The Cost of Model Building

Once upon a time, I was open to the idea of doing commissioned projects. Those were in the early days when it seemed like a good idea to help people create their envisioned toys while making a little bit of money. It was a naive period of my life. I still get a few emails every now and then asking me about doing a project. Most of offers don’t even come close to being worth my time spent on the project.

I think I’ve figured out a few reasons why it ended up this way. Everyone likes cool stuff. No one likes to pay money. Most people are unaware of the actual cost and investment made in this hobby. So here’s an article that’s going to tell you everything you need to become a modeller and do the job yourself.

Here’s what you’ll need:


Tools – Every craftsman needs the right tools to get things done. In example, taking out a screw is easy but try doing it without a screwdriver. It’s not going to happen. Equipment does not come cheap. Compromising on quality is only going to make the job harder. (Airbrush, compressor, filters, dremel, power drill, drill bits, rulers, tape measure, digital calipers, pliers, plastic cutter, chisels, etc.)

Safety Stuff – You probably don’t realize that modeling is a hazardous job. Nearly all paints are toxic. Even water-based paints are harmful when used through an airbrush. It so happens that the best paints with better durability and color properties are far more toxic. So unless you want a weak paint finish that is easily scratched and looks like crap, I need to risk my own health to create a high quality product. The baseline safety equipment is an expensive ventilation booth and painting mask. Filters need to be replaced often. Even then, it’s not a perfect system. If you work at a radiation plant, it’s going to affect you whether you wear a suit or not.


Paints – Acrylic, enamel, and lacquer are the most common paints used in modeling (from least to most toxic). Most hobby paints are sold in for $4-7 per 1 oz bottles. There are no bulk discounts. I usually need about 8-12 bottles per project, more if mixing is required. Acrylics are somewhat safe, but weak as paper. I use mostly lacquer paints for their strength and fast drying times but every time I smell it makes me want to choke. Enamel is somewhere in between the two. There’s also paint thinners that are equally hazardous to their corresponding paint.

Most toys are either color molded or painted with latex paint for the cheapness and durability because playability is the major selling point. Aesthetics is only the second priority to toy manufacturers.

Option Parts – If you want enhance the details of a model, you’re going to need some option parts. They go hand in hand with with scratch-building. This also includes decals, most of which I personally designed myself. Good taste and judgement required.

Raw Materials – You can’t make something out of nothing. If you’re going to build something from scratch or make modifications, you need basic raw materials to sculpt and build structure. (Putty, Plastic Sheets, styrene shapes, metal support rods, magnets, etc.)

Other depleting tools – These are some of the other stuff that needs regular resupplying. (Masking tape, dynamo tape, frisket film, super glue, sand paper, cotton buds, LEDs, batteries, solder, decal solution, etc.)

Other Expenses:

Model Kit – Of course, you also have to pay for the original model and any other weapon sets or kits. Too many people believe that the cost of a project should be based on the cost of the main kit. In reality all the other expenses combined usually cost more than the kit alone. It also takes 5-20 hours to assemble the kit. It’s easy enough that anyone can do it, but very few can do it well.

Shipping – I get 95% of all my equipment and supplies online. Much of that is actually imported because US sources get it from the same places I do and the prices are heavily marked up. I’ve tried using domestic products as alternatives but the results don’t justify the substitution.


Experience – I didn’t get into this hobby to start a business. I’m doing this because I like to make things. I’ve learned from experimenting with ideas and making countless costly mistakes. But that experience is invaluable for developing my taste for design and concept. Many people think they are creative but there are actually very few that are truly creative. You yourself should know best what is good work and what isn’t because everyone has a fair sense of taste.

Experience is an intangible asset that’s going to make work unique but it can’t be simply bought. It’s not a matter of time, but a matter of focus and motivational drive.

To be honest, I’ve never asked for people pay for my equipment or supplies but the compensation should at least be worth my time.

If you think it’s expensive to hire a professional to do the job, wait until you hire an amateur.