Now let’s take a look at some of the common tools encountered when modeling. We will start off with the absolute essentials that any modeler needs to have, and continue listing more tools that I encounter as I continue modeling.
Nippers: if you are going to be modeling and doing plastic models, you need a good pair of nippers or plastic cutters. These can be used to cut the plastic parts off the trees they come on. The better your pair, the less you will have to fix after cutting the parts off. I recommend a good angled pair that allow you to get a really close cut, thus less sanding is required once the part is off the tree.
Model knife: another essential. Get a good sharp modeling knife – it has many different uses – too many to begin to list them. It’s required. Trust me. Get one and some extra blades, since sharp blades are quite good. If possible, try to find a comfortable one with a nice grip. We get a lot of use out of these knives, so spend a little extra and get a nice one. You will be glad you did.
If you simply want to cut the parts off the plastic and snap them together, these two tools are really all you need. However, that would be the most basic of modeling – let’s take a look at some other very important items that can start making the models look like models rather than toys.
Cutting Mat: You need a place to work, and having a good cutting mat to cover the region and work on is great. Your work area will get messy and if you are working with the knife you should have a cutting mat underneath.
Good Lighting: It took me a while to realize this, but good lighting really makes a difference! I used to work with a small basic lamp, but later noticed flaws on the model that I hadn’t noticed when working on it. Having good lighting helps a lot. I like the kinds of lamps that can be moved around, aimed, and have a magnifying glass built in. Little ironic that the picture below actually has quite poor lighting since the rest of the lights are off in my room and it’s at night, but that’s besides the point!
Plastic Cement: If you want to do more than just snapping the models together, the next step is to start using some glue. With glue, you can remove seamlines, get strong holds, and do some mods. Plastic cement works by melting the two pieces of plastic together, so keep this in mind (that is, it probably won’t work if you want to glue non-plastic to your plastic model). It comes in a variety of styles, from tubes to jars. Personally, I prefer the types that come in a jar with a brush (Mr. Cement) or the kind that has a long skinny part that drips the glue out for finer detail (Model Master).
Sandpaper: Along with the glue, sandpaper is the next step. Get a variety of grits, from coarse to fine. When using sandpaper, you start with the rough paper and work your way up to the smoother paper. Sandpaper is used to remove seamlines (along with the glue) and sand away rough areas making the model look smooth and clean. Note that depending on where you live, the numbers for the grits might be different. For example, the United States uses a different system than Japan. This can be confusing if modelers are talking about their grits and it doesn’t seem to match what you can buy. It’s not really all that important – the key is to get rough sandpaper (but not too rough) and smoother paper (but not too fine or else it won’t do much good) and some in between. For me, I use 120-600 as my range (North America)
Putty: When sanding and doing seamline removal, you may need to fill some small gaps here and there. Putty is great for this. You can buy it colored or not, but I don’t think it makes much of a difference. The white putty still shows up against white plastic, so if you use putty you almost certainly will need to paint over the region so it blends in and matches in color.
Gundam Markers: Gundam markers are used for painting the model. Typically the parts are not all entirely the correct color. One part may need to be red and white but is formed out of just red plastic. Gundam markers are simply paint markers. They come in many different colors, so you can add in those missing colors or even paint the model an entirely different color. They are easy to use and work well for beginners, but do note that if you want professional looking paint jobs that you may need to look elsewhere. I started with these, and still use some from time to time for small regions that only need a little color simply because I have them.
Lining marker / pen / pencil: Finally, the next step is to grab either a fine marker or pencil for panel lines. This can help bring out some additional detail in a basic build that typically do not stand out otherwise. Do be sure to get a fine tip marker though – too big and it just doesn’t work well – trust me I tried! Pencils work fine too. You can buy the marker in gray or black or brown or whichever color you desire. Different brands sell them too, but I typically use Gundam markers simply because I have them.
Let’s Make It Look Good
Up until now, we have looked at the basic required tools and some used to add in some extra detail above what is included with the model. However, if you want to make it look more like a real professional model and not a toy, keep reading.
Paints: One of the absolutely best things you can do for your model is to paint it. Even if you are painting it the same colors it came in, it still looks much better. It gives it a much better texture and makes it look less like a toy than the colored plastic. You can start out with spray paint, but it can be difficult to cover finer details with this. When you are ready, make the jump and buy an airbrush and lacquer paint to go with it. It’s my favorite part about modeling! I use Mr. Color paints – they work great and look great.
Empty Bottles: I buy these by the dozen. I typically have one for each color of paint. I use them for the “AB” version of the paint colors. That is, I thin the paint to the proper ratio for airbrushing and put it in these extra bottles. That way, I do not have to thin it again later on and have some on hand. Any time it runs out, I just fill it up again using the original paint. I particularly like these Mr. Hobby ones on hobbywave.com because they are very cheap and great jars. The caps are good and they have blank labels as well.
Airbrush and Compressor: To give it a professional paint job, I highly recommend an airbrush. These do cost some money upfront so only buy it if you are serious about modeling. However, in the long run they are quite useful and not too expensive. Bottles of paint are cheap and last a long time – you get much more paint out of them than a spray can. With a good airbrush, you can control the level of spray and get the finer details as well as larger regions. I use a Iwata HP-C plus, and it is an amazing airbrush. You will also need an air compressor to power the airbrush. I recommend one with an adjustable pressure knob so you can control the pressure. Most airbrush compressors should have this, and are relatively quiet as well. And portable.
Masking Tape: You will need to mask off areas when painting, so get some good masking tape. It comes in different thicknesses. I recommend some sold at model stores rather than regular tape since it is less sticky – you have less of a chance of peeling off paint.
Scriber: A scriber is used to add your own panel lines or fix the already existing ones. Sometimes when sanding, you might sand them away and need to rescribe them. You can also add your own lines. There are many kinds available, but I use the Gunpla temple set and a standard scriber (curved edge) when I do my lines. The gunpla temple set is nice since you can change out the width for bigger or smaller lines.
Straight Edge / Ruler: When doing some modding and pla-plating, you will need a straight edge. Get one that is small and easy to use in small areas. Also look for one that is a ruler as well so you can use it as both a ruler and straight edge.
Weathering Stuff: If you want to weather the kit, I recommend getting some type of weathering “stuff”. I use Tamiya Weathering Master kits. There are several available with different types of weathering in each. You could do some with paint and an airbrush, but the weathering kits give it a nice texture as well as good color.
Pin Vise / Drill / Drill Bits: When modding, you may need to put some holes in the model. A good pin vise can help. Alternatively, you can use a drill or rotary tool.
Rotary Tool: This is good for drilling and grinding. Have some part of plastic that you want to grind away and remove? Rotary tool can do just that. It can be used as a drill as well. I also use mine for some heavy weathering effects.
Saws: Sometimes that model knife just won’t do the trick and you need something bigger. Especially if you are doing some heavier modding. For this, get some good saws. They sell them at model stores and work great, although you will probably need to clean up the edges some afterwards.
Pla-Plates / Styrene: This is commonly used to add extra detail and layers to your models. You can build new parts with it or make existing parts look better. It comes in different thicknesses. You can buy it in rectangular sheets, strips, pipes, etc. for your different needs. There are a few brands available and it’s all the same stuff. Just sheets of plastic that you can cut and work with.
Decal Stuff: If you want to add decals, first you need some decals, and I also recommend some softener and setter (for waterslide decals). Waterslide decals are highly recommended since they look much more natural and are easy to apply. The softener and setter allow you to glue them down good and help them look even better.