your model.

This will make the model much more realistic and detailed, drastically improving the overall aesthetic of the piece.

If the model kit that you are working with has any decals included, apply them appropriately.

The next step is to determine the type of finish that you would like your model to have and apply the details accordingly.

Now is also the time to decide on any customizations that you may want to perform on the model or if you would rather finish the model according to the intended design.

Once all final details have been added to the piece, apply a clear coat or sealant if necessary (this clear acrylic is highly recommended), and proceed to the final step of the process.

Displaying The Model

Many beginner modelers neglect what may be the most important part of finishing a model entirely: displaying the model.

There are various ways to display a model.

Some model kits come equipped with base stands or clear enclosures to display the piece, and this is often a great method of display.

Other builders use custom cabinets, display cases, or simple bookshelves to house and display their models. (You’ll find some great-looking options here.)

However you choose to display your model, remember to consider how the model looks from all angles, what is surrounding the model while on display, and how the model is lit for viewing.

A well-built model deserves a good display method, so take the time to carefully consider where and how to display your finished piece.


In the end, model building is an incredibly rewarding process. Right from the conception of an idea to the completion of the build, there is nothing quite like it.

There are a great many different types of models to build, but as long as you choose your models by what inspires you most, you will enjoy every build, and there will be no project left unfinished!

Take your time, develop your own methods, and enjoy the process, and soon model building will soon become a beloved, satisfying hobby that will never leave you!









Last update on 2024-05-26 at 15:48 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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I'm a hobby enthusiast with a real love for painting miniatures. I also happen to run this site and write the majority of its content!