I've always liked scale models but never put any together so now I'm making up for it. I have finished 61 (working on number 62) using brushes and Model Master acrylic paints and have 10 more I want to get through. All of the kits I work on are vintage (1970s – 1990s) and mostly Heller, Hasegawa, Italeri, Matchbox, Mirage, Monogram or Tamiya, with some other brands thrown in.
If you're thinking of picking up modeling as a hobby and aren't sure which of those brands are decent, or just want to get a second opinion, take a look below.
For 1:72 scale, these are my favorite. Unlike other kits, Heller seems to have maintained consistent production standards and while the kits don't have a lot of interior detail, the exterior is always sharp, with a minimum of flash and good fitting. And their decals are amazing! I don't know what they make them out of, but you can pull one out of a 20 year old box and, sure, it will have yellowed, but it won't crumble or tear and the adhesive still works. Their range is also pretty broad, so you can find rarer planes like your PZL.23s or SAAB 21s. 14 kits later, I have yet to have a problem putting a Heller model together. These are my go-to when I want a nice, relaxing time.
I have only put two of these together (a Vigilante and a Hind A) and it was a mixed bag. On the one hand, the amount of detail was very good, the decals were great and where the parts fit – they fit really well. But halfway through on both occasions there was a moment where something would monumentally misalign. To be clear, their kits end up looking really well and one problem in several sprues may not seem like much but there's nothing more frustrating than a serious mismatch in an otherwise flawless kit.
Ah, Italeri: an interesting range with intriguing production values (that's sarcasm – not italics). Pros? Detailed moulds, many paint scheme and nationality options per model and an interesting selection (from your run-of-the-mill Annushkas to astounding YB-35s). Cons? In four models I've had three different sets of problems: the fitting is inconsistent, parts are sometimes missing from the sprues and the instructions may or may not refer to a different version of the model from the one they were packaged with. The end result still looks very good, but putting it together can be frustrating. The only thing I have not had an issue with is their decals, which are a pleasure to work with.
There are two Matchboxes: pre-bankruptcy and post-bankruptcy. The former (made before 1982) remains, in my opinion, the best way to get into scale modeling. They are extremely easy to assemble, have great production values (zero flash, great fitting) and while they may not have the attention to detail of other brands, still look nice when finished. The only issue is that their decals don't age well and are almost always unusable. The latter, on the other hand, is not worth your time (unless you like warped parts and lots of flash).
I want to be kinder to Mirage, but it's hard. Their kits have lots of detail, very crisp moulding, great decals and end up looking nice, but their fitting can be a pain. Their range is also very niche (almost exclusively WW2 Polish planes), so unless you need a Moose for your collection, you're probably better off going with some other brand.
As I don't have that much room, I don't do many 1:48s. But when I do, they're almost always Monograms. Their attention to detail is astounding, their fitting is almost always great, their decals hold up well and they look pretty great put together. My only qualm is that their range is pretty conservative, but – all things considered – that's a pretty minor issue.
If I wasn't already so enamoured by Heller, I would happily pitch my tent in the Tamiya camp. I've done four models (two 1:72 planes and two 1:24 cars) and everything about them was almost ideal. Unparalleled detail, beautiful decals, great fitting. I had some issues on the cars, with how the suspension and body are mated, but other than that, their models are in a class of their own (especially their cars: the amount of detail is crazy).