I.M.S. - Intermediate Modeler's Syndrome by Doug Chaltry
12 January 2004 email: doug(at)ontheway.us
I'm sure that most of us have heard of A.M.S. - Advanced Modeler's Syndrome. This affliction is usually attributed to those people who get so carried away with superdetailing and accurizing their kits, that they normally complete about one model every three to six years. Although there is nothing wrong with this type of modeling habit, it has been known to go to extremes, so that one never completes a model, because they are never "good enough." (Yes, I've suffered from it on occasion.)

The opposite extreme is to build the kits right out of the box, with no additions, details, corrections or conversions at all. This is a great way to master basic modeling skills. However, with the exception of the "Out of Box" categories at model shows, this type of model never wins trophies. Is this fair? I think not, but there's not a whole lot we can do about that.

When I build kits, I try to aim for a middle ground between the two extremes. There are many, very simple tricks to adding and changing minor details on an "out of box" kit, without taking too much time or effort. I refer to these techniques as I.M.S. - Intermediate Modeler's Syndrome. It's a step above the basics, and really helps a model to stand out in a crowd. Yet it does not go quite as far as A.M.S. As you will see, these techniques are quick, simple and effective.

  • Open the end of the gun barrel. Use a pin vise with a small drill bit. If there is one single tip that I can give you to improve the final look of your models, this is it.
  • Replace hand holds and handles with brass wire. Most good model shops (especially railroad model shops) carry lengths of brass wire in varying diameters. They only cost a few cents each, so they won't break your bank. Trim and sand off any hand holds or handles (such as on hatches). Using tweezers and flat-nosed pliers, bend a small length of the brass wire to match the size of the replaced handle and glue to the kit. It is beneficial to drill very small locator holes in which to insert the wire handles.
  • Similarly, replace the lift rings on tank turrets and hulls. It is usually easier to use copper wire or solder for these, if you can find some, because they bend easier, and lift rings need smooth curves. Some lift rings require a fine diameter wire (BTR-70), whereas others may require a wider diameter wire (M4A6 Sherman).
  • Replace overscale machinegun barrels with lengths of metal or plastic wire or metal tubing of a more realistic diameter.
  • Add stowage to the vehicles. Boxes and cans can be either made from scratch using styrene, or stolen from other kits and accessory sets. Bags and rolls are best hand made. Most rolls that I have seen included in kits are far too stiff and unrealistic looking. To make simple rolls: cut a piece of facial tissue to the size of a tarp or tent or whatever that you need. Soak it in diluted white glue (consistancy of milk) and then fold and roll it into the shape you desire. Tie thread around it for straps, and stick it to your vehicle while the roll is still wet, so it conforms to the hull's shape. If it dries too quickly and does not conform well, keep adding diluted glue with a paint brush until it takes the shape you need. After it dries, paint it the desired color. You may want to add heavier straps with very thin styrene or tape.
  • Engine deck screens. Many tanks have protective screens covering air intakes on their engine decks. It is easy to add these screens. Most hobby shops carry sheets of mesh of varying sizes (wire or plastic), especially for use with car modeling. Cut a piece to the size of your ventilation grate, and attach. I find it easiest to hand paint the area beneath the mesh first, then glue on the mesh before airbrushing the completed model.
  • Use commercially available photoetched sets. However, this technique can very quickly move into the realm of A.M.S., so use caution. Many brass parts directly replace kit parts, or add additional detail very easily, but some get much more complicated. Sometimes major surgery is required to the kit, in order to replace plastic with brass. Take it only as far as you are comfortable. Nothing is worse than butchering a kit for the addition of brass, only to have them fail miserably in the end.
  • Graphite powder gently rubbed by finger to give otherwise lifeless plastic the look of metal. This technique is cheap, easy and it always works. It is also little messy sometimes, perhaps, but the result is worth it. Being a softskin modeler mostly I regret I cannot use this technique often, but all my tanks and AFVs have this worn "heavy metal" look. Graphite simply brings them to life. - Ilian Filipov
  • Here is a quick and easy (but very effective) suggestion for your IMS article. You can easily replace Schurzen, side-skirts, fenders, and other things such as bolt on armour plating with brass sheet. K&S industries market shim brass that ranges from .008 of an inch to .002 of an inch. Prices vary, but they are quite cheap. Most thicknesses can be cut with a pair of sharp scissors. It is easy to dent and crumple, for easy battle damage. They are paper thin but very strong, and add that little touch to armour models. Thanks.  - Jason E Cormier, Canada.
  • Here's a technique that a friend of mine recommended: For realistic rust on tracks or shot-up vehicles, take some steel wool, and soak it in water for about two days to one week. The time depends on how light or dark you want the rust to look. Once you've got the color you want, take the rusted steel wool, crush it into powder, and dry brush it onto the model. Seal it into place using a dullcote finish. It's that simple, and gives a thoroughly accurate and realistic appearance. - Mark Deliduk
  • One of the first things I started doing on the road to I.M.S. was to add figures. Several manufacturers don't have tankers in their kits, so adding one is often a quick and easy way to give a kit individuality. - Pat Storto
  • Another idea (which I have not explored myself very much) is to look for a novel paint schemes. Manufacturers usually suggest the obvious schemes of the original owning army, but I find color schemes of captured or lend-lease vehicles quite intriguing. A Sherman in the sand-yellow, olive-green, red-brown German scheme with Balkenkreuze is quite interesting. - Pat Storto
  • For sideskirts/Schurtzen I use clear plastic card, the very thin stiff stuff [0.05?] used for windshields from Evergreen.  It is thin & light, stiff but a little flexible, easy to work with and drill, can be used with regular model cement.  It cannot be bent for battle damage too easy though. - Stephen Brezinski
  • Adding or replacing a model's antenna is another quick addition. I used sections of heat-stretched sprue (my favorite are sprues used for the old rubber tracks) cut to the appropriate length. Others use bristles from brushes (or very fine wire - ed.). - Pat Storto
  • I ran across a way to add antennae to the vehicle much simpler than copper wire or even heat-stretched sprues. Plastic strips that usually hold tags to newly purchased clothing are just the right size and elasticity to make sturdy enough an antenna. Cut off the length you want (it will already be slightly bent, just like the real thing); then drill a small hole in the model where the antenna is supposed to stand (a dip will do, no need to go all through the hull), then cement the "antenna" in place. After the cement dries, paint it gun metal. That's it! -  Nebojsa Malic
  • You can replace the towing cable with a steel cable which is made for the fisherman: Its name is "leader" and comes in different diameters: 0,5mm, 1mm etc. It is usually covered by transparent plastic; you must put a drop of super glue in every finish and you can strip the plastic easily. - Luis Cortelezzi
  • You can use steel in a diameter of 0,1 mm to make an antenna; it can be purchased in a hardware store or where you can buy pieces for clocks, and it is straight. - Luis Cortelezzi
  • Add weight. I glue a handful of copper or lead shots (air-gun bullets, fishing weights or whatever) inside the chassis of my tank models. This makes tanks with rubber tracks stand more realistically on the ground (as the "memory" in the tracks won't be able to bounce the vehicle half-way in the air). Gives certain sturdiness and a feel of massiveness to vehicles with link-and-length tracks, too. - Marko Mäkinen
  • Before painting: scrape the protruding edges of the hull and turret with random strokes of a sharp edged file (don't overdo this!). Although this is not an entirely natural way of steel to behave, the result enhances the rough look of the armor steel and gives a worn out appearance to the model (the effect can be seen on my StuG IV in the gallery, for instance). Tank armor plates are really very unfinished and clumsy pieces of steel (see e.g. enclosed picture of a ISU-152 in Parola tank museum, Finland), wheras plastic models are often too neat and smooth even the scale difference considered. - Marko Mäkinen
  • Replace bow machine guns with tubes sawed from hollow injection needles. Better than solid rods of plastic or metal, although slightly out of scale. - Marko Mäkinen
  • Open the ends of exhaust pipes (with needle file or a heated needle if you don't have a drill small enough). - Marko Mäkinen
  • Add appropriate supporters and hangers for stowage boxes, spare tracks etc. from a thin brass, copper or even paper band. - Marko Mäkinen
  • Some tank models (several Panzer IV models, for instance) have wide gaps where you can see - unrealistically, needless to point out - inside the hull beneath the fenders. These are easy to block with sheets of plastic and paint appropriately. - Marko Mäkinen
  • If you intend to leave hatches open but don't want to do an excessive job on the inside of the tank, an adequate detail might be the application of seats (easily constructed of plastic sheet or converted from an aircraft pilot seat), since they effectively block the view farther inside the tank. Also, paint the inside of the tank everywhere you can see through the hatches, engine intake grills, etc. - Marko Mäkinen
  • Add a drop of super glue to periscopes and sighting binoculars to simulate lenses. - Marko Mäkinen
  • After paint washes, adding decals etc. but before the finishing cote I spray my tanks with heavily diluted gray paint overall. This cuts down the contrast of the camouflage colours and gives an effect of wear and dirt. - Marko Mäkinen
  • One method of applying antennae is to use a fishing line (diameter approximately 0,15 mm). Its advantage is that it is very flexible and does not get damaged easily during transportation. - Marko Mäkinen
  • For camouflage foliage try braided picture hanging wire to make limbs and branches to add woodland scenics foliage to. For tow cables use model ship rigging thread wetted with alcohol and wiped with white glue; super glue end in loop. Painted model airplane tissue makes good air recognition flags. Put artist's acrylic over glass headlight lenses. For radio antenna on wargaming minis, shedded housecat whiskers make good resilient aerials. Glosscote basic finish before adding washes- that way wash pigments do not settle in roughness of flat paint's general surface. Coupler knuckle springs from KayDee HO scale train couplers are good to thread over antenna to base to represent mount in some model scales. - Scott Wood
  • To get a quick, sharp edge to roadwheels/tyres use a fine black felt-tip pen from an art shop. These are also good for adding black hand-written markings. You may need to touch up the areas afterwards with matt varnish. - Andrew Campbell
  • For cammo nets use a fine gauze bandages, held in place with watered-down white glue and sprinkled with the contents of a tea bag. - Andrew Campbell
  • To add a base to an aerial, use a section of the very fine wire used in telephone extensions. - Andrew Campbell
  • To create straps to hold down tarps/nets etc use sliced sections of Tamiya masking tape (this stuff is really thin!) - Andrew Campbell
  • To simulate [vinyl] track sag on tanks (like the panther), drill through the hull and insert metal wire in the 'dip' of the sag. The wire should be a few mm narrower than the tank and should poke out each side of the hull, thus holding the track in place. - Andrew Campbell

There are many other things that can be done to improve the looks of the final model, but they tend to be a little more involved, and enter the realm of A.M.S. If any readers have additional, SIMPLE suggestions for easily detailing tank models, let me know, and I'll add them to this list.

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