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How to Calculate the Scale of Models

Models are proportional to their real-world subjects.
Dave Block/iStock/Getty Images

A model's scale describes its size in relation to its real-life subject and takes the ratio form 1:[number]. The first number of the ratio is always "1." The second number explains how many times larger the real subject is when compared to the model. For example, a scale ratio of 1:12 means that every inch of the scale represents 12 inches, or 1 foot, of the subject.

Measure the length of the model in inches. As an example, you might have a train engine that's 8 inches long.

Reference or measure the length of the real-world subject. This measurement will likely be in feet, so multiply feet by 12 to convert to inches so that you use the same units. For instance, the represented train engine might measure 19.3 feet in length; multiply this figure by 12 to convert it to 232 inches.

Divide the subject's length by the model's length to calculate the scale factor. In the example, divide 232 by 8 to calculate a scale factor of 29. If you have a remainder, round the number to the nearest integer.

Write a "1:" in front of the scale factor to present it as a ratio. In the example, the model's scale is 1:29, which means every inch of model represents 29 inches of the subject.


Use the scale to extrapolate other sizes. In the example, if the model is 2.5 inches wide, multiply 2.5 times 29 to estimate the subject's real-world width of 72.5 inches, or 6 feet.

Scales are sometimes expressed as a fraction, such as 1/29th, or as "inch to the foot," which describes the number of model inches per subject foot (see Reference 2). Divide 12 by the scale factor to determine this relationship. In the example, 12 divided by 29 gives you 0.41, which is approximately 13/32 inches to a foot.

Some common scales are 1:3000 for starships, 1:2400 for naval miniatures, 1:285 or 1:300 for military models, 1:48 for plastic aircraft, 1:35 for kits of armor and 1:29 for trains. However, you'll find various scales for each category with significant overlap between categories.

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