Quick Step-By-Step Gunpla Guide & FAQ

Over the years I've heard from a number of folks who've read my long-winded dissertation on how to build a Gundam model, but want to double-check the exact order of operations in the modeling process. For convenience's sake, I record them here:

  1. Clip parts from sprue;
  2. Sand out clip marks;
  3. Paint parts individually;
  4. Ink panel lines, &c.;
  5. Assemble component;
  6. Decals;
  7. Weathering;
  8. Topcoat;
  9. Final assembly.

If you'd like a more complete explanation of these steps, refer to my thorough Gundam modeling guide, Gunpla 101.

Additional questions I've encountered often are listed below. If you have a question which isn't covered in this FAQ or elsewhere on the site, feel free to contact me.

Frequently Asked Gunpla Questions

In what order do I ink panel lines, apply topcoat, and so on?

This question is the reason I've listed the order of operations above. I recommend following the steps in the order they appear at the top of this page.

Should I ink panel lines before or after topcoating?

This is really just a subset of the previous question, but it's asked in this specific context often enough that I'll address it here in detail.

As I've made clear in the step-by-step list above and in my tutorial on how to build a Gundam model, I ink panel details before topcoating. Topcoat is the final sealing and protective layer to be applied to the model, and nothing should go on top of it.

Apparently many other modelers prefer to apply a layer of topcoat before they ink panel details, then add another coat afterward to seal the work. They claim Gundam Marker ink is easier to clean off of topcoat without damaging the paint if one should make a mistake. However, in my experience there are several reasons not to ink over topcoat:

  • Gundam Marker ink contains solvent components which can dissolve topcoat, resulting in messy lines and a gummed-up pen;
  • Multiple layers of topcoat can build up too thickly, potentially ruining your model;
  • Topcoat is nasty, toxic stuff, and you should use as little of it as possible;
  • It's relatively easy to clean up mistakes over painted parts with an eraser without damaging the paint;
  • If you're inking on unpainted plastic, you can clean up mistakes completely with your finger if you wipe them before the ink dries;
  • You can use a fine mechanical pencil instead of a Gundam Marker — graphite cleans up easily with an eraser and won't smudge after topcoating;
  • Topcoating more than once is not only wasteful, but simply unnecessary if you work with care.

All of the above having been said, ultimately it's up to you to find out what methods and techniques to use. My recommendations are backed by my own direct experience (including numerous mistakes), but aren't the last word.

What Gundam model should I build?

Whichever you want. All Gunpla (aside from really, really old kits) can be easily built by carefully following the instructions. There's no substantive difference in the skill needed to build High Grade or Perfect Grade models.

However, there are considerable differences in complexity and quality. This is the case both across the spectrum of model grades and in terms of a kit's age.

I more or less exclusively build Master Grade Gunpla because the quality of the MG line has been superb (often surpassing that of some Perfect Grade offerings) since at least 2007, and was generally pretty damn good before then. MG models are complex enough to incorporate outstanding mechanical engineering and most of the time look pretty nice assembled out of the box. Basically, they provide a base so good that a builder using only basic techniques (such as myself) can achieve a fine result.

High Grade and non-grade kits can actually be more challenging because the basic quality of the model gives you less to work with. I've also found it's considerably more difficult working with smaller scale Gunpla than MG kits' consistent 1/100 scale.

As for Perfect Grade models, I can't say much as I've never built one. However, aside from being expensive and extremely complicated, from what I've seen some older PG kits don't stand up to their MG counterparts, especially where an MG ver. 2.0 model exists. (I of course have the Zaku II in mind for example.) Generally I feel the only reason to build a PG kit would be if you just want a bigger model.

Should I use primer before painting my model?

Short answer: no, there's no need. Some folks go so far as to wash their model's parts with soap before priming and painting them, but in my experience such preparatory work isn't necessary. If you're using the appropriate kind of paint, it will stick to Gunpla just fine, and indeed most modeling spray paints contain primer in their mixture.

However, there are a few cases in which you might want or need to use primer:

If you're painting your model by hand using a brush, primer may help your paint stick or go on more smoothly. For detailed pointers about brush-painting, refer to Alberto's guide on how to paint a Gundam model with brushes.

Additionally, if you intend to paint your model in colors other than those in which it is molded, it may be wise to apply a primer coat first. Painting over some colors with markedly different colors can be difficult without using primer, especially if you want to cover a dark color with a light color. However, in most cases you should be able to paint over Gunpla parts' original color without primer so long as you apply an adequate coat.

Should I paint my Gundam model with spray paints from the hardware store?

No. Only use paints especially meant for plastic models.

Should I pre-build or snap-fit my Gunpla before painting?

No. I'm aware of two common practices: building Gundam models straight out of the box, unpainted, then disassembling them to paint the parts; or painting them after they're assembled by carefully masking off parts of the model. Unless something you want to do requires you to assemble your model before painting (like a sophisticated custom paint scheme), there's nothing to be gained by going to the extra trouble, to say nothing of the risk of damaging the model when taking it back apart.