An Introduction to Figure Models

Figure models are an excellent addition to take scale modeling much further because they add a realistic element and play an important role in providing a comparative scale sense to the overall model. Find out more about this scale model below.

What Is a Figure Model?

A figure model is a scale model of a person, monster, or other creature. Human figures can be either historical (like “King Henry VIII”), generic (like “World War II Luftwaffe pilot”), or fictional (like “Conan”).

Model figures are available as kits for enthusiasts to build and paint with pre-built, pre-painted collectible figurines. Model kits are typically made of polyurethane resin, polystyrene, or metal (including white metal); collectibles are typically made of porcelain, plastic, or (rarely) bronze.

Larger (12-inch or 30 cm tall) versions are available for recent movie characters (for example, Princess Leia from Star Wars). Some model manufacturers make large plastic military figures as a sideline.

Military Models


Figure modeling enthusiasts may pursue it as a separate endeavor or a supplement to military modeling. There is also a commonality with miniature figures (minis) used in role-playing games and wargames: minis are typically less than 54 mm in scale. They do not always represent a specific person.

Military modeling figures were primarily produced in 1:72 and 1:35 scales in the early 1980s and 1990s, with other scales like 1:48 and 1:32 keeping a smaller market share. The 1:48 scale miniatures were typically reserved for aircraft support and vehicles, with figures representing maintenance and flight crews, whereas 1:32 scale miniatures were primarily composed of vehicles like tanks and their crews.

Revell, Tamiya, Monogram, Testor’s, and other companies produced 1:35 scale miniatures. Vehicle, soldier, and combination kits ranged from World War I to Vietnam, with the majority focusing on World War II. Atlantic offered figures of Ancient Egyptians, Romans, Greeks, American Indians, Cowboys, and many other historical figures in 1/72 scale miniatures.

Military Models

Other companies, such as Airfix, provided high-quality 1:72 scale figures and fine military vehicles and planes, and they continue to do so today. Aside from the obvious size difference, one of the most significant differences between the 1:72 scale and the 1:35 scale was the number of ready-to-paint sets and dioramas available to small-scale modelers.

Airfix, a small-scale model market leader, provided several kits for modelers, including pontoon bridges, Waterloo, the Atlantic Wall, and many others. These kits included everything a hobbyist would require to recreate a specific scene, from trees and structures to men and vehicles. The larger-scale modeler had no access to any of these.

Tamiya, a higher-end manufacturer of soldier and military vehicle kits, has taken 1:48 scale modeling a notch further in recent years, offering an interesting line of American and German World War II vehicles and figures, allowing you to incorporate jeeps, tanks, and foot soldiers into dioramas that have aircraft, something that was previously only possible in 1:72 scale. For the committed military modeler, this opens up a whole new world of diorama possibilities.

The same increase in availability is seen on the 1:32 scale. For a long time, 1:32 scale figures were better models of the army men that children played with.

In place of the ready-to-assemble models found at 1:48 and 1:35 scales, where you must cut helmets, arms, and gear from plastic sprues and glue them together, kits came as single-cast figures shaped as a unit. Because they were molded from a softer plastic, 1:32 scale soldiers were frequently of lower quality than the 1:35 scale counterparts, allowing stuff like rifle barrels to flex while the soldiers lounged in the boxes. Because 1:32 scale kits were scarce, extensive modeling was difficult.

Recently, 1:32 scale modeling has significantly increased in popularity as manufacturers now sell these figure models professionally pre-painted, making them ideal for large-scale military gaming. Indeed, the diorama industry has begun to supply pre-painted scenery, producing high-quality 1:32 scale diorama creations easier than ever before.

Figure model kits in the 1:16 scale are available. Stand-alone figures and motorized vehicles are included in these kits. Kits of this size require a lot of effort and time to paint because you must take great care to get the details of the paint job just right, whereas with smaller kits, while details are still important, there is less to do.

Many gaming model figures are measured in millimeters from 15 to 80 mm, with miniature wargaming figures on the smaller end, especially when armored vehicles are used. Traditional modelers prefer the more popular 1:72-1:32 scales, leaving the larger sizes to gamers.

Pricing and quality vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, as they do with everything, and the result of a model is frequently limited by its initial quality. Today, many new model manufacturers go to great lengths to create highly realistic and detailed 1:72, 1:35, 1:48, and 1:32 scale models.

Unfortunately, this makes most of the older, still-available sets less desirable for diorama creation but still enjoyable to build, particularly as starter kits for less seasoned modelers. You can still find many of these older kits for a reasonable price online, and while they don’t have as detailed molding or as many pieces, they can still generate a good product after painting and weathering.

Vehicle kits and model aircraft in smaller scales frequently include “figure models,” which can be purchased separately. There are also car drivers, mechanics kits, and a figurine series that stand in model railroad streets and platforms.

Garage Kits

Both professionals and amateurs create garage kit figures, typically cast in polyurethane resin. They frequently portray anime characters in Japan and movie monsters in the United States. Garage kits are typically limited in quantity and more expensive than standard injection molded plastic kits and figures.

Japanese Figures


Model figures based on icons such as Hello Kitty, and characters from manga, anime, science fiction/fantasy films, kaiju (monster) serials, and video games, are popular among otaku. Some collectors specialize in a specific type of figure, like gashapon (capsule toys), garage kits, or PVC bishōjo (pretty girl) statues.

Takashi Murakami, a modern artist, uses such figures prominently in his work. He has produced a variety of limited designer toys for otaku stores through his company Kaikai Kiki.