Miniatures - A question of size and scale - Explaining miniature size and miniature scaleA question of size and scale - Explaining miniature size and miniature scale
Zombie figures of different miniature scales and miniature proportions

Updated: 2020.09.11

Many beginners and even some veteran miniature collectors are confused when it comes to the topic of miniature scales. Knowing the miniature scale and miniature proportions of a miniature figure before buying is important if you have an established collection you'd like to expand. Determining miniature size and model scale is often hard, as even the producing companies use confusing scale references. The miniature proportions also mix up the differences between miniatures of the same modeling scale.

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, and don't understand why would they like to know a properly determined scale.

In the Comparison image gallery, I've gathered comparison photos of miniature models from various ranges and companies, so you can check their size and proportions, compared to other models. You can find a lot more comparison photos in the Miniature Database articles about the respective models you'd like to see.

Contents:

Miniature scales

What is miniature scale?

Relative scale

Absolute scale

Relative "absolute" scale

28mm miniatures

Miniature proportions

What is miniature proportion?

Realistic proportions

Heroic scale proportions

Top-down proportions

Chibi proportions

Power proportions

Matching miniatures and scenery

Vehicle sizes and miniatures with bases

Miniature size & scales - Resources

The size of the miniature depends on the miniature scale. Beyond the scale of the miniature, there's also the proportion of the model that can change the look of the miniature. There are multiple kinds of scales and proportions used miniatures and toys.

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Miniature scales (model scales)

What is miniature scale?

Definition: Miniature scale determines the size of the miniature model, compared to a chosen reference.

Based on the way the creators choose reference, there are two basic kinds of miniature scales used: relative scale and absolute scale. There's also a hybrid of them, that I call relative "absolute" scale.

Relative scale for miniature models

Definition: The relative scale of miniatures is a modeling scale that compares the size of the model to the size of a real life object. This ratio will show how many times the model is smaller than the original size. For example, 1/72 means that the size of the miniature is the 1/72th of the size of the original.

If the models are produced with a relative scale in mind, the miniatures will be in scale with each other, that's why they are often called 'scale models'.

Popular modeling scales: 1:100, 1:72, 1:56, 1:48, 1:35 etc.

For further information, and listing of often used relative scales: Relative scales

There are companies that use relative scale, but happen to call their miniatures in a style that recalls absolute scaling - for example, if the average 1:56 human soldier is 28mm high up to their eye level, than they call their range 28mm, despite producing models that are shorter or taller. See: Relative "absolute" scale

Some manufacturers happen to apply different relative miniature scales to the dimensions of vehicles, so the size of their vehicle matches the tastes of the gamers better. 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. This habit is due to the basing of models, as the size of the base makes the models seem significantly higher compared to the vehicles, as there's also a gamer habit to leave the vehicles unbased. See: Vehicle sizes and miniatures with bases

Despite having a seemingly fixed relative scale, the size of the models can differ wildly from the expected size, due to manufacturing issues - the moulding process and the shrinking of the material can cause differences from the expectations.

How are miniature scales calculated?

To calculate miniature scales, you have to compare the size of the original object to the miniature model.

Step #1: Measure (or guess) the size of original object.

Step #2: Choose a scale factor.

Step #3: Divide the size of the original object with the chosen scale factor.

For example, if the original object of a 1/60 model is a human that is 180 cm high, when you divide it by 60, it is going to be 30 mm high.

How do you determine miniature scale?

To be able to determine the scale of your miniature, first you need to know the size of the miniature and the size of the original object.

Step #1: Measure the size of the miniature model.

Step #2: Measure (or guess) the size of the original object.

Step #3: Divide the size of the original object with the size of the miniature model. That will give you the scale factor.

For example, if the original object is a 180 cm high human, and the model is 30 mm high, the result is going to be 60 - thus, the miniature is a 1/60 scale model.

Most of the problem comes from the fact that it's hard to determine the exact size of the original model, that's why we usually use averages for the base of measurement. Another problem comes from the pose of the miniature, especially for dynamic poses, as it's hard to measure how high would the model be if it were standing upright.

Absolute scale for miniature models

Definition: The absolute scale is not a proper modeling 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 can be some variations - dwarves can be somewhat smaller and giants can be somewhat taller.

Absolute scale: Very different miniature scales for the same game - War of the Ring from Ares Games
Absolute scale: Very different miniature 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 the Warhammer 40,000 range, a puny Administratum worker, a musclebound jungle fighter, a giant space marine and an even bigger, heavily armoured terminator miniature are all basically the same size. The original game had an abstract representation of the battlefield, and it 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 for absolute scale miniatures

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, if there's a helmet or cap on the model, but the eye is usually visible.

Relative "absolute" scale for miniature models

Definition: The relative "absolute" scale is a hybrid of relative scale and absolute scale. This is an often used miniature scale, but not a proper modeling scale. Some manufacturer use absolute scale references as modeling scales 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" human 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 male 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 human male (0AD-1900s) 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   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

Example: If the 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. If the model depicts soldiers, they are likely to be greater in height than the average people around them.

28mm scale miniatures

28mm scale or 28mm miniature is a phrase often used for wargaming models that are usually 28mm-35mm tall, and belong to 1/50-1/61 modeling scale.

What does 28mm scale mean?

A 28mm scale miniature is designed in a way, where the average sized human is an absolute scale model that is 28 tall up to the chosen reference point. That reference point is often the top of the head, but most companies use the eye level as the reference point.

How tall are 28mm miniatures?

The height of a 28mm miniature might sound trivial, but it depends on several factors, so - as you can see on the table - it can be somewhere between 28-30mm, or even taller. I've seen 35mm high models being called a 28mm miniature.

What scale are 28mm miniatures?

A 28mm miniature can belong to different relative scales, but - as seen on the table above - it is most likely somewhere around 1/56-1/61 scale, depending on the height of the person depicted, and the chosen reference point. If the original person is 170 cm tall, and the chosen reference point is the top of the head, than a 28mm miniature is going to be 28mm tall, making it a 1/61 scale model. If the chosen reference point is the eye level, than the 28mm miniature is 30mm tall, making it a 1/56 scale model. If the chosen reference point is the eye level, but the model is made with heroic scale proportions, than the 28mm miniature is going to be 29,5mm tall, making it a 1/56 scale model.

All of these are only true, if the company that makes the model actually cares about model scales and miniature sizes. "28mm scale" is often used for any kind of miniatures with an average size between 28mm-35mm. I've seen people considering 1/50 scale models, that are 35mm tall as 28mm scale miniatures.

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Miniature proportions

What is miniature proportion?

Definition: The miniature proportion determines the look of the miniature. Miniatures with realistic proportions look like the original object that has been resized, but there are other, more abstracts approaches for depicting the models.

Realistic proportions for miniatures

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

Even today, there are some restrictions on the manufacturing of some realistic details. The moulding process, the material of the model, these can have an effect on how realistic a miniature can be. The smaller the miniature, the less proportionate will it be compared to the real life model. There might be a time when an 1/300 scale human model will have every detail right even in its 6mm size.

Heroic scale proportions for miniatures

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 (about 2-3 times as thick as they would normally be). Heroic scale was created to make minis easier to paint, and to make it easier to produce models with the technology of the time. According to Reaper Miniatures, the term "Heroic scale" was first used by Ed Pugh of Reaper Miniatures to describe the look of their Dark Heaven Legend miniatures.

The "Heroic scale" proportions of a miniatures are not to be confused with the "Heroic proportions" used in drawings. There it means that the figure has a relatively small head (1/9-1/10 of the height or even smaller) with a very muscular body.

Realistic scale and Heroic scale Realistic scale 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 proportion model of the same miniature scale ridiculously tiny, and can find it hard to paint them because of the smaller details, as they got used to large, easily accessible areas to paint.

For 1:56 scale Heroic scale 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 range & Warhammer 40,000 range (Games Workshop and every company that copies their designs, like Anvil Industry, Kromlech, or Spellcrow), Privateer Press, Target Games

Top-down proportions

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. For top-down proportioned human-like models I consider the length of their legs to be about as long as their body to calculate their miniature scale.

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 proportions

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. Sometimes the body features otherwise realistic proportions, with a giant head. For chibi models, I consider the size of their body as the base for their miniature scale.

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 proportions

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 scale, but the proportions are more like a muscled up human, even if the character that the model depicts is of an average human build.

I assume that some of the 1:56 scale Heroic scale models in the Warhammer range by Games Workshop also belong to this category, because many of their models look like ripped body builders, even though they probably represent regular human soldiers.

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 miniature figures and miniature scenery of the same miniature scale

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 model scale and model proportions. If the miniature scales and proportions 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 miniature 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 this proportional difference is more pronounced in their early ('80-90s) models.

Miniature figures and miniature scenery - Resources

Maxxon (on Small Cuts): Viability of OO Scale Buildings in 28mm Gaming: Article about using 1:76 scale buildings with various 28mm/32mm miniatures, with comparison photos.

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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 miniature scale as the miniature figure 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 model vehicles for miniature figures. Very informative. (2020.01.23: Seems to be offline.)

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

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

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

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Miniature size & modeling scales - Resources

Information on miniature scales

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

Atom Smasher (for 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 (for Arcadia Prime): A Matter of Scale...(Part 1): Article about heroic scale proportions.

Jed (for Antenocitis Workshop News): If I base my figures, how big should my vehicles be?: Article about matcing model scales, and using scale model vehicles for miniature figuress. Very informative. (2020.01.23: Seems to be offline.)

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

Lead Adventure Forum: 28mm - What scale?: Article about modeling scales, and using miniatures, vehicles and buildings from different miniature scales. (2020.01.23: Seems to be offline.)

the article on Archive.org

Lesley Shepherd: What Scale is My Dolls' House?: Article about dollhouse sizes, from 1:12 up to 1:144 model 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 (for Stormcastle Miniatures): Miniature Scale: An explanation: An article about modeling scales.

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 (for 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.

Prof.Witchheimer (on Lead Adventure Forum): Ancients Scale Comparison: Comparison article about ancient era miniature figures in several modeling scales from different manufacturers.

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.

Modeling scale calculator and database

Flight Miniatures: Scale Reference: Article about airplane sizes in different modeling scales. (2020.01.23: Article is offline.)

the article on Archive.org

Fortress Figures: Miniature Figure & Model Railroad Life Size Scale Calculator: Article with a calculator for miniature sizes in different miniature 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. (2020.01.23: Article is offline.)

the article on Archive.org

Prophet (for 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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Buying the products - Miniatures of different miniature scale and miniature proportions

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

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