Gunpla Beginners Guide

Gunpla Beginners Guide

Welcome to our little guide on getting started with Gundam model kits. This is by no means exhaustive but should be enough to tell you what you need to know to get started with the hobby and hopefully answer a few common questions along the way. Enjoy!

Before the write up, check out a quick video we made showing what’s in a Gunpla Box and the very basics of building.

Table of Contents

What is Gunpla?

The word Gunpla is simply a combination of the words ‘Gundam’ and ‘Plastic’ and refers to a line of model kits created by Bandai. In a kit you get a bunch of molded plastic pieces which you can cut out and combine to create a scale model of a Mobile Suit from the Gundam universe.

Gunpla kits are popular because unlike traditional model kits, there is no need for glue or paint as the plastic is already the correct colour and the pieces simply snap together. Gunpla models aren’t just static either, they can be posed just like an action figure.

If the term ‘Gundam’ is lost on you then don’t worry too much. You can mentally exchange the word for ‘awesome looking Japanese style giant robot’. The Mobile Suit Gundam franchise has been around for 40+ years and is extremely popular in Japan and worldwide. Outside of Gunpla, you’re most likely to encounter Gundam in the various anime series released over the years.  You can watch a lot of the anime for free over on the official Gundam Info YouTube Channel:

Gundam became popular in Japan during a time where audiences were growing tired of super robot themed anime and manga series. The difference between a super robot and a Gundam is that Gundam are piloted by humans and are used as weapons, hence why they are mostly referred to as Mobile Suits rather than robots.

MGEX Unicorn Ver Ka with LEDs and Shield
MGEX Unicorn Ver Ka with LEDs and Shield

Grade and Scale

Bandai, the manufacturer of Gunpla models categorizes the kits by grade and scale. Scale is how large a kit is and grade refers to the level of detail.

The scale refers to how small the Gundam is compared to what its real life counterpart would be. A full size giant Gundam could be 18m tall so a Gunpla model of this size would be 1/1 scale. You can even go and see a full size walking Gundam in Japan!

 

Super Deformed

Shortened to ‘SD’. These are simple models made to look like chibi versions of mobile suits.

 

SD RX-78-2

Super Deformed EX Standard

Similar to SD Grade but with a less chunky aesthetic meaning they are a little taller. The weapons are also more universal meaning they can be used with kits from other grades.
SD EX Barbatos

Super Deformed Cross Silhouette

Still super deformed and chibi like but feature a skeleton like ‘inner-frame’. Two inner-frames are usually included as well as available to buy separately. The two frames mean you can choose to build a traditional SD style model or a slightly taller version.
EG

Entry Grade

Entry Grade kits were first released in 2011 and were low quality models with limited colour separation and poor articulation. Come 2020 and Bandai has refreshed the line with a new 1/144 sca;e Entry Grade RX-78-2 which is a massive improvement. The kit is of excellent quality with regards to colour separation, articulation and anime accuracy. Tools are also not required making them an even easier jumping off point for new builders. We’re very excited to see what comes next in the line.
EG RX-78-2

High Grade

High Grade kits starting releasing in 1990 as more detailed and intricate kits than what came before them. As technology has moved on, High Grade models are simpler to build and are considered beginner friendly. They are 1/144 scale model kits which produce amazing looking figures with full articulation. Check out our High Grade build guide here
HG Gundam Hajiroboshi
HG Hajiroboshi

Reborn 100

RE/100 kits are essentially scaled up High Grade kits. They feature the same amount of detail but on a 1/100 scale.

Real Grade

RG kits are more complex 1/144 scales kits. They feature incredible amounts of detail and articulation but they aren’t released as often as High Grade kits. In recent years, the real grade line has been described as mini master grade. Good for those who want an intricate build experience but lack shelf space.
RG Crossbone
RG Crossbones

Master Grade

MG kits are 1/100 scale and feature the same realistic details as real grades with additional gimmicks. Expect to have a functioning cockpit, great articulation and an impressive looking display piece. 

MGs are the most sought after kits in our experience. Bandai has recently expanded this line with the MG EX line but there is currently only one kit released. The EX stands for Extreme and in the most recent case meant the inclusion of a brand new LED lighting system!
 

Check out our build of the Master Grade Barbatos here

MG Barbatos Standing
MG Barbatos

Perfect Grade

PG kits are the most expensive but most impressive kits you can get from Bandai. Even the size of the box can be intimidating. Even more detailed than Master Grade kits and in 1/60 scale. A PG build is an experience like no other. In 2020 Bandai released the first of their Perfect Grade Unleashed line which featured new Gunpla technology not seen before.

There are no hard rules when it comes to building Gunpla but as a beginner, we recommended you start with a High Grade kit before moving on to something more intricate.

A good general rule is that the newer a kit is, the better it is. Better in this case means nicer quality plastic, easier to understand manuals and generally a better overall build quality. A kit from 2015 onwards will more often than not give a better experience than a kit released earlier. We will get to the best sources for finding out about builds a bit later on.

Kit Contents

A Gunpla kit contains at bare minimum a set of plastic runners and a manual. Most kits will include other bits and bobs like a sheet of stickers / decals or metallic parts.

What tools will you need?

The idea of needing tools can put some people off but you don’t actually need a lot to just get started. A collection of Gunpla tools is something you would build up over time and there are lots of affordable kits with everything you could need and more.

Nippers

Also known as side cutters or wire cutters. If there is one tool you absolutely need to build Gunpla, this is it. These are used to snip the plastic pieces out of the parts runner. I built my first kit using a pair of electric wire cutters I had laying around the house. This will be absolutely fine for your first kit but there are better tools out there which were created for use with model kits.
 
In general, a basic set of nippers can cost anywhere between £1 – £10. These will mostly be for jewellery or electric wire but can work here. You will find that a pair of side cutters not designed for plastic are often chunkier and leave a rough edge or stretch marks of the plastic so it is worth investing in a slightly more expensive set if you decide to pursue the hobby on a regular basis.
 
A good set of nippers will run you between £20 – £80. It is worth mentioning that nippers in this range are subject to the law of diminishing returns. There is minimal difference between a £30 set and an £80 set. You will see a lot of people raving about the God Hand SP-120 Ultimate Nipper (what a name!) and it is very good but incredibly expensive. Other brands have popped up and provide 90 percent of the performance at around half the price. 
 
We don’t currently stock nippers here at Gundam Gateway but we plan to in the future. For now if you’re looking for a set, check out brands like Tamiya and DSPIAE and you can’t go far wrong.

Hobby Knife

A hobby knife becomes necessary when you want to clean up the ‘nub marks’ from your kits. Nubs are what we affectionately call the bits of plastic left over from cutting the piece from the runner. A sharp hobby knife makes it easier to clean pieces up plus the tip of the blade is good for applying stickers.
These are super cheap to pick up and so are any replacement blades for them. A no brainer if you’re picking up a set of nippers anyway. Expect to pay between £5 – £15.
hobby knife
Basic Hobby Knife

Cutting Mat

A cutting mat has become a staple of Gunpla despite you not having to do much cutting. It’s mainly useful for keeping your parts organised and protects your work surface from your tools etc. A fairly cheap purchase and they come in a range of sizes / colours. An A3 size is best since they aren’t much more than an A4 size and they give you much more space to work with. Expect to pay around £7 – £15 but you can get them even cheaper.
Cutting Mat
Cutting Mat

Gundam Markers

Gundam markers are fine point paint pens for highlighting panel details on your Gunpla kits. They add an extra level of finish to your kit for very little effort, just paint into the little grooves and you instantly have a more defined and detailed model kit. Highly recommended for a bit of extra flair.
 
You can buy these individually or in packs of different colours. Black is good for darker panels and grey is good for white pieces. Some choose to use the black marker exclusively for a more anime style finish. You can even experiment with using a brown marker on yellow or red pieces it’s up to you!
Gundam Marker GM-01 Black
Gundam Marker GM-01 Black

Useful Resources

Here are a few useful places you can go to find some great info or inspiration when it comes to all things Gunpla.

Kit Reviews

Mechagaikotsu reviews loads of kits throughout the year and grades them according to his own tier system. If you’re thinking of buying a kit then check out his channel and you’ll usually find a good breakdown of any build issues, included accessories and how articulate the final build is:

/r/Gunpla

The Gunpla subreddit is a great place to find advice and other fans showcasing their builds. It’s worth following just for the eye candy but you can expect to find some really helpful people who enjoy the hobby to the max. You can find it here

UK Gunpla Modellers – Facebook Group

A UK based group which has been running for a while and isn’t run by a particular store. Lots of knowledgeable builders and newcomers alike who all enjoy sharing tips / tricks as well as their ongoing or finished builds. It can be a little heavy on “look how much VAT I paid on this!!” style posts but in general it is a good way to fill your Facebook newsfeed with Gunpla goodness. Link here.

Custom Parts

Sumimasen Designs is a talented UK based CG and 3D artist who has started producing / selling custom Gunpla parts. These are highly detailed expansion parts for existing kits. These are aimed at experienced builders as they will require painting.

JL Gunpla is well known in the UK community for their exceptional builds and also their excellent shop which provides hard to find unofficial kits and custom parts. If you need resin conversion parts, LEDs or extra decals they have you covered. They also have a great YouTube channel:

Community Blogs

As we discover more UK based content we will add to this section:
 
Discovered our store early on and have been very kind with shoutouts to their followers. Mostly a gaming blog but have branched out into Gunpla in a big way. Their blog features beginner friendly kit / accessory reviews and they now do a regular Gunpla live stream on Twitch. Follow them on social to find out more.
 
There is plenty of content to dig into here and very regular updates. Very well informed kit reviews and some great custom work to feast your eyes on. 

Youtube Channels

Rocky’s Gunpla Challenge is a fairly new channel but has consistent uploads with a focus on continuous improvement. A good follow for anyone looking to grow their Gunpla building skills over time:

Neolaplace a UK based up and coming YouTube channel with kit reviews and some nice timelapse builds:

Miniaturite is an accomplished builder who also creates great content. A particular highlight is a 4 video series chronicling the build of their custom MG Barbatos which won the Grand Prize at the Gundam Online Expo 2020:

Gunpla_Noob_UK has some great unboxing and kit review videos as well as informative videos like this panel lining video comparing a Gundam Marker with a regular Sharpie:

Thew Adams channel (NSFW) is mostly focused on Transformers figures but the few times he has delved into Gunpla have been a joy to watch. In this video Thew casually builds an RX-78-2 and captures the experience of a first time builder who hasn’t built a kit but is so happy to give it a go perfectly:

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