When it comes to metal model brands, I started with Metal Earth. If you’ve found this blog, it’s likely that you did as well. But what about the other brands that are out there? What about the sub-brands? And international brands? Knock-offs? Quality? This post is going to be my attempt to answer some of these questions as best as I can, as well as summarize some of the feedback on other brands that I’ve seen / gathered from other builders.
But before we get started, I want to get some housekeeping out of the way: I build Metal Earth and Metal Earth related brands primarily. This is because I started with them, and I feel a sense of brand-loyalty to them. I started out building them because I really liked their quality, and of course, they were the first brand I built. I then became involved in Instagram because of one of their contests. I’ve won several of their contests, and have been amazed by their generosity with prizes, as well as their generosity with their broken parts replacement policy.
I have now, after having started this blog, received a few models directly from Fascinations for review purposes. I will be completely honest in my reviews of these models, as if I had bought them myself. Other than those free review models, I am not being compensated in any way for my interest in Metal Earth branded models, and I would write this post exactly the same had I not received any models to review. But I want to be upfront and clear about the fact that I have been offered and accepted some models for review, for full transparency.
Knock-Offs / Counterfeits
The first thing I want to address is possibly a controversial one, that of knock-off brands and counterfeit models. I personally avoid purchasing any models that are copies of models from another brand. I don’t think it’s fair, I don’t think it’s right, and most importantly, I want to reward the designers who put the effort into designing the models in the first place. So that they can continue to design and release new models. And in the metal model hobby, there are a lot of opportunities to get rip-off models for cheaper. Sometimes they even add color to them. But I choose not to buy them. I’m not going to pass judgement upon you if you do, it’s a free world and all. But I will support my reasoning for not buying them on these points I’ve laid out alone.
However, there is another reason to avoid these… you get what you pay for. They may be cheaper, but they are made cheaply as well. I say this from experience, as I accidentally wound up with several near the start of my building “career.” You see, I went to eBay to find models on the cheap, and I ordered some models listed as Metal Earth models, but shipped from China. That should have been a red flag, but I was naive. They came in non-standard packaging, and I realized my mistake. But having already purchased them, I decided to go ahead and build them.
The metal is of questionable quality, and breaks much easier. Sometimes it’s too thin, and the folds just snap. Other times it’s too thick, and you can’t get it to round well, or the folds end up bulky and warped. Often you’ll end up with missing slots, so you literally cannot follow the instructions. And the instructions are often rather poor quality, to boot. Photocopies of photocopies of poorly re-drawn instructions, in black and white and barely-visible-gray, shrunken down to fit on a single sheet of paper when they should have been printed double-sided on 11×17 paper. It’s just not worth it. You may save money, but you lose on quality. So… just avoid the knock-offs if you can.
Metal Earth’s Sister Brands
So I was burned early on by knock-offs, and didn’t trust any other brands. And I got frustrated seeing all sorts of posts about this other brand, Piececool, and it totally looked like they had ripped off several of Metal Earth’s designs. And I mentioned it a few times, when people recommended that I try out Piececool models. Then, someone said something I didn’t believe could be true: Piececool is Metal Earth, but for China.
And it turns out that is somewhat true. I’m not sure of the exact relationship, but they are related business entities, manufactured by the same company, and they share some designs with each other. And while you can purchase Piececool models through online sellers that ship from China to the USA, the Piececool brand is not supposed to be sold in the USA, while at the same time, Metal Earth’s ICONX brand is not supposed to be sold in China. It’s basically regional branding.
And not only that, the originator was Tenyo, in Japan. Tenyo is a large brand, that produces a variety of products, but one of them is the Metallic Nano line, which is their 3D metal model brand. According to @metal_earth_globtrotter, who had the pleasure of visiting Fascinations home office once, Tenyo reached out and started the relationship with Fascinations that gave birth to Metal Earth as a brand. Similarly, Tenyo models are sold in Japan, but not the USA, and vice versa with Metal Earth.
All three of these model brands, and their sub-brands, are manufactured in the same way, with the same metals, and the same quality, though they serve different markets, and thus different types of demand.
Metal Earth Related Sub-Brands
Okay, so it looks like I’m going to do some overview sections to start with, than come back and revisit each brand with more detail and quality review. Hope you don’t mind that. This overview section should be brief, but serves to introduce / cover the sub-brand differentiation that exists in the brands related to Metal Earth. I haven’t really seen sub-branding in other brands; not sure exactly why.
Metal Earth’s main line of models is what I consider to be classic-scale Metal Earth, and just bears the plain Metal Earth branding. These models are made from one or more 4″ (10cm) square sheets of metal. Their larger, and more detailed variety come under the label ICONX, or Metal Earth ICONX, and these consist of one or more 4″ x 8″ sheets (10 x 20 cm). The most recent addition to the branding is the Legends line, also known as Metal Earth Legends. These are generally made from a single 4″ square sheet, though they sometimes come with an extra half or quarter sheet. What really differentiates these models is the style, with blocky, quirky licensed characters being their focus. Fun fact: Fascinations has also used the brand names Metal Works and Metal Marvels for their models. You can sometimes still find some models branded this way on eBay, complete with the Fascinations logo!
Piececool’s main line of models are actually larger than Metal Earth’s, defaulting to the 4″ x 8″ sheets, along with the increased detail and complexity that goes with that. They have introduced a PC-Series, as a designation under the Piececool branding, that seems to consist entirely of 4″ square sheet models imported from Metal Earth. Finally, Piececool has branched out into their own arena of small character models with the Piececool Q branding, though these have a different sized sheet that looks to be close to 2″ x 4″, but usually at containing at least 2 or 3.
Tenyo’s Metallic Nano main line of models shares a similarity with Fascination’s Metal Earth main line, in that they utilize the 4″ square sheets, while the 4″ x 8″ sheets are reserved for their Premium Series Metallic Nano models.
The majority of the rest of the brands I know of are made and sold in China. These, like Piececool, can be bought through AliExpress or other retail solutions that ship from China or other places into the USA (sorry again, to my international readers, I have lived most of my life in the US, and so my perspective is inherently US-focused… I mean no disrespect!). I’ll quickly list off a few brands that I know of off hand here, but there are actually quite a few (brands marked with * sell knock-offs):
- MU (sometimes known as Maple MU)
- Picture Kingdom
- Metal Brick / 3D INNO METAL / MIK
- Blacksmith (from Thailand)
HK Nanyuan / Knock-Offs
So, this could fit into the Asian Brands section, but I feel like it deserves it’s own section. HK Nanyuan is a company that seems to like branding it’s models under several brand names. They have many original designs. And some of the brands… well, I can’t tell if they are HK Nanyuan or not. And unfortunately, some of the brands that appear suspiciously linked to HK Nanyuan also product counterfeit / knock-offs. But I’m tired of trying to figure it all out, so I’m lumping them all together here. Apologies if I got this wrong. Here are some of the brand names that I’ve found that are either HK Nanyuan or just knock off brands. I’m fairly confident that the ones marked with * are HK Nanyuan.
- HK Nanyuan*
- Metal World*
- 3D Metal Model Kits*
- 3D Metal Mosaic Kits
- 3D Metal Works Model*
- 3D METAL world of
Bridging the ocean is the “Generic” brand 3D Metal Model that has popped up at Hobby Lobby stores. In reality, it’s just another HK Nanyuan brand, with “English” instructions, sold exclusively at and distributed by Hobby Lobby. These models have started cropping up on eBay, listed as if they were Metal Earth models, but trust me, they are not.
Time For Machine
Okay, so this last category is really just one brand, but in a way, it belongs in a separate category all of it’s own. Why? Because these models are “functional.” As in, they have gears, springs, etc, and they actually do things. Like move on their own. Of course, to support the functional nature, the metal is a bit thicker, and you can’t build them with tweezers. I believe this company is run out of Europe somewhere, possibly Italy? I’m sure someone will be able to correct me if I’m wrong.
I almost think of this brand as the luxury sports car brand of metal models. However, they are fairly new to the metal model hobby (having started as a wooden model company, also “functional”) having successfully launched their metal line with a kickstarter campaign, and followed it with a second successful kickstarter campaign for new and updated models. I think they show a lot of promise, and I hope they can work out the kinks in their newer models before release, so they don’t have to keep releasing updated models that work better.
Let’s Talk Quality, Complexity, and Market
Okay, so I guess it’s about time to talk about the quality of the available brands. At this time, I’ve only had personal experience with a few of the brands, because I’m rather selective in what I’ve purchased. Accordingly, I will only review brands below that I have direct experience with, or report what others have said about these brands (preferably with credit, when possible).
Metal Earth: I think it’s obvious to you by this point that I see Metal Earth related brands as setting the bar for the quality. It’s why I build them almost exclusively. Beyond the quality of materials and design, Metal Earth excels at clear instructions well above and beyond other brands. Where Metal Earth suffers in comparison to other brands is in the complexity / intricacy of their models, which I think is a direct result of their main market: the US. Unfortunately, the vast majority of Americans are busy, rushed, and impatient. So it’s no surprise that Metal Earth has focused a bit more on the intermediate and less complex designs, because they have to follow what sells to survive. They do have the ICONX line, but there are much fewer models available in that line.
Piececool: Ditto on the quality: same manufacturing, and very similar efforts on instruction quality as Metal Earth. The big difference is in complexity, which is again, I believe, driven by market. Piececool defaults to the larger, more complex style of model, and has their less plentiful offering in the smaller sheet models. I personally believe this is due to the level of patience and focus that is more common in their target market. They also have started releasing some rather large models, that are also expensive, much more so than Metal Earth ICONX models. We’re talking 13-sheet, $75 models. Recently, they have started including some non-metal components to their models, ranging from plastic hands/faces, to beads and soft foam balls, and their most recent advanced component: a music-box with sound and motion.
Tenyo: Same manufacturing, same quality, sister-brands unite! I have only had the opportunity to build one Tenyo model so far, thanks to a fellow builder on Instagram. These models are a little more expensive to get shipped from Japan to the US, so I tend to spend my international budget on Piececool, where the shipping costs benefit from the large quantities of exports from China to the USA. However, the one model I’ve built was top notch, and I loved it. Like Metal Earth, the majority of their models are of the smaller, square sheets and lower complexity. I’m not sure how the market plays into that, but I’m sure it does.
MU / Maple MU: This is a rather popular brand, having successfully licensed some big IPs, the most recognizable of which is the Transformers license. They also carry several Starcraft models, as well as several original designs. The metal is pretty good quality, just shy of the quality of Metal Earth sheets (at least in my experience). I have heard a few builders bemoan some of their earlier models as being rather flimsy and low quality, but the newer models seems to be fairly good quality. They’ve also started augmenting models with LED Lights and Magnets for advanced features, such as lighting (duh) and poseable limbs or multi-model sets. My only personal experinece with MU so far has been the 9-model Amusement Park set, which included LED lighting with each model, and magnets to “lock” the models together, making a full amusement park in the end. The instructions and model design are chasing Metal Earth brands, and making progress. MU also does a few things that I would love to see Metal Earth start doing, such as more asymmetric tab placement (so you don’t put a part on backwards) and angled tabs (angled towards the slot they need to go in, rather than straight out perpendicular and near impossible to get the slot over… sometimes). MU’s default sheet size is slightly wider, and slightly shorter than the stock 4″ x 8″ of ICONX or Piececool. They tend more towards the complex and large size of things, more often larger and more complicated than Piececool models.
As pointed out by fellow builder Tim Earl, one of the things that MU does that is really useful is to etch the part numbers into the part sheets, which makes locating parts / pieces much easier. Other brands have mimicked this, including Piececool and Metal Earth, though not as thoroughly throughout the line as MU. Both Piececool and Metal Earth have only adopted this in some of their sub-branded lines, so far.
Time For Machine: Let me just say, I would love to give you a personal experience review of these models. They look gorgeous, and I would love to build a model that winds up and “runs” in some fashion or another. The idea sounds great! Unfortunately, I cannot justify the cost versus my budget at this time. They appear to be quality products, and they seem to have some great customer service, as reported by AnimateOrange in his review of the Marvel Tank. Unfortunately, it also sounds like the models are not as forgiving of mistakes. Understandable, given that the functionality they have would require a good deal of precision. You can watch his “Unfinished Review” of the Marvel Tank here, or below. Also, he’s supposed to be getting a model or two from their latest kickstarter campaign, so maybe we’ll find out more about how they’ve improved (or not) on their second round of models.
Hobby Lobby’s 3D Metal Model (HK Nanyuan): Okay, I’m probably going to come across biased here, but I’ve had one experience with this brand, and it wasn’t good. And everyone else I’ve talked to that’s built one of these has a similar story. The quality of the metal is very low. The designs look good on paper, but execute poorly. The model I built was a Mountain Bike, a gift from my daughter. And I really appreciate the gift, it was a great idea, and I would love a good Mountain Bike model… unfortunately this was not it. In the effort to distinguish itself with lots of movable parts, this model is so flimsy. The wheels rotate, but they also flop side to side. The gear on the rear wheel flops and turns independent of the wheel. The handlebars turn, but they also twist the wrong way. The pedals are supposed to turn, but tabs on the inside of the model make it near impossible to get the parts together in the first place, much less in a state where it can turn. The instructions are… minimal, cramped, and unclear. Not as bad as PieceFun, but close. It was such a bad experience that I was at Hobby Lobby the other day and saw one of their models on clearance for $2.99. I wasn’t even tempted. The standard fare of these models come in the form of the almost standard 4″ square sheets, and the complexity is usually a notch or two higher than Metal Earth models, but not in a good way.
PieceFun (HK Nanyuan?): I do not have personal experience with this brand, but from what AnimateOrange has to say about his build experience with the Baretta… it’s not good, and I’m going to avoid this brand completely. They appear to use the standard 4″ square sheets, and seem to lean towards the more complicated / intricate side of designs. You can watch Animate Orange’s rather amusing review of the Baretta here, or embedded below:
HK Nanyuan / 3D Metal Model Kits / 3D Metal Mosaic Kits / 3D Metal Model / 3D Metal Works Model / Ripin / Piececu / Metal World of ______ / Knock-Offs: I don’t have personal experience with any of these, but as they are all either rebrandings of HK Nanyuan or knock-offs, I would refer you to the prior two items discussing HK Nanyuan quality. Knock-offs would be even lower in quality.
That’s it for brands that I know well enough, or can credit someone I trust with their opinion / review of the brand. I have known several other builders who have built some MicroWorld models, and seem to be mostly pleased with them. But I don’t have enough information about it to give you details about the instructions or quality of product.
As for the following brands, I don’t have personal experience with them, and haven’t seen enough public opinion to give a summation of general sentiment: Picture Kingdom, Metal Brick / 3D INNO METAL / MIK, DaTang, Microworld, and Blacksmith. For most of these, I have seen at least one or two vocal supporters, and cannot recall any major complaints. Please feel free to comment / contribute your own experiences with these brands, other brands, or even the brands I’ve already covered.
I may come back and update this section if I get some personal experience with a brand. In addition, let me be clear: this is not a comprehensive list of brands. It’s not an intentional slight if I didn’t include a particular brand, I probably just don’t know about it.
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