View Full Version : 15mm plastic? Why 20mm?
11-12-2003, 08:28 AM
I've been wondering this for a while, but never voiced it.
If 15mm is becoming very popular with wargamers, and plastic figures are popular because they are cheap, and each box usually comes with enough figures for an entire army, why do manufacturers make 1:72 (20mm)? Why not go for 15mm instead?
I know that GW used to produce EPIC 40k figures in hard plastic. I think they were 10mm, so I believe its physically possible to produce quality figures. Is it purely financial, or is it just that nobody wants to START making something that no other manufacturer won't?
What do you guys think?
11-12-2003, 08:47 AM
I think that is because the market for plastic figures and for wargames figures is quite distinct. Plastic figures (e.g.by Airfix) started out in 1/72 and have stayed that way for consistency in that market. At least for the big names in plastic modelling (Airfix, Revell, Italeri etc.) wargamers are a minor part of the market. Toys and collectors/modellers are what they have their eyes on.
I always have rather wondered why metal figures were made in 25 mm rather than 20mm - 1/72
11-12-2003, 09:59 AM
My recollection is that the old soft plastic Airfix figures matched their WW2 tank range (not the 1/72 aircraft) and were HO/OO scale, i.e. 1/76. 1/76 gives the lovely mix of "old" and "new" units that 1mm = 3" (inches), 4mm = 1' (foot) and a strapping 6' soldier will be 24mm tall in his bare feet. This gives you figures about 25mm tall and so 25mm figures smile.gif .
It seems to be a later thing that manufacturers wanted more detail and so said "measure to their eyes" :( , so 1/76 becomes 20mm and 25mm grows to the whoppers we see today!
11-12-2003, 11:56 AM
Actually plastic is and was not that cheap. 48 castings for $4.00 back in the 1970s when the same amount of money bought 40 15mm strip (1st ed) Minifigs. I tried both when I was in school and plastic was hard to paint and to find any variety in Anceints. Metal castings held paint better and were easier to resale than plastic.
Now days I have seen 48 for $7.00 which is less expensive than metal but they still hold paint poorly (regardless of style used) and hard to resale in the USA.
11-12-2003, 12:30 PM
As I am a big GW fan, I can answer the Epic question. Hard plastics are very expensive to create molds for - the debate rages in the GW forums every now and then about the mold cost, and it's guessed from 100,000-250,000 USD.
The Epic stuff was +/- 6mm in scale, and was very well done. They are re-releasing Epic this year, and the old plastics are coming out again. The benefit to a hard plastics mold is that they do not need to be re-mastered like the metals.
Hard plastics take paint very well, GW makes something in plastic for almost every line it sells.
Soft plastic is the nastiest material to have to paint; I have some Hat figures, and although they are fundamentally OK, I think I would go insane if I had to paint an entire army of them.
Hope this helps.
11-12-2003, 05:13 PM
HaT has been introducing a harder plastic which holds paint better. I am not sure when the change took place. There is also a wealth of excellent material on their website in terms of painting plastics. Nevertheless plastic does not hold paint as well as lead/pewter.
From the many splendidly painted figures and armies on HaT's website it is possible to get plastics well painted but it requires more effort than painting lead/pewter.
On the question of scale, plastics have also been the subject of scale creep. Compare the original Airfix sets to the new releases from Revell and HaT. The scale has generally increased from 1/76 to 1/72 or in other words from around 20-22mm to 24mm. However different manufacturers are not consistent in this. Zvezda continues to produce slightly smaller figures, while Revell recently came out with a set in which the average height was 23mm. See:
[ November 12, 2003, 15:22: Message edited by: derek ]
11-12-2003, 08:57 PM
I've read on one of the web sites devoted to wargaming with plastic figures that using the "miracle dip" (Minwax Polyshades stain, for those in the U.S. and maybe in Canada) works wonders for holding the paint on the figures, assuming one has washed the figures with detergent before painting so as to get rid of the stuff that makes them come out of the molds more easily. Does anyone on the Forum have any experience with this to report on its effectiveness-- ideally with figures dipped some time ago and used with some frequency since then?
11-12-2003, 09:19 PM
I have the following DBA armies in 20mm plastic:
Polybian Romans, Later Carthaginians, Gallic,
Mongol, Teutonic Knights, and a lot of generic medieval troops for morphing.
They have all been washed, primed white, block painted and miracle dipped. They have been used for over three years and carted back and forth to a friend's farm in the Catskill Mountains. They have been dropped sometimes. They have not been given the treatment that Derek's get, handed over to young children. I have had no paint come off, though one Teutonic knight has lost a horse tail.
I used plastic years back, but quit because the paint came off when you looked at them. I'm very satisfied with the dip on plastic, because it keeps the paint on and and makes them look so good. I also have two plastic ACW armies that have been getting a lot of use lately, about three years old and no paint missing. My Mongols are posted on the armies page.
11-13-2003, 08:02 AM
I've used a coat of watered-down white glue on some soft plastic, with others just varnished, and I'm comparing how much paint loss I get over time. I'll let you know if the results are interesting, but so far I've had no damage on either.
I've never understood why wargamers get hot under the colar about the odd bit of paint flaking off a plastic figure, but put up with chipped paint, bent spears and breakages on metal. You even see bent spears in the adverts sometimes.
11-13-2003, 12:25 PM
In regards to plastic chipping, maybe it has something to do with resale value. Plastics are good if you plan to always keep them. They are hard to sell at shows.
There is a lot of effort that players put into painting 20mm plastic or 15mm metal. Many would like to see value in their work and chipped paint diminshes that effort.
11-13-2003, 02:55 PM
People with little experience of the new plastics tend to think of the old airfix polythene things like the Toystory green men.
From seeing Andrews armies and what I have seen at shows the modern plastic figures is much more robust.
And paint on a lead spear will flake off just as easily as paint on a plastic spear if bent, the only difference is the plastic spear straightens itself out.
As a result of seeing plastic close up I am going to invest about three quid on a Hat Sea peoples army when they hit the shops.
I am a fanatical painter, so if they give me any gip I'll be sure to let the forum know about it!
11-14-2003, 01:40 AM
I started "serious" figures: metal. Then axe handles and spears were bent and then broken. I went back to plastics I loved as a kid.
Plastic spears, axe handles, horse legs - etc
hold up better. Plastic figures look better proportioned and detailed - to my eye. 25mm plastic look better than 15mm metal. "25mm" metal are really 28-30mm metal and they look good but also cost way more.
Metal seems to have more variety in armies that are available -- but some of the metal figures are put in different packs and renamed to represent different things.
One drawback is there are no micro scaled plastics, so I still use metal for modern armored vehicles
To paint plastic method I use now is to mount each figure on a nail. prime them by dipping each figure into a can of (Behr or Minwax) water-based polyeurathane finish. Then paint. Then finish by dipping figure in the can again. No problems. Can drop stands, throw them agross the room. No paint comes off unless you stand cavalry upside down on the floor, and step on it. Then paint will come off the horses legs.
I LIKE plastic figures! 20mm is a great scale on 25mm bases.
All my DBA armies are in plastic. I have roman, greek and egyptian armies I painted back in the late 70's for WGR 5th & 6th edition rules still in use today. The testors enamels I used back then do flake off the spears - the 'craft' acrylics I use today are much better. In the 70's we tried sealing paint jobs with hair spray, then tried clear spray paint.
These days, For prep, I wash the figures in dishsoap, prime with cheap white spray paint.
Block paint with craft acrylics (nothing fancy, niether my eyes or hands are up to alot of detail work).
I use a homemade 'miracle dip' of Future acrylic floor wax, water and black & brown paint.
After drying, I spray with a clear satin spray paint. I have had very little flaking, and this includes a horrible dump in the parking at Origons last summer.
Here are my completed armies:
Old Kingdom Eygptian, Nubian, Gasgans, Elamite, Early Libyian, Early Northern Barabarians, New Kingdom Eygptian, Hittite Empire, Myceneans, Trojans, Sea Peoples, Illyrian, Thracian, Lydian, Early Hoplite Greek, Early Macedonian, Kyreanean Greek, Early Archemenid Persians,
Early Carthagians, Lykian, Gaulish, Ancient Spanish, Numidians, Camillian Roman,
Polibian Roman, Marian Roman, Later Carthaginian, Syracuse, Later Hoplite Greek, Early Imperial Rome, Hellenistic Greek, Later Moorish, Axum, Pueblo Cultures, Eastern Forest American, Various English Fuedal, Early Hebrew, Meroeitic Ku****e
Mitanni, Polibian Roman, Italian Hill Tribes, Picts, Ancient British, Scot-Irish, Kassite, Early Bedouin, Ugarit, Aztec, Mixotec, Otomi, Tarascan, Mound Builders, Campainian, Samnite,
There are so many new figure types available that I will be busy for years to come.
11-14-2003, 05:14 AM
I guess I phrased my initial question poorly. I didn't mean to start a "how do you paint plastic" debate. I can deal with actually painting the figures. Its more a question of scale.
So my question really is towards metallic wargame manufacturers, who's market IS wargamers (Old Glory, Minifigs etc.). Why do they stick with metal 15mm, instead of moving to a more GW hard plastic style? As already stated, the molds are expensive, but if the molds can cope with plastics better than metal anyway...
And if good detail is available in 6mm, 15mm should not pose a problem. The reason I'm asking is because I like the idea of a fast army to build (cheap, low detail so easy to paint), but many rules such as DBA are starting to go for 15mm, which I can't get in plastic.
Perhaps this is a poor question too..
11-14-2003, 08:19 AM
I think its already happening. Plastic manufacturers like HAT and Zvezda already see their primary market as wargamers. HAT use a wargames-style packaging policy (fewer variants in a pack, separate command packs, more packs, so you need to buy a greater number of packs to get all the figures but you have control over the mix of troops you get), Zvezda package their men to get a useful set of DBA elements out of every box.
AFAIK the typical run for a smaller plastic producer is 2,000-5,000 sets, although obviously the major sets like Airfix 8th army have been run many more times than that. 2,000x48 figures per set = nearly 100,000 figures to sell, so I guess it isn;t very viable for less 'mainstream' periods/subjects.
The other major constraint is existing plant. Metal manufacturers have the equipment and skill to sculpt and cast metal, and they have the back-catalogue in metal. Those are major reasons not to move away from the stuff.
11-14-2003, 10:09 AM
Andrew hits a valid point there - back catalogue - there is so much plastic already that it would take a brave manufacturer to move into 15mm.
The plastic guys seem to be cutting their own niche as well - dropping in to an already well served 15mm market would be difficult.
by sizing their trops in between 15 and 25 they effectively have created their own market.
I work with plastic injection mould tooling, it is not cheap stuff, although the equipment used to create mould tols can create a 15mm or 20mm mould from the same master, hence the very similar 1/35 and 1/72 scale figures you see - same master figure.
injection moulds take a long time to make and are expensive, I would guess the ones used to make plastic figures sprues fit in at least a 100 ton press and would be on a 500mm platten. Cost I would estimate at at least £40,000 if sourced in the UK and about half that in China or Russia. With that sort of investment you don't want too much competition. Contrast the cost of PIM tooling with the £30 it costs to get a lead mould made.
11-14-2003, 10:41 AM
HaT was founded by a very dedicated group of plastic toy soldier collectors. First HaT produced some old Airfix sets which had gone out of production. Then they started to introduce their own sets. Initially these were mainly Napoleonics, followed by the Punic Wars series. That they have continued to expand the Punic Wars series, and are now busy with the extensive Alexander The Great Series speaks for itself. Ancients wargamers have turned out to be a big buyer of their product.
I think that some of HaT's specialist Ancients sets were designed for specifically for wargamers. I am making assumptions here, but who else would buy Picts, Franks, Visigoths and/or Saxons?
On their website, HaT asks for comments and suggestions from visitors. If they get enough requests a set is more likely to go into production.
Personally I like the size of 1/72 plastics. Base them as 25mm. They are too big for 15mm bases and there is a vast array of lead/pewter figures in 15mm anyway, with so many manufacturers' in the UK, and a few others scattered around the world (USA, Australia, Spain, Italy, France, Germany, Greece and New Zealand come to mind).
The huge advantage in producing lead/pewter figures is that the cost of getting a figure into production are considerably lower than that of a set of plastics. A few years ago I was reliably informed that to start up one set of quality plastics cost around US$ 100 000 in capital investment.
One can commission individual 15mm figures for as little as 20 UKP from very good UK sculptors.
There are also some 20-22mm / 1/72 scale Ancients figures produced in the UK. I would specifically recommend Tumbling Dice and Newline Designs. The latter is still expanding its 20mm ranges, albeit at a slower rate than its newer 28mm ranges.
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