6 Cheap Gunpla to Level Up your Model-Making Skills

Do you have a dream Gunpla kit that you’re afraid to build because you’re afraid of messing it up? We say just go for it! But if you’re still nervous, Megaplamo has an idea for you: try using some new techniques on a cheap kit first, then revisit your aspirational kit once you’re more confident. Here is what he suggests:

As a kid, I remember walking into my local Hobby Town and seeing the original MG Zeta on the shelf. It was beautiful, the box art was like a siren song. I had never encountered a Master Grade, but I had experience with the 1/144 kits you could find at Walmart, so how bad could it be? It cost $60.00 which was a lot at the time (and still is) but I was so excited I didn’t care. Once I started building the kit, I began to realize that it was a lot harder than I thought. My kit was starting to look like a parody of the box art that originally drew me in. I was heartbroken. 

I decided to try again with some other kits, and I started to get better. I did a good job with a snap build of the MG Strike Noir that I could be proud of. I decided to spray it with some Mr Super Clear to get that cool matte finish. As soon as I sprayed it, the clear coat immediately frosted. It felt like a gut punch. I eventually learned that failure is a part of growth and that in order to get better I was going to have to make some mistakes. That said, I can’t afford to make $50 or $60 mistakes! So I started building cheap Gunpla. I found out that the lack of pressure, both emotional and financial, not only helped me challenge myself to grow, but it was also more fun.  My goal moved from “Can I match the box art?” to “Can I make this more interesting and creative than the box art?” If something goes wrong, I’m more open to experimenting with a way to fix it, because I know that if the kit gets destroyed, I can easily move on and try again.

As far as I’m concerned, the following ought to be written on a stone tablet: “If you want powerful Gunpla skills, you must sacrifice your kits to the Gunpla Gods! But luckily they don’t care about cost so you can sneak by with some cheap sacrifices.” 

In this article, I recommended specific kits and shared their prices at the time of publication. I also described the series they come from, so if the price goes up, you can still explore the series and find something similar.

Here are the top 6 cheap kits you can use to practice your model-making skills:

This guy is looking rough with that frosted matte coat and those Sharpie panel lines.

SD RX-78GP-01Fb ($12.99)

These chibi Gunpla are a bit controversial. Some people think they are cute, but not everyone. Either way, they make great practice kits because they have large bulky proportions that are easy to paint. The new SD kits are cool but I prefer the old ones (BB Senshi) because they take almost no time to build and you can focus on painting. 

A good place to start would be the SD RX-78GP-01Fb. This is where I started practicing my paneling and top coat technique several years ago.

HGBF HI-MOCK ($12.95)

This kit was the first one that I painted entirely with an airbrush. It’s a perfect kit to get through the learning curve since it’s a quick and easy build. It’s got a lot of round and easy-to-paint surfaces and it’s kinda simple so there is plenty of room to get creative. If I were to build this kit again I would use it to practice my scribing!

It’s not blue anymore.

HGUC 209 Blue Destiny Unit 3 “Exam” ($21.00)

This kit brings a bigger challenge. It’s a modern, highly detailed HG that will require hand painting, masking, and seam removal. You will have to be precise with your airbrush when working with all the sharp angles to make sure the paint doesn’t build up in the wrong places.

Once you complete this kit you will have gained the experience you need for most Gunpla kits.

HGBF #58 Star Burning Gundam Build Fighters ($26.00)

This was one of the first kits I decided to seriously customize. My brother gave it to me as a Christmas present several years ago when I had taken a break from Gunpla and model-making in general. I didn’t know the character and I’ve never seen the Build Divers anime, so I didn’t really have an emotional connection with the kit. Honestly, it didn’t look that different from the 100 other Gundam models I had built before, so I thought to myself, “What do I have to lose?” I chose a custom color and painted it with spray cans, I did some weathering, and added an effect base. The end result might not win a competition, but I had a great time and it changed my whole perspective on model-making and got me back into the hobby! As a bonus, I found out the color I chose actually glows under a black light. I’ll definitely explore this more in the future.

First Grade Zaku II ($5.00)

 Don’t let the name fool you, this kit is not for first graders. It’s perfect for tackling different techniques, as it is molded in one color, there are no stickers or decals, and there are seam lines galore! There is also very little part separation so be ready to use some masking tape. If you get through this kit, you will be able to handle anything Bandai can throw at you. If you make a mistake, then it’s no big deal you can just buy another one and try again. If you can’t find this kit for a good price online check your local hobby shop.

EG NU Gundam ($11.00)

I recently used this kit to practice my shading and overall painting workflow, and it was a huge success for me! The low cost of the kit made it easy to be brave and push myself. In addition, it is one of the smoothest building experiences I’ve had with a 1/144 kit. This kit is getting popular, so if you can’t find it for its retail price then a great alternative would be the EG RX-78. Although I don’t have any experience with it personally, I do know it is featured in the 10 Essential Techniques to achieve absolute mastery of Gunpla by Hobby JapanIf you choose the RX-78 over the Nu Gundam then you can follow the step-by-step guide using the exact kit featured in the book. Imitation is the best way to learn.

Bonus: Grab a kit from your Gunpla Graveyard!

We all have that box of kits that are mostly failed experiments, messy paint jobs, and kitbashing abominations that will get you in trouble with the Anime Crimes Division. ( See The Gundam Killer – Anime Crimes Division S1, Ep. 3.) I’m here to tell you that it’s possible to salvage most old kits or at least use them for practice. Unless you put your model in the microwave or lose all the important pieces (or purposely microwave all the important pieces), most things can be fixed with paint putty and plastic cement. When choosing an old kit to practice on, choose one that needs work on something that you often struggle with. That means if you are bad at seam line removal, work on the one that has the most seam lines. If you struggle with hand painting try one with tiny details. That being said, I’m not talking about obsessing over the same kit and repainting it over and over again. I recommend using an old beat-up kit you haven’t touched in several years.

There is only one way to get better at this hobby and that is to make strategic mistakes. If your kits are cheap, it will be a lot easier to pick yourself back up and try again. Keep challenging yourself and before you know it, you will have the skill to take on that MG like a pro!

Megaplamo lives on the Gulf Coast of Alabama where he paints everything from Gunpla to vinyl garage kits. Megaplamo has been building model kits since the early 2000s and loves to share any and all information he has learned on his journey. You can find Megaplamo on all social media as @megaplamo although he is the most active on Instagram.

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