Tips & Tricks: Building

Building your kit can be an enjoyable process: the union of seemingly different parts melding together through a combination of precision engineering and delicate manufacturing can be strangely therapeutic. Some hobbyists enjoy the simplicity of Advance Grade (AG) or First Grade (FG) kits as they don't have any gimmicks, complex mechanisms and a huge pile of runners. 

On the other end of the spectrum, we have people who almost exclusively deal with Perfect Grade (PG) kits for the opposite reasons: the massive amount of parts that constitute the immense realism of the kit. But no matter the grade, it is most important to enjoy the process, to take pride in your kit, for it was constructed with will and effort that is yours and yours alone.

On this Page, I will give an overview of building a standard model kit - a High Grade 1/144 scale kit to be precise - and some important points to note so that your kit will already look great when built straight from the box without further modifications.

Tip #1: Check your parts.

In my entire Gunpla building career, I haven't encountered a single kit that was missing a part, much less an entire runner. Although these incidents are few and far between owing to Bandai's emphasis on quality, missing runners are still very much real and plausible, so a little time spent here will save you the emotional anguish and mental trauma from discovering that your HGUC F91 Gundam F91 is missing one leg halfway through its construction. When buying third-party kits, you MUST check your parts as the level of quality control mandated by these manufacturers is appallingly low and/or non-existent.

First of all, locate your construction manual from the box and flip it to the first page of the instructions. The construction manual should be at the bottom of the box below all the packed runners. The very first page of the building instructions will have the obligatory warnings, safety concerns and other miscellaneous information in Japanese, but you can ignore those. 

What you are looking for is the runner diagram, the portion that details each runner packaged and required for the kit's complete construction. It will also have small crosses over unneeded parts; this is especially evident in Limited Edition releases that reuse molds from other model kits.  

Open up the packets holding your runners and set them on the table. Now, carefully look through and match them off against the runner diagram. Make sure that all your Lettered Runners (A, B, C1, D2, etc.) are present, your Numbered Runners (1, 2, etc.) are intact and the Polycap Runner(s) (PCE, PC-1, etc.) is/are also provided. 

In the event that you find a missing runner, or rather realise that a runner is indeed missing, you can pack the runners back into the box and return it to the store it came from. However, each store has a different return policy, so if possible, do a runner check at the point of purchase - most hobby shops allow you to do so, but not departmental stores.

Tip #2: Plan your kit.

Behind every great kit is a plan to make it so. This can be as simple as writing down the enhancements or modifications you have for it down on a piece of paper, or even on the inside of the box itself. It doesn't have to be an expository piece on the state of the hobby, but rather a checklist you can refer to while building your kit.

The list should contain all the important and major changes you are making to your kit. These include spray painting of entire runners, heavy paneling, sticking of realistic decals and/or water decals, painting certain areas, etc. Once you have this in place, you will have a better idea of your construction flow, as some parts will need to be prepared before actual building, such as the spray painting of whole runners.

Planning can also be done for kits not on the priority assembly line. Look through the kit and think of the enhancements you wish to have, then write them down on a Post-It note and stick it onto the box. That way, when you eventually get around to building the kit, you won't have to rethink your modifications again, and adding more enhancements is way easier than thinking from scratch.

As an example, the list of enhancements I currently have for the MG 1/100 RX-93 Nu Gundam Ver. Ka [Ver. GFT] is as follows:
  • Basic (head detailing, light paneling)
  • Tamiya Gunmetal for black runners
  • Tamiya Light Gunmetal for grey runners
  • Water decals: complete set
  • Silver rivets
  • Gold details
  • LED unit
  • Full Funnel add-on
  • Armed Armor DE
  • Mr Super Clear UV Cut
Tip #3: Browse through the building instructions.

To have a flavour of what's to come and to mentally prepare yourself for the journey ahead, do a quick browse of the building directions. Follow the flow dictated in the manual and see how complex or easy the kit will be.

Once you are ready, position the manual in a visible manner and in a way that it will not eat into your workspace. For me, I place the manuals under an Ikea cutting mat that is semi-transparent, it provides a non-obstructive view with zero infringement to my workspace. However, the clarity leaves some to be desired.

Also, lay out your runners in such a way that you will be able to locate specific runners quickly. As you go along, you will be able to know which runner is lettered what, speeding up your building process. For example, A-Runners will be the ones molded with the most colours, and B and C runners often have numbered clones as they build the kit's limbs. Of course, this will differ from kit to kit.

An additional tip: it is good to have your Polycap Runner separate from the main runner pile: it will save you a lot of time fumbling through runners to get PCs necessary for the main components of your kit.

Tip #4: Follow the manual.

I cannot emphasize this enough: DON'T BE A HERO AND JUST FOLLOW THE DAMNED MANUAL. I've come across some hobbyists who refuse to follow the flow of directions from the manual and simply construct parts as and when they like. 

This presents a number of problems:
  1. You will get confused as you go along.
  2. Some components require others parts to be assembled before coming to that step.
  3. You will get bored and tired easier.
The flow of Bandai's kit construction is such that as you go along, you will slowly see your kit being completed before your very eyes. It is also to cut down on fatigue and drive up motivation to eventually finishing the kit, especially for the more complex and part heavy ones, like RG kits. 

The usual process flow for just about any kit is: torso, head, arms, legs, waist, backpack, weapons, extras.

Tip #5: Nip parts only when needed.

Another trend I've noticed in hobbyists is the tendency to cut out all parts prior to construction. Even if it seems like pre-cut parts sanded and prepared will speed up the construction process, in actual fact, it will not. 

It is a CHORE to locate the needed parts in the required orientation, especially for direction-specific components like asymmetric arms and legs. The parts are numbered for a reason, it is to help you locate that particular part quickly and efficiently without resorting to violence against your plastic model kits.

As a guide, nip the parts needed as highlighted in each box of the building instructions. You can do one box at a time or do the entire row, it really is up to your individual preference. 

Tip #6: Make clean cuts.

Your nipper is your best friend when it comes to building. A good nipper will save you a lot of work sanding down and removing the nubs before eventually putting the parts together.

Generally, use the tips of the nipper to make precise cuts at the very edge of the part. From experience, this separates the part from the connecting sprue decently, and saves you some time from sanding and trimming. Therefore, it is good to have sharp nippers that are tailored for model kits in order to achieve that spectacular one-cut.

Use a hobby knife to slice off remnants of the sprues from the nipped parts. Make incisions as close to the part as possible but bear in mind that hobby knives can do more than scratch the surface of Bandai plastic, so exercise caution.

Alternatively, you can make two cuts, as highlighted in an episode of Gundam Build Fighters. Takeshi Iori instructs Reiji and Aila on the fundamentals of Gunpla construction, and tells them that it is better to make two cuts: first to remove the part from the sprue and second to remove the remnant of that sprue from the part. Again, it really is up to you, to see which method you prefer.

Tip #7: Do not force it in.

As with all things, forcing will not help matters. If it doesn't go in, it will never go in. Bandai parts and engineered in such a way that parts only fit one way and one way alone, forcing parts to come together will only result in sorrow, despair and broken parts (and pride).

If you encounter trouble putting parts together, revisit the manual again. Oftentimes, human error or parallax error plays a role in clouding our vision, especially if you are building in the early morning or late at night. Try to position the parts in another way, move them around a little and gently nudge them together. 

If you have problem closing parts together due to the size of the part or its nature (sharp, irregular shapes), use a pair of pliers to slowly and carefully close the halves. Put a towel over the parts before applying plier-pressure, pliers can and will leave indelible marks on your kits.

Polycaps can be troublesome sometimes. It can be a challenge to close polycap-filled halves together if you are not careful. A tip is to always fully insert the polycap before doing anything else: use a tweezer, rod or some other tool to aid you with this.

Tip #8: Go slow with stickers.

Foil stickers can be both a bane and boon to hobbyists. Some of the more hardcore modelers simply omit the stickers altogether save for the eye-stickers, and would rather detail up the kit using paint and/or water decals. However, for me at least, stickers help your kit achieve that bit more detail than leaving it as it is, especially shiny effects that cheap paint can never reproduce. Therefore, stickers add to the final look of the kit, but only when they are applied well. Note that stickers and decals are different and mutually exclusive in this blog's context.

Before you proceed with applying of the stickers, look at the part and then the provided sticker. Answer these questions before taking another step:
  1. Is the sticker required?
  2. Can that sticker colour be achieved with paint?
  3. Are you confident of applying the sticker successfully?
If the sticker is not required, you can omit it entirely. For example, the many thruster stickers of the HGGT FA-78 Full Armor Gundam can be replaced with adding blacks to the thruster nozzles. Also, if the sticker is too flimsy or prone to breaking, consider painting over or just leaving that part stock instead.

If you can achieve a colour with paint, go for it. Case in point: the V-Fin of the HGBF Build Gundam Mk-II. Essentially a one-piece yellow affair, it is beyond me as to why it is not molded as such, providing a needlessly complicated yellow sticker that struggles to cover the entirety of the blue V-Fin. If you have a Gundam Marker, just spam it yellow.

Lastly, if you are not confident of pasting a sticker, for the love of all that is good and holy, don't do it. No one likes to see a dangling sticker or one that is hanging by a thread.

Once you have decided to apply the sticker, lift it from the sheet using a pair of tweezers and have a narrow-head cotton bud ready. Orientate it properly and then use the one-point technique: stick the edge of the sticker to the every end of the part, hold it down and gently pull the rest of the sticker over.

For illustration, I will use the hated Gundam eye-sticker. Once lifted, position it such that the left side of the eye-sticker is flush with the left side of the eye part. It is tricky as it is so damned small, and abuse of the sticker is likely to fray it, so be extremely gentle. Once the sticker is in place at the side, go eyeball by eyeball and press it down. At this point, you can use your finger to hold the sticker until it has more-or-less covered both eyes. Now use the cotton bud to press it down firmly so that it will stick to the part permanently. Note that at this stage, any attempt to remove the sticker will be, in a word, disastrous. You only have one shot.

The technique can be used for all kinds of stickers during your kit's construction.

Tip #9: Panel line where necessary.

As you go about building your kit, apply panel lines to parts you deem necessary. It is easier to add and manipulate panel lines when parts are still in their runners. 

With a panel line marker, gently go over the lines. Allow capillary action to take hold for the slimmer lines as the paint automatically flows through those like a river. Usually, your lines will be fat and thick owing to the nature of the panel line marker and the width of the line to be paneled, therefore, you will have to panel-wash that particular part.

Leave the freshly-drawn panel line on for about 30 seconds, then use your thumb to rub off the excess paint to get a fine line. Don't be alarmed if the ink smudges, keep rubbing until none is left. 

You can also use either a cotton bud doused with lighter fluid or thinner to remove the excess ink, but capillary action may occur and draw the removal fluid into the panels you have coloured. 

Tip #10: Seal the kit.

Once your kit has been built, modified and/or enhanced, it is time for it to be sealed before going onto the shelf. For this, use Mr Super Clear. Essentially a lacquer-based sealant, Mr Super Clear forms a membrane over your kit, holding down stickers, decals and paint while giving the kit a matte finish. In effect, it removes the glossy "plasticky" look of the kit and replaces it with a more realistic feel.

I use two types of Mr Super Clear: Matte and Flat with UV Cut. The only discernible difference between these two is that the UV Cut version prevents your white kits from turning yellow after exposure to the sub. Apart from that, both are equivalent in function and cost.

Mr Super Clear will cloud up your shiny bits like the eyes, head sensors and weapon sensors, so it is a good idea to mask those areas before going ahead with the sealing.

As with spray painting, give your kit three light coats with time to dry in between. Also, seal your kit on a non-rainy day: wet weather will cause your sealed kit to develop a misty, foggy feel. If done properly, you will find that your kit doesn't look like a toy anymore. 

Congratulations, your kit is complete!


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