Scale Creep

The Scale vs. Size Issue

ESCI – Valiant Miniatures – Revell scale comparison.

Scale modellers are continuously concerned with the historical accuracy of the figures, vehicles, rolling stock, aircraft, ships, and scenic effects we build. Consistent scale ensures, that our many different models are compatible with each other along the line. Three MAN 10t mil gl trucks produced to the same HO (1:87) scale by three different manufacturers should all be exactly the same size, although the amount of detail on them and the quality of workmanship may differ from one manufacturer to another. Plastic modellers are blessed, in that the intended model scale is always printed on the outside of the box, and manufacturers try very hard to design their plastic model kits as closely to scale as technically and humanly possible.

Calipers rule

Calipers and clear plastic rulers are the primary modelling tools an editor of a popular scale modelling magazine will use to check the length, width, height, track, track width, wheelbase, wheel and wheel rim diameter of a plastic model kit submitted for review. Manufacturers are well aware that editors of modelling magazines will easily detect and widely publicize any inaccuracies found in a scale model kit.

In 1997, an outcry went through the scale modelling community when Revell incorporated the popular Matchbox 1:76 scale plastic model kits into its own 1:72 scale product range, and simply re-packaged and re-labled the venerable Matchbox kits as "1:72 Scale". Revell customers were mislead into buying these supposed "Revell 1:72 Scale" kits, which turned out to be incompatible with existing models in true 1:72 scale. Revell learned that scale modellers can get very upset when they are mislead in this way, and the company has long since reverted to labeling the kits what they really are, 1:76 Scale.

"20 mm scale" is nonsense

Shopping for plastic scale model kits is relatively easy, because manufacturers produce to scale and prominently display the scale of a particular model kit on the box front, on two sides, and the back. Figure collectors are less fortunate, because true scale is often ignored by manufacturers who erroneously call their figures "20 mm" or even "25/28 mm scale". Millimeter is a base unit of length which tells us nothing about the relative scale of a model figure.

In 1971, Airfix released 1:76 scale figures for the American War of Independence (AWI) with an average height of 21 mm. To check if this is accurate, multiply the actual height by the nominal scale (21 × 76) to arrive at the 159 cm scale height of the miniaturized man. The average height of 17th and 18th century Europeans was 167 cm, so the Airfix AWI figures are noticeably short, but they will be compatible with other 1:76 scale figures.

When metal miniature figurines became available in the 1960s and 70s, manufacturers readily ignored the issue of scale and used deceptive misnomers like "20 mm" or "25 mm scale", when these figures can be anything from 19 to 32 mm tall. As a result, metal wargaming and diorama figures from two or more manufacturers are almost routinely incompatible. Collectors are compelled to invest an enormous amount of unneccessary time and money to locate compatible figure ranges simply because manufacturers are unable or unwilling to manufacture to scale.

Figure manufacturers increase their product lines over periods of several years, and "25 mm" figures, which were 27 mm tall to begin with, are eventually joined by their younger brothers in arms who are suddenly 28, 29 or even 32 mm tall and increasingly incompatible with earlier figures produced by the same manufacturer. Scale Creep in metal miniatures is a troubling form of inflation which devalues existing miniature collections worth tens of thousands of dollars or euros, as they become incompatible with newly released figures which every serious collector wants to own, but can no longer match to his/her existing ones.

Designation Scale Human Height (172.8 cm)
ZZ Scale 1:300 6 mm
Z Scale 1:220 8 mm
N Scale 1:160 11 mm
1:144 12 mm
TT Scale (Table Top) 1:120 14 mm
1:100 17 mm
H0 Scale 1:87 20 mm
00 Scale 1:76.2 23 mm
1:72 24 mm
S Scale 1:64 27 mm
Proto:48 (Scale Trains) 1:48 36 mm
0 Scale (US, Toy Trains) 1:48 36 mm
0 Scale (EU) 1:45 (1:43.5) 38 mm
1:35 49 mm
I Scale 1:32 54 mm
II Scale 1:22.5 77 mm
III Scale 1:16 108 mm
V Scale 1:11 157 mm
VII Scale 1:8 216 mm
X Scale 1:5.5 314 mm

Figure sculpture Peter Laing first introduced cheap Table-Top miniatures for wargames and mass displays which were close enough to true TT Scale to be considered compatible. These new "15 mm" figures, became an industry standard adopted by many other manufacturers. Over time, Scale Creep set in and "15 mm" figures started to grow to 16, 17 and 18 mm height. The taller 18 mm figures offer more detail, and are more attractive to look at, but they are no longer compatible with TT Scale figures, vehicles, equipment, buildings, and scenery. For some time, these taller figures were sold as "15 mm" figures, although they were not. Eventually some manufacturers began advertising their figures as "15/18 mm", causing even more confusion among customers. Slowly, but surely, table-top figures are creeping out of TT Scale, and right into H0 Scale. Will they stop there, or keep on creeping toward "15/23 mm" 00 Scale?

Clearly, the business of confusing "15/18 mm", or "25/28 mm" and "28/32 mm" with true figure scales is a kind of insanity which needs to be stopped.

1:72 Scale has been booming in recent years, because customers can be reasonably sure that 1:72 Scale figures and vehicles manufactured by Revell will continue to be compatible with 1:72 Scale miniatures produced by HäT Industrie, ESCI, Italeri, Zvezda, Accurate, IMEX, or any of the other small manufacturers catering to this market segment. When the issue of scale has been conveniently settled, designers and manufacturers are able devote their full attention to other important areas of improvement, like historical accuracy and production quality.

N – TT – H0 – 00

One advantage of the international model railway standard gauges is that track, rolling stock, vehicles, figures, buildings, bridges, scenic effects, and accessories are readily available and can be used interchangeably by the post 1825 wargamer or diorama builder. Convergance of the different aspects of our scale modelling hobby can be very beneficial for all involved. Vehicle modellers may be tempted to motorize H0 transports and drive around on the large modular railway displays which have become very popular in recent years. And model railway enthusiast may benefit from the painting and mass recruitement expertise generally displayed by figure collectors.

Modelling Techniques