Keeping costs under control

I was thinking about the cost of the hobby over time. In my case the most expensive portion (other than the 80 kits in the stash) is painting and finishing. I have 3 Iwata airbrushes, a Spray booth, CO2 cylinder set up, a compressor, and a boat load of paint of various brands, thinners etc…I have my modeling tools but their costs are far less in total spent. I was thinking I can’t get my investment back. What I mean by that is the difference between what I spent and what I could have gotten away with spending and still have gotten the job done. I could have gotten by with one airbrush, my HP-CH can do all I really want and I could sell the others as luxery items. I could have decided to paint outside reducing the need for a spray booth but the cost of the booth to allow winter painting was a fair trade off. I could have stayed with only one air source with the airbrush. I don’t know how to control the cost of the paint. If I order only what I need then the cost of shipping is at it’s worst ratio. If I order extra paint the shipping ratio is better but I have to pay for paint I am not currently using. The cost of thinner, brush cleaner etc…can be controlled if you know of a local hardwear brand thinner that works well with the paint you use. If you need to use the propriatiary brand for your paint then the volumn is the only control you have. Again I can’t control what I have already spent but looking forward I can be a little more aware before I spend. Any saving on the materials side means more for the kit purchases. What are some ways you have cut costs?

Given that this hobby is orders of magnitude cheaper than most, I’m not worried about wasteful excess!


Switch to collecting stamps?
Obviously not buying the expensive ones, just collect the
ones on the letters and postcards you receive …

Switch to scratchbuilding using waste materials, lots of metal and styrene freely available in packaging and stuff. Paper card modeling is also an option, those kits come printed in the right colour …

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Funny enough I have a mate who does those paper models!

As for Topsmith’s list, many of his expenses are long-term useful tools like airbrushes, that will be spread over lots and lots of builds and will make each more pleasurable. Tools are the one area it’s best not to skimp on…

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I find the best way to keep costs under control is to limit the size of my stash. Right now I have fewer than half dozen kits boxed and waiting to be built. At no time have I had more than about 15-18. All other things needed to build those kits, AB, glues, paints, etc., etc., do tie up significant dollars but they are amortized over many builds. AB and compressor are amortized over many years. So what I am getting at is that on a per build cost, the most expensive item is the kit. While in total all your paint, tools, etc. may cost more than a given kit the cost per kit is rather much less.


I’ve wasted a lot of money on paint and finishing materials. I’ve tried a bunch that I just don’t use, but I’d never known without trying. At this point there are fewer and fewer things that come up and I don’t have paint and weathering that I love to use that will work for them. The occasional odd paint scheme does put a crimp in this plan of course.

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Learn how to use a color wheel and you can use the cheap craft paint at any Hobbylobby or Michael’s. Don’t need the precolored model paint. A club member did this very well.

The other is simplify your subject matter. Once done you don’t need those extra colors, decals and what nots. Not as exciting but that wasn’t a requirement.



Consumables. Durables. Capital investments.

One thing that can be done to control the costs of paints and other consumables is develop some skill in mixing your own colors and then sticking with one brand and line of paint. Modelers who constantly switch brands and lines of paints looking for some “perfect” paint or through a reluctance to mix their own colors (so they constantly buy proprietary mixed “accurate” colors) are caught in a consumer trap, falling for the latest and greatest advertised paints.

Not only do they spend more on paints, but they also spend more for all the ancillary components, like thinners. Buy a color wheel, some pipettes or medicine droppers and learn to mix custom colors. A few minutes spent on the ol’ confuser box researching suggested paint mixes and there’s no need to buy a new jar of paint for that particular color. Just mix it.

The same thing goes for a lot (A LOT!) of the newest “lotions and potions” for other finish and weathering processes.

For example, dry artist pigments are dry artist pigments whether they’re in a small, 1/2 oz special, proprietary “modeler’s product” containers or they’re generic, bulk pigments sold in an arts supply store. The difference is mainly in the price and the label. “Weathering pencils” - the same thing as artist water color pencils, only much more expensive. Oil paints are oil paints. 3D “weathering” and “ground work” texturing paste mediums, smooth or with aggregates, can be found in the arts supply store in big jars or at the hobby shop in small ones. Guess which are cheaper ounce per ounce? Metallic carnauba waxes, such as Bub 'n Buff, have been around for years and years at the arts supply and crafts stores or are “just released” as the newest, best modeling product with your favorite celebrity modeler’s endorsement.

Need to chemically color a set of white metal tracks? You can buy the proprietary, modeler’s brand of “burnishing fluid” or you can buy a bottle of cold gun bluing solution in the sports section of your local big box retailer.

The same might be said for some durable items like airbrushes. Lean to maximize the capability of the air brush that you have until you’ve squeezed every bit of performance you can from it. Only when you then have a need for some additional performance aspect that it cannot provide should you consider adding another airbrush to your kit. Build skills, not a collection of airbrushes.

I’ve only ever had two airbrushes in nearly sixty years of scale modeling. (Although I confess that I did buy two of the same model, so in absolute terms, I have owned three airbrushes in almost sixty years of modeling…) I used my Badger 250 for 30 years (and an earlier copy of the same for about 8 years before I totally broke it - my own fault, BTW). That old Badger is still a good, functional AB that sprays as well today as when it was new. I only bought my second AB, a Rich Pen Phoenix 213C about 15 years ago when I finally decided that I simply would never be able to do some especially fine lines with my Badger. I still use both, BTW, and about a year or so ago, I sent my Badger back to the factory for an overhaul.

The same might be said for air compressors. Again, I’ve only ever had two, and the first one I gave away to a fellow modeler after I had it for about 30 years. It still worked, but I finally wanted a quieter model with a air tank for smooth, pulse-free air supply.

In the end, as mentioned above, tools last a very long time, and, if you wait until you have an actual need for some new tool to get it, tool purchases after some modest initial investments are not really expensive. I have a very well equipped workshop, but I’ve been adding tools to it for decades. I built a ton of models, though, with fewer tools than would fill a shoe box, to include a lot of local and regional contest winners.

The key to controlling the costs of consumables, though, is not to fall for marketing.
Develop your skills, expand your techniques, and gain experience using what you have. Also, there’re are components to your own modeling philosophy that can be looked at.

Put some serious thought into where you really stand on considerations like scale lighting and color. Are you an adherent of the belief that only prototypical color matches are acceptable, or do you believe in the need to “push” shadows and highlights to create and enhance contrasts? Do you believe that a “correct” color can vary from light to dark shades, or is only a monotone application of the prototype color acceptable? Is there an element of artistic interpretation and expression in scale modeling, or is scale modeling about creating mechanical and geometric perfection? Is there a happy medium between these two extremes and do you know where your own preferences and biases stand?

Depending on where you really stand with these concepts, your acceptance or demand for prototype color adherence may or may not demand such a high cost in paints and other consumables. You may find that your artistic position might be a bit more liberating than you once thought.

Follow your own artistic muse, develop your own stylist preferences and biases and liberate yourself from the pressures of marketing.


Yeah, Mike said it better then I did. :+1:

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Yep! Mike said it all …

Sticking mostly to 1/72 scale. Uses a lot less product of all kinds to finish, and the kits are cheaper. I guess it might be argued that you’d end up making more of them.

I must admit Armorama samples have saved me some money over the years, the price being some additional effort in taking photos and writing reviews etc., not being too choosy about what subject you build next, and having to get on and finish it.

I think reference books might be the thing I have spent most on, and it does pain me somewhat that some relatively slim volumes cost quite as much as they often do. The good thing is that I could probably resell them for about as much.

Indeed @SdAufKla covered it all very well.

The plastic model hobby is pretty affordable compared to the performance car hobby or firearms. Besides its a hobby and spending on either stays subservient to other goals & needs.

From my perspective the greatest cost containment is in the following areas.

The biggest luxury expense of unnecessary items are the custom ground chalk dust pigments, pre-made washes, and most other finishing products by MIG, Wilder and so forth. Most of it can be done mixing ones own washes and grinding ones own pastel chalk.

Pick one main area of interest and stay with that subject and build out of the box.

Skip the expensive reference books. They basically aren’t needed for out of the box building. The net has much reference available for free or at much reduced cost in PDF format.

Avoid having a stash or limits its size. A couple of kits are all one really needs at one time.

Buy quality tools. They are worth the cost and used on practically every build.

Even the lowly commonly available
inexpensive Paasche H external mix air brush can produce excellent results. While this AB is only rate to spray a line 1/16 of an inch wide, it is possible with mastery to cut a 1/16 line in half down the middle with this AB with correct set up. In other words, a line 1/32 inch wide is possible. That’s as fine a line as I’ve ever needed to go.

After building and having fun with the model such as club meetings and contests the model could be sold to help bank roll other projects.

With the above cost structure, buying even a $100 kit on occasion isn’t a big deal as it will go straight to the work bench.

I’m only successful at avoiding the high priced chalk dust, pre-made washes and expensive new references :slight_smile:


Unfortunately that’s what some kit designers think too :joy:
It is true that a number of times having received a kit as a sample I have then justified buying a reference book to help with writing the review on the basis that the kit would have cost as much as the book.

Anyway, in the end, you spend money on what you want to spend it on, it’s a hobby after all. I’m not sure I agree with the idea that there’s any pressure to buy certain products, though there is advertising of course, but I think its true that people enjoy trying new things, and sometimes get good results or learn something from the experience. On the other hand some will get enjoyment just from the act of making their own materials.

On the example of pigments, it’s going to take me so long to get through the bottles I’ve got that there’s just no point in grinding my own or buying in bulk. Probably the same with oil paints. I have a feeling there’ll still be some left in all of them when I can no longer put them to use, if you get my drift. There’s a happy to note to end on. :woozy_face: :drooling_face:

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I don’t need a 55 gal. drum of ACME chemicals and I sure don’t wanna’ quit the hobby because I can’t afford a 17 ml bottle of the latest X/Y/Z Super Paint.

Make your choices wisely and whatever the situation, by using good old common sense, I believe a fair balance can be achieved. :balance_scale:

Happy modeling! :hammer_and_wrench:… uh, Chemistry? :alembic: :laughing:


By all means Airfix should buy lots of Tiger references and maybe even look at said references :grinning: :wink:

FWIW - I honestly can’t say reference material ever improved my enjoyment of the hobby in fact it has always done exactly the opposite. It did help improved some of the models.

Definitely folks spend on what they want to spend on…fully agreed :+1:

I agree, no reason to buy chalk to grind up if one has a bought a supply of the already prepared pigments.

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A very valid consideration, it is good practice to keep an eye on costs.

I keep my costs down by:

  • keeping the stack relatively small
  • purchasing tools that I consider much better than what I actually need, hence they last forever.
  • avoid impulse buying

but most of all I spend a lot of time on the hobby, on gathering information, on improving my skills and general knowledge on aviation, …

If I divide modelling cost by time spent I cannot find any other (interesting) way to spend my time and actually enjoy myself which would be cheaper. Hence, I don’t worry about the cost, aircraft and modelling are part of my life, like eating, and I like to eat well.



My personal decision is to try to avoid AM and build OOB most of the time.I also manage my stash,only maintain between 30-40 and I feel I could realistically build most of them,never impulse buy at shows or sales.
That being said,it is a hobby and my joy,so if I need something I’m not going to fret on money spent,and I know I what I buy will never be to the detriment of some other needs.


I will be honest in that I do buy AM when I get a kit and store the AM in the kit box. However some of my best memories building kits involve having to scratch build parts and having them turn out better than I had planned. Plus one for scratch building.

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My downfall is the range of new stuff coming out, that we never thought we’d see in our lifetimes! Two decades ago I had no problem keeping the stash under control because of the limited range of kits and makers, but we’ve all seen an explosion of new companies and subjects we’ve always wanted coming out in plastic and it’s calling out to me “buy me, buy me”…


I recognise that :slight_smile: