|In Praise of Limited-Run Models
|by Doug Chaltry
|19 January 2004
|"Man, this kit is
terrible! Look at all that flash...and the fit is
horrible. There's no detail, and where are the decals?
What a piece of junk."
How many times have you heard or read these words when someone is describing a limited-run plastic model? It seems that limited-run kits are always getting the short end of the stick when it comes to being reviewed, both on websites, as well as in newsgroups (I remember being completely disgusted at the first limited-run kit that I bought). But is it really fair for them to be criticized based upon standards of quality that are more appropriately applied to top-of-the-line model kits from large manufacturers? I think not.
There seems to be a singular lack of understanding among many model builders as to what exactly is a limited-run model, and why they are of such "poor quality." By writing this short note, I am hoping to broaden model builders' appreciation for this type of model, so that limited-run manufacturers can be thanked for filling a very important niche in the model industry, rather than receiving the scorn that they so often now receive. But it should be noted that I am not an expert on model making technologies, so I invite others who are more knowledgeable than I am about the subject to send me an email with their own experiences.
What exactly is a limited-run model?
Most large model companies spend literally tens of thousands of dollars making the molds for each new model kit. These molds are usually laser-cut steel, use high-pressure injection, and the machines needed to make and use the molds are quite expensive. But there are other ways of making molds; just ask anyone who has ever molded and cast their own resin or metal parts. These molding methods are easier, and much, much cheaper, but as you can imagine, the quality of the final product is also not as high.
How many websites hold surveys for the "most wanted" kits of a particular scale? And how many of these kits actually get produced by a major model manufacturer? In the long run, many of them may ultimately be produced, but in the mean time, modelers are left without. So along comes some industrious soul who has some good reference material, a bit of cash, and a lot of initiative. This person decides not to wait several years for a model that may never be produced, and chooses to make it himself (or herself).
This is how limited-run models get their start. Not from multi-million dollar companies, but from the garage or basement of fellow model-builders. Some of these people become quite successful, and eventually start up their own companies, and produce long lists of models and accessories. Most of these items are produced only in limited quantities, hence the name, limited-run (also called short-run). The important thing to realize is that these models will never reach the level of quality that can be attained with high-cost mold making methods. Consequently, it isn't fair to criticize them for being lower quality. Instead, we should be grateful that someone has even attempted to make these models, thereby saving everyone else endless hours of scratch-building.
Of course, there is a wide range of quality of limited-run kits, depending upon who makes them. Some of them are not worth the plastic they are made from, whereas others are almost indistinguishable from top-of-the-line manufacturers' kits. The trick is knowing which is which. Not only is the manufacturer important to know, but so is the age of the kit. Some companies started off with pretty crude efforts, but have gradually been improving their level of competence.
What do you get in a limited-run kit?
At the minimum, you usually get a couple of sprues of injection molded plastic (I'm only discussing injection plastic kits here, as opposed to metal or resin). The quality of these plastic parts varies greatly. Most limited-run kits I have seen also come with decals, also of mixed quality, but some still do not. Many kits, especially those that originate in eastern Europe, come with a bit of photo-etched brass for detail parts. For the most part, the brass that I've seen in these kits is very nice, and certainly is a welcome addition to kits that may possibly need all the help they can get. There are many parts for models that I feel can only best be produced in etched metal, such as headlight guards, and engine deck screens. I would encourage any manufacturer reading this to consider the feasibility of including etched parts in all of their kits.
On the rare occasion, I have seen a few kits also come with resin or cast metal detail parts. Again, the quality of these parts tends to be quite high. And although I have not seen anybody do this yet, the possibility of including turned metal gun barrels would also be something to be considered as standard practice, and would help these models immensely. All of these different modeling mediums make these kits truly "multi-media" models, and therefore require the appropriate modeling skills.
It is a fact that limited-run models take more effort to build than mainstream kits. The plastic parts take time to clean up, and sometimes do not fit very well, brass parts are sometimes difficult to work with, and you often have to add additional detail of your own. This is why it is often said that limited-run models are for the advanced modeler. Don't be deceived, however, in thinking that you cannot build one. The skills needed to build these models are nothing special. The most important talent you will need is simply patience.
Of primary concern to me is the accuracy of some of these models. Although I feel that the quality of the kit can be excused on the basis of limited funds, there really should be no excuse for producing inaccurate models (incorrect shape, size, etc). My thoughts are that if you are going to go through the effort of producing this model in the first place, you should really try to get it right. Of course, everybody has a different tolerance for the level of accuracy. Some people get very disappointed if there is a 1 mm error in some measurement, whereas others feel that if the shape is basically correct, then that's good enough. I don't want to get into that discussion here, but I want to point out that for the most part (there are always exceptions) the limited-run models that I have seen tend to be just as accurate as a typical model from the major manufacturers. Everybody makes occasional mistakes, large and small companies alike.
I think that the best thing that can be done to help out modelers who get disappointed when opening a limited-run model, is to make it known which companies are making limited-run kits. If someone is considering purchasing a particular kit, it will make the decision easier knowing ahead of time what to expect when the box is opened. This is the reason for all of the kit Previews I try to post at this site, plus the Kit Lists also try to point out the limited-run nature of the appropriate companies.
When I review limited-run kits, I try to be fair with the reviews, and not overly critical. Usually, if I slam a kit pretty hard, it is likely related to the cost of the kit. I feel that this hobby should be a "get what you pay for" situation, and nothing disgusts me more than to shell out a lot of money for a new model, only to find a poor limited-run kit in the box. If the model is only a bunch of rough plastic, then I feel it shouldn't cost any more than US$10. If the plastic parts are very high quality, and/or the kit includes decals, etched brass, resin, metal, and other improvements, then I am willing to pay more for each additional goody included. Hopefully this explantion of my view towards kit costs will explain the apparent discrepancies between some of my kit reviews of various limited-run kits.
I will close this article with an expression of gratitude to the many manufacturers out there who expend the time and effort to make limited-run model kits. They are doing us a service by making available to us kits of obscure and neglected model subjects. I wish these companies the best of luck, and hope that they continue to read our "most wanted lists" long into the future.