Are Plastic Model Kits Toys?

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Among those who know nothing about plastic scale model kits, there is often debate over whether or not they are toys.

The truth is that the vast majority of model kits are not toys. They are scale replicas of real-world objects, meant to be assembled and displayed – not played with. Unlike die-cast models, plastic scale models tend to be fragile and are not meant to be handled at all.

The joy of building and painting a model kit is in the challenge of creating something that looks as close to the real thing as possible.

It’s a hobby for people of all ages, and one that can be quite addictive. The fun part of the hobby is in the building process, not in playing with the finished product.

Photo of a partially built model airplane that is not a toy

Some modelers take their hobby very seriously and can rightfully be considered artists. They see their work as a form of self-expression and take great pride in creating stunning replicas that are a joy to behold.

This is not to say that all model kits are display pieces. There are a few companies that produce “toy” versions of models, usually depicted in a larger scale and with less detail. These are meant to be played with.

No touching, please!

There’s nothing more irritating in a model builder’s life than when somebody touches their finished display piece.

It’s not that we’re uptight about our belongings, but the fact is that most plastic models are delicate. The smallest bump can knock parts off or break them entirely.

And once a model is damaged, it’s very difficult to fix it back to its original condition.

The usual suspects that break off like crazy are fragile parts like antennae, pitot tubes, gear legs, armament, and canopies.

Some of these can be glued back on fairly easily. But if for example a gear leg of a 1/48 jet model snaps, you’re looking at a tough repair job and the repaired gear leg will never be as sturdy as it was.

It’s not just the plastic parts that are delicate – paint can sometimes chip off easily as well. Also, weathering effects like pigment powders can be easily rubbed off, ruining hours of work in an instant.

This is why most modelers will tell you to keep your hands off their models – we don’t want you to break them.

Are there any model kits that can be played with?

As mentioned before, there are a few companies that produce “toy” versions of models, usually much easier to build and with less detail.

Some companies even have special model kit lines that are specifically meant to be played with. That’s for example the case with Revell’s “Build & Play” kits. These kits usually have some special functions like lights and sounds.

An example of such a kit is Revell’s kit no. 06749. It’s an easy-to-build model of the Imperial Star Destroyer from Star Wars that comes with sound and LED lighting effects that simulate the iconic blue light emitted from the engines.

So if you’re looking for a model kit that you or your kid can play with, there are a few options out there.

In the end, though, even these “toy” model kits are not indestructible. They may still break if handled too roughly, so care must be taken.

Can kids build model kits?

Kids can absolutely build model kits!

In fact, many people first get into the hobby as children. It’s a great way to teach kids about patience, following instructions, and attention to detail.

Some model kits are specifically designed for children, and these will usually say so on the box. These models are usually simplified versions of real-world or fantasy objects, and they are made to be more durable so that kids can assemble them and play with them without breaking them.

Once the kids grow older and get more experienced with building model kits, they can move on to more challenging and detailed models.

Some companies will state for what age group their model kit is suitable. For example, Tamiya’s Bf 109 G-6 in 1/48 scale (an excellent kit by the way) has this statement on the box:

  • “Detailed scale model for hobbyists age 14 and above. This is not a toy.”

Other companies may also employ a skill-level rating system. For example, Revell has a five-level system with Level 1 being the easiest and Level 5 being the most difficult. The rating can always be found on the box.

Why are some model kits not suitable for kids?

Many of the more expensive modern kits are not suitable for young kids because they are simply too detailed and delicate. These kits are usually meant for experienced modelers who have the patience and skill to deal with all the tiny parts.

Some of the things that make a model kit unsuitable for kids are:

  • Very small plastic parts
  • A large number of decals
  • Photo-etch parts

Other model kits may not be suitable for kids due to the subject matter. For example, a model of a WWII fighter aircraft with Swastika symbols on its tail is probably not something you want to give to a child that has not received any education on the subject.