Kit Assembly Instructions: How Can They Be Improved?
When I was a youngster in the 1950s, mass-produced, injection-molded styrene plastic model assembly kits were a relatively new introduction. My father still made balsa and tissue aircraft, but did eventually start me on plastic models. Most kits produced in the USA at that time, be they of a ship, aircraft or the rare AFV were “box scale”. This meant that the kit on its sprues was designed so it could fit into a designated box size, which usually corresponded to a particular price range.
Instructions were, of course, included in these kits. They were as simple as the kits were, but usually had historic notes on the subject and often had a descriptive name for the part (aside from a number that identified it), which gave further information to the curious.
Nowadays, particularly with 1/35th-scale AFV kits (that sometimes may have several hundred or even one thousand-plus parts), instructions have become far more detailed and complex. Additionally, kits often have options that allow the modeler to create a particular sub-type, and as a rule, have many choices regarding markings. These again add to the seeming complexity of instructions. Often enough, a kit will include a fold-out ten-page instruction sheet with perhaps two-dozen assembly “steps”; these steps often contain sub-steps. Today’s kit instructions can be daunting to say the least!
If I were in charge, I would include certain items in instruction sheets; some are ideas that have fallen into disuse, some are new. Some may be more practical than others. As much as I’d like to say so, NONE are an original idea of mine!
One of the things I’d re-introduce is the naming of parts, although it would certainly create instruction segments that would be more complex and confusing than some currently are! Aside from the satisfaction of creating something with my own hands, modeling was always (to me at least) an educational experience. I liked to know what the name and/or function of a certain “widget” on a model was. Likewise, I’d re-introduce COMPETANT and well-written (but not extensive) historic and technical notes for the same reason. These items would not be a means of replacing reference sources; they’d be a starting point.
As a product reviewer, I often spend a great deal of time tracking down the source of the colors and markings that are included in a given kit. I do this for critical purposes, but as a modeler whose only concern is to build the kit, I may also wish to confirm the accuracy of what the manufacturer supplies in the way of markings and color information. Likewise, the location where, and the time of, the prototype’s employment would also be of concern.
The ultimate would be if the manufacturer included an archival photograph depicting each scheme included on the decal sheet. However, I recognize that this may be impractical; while the manufacturer may posses a copy of a book where they found the image upon which to base their markings scheme, they may have no copyright to said image. The next best thing would be to provide the title of the book, the publisher’s name, the author’s name, the book’s ISBN number, and perhaps the page number where the specific image is located. If it was a web-site image, they could provide the site’s address, or even the actual link to the specific image.
A few manufacturers provide full-color, multi-view art for the marking schemes seen in their kits (some with variations of a particular scheme); this is something I welcome.
Color notes included in the painting segments of these instruction sheets often guide the modeler to a particular manufacturer’s paint line; sometimes this is the same company that markets the kit in question. This is convenient to an extent, but can sometimes lead to confusion, since the names of a company’s colors may not be the “proper” name fro the prototype’s color. A typical example would be one paint manufacturer’s name for the German WW2 color “Dunkelgrau” (the very dark grey base color of German tanks and ordnance from June 1940); they call it “Field Gray”. This can confuse the uninitiated since “Field Grey (which was actually a German color called “Feldgrau”) is distinctly lighter and greener than “Dunkelgrau”.
The illustrations in instructions have traditionally been based upon detailed line drawings. A few recent kits are based on photographs or CAD-generated images. I find each to be equally effective as guides. But, as previously mentioned, the climbing number of parts in today’s kits (especially those with individual-link tracks or extensive interior details), often result in instructions that could be confusing or downright intimidating to the modeler. Some instruction sheets can be further confused by the number of optional parts in a kit, or the number of sub-types that can be built from a given kit. Add to that manufacturer-induced error and disaster can easily strike.
The only solution I see is for manufacturers to produce longer instruction sheets, broken up into many more discreet steps, with definite “compartmentalization” of the steps. Often major sub-assemblies are separated from the main sequences in this manner, so the concept is certainly nothing new. On the other hand, it would seem that introducing longer instructions may also make things more confusing to the modeler and more expensive for the manufacturer.
Again, it must be recognized that items on this “short-list” of so-called “improvements” might not be practical for a number of reasons. Be that as it may, in essence I would like to see the following:
1. A larger number of discreet construction steps.
2. A list of reference sources for the markings provided with the kit.
3. Brief, accurate historic/technical information.
4. Use of proper names for colors, alongside manufacturer’s names and codes.
Until next time!
Frank V. De Sisto
Brooklyn, NY, USA
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