Understanding Model Scales – A Comparison Study

Comparative Scale Figure Diagram – You can download a pdf copy of this diagram below.

Even with the large number of computer 3D modeling programs available to designers, there is  (and I think always will be)  a place for physical scale models. Although the modeling programs continue to produce more and more realistic looking images, they are still only a 2D image that utilizes correct perspective. And even the programs or systems that are ‘true 3D’ are really only offset 2D images meant to trick the mind into thinking it’s seeing a dimensional physical shape.

Some of the advantages of a physical scale model are:

-The physical size of a set are much easier to grasp than from a digital model where you can zoom in endlessly.  I once built a model of an area of geography that the producers couldn’t seen to understand exactly how big an area it was until I put in the final piece, a model of the 260 foot ship they planned to use for a crew base. The huge ship measured only 3/16″ in the model scale. They got it instantly.

-A number of people are able to simultaneously view the model and discuss it. A lot of revelations often come from being able to look at a model from many different angles at once.

-The brain isn’t spending effort trying to do the mental tricks required to process fake 3D images. The model is somehow “more real”, because it is.

The Diagrams

I created the chart above as well as the list below from many years worth of notes and scribbles. The calculations are mine so any mistakes are solely mine as well. The visual chart will give you an easy way of determining the size of figures in the various scales that will be most common to concept models.

The list describes what I think are the most useful model sizes  from 1:700 to 1:6 with inch equivalents for each scale as well as the length of a linear foot and meter for each as well. The last column gives the common uses for the scale to help you determine what products exists for purchase. The Size Chart also lists the most common Imperial and metric drawing scales so you can find the model sizes that most closely match.

Determining The Size Of Your Model

Your first calculation will probably be how large the overall model needs to be. You’ll want the model to be as detailed as possible but probably won’t want it to take up and entire room. Using the Size Chart, multiply the overall actual size of the area you need to cover by the foot or meter equivalents and then determine which scale is best for the space you have available. Also note that 1/32 and 1:32 refer to the same scale.

Next, determine what model items exist in that scale. For the most variety in objects and vehicles, stick with the train gauge scales. If you need a lot of detailed plastic trucks or cars, 1/24th scale is going to probably be best, which is also the same as 1/2″ to the foot and is close to the German “G” train gauge.

Download The Files Here

Comparative Scale Figure Diagram

When you print this diagram, be sure that you print it at 100%. Check the inch and metric scales to be sure it is at full size for an accurate representation.

Other Articles

For more information, you can refer to the following articles:

List Of Scale Model Sizes

Combining Figures With Models

Converting Scale Ratios

Finding The Right Scale For Your Model

Would you like your metrics hard or soft?

Our team is getting smaller and smaller. The Imperial scale team, that is. Right now only the U.S. and Burma still use the Imperial system of measure. Even the British and Canadians have abandoned the system for metric units of measure.  Most countries use a system known as “S.I.” or, System International. Dimensions on drawings are expressed as millimeters, usually without a suffix ( mm ) after them.

With more and more films being made abroad it’s becoming more common for set designers and art directors to have to create construction documents that will be built out of the country. The easiest method is simply to draw in metric from the start and avoid some inevitably strange conversion numbers. Two other methods are the “soft” and “hard” conversions.

In soft metric, you draw and dimension in Imperial and then also give the equivalent metric measurement rounded to the nearest millimeter. In hard metric you dimension in Imperial and then covert to “hard” or non-rounded numbers, meaning you’re going to end up with numbers in tenths of millimeters, which is fine if you’re drawing machined parts. Since a millimeter is less than 1/32″ in length, you won’t be very popular among the people building from your drawings.

Drawing in metric straight from the start is the better way to go once you have some basic metric visualization skills. Here’s a quick list of common sizes converted to soft metric:

1″ = 25 mm

1′-0″ = 305 mm

6′ = 1829 mm

10′ = 3048 mm

Typical door height –  2033 mm  ( 6′-8″ )

Table height – 762 mm  ( 30″ )

Counter height – 915 mm  ( 36″ )

Common Drawing Scales

Here’s a list of metric scales and their closest Imperial scale equivalent:

1:1 (Full Size)

1:2 (Half Size)

1:5  (3″= 1′-0″)

1:10  (1 1/2″=1′-0″)

1:20  (3/4″=1′-0″)

1:25  (1/2″=1′-0″)

1:50  (1/4″=1′-0″)  actual equivalent – 1″= 4.17′

1:100  (1/8″=1′-0″)  actual equivalent – 1″= 8.33′

1:200  (1/16″=1′-0″)  actual equivalent – 1″ = 16.66′

1:250  (1″=20′-0″)

1:500  (1″=40′-0″)

1:1000  (1″=80′-0″)

Conversion Scales

There used to be a company in Philadelphia called T. Alteneder & Sons which made custom drawing scales. I ordered a metric / imperial set nearly 14 years ago and they’re very handy. If you can get your hands on a set, buy them.

Since there doesn’t seem to a source to buy them anymore, I made up a paper scale set for 1/4″ / 1:50 that you can print out and make yourself. You’ll need a 1 1/2″ wide by 17″ long piece of matt board or thin basswood. Download and print out the PDF from the link below on 11 x 17 paper. Be sure to print it at 100% and make sure the “zoom to fit” box is unchecked. Check for print accuracy using the “Imperial” scale. It should measure a true  1/4″ to the foot. You’ll notice that the foot increments on the blue “Metric” scale measure slightly less that 1/4″ so don’t be thrown off by them. Carefully cut out the scales and mount on either side of the board.

When working with a 1/4″ drawing, use the side with the yellow box marked “Imperial”. The opposite edge of the scale will read out equivalent metric lengths. Use the other side when working with 1:50 metric drawings and the ‘feet’ scale will give you the equivalent distance in imperial units.