How to Create Custom Gundam Model Kits: Expert Tips and Techniques

Creating custom Gundam model kits, or Gunpla, is a fulfilling hobby that blends creativity and craftsmanship. Enthusiasts of the Mobile Suit Gundam series often begin by building standard kits, but the excitement truly begins when they start customizing their models. Customizing a Gundam model kit allows hobbyists to bring their unique vision to life, turning each piece into a personalized work of art.

To start, hobbyists should select a base kit that they are comfortable working with. High-Grade (HG) and Real-Grade (RG) kits are popular choices for beginners due to their manageable size and detail. These kits offer a great balance between complexity and ease of assembly, making them ideal for those looking to try customizations.

Once the base kit is chosen, the creative possibilities expand. Modelers can modify the look of their Gundam with different paint schemes, adding unique decals, or even designing new features with additional plastic parts. By embracing these customization techniques, anyone can transform a standard Gunpla kit into a unique and expressive masterpiece.

Understanding the Basics of Gundam Models

custom Master Grade robot

This section will cover the history and evolution of the Gundam franchise, the different grades and scales of Gunpla kits, and the essential tools needed to build your Gunpla.

History and Evolution of Gundam Franchise

The Gundam franchise began in 1979 with the release of Mobile Suit Gundam. This anime featured giant robots called “Mobile Suits” and quickly gained popularity. Over the years, numerous series, movies, and spin-offs have been produced.

Bandai, a Japanese entertainment company, saw the potential and started producing plastic model kits based on these mobile suits. These kits, known as Gunpla, allow fans to assemble their own models. The franchise’s influence has grown globally, leading to dedicated fan events and even international model-building tournaments.

Different Grades and Scales of Gunpla Kits

Gunpla kits come in various grades and scales to fit different skill levels and preferences. The essential grades are:

  • High Grade (HG): These are 1/144 scale models, suitable for beginners due to their simpler construction.
  • Real Grade (RG): Also 1/144 scale but with more detail and complexity.
  • Master Grade (MG): These are 1/100 scale and offer more parts and articulation, ideal for more experienced builders.
  • Perfect Grade (PG): At 1/60 scale, these kits are highly detailed and often come with lighting elements. They are aimed at advanced builders.

Each grade provides a range of difficulty and detail, allowing builders to choose according to their experience and interest levels.

Essential Tools for Gunpla Building

Building Gunpla kits requires specific tools to ensure precision and quality. Key tools include:

  • Hobby Knife: Used for trimming parts off the sprues.
  • Nippers or Side Cutters: Essential for cutting plastic parts from the sprue cleanly.
  • Sanding Sticks: Help to smooth out any rough edges after cutting.
  • Tweezers: Useful for handling small parts.
  • Cutting Mat: Protects your workspace and provides a safe cutting surface.

These tools help in building a clean, professional-looking Gundam model. Having the right tools can make the building process smoother and more enjoyable.

Preparation Before Building

Gunpla plastic model kits

Before starting, it’s crucial to understand the Gunpla kit instructions and ensure your workspace is organized with the necessary tools.

Understanding Gunpla Kit Instructions

Manuals are your best friend when building a Mobile Suit model. Each Gunpla kit includes an instruction manual that guides you through the assembly process. Pay attention to the diagrams as they indicate which part to use from the runners. For example, “Part A2” means you need to locate Sprue A and find Part 2.

Using a hobby knife, carefully remove pieces from the runners. Avoid forcing parts together if they don’t fit right; it might mean the parts aren’t fully prepared. Consulting the manual ensures you understand how each piece fits and functions within the model.

Workspace Setup and Organization

Setting up an efficient workspace is essential. Start by placing a cutting mat on your desk to protect the surface. Gather all necessary tools, including the hobby knife, sandpaper, tweezers, and side cutters.

Arrange your tools neatly to avoid confusion. Proper lighting is important, so use a desk lamp if needed. Organize runners and parts systematically, labeling them if possible. This will help you locate parts quickly during assembly.

Preparation before building your Gunpla model ensures a smooth and enjoyable building experience, minimizing errors and enhancing the quality of your final product.

The Assembly Process

Working table of a Gunpla Modelist and tools
Working table of a Gunpla Modelist and tools GUNDAM KITS COLLECTION (Fotografia/Photo)
Cheposo(Subida/Upload), Mesa de Trabajo de un Modelista Gunpla y herramientas (Working table of a Gunpla Modelist and tools), CC BY-SA 3.0

Creating a custom Gundam model kit requires a variety of steps, from cutting and cleaning parts, to applying stickers and decals, to securing pieces together. Each step demands attention to detail to achieve a high-quality build.

Cutting and Cleaning Parts

Begin by removing the parts from the sprues or runners using a pair of nippers. Cut the parts away carefully to avoid damaging them. Once removed, you might notice leftover bits of plastic, known as nubs. Use a hobby knife to trim these nubs off.

Next, sand the parts to ensure a smooth finish. Start with a 400 grit sanding stick and move to finer grits if needed. This helps remove any imperfections and prepares the parts for assembly and painting. Attention to detail during this step is crucial for a clean look.

Guidance for Effective Panel Lining

Panel lining is a technique used to highlight the details on your Gundam model. Using a panel marker like a Gundam Marker or a fine brush with Tamiya Panel Line Accent, apply the ink along the panel lines. Be sure to use a steady hand to avoid mistakes.

If excess ink spills outside the lines, clean it up with a cotton swab lightly dipped in thinner. This step adds depth and realism to your model, making the details stand out. Panel lining can transform a plain model into a more dynamic-looking piece.

Applying Stickers and Decals

Stickers and decals add extra detail to your Gundam model. There are different types like regular stickers, water slide decals, and dry transfer decals. Regular stickers are the easiest to apply but may not look as realistic. Water slide decals require water to activate and can take some practice to use effectively.

Use tweezers to place the decals accurately. Once in position, use a soft cloth or cotton swab to press them down and remove any air bubbles. Applying a topcoat after placing the decals helps protect them and keep them from peeling off over time.

Securing Pieces Together

Assembling your Gundam model involves securing pieces together without forcing them. Always follow the manual closely, paying attention to the part numbers and sprue letters. When parts don’t fit easily, check for any leftover plastic and remove it carefully with a hobby knife.

For pieces that need extra stability, use a small amount of model glue. Be cautious not to use too much, as it can damage the plastic. Ensuring each piece fits snugly will result in a solid model that holds up well to posing and display.

Customizing Your Gundam Model Kit

Creating custom Gundam model kits involves techniques like painting, detailing, and building dioramas to showcase the final product. Each step requires attention to detail and the right tools for stunning results.

Painting for Personalization

Painting is essential for personalizing Gundam kits. Color selection and paint type are crucial. Modelers use acrylic, enamel, or lacquer paints. Spray cans and airbrushes provide smooth finishes, while brushes allow for detailed work.

Prepping the kit by washing the parts and priming ensures the paint adheres well. Masking tape helps create clean lines between different colors. Using thin layers avoids paint build-up and detail loss. Enamel thinner is useful for cleaning and correcting mistakes.

Advanced Techniques in Detailing

Advanced detailing enhances a model’s realism. Step one is seamline removal. Seamlines are plastic joins that distract from the model’s look. Using a hobby knife or sandpaper, one can smooth these out.

Panel lining brings out recessed details. Both dropper applicators and panel markers are popular. Markers, like Copic’s Multiliner, offer precision. Detailing is finished with custom decals that add unique markings.

Creating Custom Parts and Modifications

Custom parts elevate a Gunpla kit beyond its standard form. Modifications start with planning; sketches and reference photos help visualize new features.

Styrene sheets and putty are basic materials. Epoxy putty is ideal for creating complex shapes. Precise cutting tools enable clean new parts. Gluing and sanding create a seamless integration of additions. Collaboration with a commission artist can provide pro-level customization.

Building the Diorama for Display

A diorama showcases the Gundam model in a lively setting. Building one starts with a base, typically wood or foam, shaped and carved to simulate terrain. Adding small details like rocks, plants, and structures helps tell a story.

Painting and texturing the diorama base bring it to life. Light weathering techniques, such as dry brushing, add realism. Display cases protect the diorama and model, keeping them dust-free and safe.

Creating custom Gunpla involves thoughtful customization at every stage. By combining efforts in painting, detailing, modifying parts, and building dioramas, each model becomes a personalized masterpiece.

Finishing Touches

Applying the final touches to a custom Gundam model is crucial for a polished and professional look. This includes adding a topcoat for protection and conducting a thorough inspection to ensure quality.

Topcoat Application for Protection

Applying a topcoat is essential for protecting your custom Gunpla model. Whether you use a glossy or matte topcoat, it seals the paint and decals, preventing them from chipping or fading. Before application, ensure that all panel lining and decals are complete and that the model is free of dust.

For best results, spray the topcoat in a well-ventilated area, holding the can about 6-8 inches away from the model. Apply light, even coats and allow each layer to dry thoroughly before adding another. This practice helps achieve a smooth and even finish. Gunpla commission artists often emphasize the importance of topcoating for durability and aesthetic appeal.

Final Inspection and Quality Check

Conducting a final inspection is vital for any custom Gunpla project. Begin by carefully examining every part of the model to ensure that all details are in place and there are no smudges or imperfections. Check that the panel liner is clean and precise, highlighting the model’s features effectively.

Pay close attention to small details, like joint mobility and sticker alignment. Ensure that all parts are secured correctly and that there are no loose pieces. Regular updates and work-in-progress updates are helpful for spotting potential issues early on. For a professional finish, use a soft brush or compressed air to remove any remaining dust before displaying or photographing your model.

Displaying and Maintaining Your Gundam Model

Anime Expo 2013 - Strike Gundam model
Anime Expo 2013 – Strike Gundam model. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Anime_Expo_2013_-_Strike_Gundam_model_(9225644001).jpg

Taking care of your Gundam model involves both showing it off and making sure it stays in top shape. Here are tips to effectively display your model and clean it regularly.

Effective Display Tips

Dioramas: Creating dioramas can make your Gundam models look more dynamic. By designing a small scene or backdrop, you add context and depth to the model, making it a real eye-catcher.

Shelves and Cases: Use clear display cases to protect against dust while allowing a full view of the model. Shelves, especially in well-lit areas, are great for showcasing multiple models. Make sure each model has enough space around it to be seen clearly.

Lighting: Proper lighting can highlight the details of your Gundam model. Use LED lights to avoid heat damage. Spotlights or strip lights placed inside display cases can make your models stand out.

Rotation Display: For those with large collections, rotating which models are on display can keep the setup fresh and interesting. Store the off-display models properly to avoid damage.

Routine Cleaning and Maintenance

Dusting: Dust can accumulate quickly, especially if the model is not in a case. Use a soft brush or microfiber cloth for regular dusting. Compressed air can also be useful for hard-to-reach areas.

Panel Lining and Painting Touch-Ups: Over time, the paint or panel lines on your Gundam might start to wear off. Keep markers and paint on hand for quick touch-ups. Copic’s Multiliner SP 0.03 or similar markers are great for panel lines.

Handling and Repositioning: Frequent handling can lead to wear and tear. When moving or posing your model, do it gently to avoid breaking small parts. Consider using cotton gloves to prevent oils from your skin from transferring to the model.

Regular Updates: Keeping your model up-to-date with new accessories or modifications can be fun and keep the model looking its best. Replace stickers that start to peel off and fix any loose joints.

By following these tips, your Gundam model will not only look great but also last longer.