The best model train scale is the one that suits YOU best. The one that gives you the options that you like and need to create the perfect model train setup that you like. Let me explain the different types of model train scales for you, so you can decide.
Model Train Scales Explained
Model trains come in a large variety of scales, and for a beginner, it might get slightly overwhelming when picking your first set to build. Deciding what is the best model train scale is important before you get started.
The sheer detail offered by each variety of scale is something not all model train enthusiasts agree on, and hence this subjectivity might make the hobby seem extremely gatekept.
A scale is basically the ratio of the parts of the model to that of an actual locomotive car. There are several advantages to working at a certain scale, and most model train makers have agreed on certain standards.
Hence, to clear your apprehensions before you dive into the world of model trains, this article will attempt to explain all the model train scales that are available and certain features that set them apart.
For example, the famous HO scale is a 1:87 ratio. This means that a part that measures one inch in the model would measure 87 inches on the real-life-sized locomotive car.
There are a few standard scales that are extremely popular with model train makers and even commercially feasible to produce, and we shall be going over them one by one. It must be noted that while these are the prevalent scales, there is nothing stopping you from creating a scale of your own and working on your models from scratch. With that being said, standard models are easier to get into.
What Is The Best Model Train Scale?
The most popular model train scales are namely HO, O, N, S, G, and the rarer Z scale. Let us go over their features one by one, so you can decide what is the best model train scale.
This is widely considered to be the most popular model train scale available commercially. HO is of the scale ratio 1:87, which is a fairly small-sized model but still not tiny. HO scale modelers tend to buy a lot of parts for their model train, which is good for them as HO parts are the most widely available model train parts commercially.
The model can conceivably fit easily on tabletops and are not space invasive, and can be a fun challenge even for beginners, as there are many ready-to-build kits for building models on this scale available in virtually all toy shops.
The best and most intricately designed locomotive models, tracks, and other aesthetic buildings are available for a cheap price in this scale range because not a lot of plastic is used to make them. Metal variants come at a premium but can be a delight to build with. Overall, this is a good place to start.
The O scale is a larger 1:48 ratio, which is bigger than HO but is still widely accepted by modelers and hobbyists. It is the ratio in which most historic train model makers, such as Mattel and Lionel Models, manufactured their pieces. The O scale takes up a considerable amount of space in a house, especially if you are using O-gauge tracks as well.
There are variants of the O scale, such as the O-n scale, which means a narrow-gauge scale, and can solve the issue of space if needed. O scale models are often considered more toy-like, as their representations fail to be hyperreal.
On the other hand, the variety of buildings, industries, and other models available on the O-scale is magnificent. Hence, one can consider the O-scale if they are making a larger model depicting a whole railroad or a city railway line.
This is the smallest commercially available scale and has blown up in popularity in recent years. Owing to the fact that these are especially tiny trains and almost half the size of an HO model, they can be dismantled and built pretty easily, making them a perfect choice for a beginner looking for a cheap entry into the hobby or to introduce children to the hobby.
The ratio of the N scale is 1:159, which makes it a very small train body and even smaller tracks. Finding working models in this scale range is rare and may cost a fair bit. However, still, there is a large dedicated community of veteran modelers and model train enthusiasts who build and maintain huge, room-sized variations of N-scale cities with working train lines.
It is possible to make a very detailed and intricate model with the N-scale, and hence lots of decorative items, like trees and buildings, are also available at this scale, and, depending on the level of detail, are fairly cheap when compared to the other model scales.
If you have an eye for detail, and are patient, the N scale is for sure one of the best model train scales.
S scale trains are larger than the O scale but smaller than a HO scale at a 1:64 size ratio. S scale trains became popular in the 70s because of their unique size that fits the requirements of both tabletop modelers and floor modelers and can work equally well in both situations.
S scale trains are fairly rare, and some of the rarest and most expensive collectible model trains often belong to this category. Finding one in toy shops is a task, but many modelers swear by it and claim that the S scale is the finest scale to build models in.
Any train model larger than an O scale is called a G scale model train. They are available in various ratios depending on usage. They are not really used by model train makers because of their sheer size but instead are very popular as exhibits in public buildings, institutions, and hundreds of railway stations around the world.
1:32 and 1:29 are famous scales for building miniaturized versions of trains that can be installed in gardens, planetariums or even museums. 1:12 and 1:19 are used as toy trains on which kids can sit and enjoy a ride.
This is a tiny model of the scale of 1:220 and is very difficult to work with. It is mostly used as a gimmick or by model train salesmen, as Z scale trains fit in suitcases.
Z scale model trains are the best model train scale if you are extremely precise and have a lot of time on your hands!
Best Model Train Scale – Conclusion
To achieve the perfect look for their models, modelers often stray from the standard ratios and try building their own parts. This can be challenging in the beginning so I don’t recommend it.
I hope that this guide helps you inform your choice when you purchase a model train kit soon. If in doubt and you don’t have a lot of space, go with the HO scale, it is my favorite and there are endless options to choose from.
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Happy model train modeling 🙂