It’s not uncommon for people to tell me that they like the idea of Metal Earth models, but they are intimidated by how difficult they look. I’ve also had several people ask me what are some good, easy models to start with. And I’m never prepared with a good answer other than “the Bird House model.” So in this post I plan on making a better answer easily available.
Before we jump into the list of starter models, let me give you a quick overview of the various methods that the Metal Earth and Piececool brands have used to designate difficulty. And while these methods are useful, they are not definitive. By that, I mean that they aren’t always very accurate, and it often depends on the builder’s developed skills to determine the real difficulty. It’s really near impossible to define difficulty levels that apply evenly to everyone, but this is at least a starting point.
Both Metal Earth and Piececool have some sub-brands; Metal Earth has Legends and ICONX, while Piececool has Q and PC. These sub-brands do have slight connotations of difficulty, but it’s not as strongly defined as you might think. Metal Earth Legends may appear rather simple, with fewer pieces and fewer tiny pieces, they are not as easy as you might think. In general, you can expect ICONX models to be more challenging, but some of the standard Metal Earth models can be much harder. For Piececool, the standard models are actually closer in style to ICONX (sharing the same, larger sheet size), while the PC models are smaller (mostly direct imports of Metal Earth models) and the Q models are even smaller sheets, but look to have some rather complicated constructions.
As far as published difficulty ratings, Metal Earth has two levels of detail. From the beginning, models were categorized into four levels: easy, moderate, challenging, and expert. These ratings were really only available on the Metal Earth and Innovatoys websites, not printed on the packaging. However, when they redesigned the packaging to the darker, black packaging with green logo, they added a difficulty meter to the back of the packages. This meter further subdivided the categories listed above, with the first and last split into two, and the middle two categories split into three sub-gradings.
For Piececool models, there has been a rather consistent seven-star difficulty rating system, where more stars means more difficulty. This makes it pretty straight forward to compare difficulty levels. Unfortunately, however, Piececool does not (at least that I can find in English) have a nice little chart like Metal Earth does to give some idea of how they categorize the model’s difficulties.
There are at least two models that I would categorize as ridiculously simple. Those two are the aforementioned Bird House, and the Washington Monument. And if you are looking for something super-easy, quick, and just want something to finish without much effort, these are good examples. However, I’m not sure I would suggest that these are good for trying out building Metal Earth models, because they are so simple that they don’t give you much of an introduction to the hobby.
What I would consider a good introduction model would be one that gives you a little sampling of the different techniques and processes in building the models, and if you are lucky, it might give you a lot of bang for your buck.
And when it comes to bang for your buck (or effort, really) there aren’t many models with the payoff you get with the Butterfly models. These models are quite simple, but the results are gorgeous. In fact, they are so simple, that the instructions are actually printed on the back of the package, but they aren’t so simple that you don’t really feel accomplished when you are done. There are some small, intricate folds, and some broad, simple ones. Best of all, these models let you apply your own artistic touch with the positioning of the wings and the shaping of the antennae.
If butterflies aren’t your favorite thing, there are some other options. If you like architecture, there are a number of buildings that are good starters, anything with mostly flat surfaces will do, though the One World Trade Center model has been recommended to me as a very nice starter model that also gives good results, due to the building not being composed of only right-angles. In addition, it does have at least one cylindrical piece, which introduces you to shaping curves.
Or if you prefer more artistic landmarks, there’s always the Eiffel Tower model. It may seem a little cliche, but it looks pretty darn good. Plus, if you really like it, you can graduate to the ICONX Eiffel Tower model at a later date. This model is pretty straight forward, though it does present a few introductory challenges when it comes to lining up some of the pieces together. There are some gentle curves to it, but the practically form themselves with the way the model goes together.
Another option that I might suggest for someone that’s a little more daring is the Mustang P-51. This model is not super-easy, but it’s also not as challenging as it looks. It’s comprised of mostly flat surfaces with a few simple curved elements. There are some tight fits on tabs and alignment, but nothing too terrible. All in all, I think it gives the most rounded introduction, and would be a good starting point for someone with a little experience in classic plastic model building.
Of course, in reality, most people are initially attracted to the Metal Earth line of models due to the licensed models. I’m talking about your Star Wars, Marvel, Transformers, Harry Potter and Doctor Who models (and several more). Most of these models, while they look great, are not what I would consider the best starter models, unless you are as stubborn as I am. And some of the Legends models look like good starter models, but they are trickier than they appear. However, if you really want to start in this area, I can give you a few pointers for some of the easier (not easy, per se, just easier than the others) licensed models.
One of the most popular licenses is the Star Wars license, and I completely understand. It’s what attracted my attention to the hobby. However, most of the Star Wars models are not what I would consider good beginner models. I think that has something to do with the designers being required to include certain levels of details to match the real thing, so they can’t really simplify certain aspects like they can with Buildings or original model designs. Of course, that applies to most of the licensed stuff. But I digress. If I were to recommend a single model as a possible starting point that had to be Star Wars, I think I would suggest the Imperial AT-AT model. And don’t be fooled by the Star Destroyer or Tie Fighter models. They may look easy, but they have some nasty little surprises hiding in the details.
For Marvel fans, I would probably suggest Captain America’s Shield or one of the Guardians of the Galaxy Legends models. Do not start with one of the Avengers Legends models… those were part of what I consider the “Gen 1” release of Legends models, and the legs on those are pretty darn frustrating. However, they redesigned how the legs were formed when they released the Guardians, and it’s much better. Those Legends models still have a few interesting moments, but are much easier. As for Cap’s Shield, it’s pretty straight forward, up until you are forming the wrist / hand straps on the back. Of course, you could stop before that point, as they are not necessary, but if you want to complete it, you’ll be looking at some tight spots and small pieces. But it’s still one of the less challenging options, especially in the Marvel line-up.
When it comes to Transformers, I would tell you one thing: don’t start here. These are some of the more intricate and exacting models in the entirety of the Metal Earth line. Do not start with a classic Metal Earth Transformer model, unless you are incredibly stubborn and persistent, and are willing to use tape and glue to hold the thing together. I’m speaking from experience here. However, if you really want to start with a Transformer model, you might look at the Legends line. I have not yet had the chance to build one of the Legends Transformers, but they look to be designed well, and might actually be a little simpler to build than some of the more human-shaped Legends models.
How about Harry Potter? Where should you start there? Don’t. Just Don’t. But if you must, go with the Snitch. It’s still gonna be a hard place to start, because the main body of this model is a ball, and those take a lot of time and patience and nerve to get right. I had built probably close to a hundred models before I built my Golden Snitch, and I still ended up with a lopsided gold-nugget with wings. So just be warned… it’s not going to be easy.
Then there’s Doctor Who… man was I excited when I found out they were releasing a line of Doctor Who models! My first one was the TARDIS, of course, but I had been building for a while. If I were to come in from scratch and start with one of these… I think I would probably go with K-9. I know he’s not the most recognized part of this property, but he’s got a fairly simple form, and most of it is straight forward. Plus you get a few small introductions to more advanced techniques.
I’m not really sure that I can recommend any of the models from any of the other licenses as good starter models. Batman, Game of Thrones, and Star Trek all offer some great models, but they are all rather complicated (even the Bat Signals, which don’t look that hard until you look closely). The Legends and Legends-esque models in the Looney Tunes, Lord of the Rings, and My Little Pony lines are all a bit more difficult that I would suggest as intro models. Even the remaining non-fictional licenses are just too intricate, so Freightliner, Western Star and CAT are all out as well. And I already mentioned the Mustang P-51 above, so that takes care of Boeing.
Before I finish up this post, I wanted to take some time to point out some ways that you can look at the models and get an idea of how difficult it’s going to be. And the strategy I’m going to share here is my personal approach, but can easily be tailored to your particular talents.
The first step is to identify the techniques that you find to be challenging. This presupposes that you’ve built some models, but I think that’s acceptable. The following is a list of a few techniques, or forms, that I think are commonly seen as challenging:
- Forming curved surfaces, such as cylinders, cones, domes, balls, tapering cylinders, etc.
- Long, narrow folds that are really close together (I’m looking at you, airplanes!)
- Parts that fold to form hexagons or octagons
- Teeny tiny parts or many parts close together
- Don’t scratch the paint! (colored models)
- Tabs on the inside that need to be folded/twisted
Most of these challenges can be identified by looking closely at a model. And it helps to look at it from more that one angle (bonus points for using a 360-view published on the Metal Earth website). If you look at a model through this sort of lens, you can kinda count up the number of occurrences and get a good estimate of what you’ll be up against. However, you can go the extra mile, and take a look at the instructions for the model (usually posted on the Metal Earth website), and see what you’ll be up against. And this is a good method to measure that last bullet point in the list (first time I did that, I was scared away from the Iron Man model, because of all the tab folds/twists located inside of leg and arm cylinders).
Of course, there’s also the social method: you can always ask someone. Try looking for someone who’s built the model and posted about it on Instagram, reddit, or YouTube. Ask them what they think, or see if they’ve included any details in the posts. Once again, I’m going to plug the community of builders that has grown around this hobby – it’s made up of a bunch of amazing and helpful people! So reach out, ask for help, get together and collaborate. You might be surprised at just how many people are willing to help out.
Correct Me, Please!
I’ve not built every Metal Earth model there is (yet), so I’m sure I’m missing some good suggestions for starter models. Heck, some of the models I’ve listed here are not here from my own recommendation, but from other people’s recommendations on reddit, Instagram, YouTube and elsewhere. I’ve just read responses to the beginner model question and absorbed them, but can’t remember who said what enough to accurately give credit (sorry!). Anyways, please feel free to add to the list of suggestions by commenting on this post. I’ll try to update this post with a running list of suggested models right here:
Wow, lots of great suggestions so far! I definitely agree on the Golden Gate Bridge and feel a fool for leaving that one out of my original list. It’s a bit of a game to keep everything lined up while dealing with tabs, but still very easy. Big Ben is another easy one, though there is some confusion as to whether the clock faces are supposed to be indented in or sticking out. Sky scrapers are a great option – mostly flat surfaces that line up at right angles!
And AnimateOrange showed that he has some gumption by suggesting the Guitars, Ferris Wheel and Huey. And I would agree on most of them, except for maybe the Ferris Wheel. Those little “cars” might be a little too repetitive and meticulous for an introduction. The guitars and helicopter, on the other hand, I would definitely suggest to someone who wants to start off with a little bit more challenge, but not too much. The guitars are fairly easy, with the introductory challenge of rounding the guitar body sides to match the shape, and the Huey is a lot easier than it looks. And bonus: he’s got a Beginner playlist on YouTube covering several of the models listed in this post!
Got a few more recommendations rolling in, starting with the suggestion of one of the Space Shuttles. I had considered including this, but wasn’t sure if the engines/thrusters would be too frustrating. Also there are some tight tabs underneath, and the cockpit window can be tricky. But it’s still a good suggestion for someone that wants to try out something a little more challenging. (Fun fact: the Space Shuttle models are practically identical; So much so that the Metal Earth website uses photos of the Atlantis model for all of the Space Shuttle models).
The other suggestions that came in were a second suggestion for the guitars, a suggestion for the dragonfly, and suggestions for the TNG Enterprise and the Klingon Vor’cha. I included the dragonfly in the list, because I think it can be a good one for someone who’s a little daring. It gives you some good practice with curved surfaces, but it’s overly frustrating. And if you like that one, you might check out the Scorpion, too.
As for the Star Trek models, I’m going to stick with my original statement. The TNG Enterprise isn’t too terribly difficult a model to construct… But it is difficult to balance. Both times I’ve built it, it wouldn’t stand up on it’s stand, it insisted on falling forward. I ended up adding a bunch of extra weight inside the nacelles the second time (and actually clipping out some excess metal inside the saucer section) to finally get it to stand up. I just don’t feel like that would be a good introduction experience. And the Vor’cha might be a good model for a person who likes a challenge to try as a first model. But I had a bad experience with it (I assembled the bridge section upside-down and had to pull the whole thing apart and put it back together), so I am hesitant to recommend it. It also seemed to have some alignment issues, where parts didn’t fold into the shape that the instructions suggest, especially when attached to adjacent parts.