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All About Display Bases

Display Base Sulaco

This model of the “Sulaco” from the movie ‘Aliens’ requires a display base and one is supplied with the kit.  The base supplied is clear plastic but the modeller felt that spraying it metallic blue with car paint would make the base appear more solid and enhance the model.


This article covers the reasons why some modellers use display bases and provides an overview of different types of base.

Other articles will show in detail how to make particular display bases.

Why Use Display Bases?

A visit to any scale modelling show makes it clear that many modellers prefer to display their models on stands or bases of different types.  This is, of course, entirely optional and there are modellers who would never condsider making a display base and would much rather spend their time making the models.

So why is it that some modellers spend considerable time and money on making bases for their models?  There are a few possible reasons and these are listed below.

1. Protection

Narcissus on base This model of the Narcissus spacecraft came with a small plastic base (on the left) but in order to improve both the look and the stability of the model it was replaced by a pre-vanished commercial base.

Scale models are a huge investment in time and yet are extremely delicate.  Many of the parts may be as fragile as a glass vase and the surface itself may be delicate having been covered in pastels or pigment dust that may not be permanently fixed.  Models that are stored away loose in a box risk damage each time the box is moved.  If a model is on display, then it will periodically need to be moved and picked up to either dust it, or the shelf that it sits on and even gentle handling may over time make the surface deteriorate.

Fixing a model to a base gives some protection because it can be picked up by the edges of the base rather than the model.  The base also means it is less likely to push the model against a vertical surface such as the back of a cupboard and break off some part.  When storing a model the base stops the model from moving about without the need for packing (although the box needs to be kept upright).

It should be noted that if a model is on a base but not actually fixed to it then it can have the reverse effect because somebody might pick up the base not knowing that the model is not attached and the model will crash to the floor.  If you take a model to a show on a base, then either make sure it is attached to the base, or put a note on it to warn people that it is loose.

2. Increase Visual Impact

There is no doubt that most models presented on a varnished wooden display stand attract more attention, have greater visual impact and seem to be taken more seriously by non-modellers.  The display stand raises the model to a piece of artwork because the existence of the stand makes a statement that the model is something that should be shown off.  This effect is created by the quality of the stand and the fact that it increases the volume of space that the model takes up.

The corollory of this is that a cheap, or badly finished stand, may detract from the model and reduce it’s visual appeal.

Display Base LAV25 This 1/35th scale LAV25 ‘Piranha’ by Revell is on a pre-varnished pine base bought from a model show. A small amount of groundwork and a label produced on a computer give it more impact and show it in the right setting.

3. Context

If a little effort is put into creating some groundwork on a display base, this adds considerably to the impact of the model by showing it in it’s natural environment.  Instead of being just a model aircraft it becomes an aircraft on a runway awaiting take off.  Instead of being a model of a tank it becomes a tank in the desert.

It is entirely up to the modeller how far this is taken and the ultimate expression of this is to build a diorama.  However, just a few square centimeters of simulated ground makes a huge difference to how a model looks.

4. Enjoyment and Variety

For some, creating a display base with simulated ground work is all part and parcel of the modelling process.  The creation of a realistic landscape involves a whole new set of skills and materials and this is one area where a modeller can exhibit artistic skills.  The right display base can enhance the characteristics of the model.  For example, if a tank is shown on a base with a crushed oil drum beneath it’s tracks it can create an impression of the huge weight of the tank.

Using a display base to show off and enhance a model can provide a great deal of enjoyment and variety for the modeller.

Types of Display Base

Commercially Available Bases

Display Base This is a commercially available pre-varnished base.  A section of it has been turned into desert ground work and a label printed on card from a PC completes the display base.

scorpion on base This is the model on the base in the previous photograph.

Commercially available bases can come in all shapes and sizes and tend to be made of wood, plaster, plastic, or MDF (Medium Density Fibreboard).

Most bases are made of wood and depending on the type of wood and the staining and treatment it has received, it can be many colours from light to dark.  Choosing the right colour wood is important to enhance the model and consideration should be taken of whether you intend to build up a collection, in which case you may wish all your models to be on similar looking bases.  Some bases are provided with bare wood for the modeller to stain and varnish, whilst other will come ready prepared.  Make sure you know what you are getting when you buy.  Wood is a great material to work with, it can be cut and shaped easily and looks good, so it is not surprising that it is so popular for bases.

Another popular material is plaster.  This is often used on bases that have some form of groundwork already built onto the base so that all the modeller has to do is paint the ground work. It is an easy and fairly foolproof way to make a scenic base.  The edges of these bases have to be carefully painted to look good.

Plastic is sometimes used, particularly for bases that come with a clear protective cover.  People either love or hate these and if not used carefully they can cheapen a model.

MDF is also a popular material.  It has similar properties to wood and the same weight, which is not surprising as it is made from compressed wood dust.  The advantage over wood is that it is usually much cheaper, but it does have to be painted or have some other treatment as the bare MDF is not considered very attractive by most people.  If you intend to paint the base for your model then there is no point paying exta for wood when MDF will do just as well.

Homemade Bases

Warrior no base This 1/72nd Warrior infantry fighting vehicle is quite small and easily damaged – see the 1 Euro coin for size comparison.

Warrior on base Here we see the Warrior mounted on a small base.  This not only increases the size and impact of the model, but allows it to be picked up and moved safely.  The base was purchased from a hardware store and in fact it’s intended use is to mount a house number for display by the front door.

For the modeller who intends to make their own base from scratch, the only limit is the imagination.  The conventional approach it to get a length of wood and using a saw and router, cut and shape it to get the desired effect.

However, there is no need to keep to conventional materials and some of the more eye-catching models at shows are on unusual, if not unique, bases.  A piece of roof slate, or a flat rock might make an appealing base for the right subject.  A picture frame with the glass removed can also work well and some of these have unusual and artistic designs and colours.

Look out at hardware stores for wood or metal backing plates intended for house numbers or names as some of these can make excellent bases.

Tips For Selecting A Base

  • Size and shape is important.  Try putting the model on different sizes and shapes of paper and see which looks best.  If the intention is to make some scenery, then put this in place to make sure there is enough room.  The base should not look crowded and the scenery should not obscure the model.   Most models look best on scenic bases if they are set at an angle to the edge of the base, but this will mean a bigger base is needed. Most bases are square or rectangular, which means that oval, or other shapes are likely to make you model stand out.
  • Think about what colour the model and scenery will be and choose a base with a complementary colour.  If you intend to place the model in a display case then make sure the base will not clash with it.
  • Are you intending to attach a label to the base?  If so, think where it will go and make sure that you have left room for it.
  • Are you building up a collection?  If so, then you may wish all your models to be on similar display bases.  Make sure when you buy your first bases that you will be able to get similar types in the future.
  • One of the best places to get a base is a model show because you can see it in person and get a feel for the quality.  However, you need to know in advance what sizes you need to get, so work this out before you leave home.
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  1. Interesting article. To protect your model even more, it could be a thought to build an Acrylic glass cover. It will keep out dust, prevent people from touching the model and if not fixed, it might prevent a disaster when the model is picked up carelessly.

    Acrylic glass is very scratch resistant and can easily be glued with the same solvent that is used to glue the model itself. If the crosscut sides are smoothed enough and cut straight, the solvent will leave virually no visible separation between the different sides. The joints can be polished with an sanding stick or -paper grain 6000 or higher (12.000 preferably), also available in modeling stores.

    The average plastic-selling company will be able to deliver pre-cut sheets of acrylic glass, or perhaps even your local hardware store if ordered seperatly.
    Just measure the base edges, subtract the thickness of the glass itself, except on the crosscut sides of the longest (or if square of 2 of the 4 equal sides), because the short sides will be glued in between those long sides. The short sides (or the other two sides) should be as long als the base itself. The top should have the same measurements of the base.

    Make yourself a mould by using seperate small 90 degree profiles (aluminium or wood) to make sure the sides are glued on a 90 degree angle. Use some weight to put on the top when glued. Use as little solvent to glue as possible and use the thin stuff (Tamiya or other comparable solvent) Take enough time to let each part dry and cure. Patience is a virtue!

  2. Correction on my comment: It should be the log sides of the cover that have to be as long as the base itself.
    e.g. the base is 400 mm x 200 mm, acrylic glass sheets are 2 mm thick: the long sides will be 400 mm, the short sides have to be 200 mm – (2 x 2 mm =)4 mm = 196 mm. The top should be either 400 mm x 200 mm or if you would like to put them between the walls of the cover 396 mm x 196 mm.

    It helps if the base is fitted with a thin styreen sheet measuring 396 mm x 196 mm in given example, so the cover has someting to lock on to. Be sure to fix the sheet dead-eye in the middle !

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GRAB YOUR FREE STEP-BY-STEP VIDEO GUIDE !Here you'll find the BEST on the web video tutorial on how to make 1:48 scale WW2 German jet. In our friendly step-by-step video guide we cover topics like: drybrushing, applying washes, applying decals and many more. Do not miss out - WE GUARANTEE THAT YOU WILL LEARN SOMETHING NEW!!!!New GraphicName: Email: We respect your email privacy