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Date added: 04/03/2018 The Scale Effect

Simon Says


This week one of Simon Says Hobbies and Game’s customers was looking for some black Tamiya spray paint to paint the hull of a container ship that he was modelling. I suggested that the best option would be matt black, rather than the gloss black he thought he would need. Most models (other than cars and trucks) that I have seen have generally been finished in matt. I always finish my aircraft models with a matt varnish….and thought that this was a pretty good way to simulate the ‘scale effect’ of distance on light.


I got thinking a bit more and came up with a question........why do colours look different up close and further away? And is a bit of matt varnish, or paint the answer?


A quick Google search provided a pile of information on this ….colourful subject :)


One of the most useful references I found was “There is nothing that will spoil a model more than the judicious application of the correct colours.” This is a pretty good attitude to have, as over the years I have seen so many modellers agonise over the correct shade of olive drab, and who can’t work out why one manufacturer’s version of RLM24 (Dunkelblau) seems lighter than another. So the first learning is to chill out…it is all about interpretation.


But as I read further, the idea of interpretation became 2 shades lighter!  There is actually a theory, or an assumption, for understanding how the scale effect impacts your models. The idea is that if you look at a 1/48 scale model from a distance of a metre, the scale effect determines that it should look like the real thing from 48 metres distance. The human eye absorbs light (at various wave lengths) which is reflected from the surface of an object, and then interprets the various wave lengths as different colours. Whatever happens to that reflected light as it travels from the object to the eye will impact how the eye interprets that colour. So the further you are from an object, the more the light gets affected by temperature, moisture and particles in the air. The objective of the scale effect is to adjust the colour of your model to simulate how the light has changed the actual or ‘factual’ colour of your model.


Generally distance reduces colour saturation of a model and the contrast between its colours. Some paint manufacturers have thought about this and attempted to interpret the scale effect by reducing the colour saturation of their paint. This explains why some dunkelblaus are lighter than other dunkleblaus!


Some intrepid modellers from the IPMS tested various paints and the difference between the ÍPMS interpretation of federal standard paint colours, and came up with the following ratios to simulate the scale effect for the different scales;


  • 1/32 – add 7% white to your colour
  • 1/48 – add 10% white
  • 1/72 – add 15% white
  • 1/144 – add 23% white


Whilst this seems to be ok, white may not be the best colour option, given that if you mix white with red, it become pink. Other suggestions for the same effect are light greys, yellows and buff for figures.


It seems though, that the current thoughts on scale effect are more aligned with adjusting the colour saturation by filtering the base colour. This uses techniques like colour modulation and the thin layering of light paint or the blending of whites, lighter greys and yellows.


There is an ever increasing amount of techniques, books, video and products devoted to weathering and creating the illusion of distance.  But for me, a layer of matt varnish reduces contrast and colour saturation just enough to make my model look….just fine. It is my own interpretation……just like this blog!


Good luck and enjoy experimenting!





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