This is probably going to be the shortest of the Getting Started posts, because the Metal Earth instructions are fairly self-explanatory. And, in my opinion, they are the best instructions you’ll see in the metal model hobby. But I felt that this would be a good thing to include for people that are just starting out, because there are some aspects of the instructions that are not obvious right away, even though they become clear fairly quickly.
360 View Link / QR Code
The first thing you should know is that most every model includes a QR Code (one of those funky square dots bar code things) that you can scan with your phone to view the 360 View of the model. You can also reach the 360 view by manually entering the URL listed near that. Unfortunately, not all models actually have their 360 View published, even if the instructions are printed with a link / QR code. However, if the 360 View is published, it is a great tool with helping you understand how to shape parts when you are confused, as you can rotate and zoom the model freely. Fun fact: the letters and numbers at the end of the URL are actually the model number.
Parts Sheet Diagrams
The next thing you’ll probably notice is what I call the Parts Sheet Diagram(s). There will be one diagram for each parts sheet in the model. Usually this is found on the first page of the instructions, but can also span to the second page, when there are several parts sheets. You will use this diagram to locate the parts by the part numbers, which is self-explanatory for the most part.
The only non-obvious part of this is when you have multiples of a given part. Often, a model will contain parts that are duplicated, and sometimes used in multiple sections of the instructions. Other times, Metal Earth includes extras of pieces they feel might get broken or lost easily. And in most all but the oldest instructions, these parts are identifiable by the fact that they are filled in with a color. And when possible, each duplicated part gets it’s own unique color. When this is the case, you will usually only find a number-indicator pointing to one of the colored parts on the diagram, but can easily find the rest by color (unless you are unfortunate enough to be color-blind… then hopefully the different luminosity will help). Some of the older instructions, however, do not have this color coding, and instead will have most of them identified with a number indicator, with the exception of ones where there are a lot of one part in close proximity. I find the modern instructions, with the colored parts, to be quite an improvement, though. This is partly because they use the same color when identifying the required part in the instructions themselves, and it makes locating the parts easier.
Another addition in some of the newer instructions is the addition of assigning each sheet a capital letter, starting with A. When you are working through the steps on these types of instructions, the parts will be identified by both the sheet letter and part number (though on parts that are duplicated across multiple sheets, it gets a little inconsistent). This can speed up locating the parts quite a bit, and is one of the things that makes me appreciate Metal Earth models: they keep working to improve things.
Oh, and on some rare occasions, there are some parts on the sheet that are identified by letter instead of number. Usually, that letter is colored red. I have not yet figured out what sets these apart, but they do exist. And in newer models, you can end up with multiple colors of numbers, for extra fun.
There are 4 basic symbols used in Metal Earth models, and they are all described / explained on each instruction sheet. Those symbols are broken down into to categories (in my opinion): tab symbols and surface symbols.
The tab symbols are either a green triangle or a blue circle, and they indicate the suggested method of securing the tab. Green triangle means twist, blue circle means fold. These indicators are not always hard and fast rules, but I would suggest that any time it says to fold a tab, do it. The reason I say this is that there are times that if you don’t fold a tab, then a subsequent part will not fit on right over a twisted tab, because it’s in the way. Of course, the same can be said with folded tabs, if you fold the tab onto a surface where another part is supposed to sit flush.
As far as what twisting and folding tabs means, it’s pretty simple. The instruction will define twisting as twisting a tab 90 degrees, though I prefer to twist slightly less than 90, and never more than 90. This makes it easier to know how to untwist a tab when you make a mistake. Folding tabs is also fairly obvious, as you just fold the tab over flat to the surface that the tab is sticking through. Sometimes, though, it’s hard to pull off a folded tab, so you can use a technique I learned from @animateorange, and twist a tab, just barely enough to hold, until you’ve got enough of the model together that it’s more stable, then go back and fold that tab down.
When it comes to surface symbols, there are generally just two: a white-filled circle with the letters NE inside it, and a black-filled circle with the letter E inside it. These two symbols usually include a call-out line that indicate which surface they are talking about. E stands for Engraved, and NE stands for Not Engraved. Which is pretty easy to understand, most of the time. Except with parts that have engraving on both sides (common with cylindrical parts). In that case, it’s usually the graphical engraving side that is considered to be Engraved, but I usually try to look at reference photos (the model packaging or 360 View) just to be sure. Recently they have actually added a third surface symbol for Painted surface, which is only applicable to the multi-color models. This symbol consists of a pea-green filled call-out with the letter P in it.
Oh! And there’s one more symbol, though it’s not used a whole lot. It’s a pointing finger, and it’s basically used to get your attention. It means that you really need to check that part of the instructions. Sometimes it’s a tab that has to be folded. Other times, it includes a little bit of text explaining something important, or warning you about something. My favorite warning so far was “teeth are sharp” on a dragon model. You know a designer was tickled at getting to write that.
Finally, we get to the build steps! There are a few things you’ll learn to recognize in the build steps, and I’m just going to go ahead and highlight them here, even if they are obvious. It’s called being thorough. Or obsessive. One of the two. Maybe both.
Red Arrows – these arrows draw a line from a tab to the slot that it needs to go in.
Red Highlighted Slots – a slot that a tab will be inserted into. Usually connected to the end of a red arrow.
Blue Arrows – these arrows are designed to show you how to fold or shape the parts. You can often get an idea of how sharp a fold needs to be by how sharply the arrow’s line bends in the middle (but you need to pay attention to the perspective in showing the 3D nature of things). A curved line indicates that you need to shape the part into a curve that roughly matches the shape of the line.
Red Surfaces – often a surface will be colored red to draw attention to the fact that it needs to be folded/shaped during the build step. When multiple surfaces in a row are folded, the red color is often only shown on every other surface. Also, keep a watch out for faded-red surfaces that fold back away from the viewpoint and might be hidden behind the front-most surface of a part.
Red Tabs – same as red surfaces, these are highlighted to call attention to the tabs being folded. I listed this separately because it’s easy to miss them sometimes. And like the red surfaces, you need to watch for tabs that fold back behind the visible surfaces of the part (from the point of view that the instructions show).
Bend Guide Call-outs – sometimes, on really complicated multi-fold steps, there will be a call-out with a blue line zigs, zags, and possibly curves. It will include some text to the effect of “fold to look like this.” When you see this, it’s talking about an edge-on view of the part. These are very useful.
Dark Surfaces vs. Light Surfaces – most of the time, when you see a darkened surface (not colored), that is an indication that it is an interior surface (or non-engraved). Likewise, the light / unshaded surfaces are generally the exterior surfaces (or engraved / painted). However, sometimes it is used to indicate how the surfaces are angled to one another, though this is less common. But remember that N or NE symbols trump this shading.
Multipliers – Sometimes you have to do something more than once. And these things are usually indicated with red text consisting of an x followed by a number.
Sub-Assembly Identifiers – Some models can get quite complicated, and you will find yourself building several large segments that aren’t joined together immediately. In some of these cases, you will find that the sub-assemblies are identified with circled letters, other times it will be a reference to the step number that finished the sub-assembly. When it’s the letter, it will be both at the conclusion of building the sub-assembly, and where you finally attach it to something.
Well, it looks like I was able to make a lot more out of this post than I thought I would. Leave it to me. I’m just long-winded everywhere. I’m not really sure how to close this one out, but I did think of one thing that doesn’t really fit in anywhere else in this post, and that’s this: if you lose your instructions, don’t lose hope! Fascinations hosts copies of most all of the instructions on the Metal Earth website (in reduced quality, with watermarks, because counterfeiters), and the reddit Metal Earth Wiki has a lot of the ones that can’t be easily found there.