About Miniature Scales

The Importance of Scale in Miniatures for All Types of Models and Collectibles

Miniature Scale is…

…the defined size ratio between a miniature version of an object and its full size counterpart. Perhaps the easiest model scale is one inch to the foot, the most common for dollhouses. Called one-twelfth scale and written as 1:12 or 1/12, an object one inch tall in miniature would be twelve times that, or 12 inches tall in normal size. Likewise, an object 2 cm would be twelve times that, or 24 cm in full size.

[It’s sometimes easier to think about1:12 scale in reverse. That is, instead of comparing miniature inches to real-life inches, turn it around so that the ratio is real-life feet to miniature inches. For example, a 6-ft tall man would be 6 inches tall, a 2-ft long bench would be 2 inches long, a 6-inch long postcard (half of a foot) would be 0.5 inch long, and so on. ~Editor]

Dollhouse Scales

In addition to the common 1:12 scale, miniaturists often use smaller scales:
•  1:24 scale, also called ½ scale or half-scale because it is one-half of 1:12 scale.  [The 6-ft man would be 3 inches tall.]
•  1:48 scale, called ¼ scale or quarter-scale because it is one-fourth of 1:12 scale.  [The 6-ft man would be 1.5 inches tall.]
•  1:144 scale, which would be the scale of a toy dollhouse placed inside an actual 1:12 scale dollhouse.  [The 6-ft man would be 0.5 inch tall.]

Particular toy makers sometimes created their own model scales. For example, the Swedish Lundby company used a scale between 1:15 and 1:18 for their items. And 11-inch fashion dolls are often in 1:6 scale, called Playscale.

Scale in History

Early examples or antique miniatures may vary widely from a modern scale size. Standardized scales became more important in the 1970’s as people sought more accurate and interchangeable pieces for their collections.

Height and fashion have also changed across history, so consider the time period of your scenes. Historically, the height of people has varied (and not always been on the increase!). In 1970, the average male height in the U.S. was five foot ten inches. In the late 1700’s, it was five foot eight inches. In between those dates it dropped a surprising amount.


Railway modelers not only have to deal with scale, but with gauge, which is the measurement of the space between tracks. Railway modelers sometimes divide themselves into Narrow Gauge and Standard Gauge groups.
•  Narrow Gauge in real railways has 3 ft. 6 in. (1067 mm) between the rails. It was used a lot for private industrial railways or railways in mountainous areas.
•  Standard Gauge in real railways have 4 ft. 8-1/2 in. (1435 mm) between the rails and are the most common of the world’s commercial railroads.

Railroad Scales

There are an enormous range of miniature railroad scales in both main gauges. Even within named scale groups there may be huge variation in the ratio, depending on the manufacturer and country of origin.
•  Z scale at 1:220 is the tiniest model railway.
•  N scale varies from 1:144 to 1:160.
•  HO is commonly 1:87 but can vary from 1:72 to 1:90, with various gauges depending on the manufacturer.
•  S railway scale equals 1:64.
•  O scale varies from 1:43 to 1:48.
•  G gauge/scale at 1:22 to 1:25 is the largest for indoors, used in garden railroads (and EnterTRAINment Junction).
•  Outdoors even larger scales are the ride-on steam trains you see in amusement parks.

Some half-scale, 1:24 miniaturists use G scale railway components in their scenes, as the scales are similar. Likewise, popular quarter-scale, 1:48 is close to O scale.


Highly and accurately detailed to exact scale miniatures are called finescale, a term that appears mainly in dollhouse and model railroad miniatures.

Collectibles in Mixed Scales

Watch out! Some collectables use different scales within the same range. A popular series of Christmas villages mixes buildings in approximately HO (1:87) or S railway (1:64) scale with trains in O scale (1:43 to 1:48, common for Christmas and toy trains). The same village may have vehicles slightly larger than O scale with people who are G scale (1:20 to 1:25). Confused? Mixed scales make it hard to match your set unless you know the scale.

~ by Lesley Shepherd, About.com Guide. Used with permission and adapted from the former page <http://miniatures.about.com/od/scaleminiatures/a/impscale.htm>.

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