Putting Scale in Perspective.



        If you are interested in Models or Miniatures then eventually the topic of scale will arise. Vehicles are usually described by a fraction such as 1/35th, 1/76th etc, while figures are sometimes described by a measurement such as 20mm or 28mm. How do you know if such figures are compatible with other figures and models you might have? Railway models are often described by letters or numbers such as N-gauge, HO scale, 00 scale and so on.

        With a vehicle getting the scale is easy enough. Find out how big the real thing should be, measure the size of the model and then it is a simple division. Most companies will publish what scale their vehicles are, but sometimes the figures may not be accurate. In the model shops I notice Airfix have a nice range of 1/76th vehicles. Exactly the same models used to be sold as HO/OO or 1/72nd scale when I was a couple of decades younger. Some webshops still list these vehicles as 1/72nd and on the same page you can see 1/72nd vehicles described as 25mm and 1/72nd figures as 20mm!

        Figures may be described either as a scale (1/35th, 1/72nd etc) or as a measurement, usually in millimeters. The fun (or headaches) start if you want to know something like “would these 1/72nd scale figures look OK with my 20mm unit?”
        When estimating the scale of figures it is more difficult, since many will not be standing up straight and will often have some form of headgear.
        More importantly, most people (including some sculptors) have a skewed impression of what the average male height is. 6ft is not the average, nor is 5’10". Height will of course vary with nationality, ethnic group, livestyle/nutrition and also historical period but a more credible figure is probably between 5’8” to 5’9” for the average adult male. You may now know that this is average height, but did the sculptor? Most folks get it wrong, why not him?


        Not all miniatures are scaled by measuring their total height. It is quite common for the Barrett scale to be used which measures to eye height.



        The measurement given may either be the total height of the figure (if standing straight and not wearing a hat), or it may be the Barrett scale and refer to the eye height.
        Which was used for your figures, and what was the average eye height they used?
        Sometimes you’ll see the two systems mixed. A couple of companies I know have a “28mm range” and they helpfully list the total height of individual figures (30-32mm for typical males). However, the same companies have “54mm ranges” and this is the actual height of the figures they offer.

        The Barrett scale does have some advantages. You don’t have to figure headgear into your calculations and it doesn’t matter what height the sculptor thinks is average. If the size of the figure is expressed in Barrett Scale then you do need to know the eye height of the average human male.
        By the wonders of the internet I found this scientific paper, which includes the useful information that your real eye height is 0.93 of your total height. Or in other words only 7% of your height is above your eyes! So if your figure in real life is between 5’8” and 5’9” then their eye height will be between 5’3” and 5’4”. The figure I’d suggest you use is 1618mm which gives the eye height as a shade below 5’4”, representing figures a shade taller than a 5’8” average.

        Average height for males tends to be between 5’8” and 5’9”, so a good ballpark figure is 1739mm (5’ 8.46”). If you think the sculptor is erring on the large side try 1827mm for a shade under 6ft. If you think the measure given is the total height of the figure then divide the above number by the measure, for example, I have a figure 32mm tall that I suspect is meant to represent a tall hero:-
1827 / 32 = 57.09
-so taking the reciprocal and rounding, the scale of that figure is 1/57 – in other words a 28mm Barrett scale figure of above average height.

        If you think the measure given is in Barrett scale then divide the model height given into 1618mm. If you think the sculptor is erring on the large side then divide into 1699mm. How did I get these figures? I multiplied the suspected height of the figure in real life by a constant of 0.93 to give the eye height.


Using these figures I did some interesting calculations.

        I measured an Artizan German Military Policeman figure I have since he is standing up straight and not running or crouching. He is exactly 28mm to the eyes, giving me a scale of 1618/28 or a shade under 1/58.
        I was quite interested to find out that the best estimate of a 28mm figure’s scale was just under 1/58th. Vehicles for use with 28mm figures are often described as 1/56th or 1/60th.. If my figure really was 1/56 he’d only be only 5’6" tall and not a very imposing military policeman! If 1/60th he and the rest of my force would all be 5’11" –well above average. I’m about 5’11" myself and it is very rare to meet anyone taller. As an aside, the SS required a minimum height of 1.8m for recruits, although as the war progressed this had to be relaxed.

I did some more calculations.

  • If your figure is 20mm Barrett scale then it is about 1/76th scale and near enough to OO gauge (1/76.2 or 4mm per foot)

  • If your figure is 20mm in total height this will be around 1/87th scale and compatible with HO gauge (3.5mm per foot).

  • If your figure is 25mm in total height, or a shade under this is probably close enough to 1/72nd.

  • A figure that is 25mm Barrett scale will be 1/67th -1/64 th , depending on what eye height you used . Figures 28mm total height will be 1/65 th – 1/62nd. The two are effectively interchangeable and you can see where confusion arises. This is why the Wikipedia article on scale is a mess! The author states that the eye height is usually used then works out the scale ratios using the measurements as total height.

  • A figure of 28mm Barrett scale works out as 1/57 th -1/58 th. Most vehicles offered as “28mm compatible” claim to be 1/60 th or 1/56th, although the actual scale may be somewhere between this.

        Note that here I’m mainly going on the nominal measurements. Nearly all of the figures I actually own are around 28mm so I don’t have any actual 1/72nd, 20mm etc figures to measure personally. The figures given by manufacturers may not be accurate.
        Airfix Soldiers I remember as a boy are now being sold as 1/72nd scale. This website gives the height of the Airfix paratroopers as 24mm while most other figures in the WW2 range are 22mm. If actually 1/72nd scale a 22mm high figure would only be 5’ 2”! Using the formulae above a 22mm figure works out as being about 1/80th scale. These figures used to be marketed as HO/OO scale and 1/80th seems a good compromise between 1/76th and 1/87th.
        I can remember that the figures in the British Paratrooper box were noticeably larger than those in the other packs, and at 24mm these do work out at 1/72nd.
        The 28mm size range can be a little “elastic” when it comes to scale. Part of the reason for this is that this size is popular for Science Fiction and Fantasy themed figures and some manufacturers such as Games Workshop make their figures to “Heroic 28mm scale”, where various proportions are sometimes exaggerated. Just to complicate things, the older examples of GW figures that can still be found on ebay were made to 25mm scale. Some of my oldest Space Marine models from the 1980s are 25mm to eye height. Most current GW human figures are 28mm to the eyes but units such as the Marines have been subject to a proportional increase in size. Some of my Marines are 33mm to the eyes, which would make them 6'8". Marines are supposed to be larger than normal humans but if you mix Marine models of different vintages together the size differences are very noticeable. 1980s made Terminators look the same size as current non-Terminator Marines. Also noticeable is that some of the plastic Marines are bigger than the metal ones. Current Metal Terminators are smaller than the current plastic Terminators.
        Scale can vary between ranges by the same manufacturer. Wargames Foundry Pirates measure 25mm to the eyes while the Street Violence range are at least 28mm.
        All this having been said, in practice most 25mm and 28mm figures look OK when mixed together.

        For general tabletop gaming slight differences in scale probably aren’t really a problem-just use what looks right. Many players are quite happy to use 20mm figures alongside 1/72nd scale vehicles rather than 1/76th, 1/87th or HO scale. 1/72nd scale vehicles are much easier to find. Generally the smaller the scale the greater the tolerance that looks OK.
        If you are creating dioramas or have another project where having everything the same scale is important then either use figures and vehicles that are all from the same manufacturer or those that you know from personal experience are compatible
        As has already been discussed, the scale that a company claims its models are may not be correct. Several companies use the terms 1/72nd and 20mm interchangeably, even though they are actually quite different sizes. If in doubt and scale compatibility really matters either contact the company and ask for the actual dimensions of their figures (eye height is probably best) or ask other members of a forum for measurements.

“But Weren’t People Smaller in the Past?”
        I’ve already mentioned that the average height varies with such factors as ethnicity and historical period. There is little point in an average height of 5’8” to 5’9” if this wasn’t the average in the time period that your figures are intended for. A very persistent idea is that people were smaller in the past and have got progressively bigger.
        The answer to this is “Yes and No, but mainly No”.
        Average Human height is dependent on many factors, but two of the major ones are general health and nutrition. The average modern man is taller than the average man in the 1950s. Our 1950s man would have grown up in the pre-war years and have experienced a poorer level of nutrition that his descendants. Wartime rationing actually improved the nutrition of the majority of the UK population! However, the actual difference is only around an inch. The average UK man in the 50s was 5’7”, while currently it is a little under 5’9”.
        Medieval Europeans appear to have been much the same size as we are now -they had a low population density and relatively abundant food. We know they could handle 70lb+ draw-weight bows nearly 6ft long and fight with 20ft pikes. During the industrial revolution we see much of the population crowded into unsanitary cities with poor nutrition, and the average height dropped. The nadir in recent times seems to have been the 17th century. Much of Europe was affected by the Thirty Years War and climatic upheaval. The height of an average Frenchman dropped to under 5’4” -which puts all those 4.5’ long rapiers in a whole new light. At the same time colonists in the New World were noted for their height. They had lots of fresh air and good food.
        The numerous records and documents that the Romans left us indicate that during certain periods recruits for the infantry were to be at least 5’10”, with smaller men being tolerated for the cavalry service.


        Diet in Roman times was actually very good, with even the poorest citizen receiving free bread. The idea that Roman Legionaries were 5’3” and had to fight 7’ Celts and Germans is quite hysterical, but seems to be widely held, even though if you look at Roman armour in a museum it is obviously not for someone that small.

        Between 5’ 8” and 5’ 9” seems to be a good general value for the height of an average male throughout history.


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