19 July 2021 | Models

A Buyer's Guide to Modelling Materials

A Buyer's Guide to Modelling Materials

Whether you are adding detail to a model, creating a diorama, or making everything from scratch, there are many modelling materials to choose from.

Plastic Building Card

Made from the same dense polystyrene plastic as plastic model kits, plastic card comes in a range of thicknesses from 0.25 mm up to 2 mm. These sheets are available in black and white. We stock Javis Plastic Card sheets, which are roughly A4 sized. Plastic card is perfect for building large, flat areas such as walls. Thinner sheets are flexible enough to form curved walls and are easy to cut. Thicker sheets are easiest to cut by scoring them with a sharp knife then snapping them. The thinnest white sheet, 0.25 mm thick, will go through a laser printer

Clear Plastic Card

Also coming in A4 sized sheets we have clear plastic card, which is ideal for glazing windows on your diorama buildings. These sheets are made from polyethylene terephthalate glycol (PETG) so you will need to make sure the adhesive you are using will work with it, such as Javis Plastic Weld.

Strip Plastic

As well as sheets of plastic we also stock strip plastic. These strips come in a wide range of cross-sections and sizes. We have available online packs of Evergreen Styrene Strips, which come in square, rectangular, circular, half-round, quarter-round, and tube cross-sections. In-store we also stock the Plastruct range of individual plastic strips. This range includes strip with shapes such as 'I' beams, 'T' beams, 'L' beams, 'U' beams, 'C' beams, and square tube, making this range popular for both hobby and architectural modellers.

BaLSa Wood

Balsa wood is a popular material amongst hobbyists. It is lightweight, very easy to cut and carve, and can be glued with non-toxic odour-free wood glues. If you want to build quickly you can also use hot glue.

We keep in-store a range of balsa wood sheets, strips, and dowel, all in 3 foot lengths. Sheets ranging in thickness from 1/32 inch up to 1/2 inch, and in widths of 3 or 4 inches. Strips, both rectangular and square section also range from 1/32 inch to 1/2 inch. Round balsa dowel is available from 3/16 inch up to 3/4 inch. We also stock balsa blocks.


We also keep a range of mahogany, obeche, and bass wood strips and dowel. These are perfect for when you need your small strips to have more strength, or you just like the grain and colour of these woods without wanting to dye balsa wood. In addition to the hardwood strips we keep in stock sheets of thin plywood.


Rods, tubes, square tubes, strips, and sheets are available in aluminium, brass, and copper. Our high-quality metric metals are precision engineered in the UK by Albion Alloys. Tubes from Albion Alloys go as fine as having a diameter of only 0.3 mm! Each size of metal tube in this range is designed to perfectly fit into the next size up.

There are also a number of metal mesh sheets available from Maquett that are ideal for recreating metal fencing and mesh covers.

Foam Board

A popular building material for model making, foam board is a layer of expanded polystyrene foam between two thin layers of cardboard. Foam board is very light weight and can be glued with wood glue. With a cardboard surface you don't have to worry about solvents in the paint damaging the foam when painting. Foam board is often used for the main walls of model buildings where light weight is desired and the precision of plastic card is not required. A special technique you can do with foam board is to peel off sections of card to expose the foam underneath and carve in detail to give the impression of exposed brick and stone.

We stock Javis Foam Board in 3 mm and 5 mm thick sheets in A3 and A4 sizes.

Scenic Materials

There are a great number of different scenic materials that you can use for your dioramas, model railways layouts, or basing your figures.

Cork Mats: Cork mats are commonly used to cover a wooden baseboard for a model railway. This helps to absorb vibrations from running trains to reduce noise, and gives an easy material to tap in your track pins. Torn into small sections and glued in rough layers, cork sheet works well to imitate rocks for basing models.

Scenic Mats: A scenic mat is a roll of coloured and textured material that is stretched and glued over model scenery to create large areas quickly where fine detail is not vital, such as rolling hills and well-kept lawns on your model railway. For smaller areas of greater depth, I would recommend using static grass for a more realistic effect.

Scatter Materials: Scatter materials encompasses all manner of loose scenic materials including gravel, sand, fine cork chips, ballast, snow, flock, and others. Use it in the same way as sticking on glitter - paste wood glue where you want it to go, pour on your scatter material, then remove excess once dry.

Static Grass: Use static grass to create more realistic looking grass than you get with using scenic mats or coloured flock. Static grass is made from fine fibres. When applying them to your model you can leave it as-is and it will look like messy or trampled grass, but where it really shines is making the fibres stand on end using static electricity.

Tufts: Use scenic tufts for small clumps of grass such as on the base of a model figure, or small patches of grass poking out though desert sand or snow. Glue the tufts down first, then glue your scatter materials around them. There are also tufts of flowers.

Scenic Trees & Clump Foliage: Pre-made scenic trees are a great way of quickly adding woodland to your model railway layouts. Available in various styles and colours, K&M Trees represent deciduous and evergreen woodland throughout the year. Clump foliage can be used to create trees by sticking it to an armature, or glued onto your terrain to create dense clumps of shrubs.

Lichen: Available in a variety of colours, lichen is often used to represent bushes, shrubs, underbrush, and other small, dense.

Cork Bark: Realistic rocky outcroppings can be created by painting cork bark - perfect for the exposed rock around tunnel portals and cliff faces.

Scenic Water: Create realistic water effects with scenic water, from small pools of water and shallow streams to deep rivers and coastlines. Clear casting resin can be used to create deep water.

Recent articles