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Zombie figures of different miniature scales

Updated: 2018.07.03

Knowing the size and proportions of a miniature is important if you have an established collection you'd like to expand. Determining niniature size and miniature scale is often hard, as even the producing companies use confusing scale references.

While browsing through websites of companies that produce miniatures I often run into articles that are either trying to explain miniature scales the wrong way or complain that their customers demand to know what scale and size their products are.

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Miniature scales

There are two kinds of scales used by miniatures companies.

Relative scale

They compare the size of the miniature to the size of a real life object. This way the miniatures will be in scale with each other, that's why they are often called 'scale models'.

Examples: 1/72, 1/48, 1/35 etc. 1/72 means that the size of the miniature is the 1/72th of the size of the original.

Some manufacturers happen to apply different relative scales to the dimensions of vehicles, so the vehicle matches the tastes of the gamers. This means that while the model is said to belong to a scale, that might only mean that the height or length belongs to that scale.

Absolute scale

They set up a size of the miniature and try to make every miniature the same size or at least have an average with the size they've set up. Even with a supposedly absolute scale there could be some variations - dwarves can be somewhat smaller and giants can be somewhat taller.

Ares - War of the Ring - Miniatures size
Very different relative scales for the same game - War of the Ring from Ares Games
image © Ares Games

Examples: 25mm, 28mm, 32mm etc. 28mm means that the size of the miniature will be 28mm from the feet of the mini to the chosen reference point.

Misconceptions: The given size is not the size of an average human as a base for scale reference - that would make it a relative scale model. No matter what the size of the original model would be, all of them are resized to fit the given absolute scale size, so every single model for an absolute scale miniature line can belong to different relative scales.

That is why in Warhammer 40,000 a puny Administratum worker, a musclebound jungle fighter, a giant space marine and an even bigger, heavily armoured terminator miniature are all the same size. The original game had no intention to use the size of the miniatures in relation to the game area - it was the base of the mini that was important as it was representing an area controlled by the figure. The vehicles and buildings were even smaller in relative scale compared to the soldiers.

Reference points: Different sculptors may use different reference points when referring to miniature sizes.

Size to top of the figure: The reference point is the absolute top of the miniature, including headwear.

Size to top of head: The absolute scale is set up to the top of the head (or the highest part) of the miniature. This reference point is used so different headwear wouldn't change the relative scale of similar miniatures.

Size to eye-level: The absolute scale is set up to the eye-level of the miniature. The supposed purpose of this is it's not easy to know the exact top of the head but the eye is usually visible.

Relative "absolute" scale

Some manufacturer use absolute scale references that refer to an average size of an average human, instead of calculating the exact relative scale. However these miniatures differ in size, lower models have smaller miniatures, while larger ones are higher. Most of the "28mm scale" or "32mm scale" models out there are actually 1:56 scale ones. 28mm scale in this case refers to the eyeline of the miniature, while 32mm refers to the top of their heads. There are also manufacturers who state they produce 32mm scale miniatures, but they measure the 32mm up to eye level, so these miniatures are 35mm high to the top of their heads.

Relative scales of absolute scale miniatures

      1/61 1/58 1/56 1/50 1/48 1/35 1/32
180cm modern human soldier top of head 29,5mm  31mm 32mm 36mm 37,5mm 51mm 56mm
eye level - realistic 27mm  29mm 29mm 33mm 34mm 47mm 51mm
eye level - heroic 28mm  29mm 30mm 34mm 35,5mm 48mm 53mm
170cm average 1900s human top of head  28mm 29,5mm 30mm  34mm 35,5mm 48,5mm  53mm
eye level - realistic 25,5mm 27mm 28mm 31,5mm 33mm 45mm 49mm
eye level - heroic 26mm 28mm 28,5mm 32mm 33,5mm 46mm 50mm
160cm average 0s human top of head 26mm 27,5mm 28,5 32mm 33mm 46mm 50mm
eye level - realistic 24mm 25,5mm 26,5mm 30mm 31mm 42,5mm 46,5mm
eye level - heroic 25mm 26mm 27mm 30mm 31,5mm 43mm 47mm

If an average character is 180cm high, and in heroic scale they measure 28mm up to eye level, it means they are 1/61 scale minis. If the character is 170cm high, then they are 1/58 scale miniatures.

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Miniature proportions

There are four kinds of proportions used most often by miniatures companies.

Realistic

The miniature looks like a scaled down copy of the original model. The head of the miniature is about 1/7 or 1/8 of the size of the whole miniature. The eye-level is on the middle-line of the head.

Examples: most historical miniatures (Italeri, Perry Miniatures, Zvezda etc), Mantic Games, Corvus Belli

Heroic

The miniature looks similar to the original model, but every body part is exeggarated to make the miniature wider. The head of the miniature is about 1/6 of the size of the whole miniature. The face takes up a larger part of the head, the eye-level is usually up to 2/3 instead of the 1/2 line compared to the head. The hands, feet and weapons are bigger. Heroic scale was created to make minis easier to paint.

Realistic and Heroic scale
Realistic (red outline) and Heroic scale
image © Games Workshop
modified by Kadmon

Red line is where the eye should be on a realistic figure.
Green line is where a Heroic scale eye is.

The usual proportions of a heroic scale mini are: head: 1 head, body: 2 heads, pelvis area: 1 head, legs: 2 heads.

The body is 50% wider than a realistically proportioned miniature.

The out of proportion nature of the miniature can cause confusion if an absolute size is used to eye-level, as the eye-level of a heroic miniature is higher than the eye-level of a realistic proportions miniature.

Players who got used to Heroic scale might see Realistic proportions ridiculously tiny, and can find it hard to paint them because of the smaller details.

For 1:56 scale heroic miniatures modellers often use 1:48 or even 1:35 weapons, as they look more in scale with them. For 1:56 scale heroic miniatures modellers often use 1:48 vehicles for the same reason.

Heroic scale equipment and weapons are usually 3 times as thick as their normal proportioned counterparts. It's partly due to make them to hold hard detail, and partly to make them fit the overall looks of the range.

Heroic scale vehicles are higher, and of course every part of them is more pronounced. To get hard detail, the rivets are unusually big. Heroic scale vehicles are mostly made by Games Workshop and other companies that create unlicenced copies of their ranges.

Examples: Warhammer & Warhammer 40.000 (Games Workshop and every company that copies their designs), Privateer Press, Target Games

Top-down

The miniature is similar to the original model, but the legs are thinner, as if you are looking at the miniature from a higher position. The top-down position makes them look higher if you look at them from the top. Seeing from the front they look like they couldn't support the body of the miniature. This is probably done to make the miniature look higher than it is, without making the miniature itself bigger. From a higher viewpoint it looks like the creature is so large, that the legs look tiny due to perspective distortion.

I think it works all right for the boardgames, especially for single giants but I don't like the use of them for mass combat games.

Top-down miniature proportions Top-down miniature proportions
image © Fantasy Flight Games image © Mantic Games
Top-down miniature proportions

Examples: Kings of War large humanoids (Mantic Games), Descent giants (Fantasy Flight Games), Zombicide large humanoids (CoolMiniOrNot Games)

Chibi

The head of a chibi miniature is several times the size of a realistic head. The look of the mini is childish, as children have bigger heads compared to adult proportions. The body could feature realistic proportions.

Chibi miniature proportions
Chibi miniature proportions
image © Scale75

Examples of chibi proportions: Chibi (Reaper Miniatures), Chibi Adventurers (Impact! Miniatures), Smog Riders (Scale75), Super Dungeon Explore (Soda Pop Miniatures), Warheads: Medieval Tales (Urban Mammoth)

Power

This is a strange proportion that takes the characters, and have them pumped up with muscles, and they have a stance like they carry the weight of the world of their shoulders. I took the name from the Star Wars: Power of the Force line, but the Masters of the Universe figures were also similar.

The stance is similar to Heroic, but the proportions are more like a muscled up human.

Power miniature proportions Power miniature proportions
Power miniature proportions

Examples of power proportions: Star Wars: Power of the Force (Hasbro), Masters of the Universe (Mattel)

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Matching miniatures and scenery

If you have a collection of miniatures and you intend to expand them with miniatures from other ranges, all you have to do check the scale and proportions. If they match, most of the time you can be sure they will fit your collection, especially if they are relative scale, realistic proportion models. It's a bit tricky with absolute scale, and especially with absolute scale heroic models, so take a closer look when you intend to buy such minis.

Scenery and vehicles would seem to follow the previous method, however you have to take the miniature bases into consideration.

For example, if you have 1:56 models, you might think that the 1:56 watchtower, or 1:56 castle will be great for you. However, if your minis are based on 25 mm square bases, they won't fit in a 20mm square tower, and they can topple from the 15mm walkways of the castle. This is because many realistic scale model scenery pieces are created with real world terrain as a reference, and they don't take wargame bases into consideration. So take care, or prepare for conversions.

Most scenery pieces look all right even if you get somewhat different scales, especially if they don't contain parts that show their scale - for example doors betray the scale of a building, but otherwise most buildings are really similar in every scale. If you intend to get scenery that will take active part in your games - doorways that you can put miniatures into, windows that can put miniatures behind, hallways that you can get miniatures into -, always make sure you can do these before getting a scenery set, or prepare for a modelling project to bend the scenery to your wishes.

If you intend to use the scenery as rubble or wreckage, you are more free to use any close scales to fit your needs. For example if you have 1:64 miniatures, even 1:50 vehicles might be good as background wreckage (especially if you take the wheels off, and wreck the vehicle to hide the overall shape).

If you use non-relative scale models, like Warhammer or Warhammer 40,000, take care that the vehicles are not in the same scale as the miniatures, and it's more pronounced in their early ('80-90s) models.

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Vehicle sizes and miniatures with bases

As most vehicles are not based, while miniatures have a 2-3mm base under their feet, vehicles in the same scale as the miniature might look too small compared to the mini. A base might raises the miniatures with 5mm, and that's a big change of height at gaming scales.

Some gaming systems require you to base your vehicles, but a lot of them lets the player decide. If you don't add bases similar to your miniature figures, your vehicles will look smaller than they are intended. People also seem to be confused about the real sizes of vehicles, and they feel they need bigger vehicles for their minis, as the size that would fit with their scale.

For 1:56 scale (28/32mm) miniatures a typically recommended vehicle scale is 1:43. I feel the 1:43 vehicles would be too big for my taste, but it's really up to yours.

Vehicle sizes and miniatures with bases - Resources

Jed (from Antenocitis Workshop News): If I base my figures, how big should my vehicles be?: Article about matcing scales, and using scale vehicles for miniatures. Very informative.

Maxxon: Viability of 1:43 Toy Cars in 28mm Gaming: Article about using 1:43 scale cars with various 28mm/32mm miniatures, with comparison photos.

Olaf Meys (from Mainly 28s): Vehicle Scale Compatability: Article about using scale vehicles for miniatures.

TheTerrainTutor's Terrainiacs: What scale cars for 28mm figures?: Article with several comparison images.

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Miniature size & scales - Resources

Information

Allen (from GameCraft Miniatures): Wargaming Scales - Do You Know Where They Came From?: Article about conversions between scales and "absolute scales".

Atom Smasher (from Tabletop Minions): What is Games Workshop's "Heroic" Scale - Uncle Atom's Pro Tips: Video about heroic scale proportions.

Bill Gray: Size Matters: An Analysis on the Evolution of Miniature Scales & Figures: Article about miniature scales for Napoleonic wars.

Dan Eldredge (from Arcadia Prime): A Matter of Scale...(Part 1): Article about heroic scale proportions.

Jed (from Antenocitis Workshop News): If I base my figures, how big should my vehicles be?: Article about matcing scales, and using scale vehicles for miniatures. Very informative.

Lee Hadley (from Big Lee's Miniature Adventure): Scale Guide: Article about scales.

Lead Adventure Forum: 28mm - What scale?: Article about scales, and using miniatures, vehicles and buildings from different scales.

Lesley Shepherd: What Scale is My Dolls' House?: Article about dollhouse sizes, from 1:12 up to 1:144 scale.

S. D. Taylor: Heroic vs True: Article explaning about heroic scale and realistic scale.

The Miniatures Page: Scale: Article that lists the miniature scales used by manufacturers, and allows calculating your own sizes.

The Miniatures Page: All about scale: A previous version of the former article.

Will Kalif (from Stormcastle Miniatures): Miniature Scale: An explanation: An article.

WikiPedia: List of scale model sizes: Article about scale model sizes.

Comparisons

athilith: Miniature Scale Comparison: Comparison video about 1:56 / 28mm scale miniatures (Games Workshop, Warlord Games, Relics, Victrix, Gripping Beast, Infinity, Malifaux, Warmachine, FoW and Artizan Designs).

Heroscapers: Miniature Scale Comparison Photos: 1/16 Doom & Karmans: Comparison article about several 28mm/32mm miniature ranges.

Michael P. Owen (from SWAT HQ): Car Combat Miniatures: Comparison article about car combat miniatures.

Momir Farooq: Star Wars minis: Comparison article about Star Wars miniatures from different companies.

The DM's Craft: Miniature Scale Comparison Thread: Comparison article about several ranges in several scales.

TheTerrainTutor's Terrainiacs: What scale cars for 28mm figures?: Article with several comparison images.

Calculator and database

Flight Miniatures: Scale Reference: Article about airplane sizes in different scales.

Fortress Figures: Miniature Figure & Model Railroad Life Size Scale Calculator: Article with a calculator for miniature sizes in different scales.

Starship Combat News: Scales of starship miniatures: Article about the sizes of different starship miniatures.

Printouts

Game-Werks: Miniature scale Card: Printout card about human sizes in different scales.

Prophet (from Prophet Miniatures): Comparative sizes: Printout about human sizes in different scales.

Woodland Scenics: Scale chart: Printout about human sizes in different scales.

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What do you think of these miniature size and scale concepts? What is your take on this? Do you have questions? Tell us in the comments!

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