Aftermarket is not always Au Gratin Potato Chips

This post was originally titled “The Aftermarket Model Media Complex” when I first started working on it a few months ago. At that point I was looking at the idea that the aftermarket industry was working hand-in-hand with model review sites and print media to push product on us. And, that it seemed to be the creation of aftermarket for the sake of selling us more aftermarket.

Well, duh.

So, seeing that I was only writing the obvious, I shelved the post for a few months. But, I took a listen to the most recent PMM podcast with their special segment on aftermarket. Their point was that aftermarket components may not always be worth the trouble. I agree with their assessment. But it took me some time to get to that point.

My Initial Aftermarket Love Affair

I’ll admit, I was bitten by the aftermarket bug almost from day 1 and I think that most modelers get that initial love affair. Especially after seeing magazine and internet builds with seemingly impossible levels of fine detail. I think back to the second model built upon returning to this wonderful hobby of ours. That was Tamiya’s ‘Birdcage’ Corsair and I had specific goals for that build: To improve my construction and painting skills and to finally incorporate AFTERMARKET! I went out and got me some of those resin “flattened wheels” and a full Eduard PE set designed specifically for the Birdcage Corsair. I don’t recall any big issues with using these components but I recall that build ultimately suffered from my inexperienced canopy masking and very flat tires.

For a period of time I included significant aftermarket elements in all of my builds. Following the Birdcage I tackled a a decked out (with resin, photoetch & decals) F4U-5NL Korean war night fighter. Once that was conquered, I then faced most challenging and highest percentage-by-volume resin aftermarket model in my collection: the Tamiya Corsair & the CMK F4U-4 conversion set. That had all sorts of competing and near-impossible-to-fit resin conversion sets as well a photo etch:

So, why did I do these things? Well, when I got back into the hobby I saw the inclusion of aftermarket components as the ticket to ‘better’ and ‘more serious’ builds. It was to the point where I couldn’t have a model in my stash without some form of aftermarket. I certainly could not start a build without securing the associated sets – or at least have them in transit!

After many, many builds featuring aftermarket components, I have revised my stance on them. So yes, I agree with Mike and Dave at the Moj: Aftermarket is not necessarily ‘all that and a bag of Au Gratin potato chips1. Resin, photoetch and 3d printed components are sold on the basis they improve the look your build, but there is no guarantee of that result.

Let me explain

My initial love affair with aftermarket was based on the assumption that all aftermarket is an improvement over what came in the box. I can tell you without hesitation, that is not the case. I won’t pick on any one photo etch manufacturer but let’s be honest: how much of that fret is good stuff vs how much of it is fret filler? I’m talking the rudder foot straps, the 2d wiring harnesses, the generic levers and the generic black box tops. I’ve also seen a lot of resin sets with parts that actually look less detailed than the kit components. I’ve tossed many a resin “instrument panel” because the kit part had much better detail with round instruments or because the component simply will not fit. So no, not all aftermarket is worth the time or expense even if it is expertly installed.

I now add aftermarket where it meets a combination of two required elements:

  1. Time Savings; and
  2. Detail Enhancement

“Time Savings” can mean many things but I will boil it down to this; Where detail is lacking, will the aftermarket part save me time over scratch building or other improvement strategies? And, will that aftermarket component add days or weeks to the build because of all of the time necessary to prep the parts and get them to fit? I am thinking of all the work to saw off casting blocks and all the filing and sanding to get the correct fit.

“Detail Enhancement” is really a function of the quality of the aftermarket component and whether it will even be seen on the completed build. Think of a high end ejection seat in a teen fighter or burner cans which are both very noticeable enhancements vs photoetch ribbing in the bomb bay in a WW2 bomber.

Bottom line, if a given aftermarket component does not give you Time Savings and Detail Enhancement, then what is the point?

Worthwhile Aftermarket Elements

Generally speaking, the following aftermarket components are almost always time savers and detail enhancers:

  • Good decals (I can’t emphasize this enough)
  • Pitot tubes and gun barrels
  • Wheels
  • Ejection Seats
  • Exhausts
  • Seatbelts

You’ll notice that ‘resin cockpit sets’ are not on the list. That’s because of the time they take to prepare the parts and get them to fit. As well, a large majority of them are not that good. But when I used the Quinta Studio Hind Cockpit set, the components were so perfectly made that they were a drop fit into the cockpit. An entire aftermarket cockpit installed in minutes and was far better than the kit or what I could do on my own.

But Will You Even Remember It?

I have a theory about aftermarket. The recollection of the number of aftermarket bits that were used in a build is inversely related to the amount of time since the completion of that build. In fact, I have had to look back at some build pictures of my models to remember a few of the aftermarket components I have used. Now this might say something about (i) the speed at which I build; (ii) how quick I am to move on from a completed project; or (iii) the possibility of early onset insanity. Let’s not dwell on that for now.

The point is that aftermarket seems so shiny and chrome when it is in its packaging. After it gets primed and painted? Meh, not so much. At that point, the impact of the aftermarket is overshadowed by how well the kit is built and finished. Ask yourself, when have you been blown away by the look of a finished model because of how much aftermarket was used? Or were you blown away by how awesome the model looked?

Last Thing

I’ve come to the conclusion that if you are looking for a surefire way to improve your builds, the solution does not come in a bubble pack or on a photo etch fret. Your better solution is to practice to improve on your build and finishing skills. Part of that improvement can be incorporating aftermarket. Just know that some of it may be a waste of your time.

I’d love to hear about your trials and triumphs with aftermarket. Did I get it right? Or is all of it useful and should be celebrated? Let me know in the comments.

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1: This is very likely not a direct quote but I’m going to assume this is what they wished they said!

16 thoughts on “Aftermarket is not always Au Gratin Potato Chips

Add yours

  1. My entry in to the realm of aftermarket includes 2 different model building genres of the 4 I did in the late 1970s and early 1980s; discussing it depends on whether the conversation is restricted solely to plastic model airplanes or not.

    For the model airplanes it was Microscale decals. I had several times pondered using vacuform canopies but had decided not to, I think they were available in late 1970s from Squadron but don’t remember 100%, so take that memory as not absolute.

    For aftermarket detail parts, we enter the world of plastic-bodied model locomotives where those parts were pretty much a necessity for adding to plain jane factory factory models if you wished to model the practices of any specific railroad company. Those detail parts were variously made from white metal, Styrene, Delrin, brass, and ranged from external gauges and plugs, windows, windshield wipers, radiator fans, radio antennas, snowplows, and many more.
    Use of Microscale decals held true here, too.

    I was also doing model tanks at the time and don’t remember aftermarket parts for those in those years, if there were, I missed the news.

    Back to model airplanes …

    In late 1980s through 1990s I still built mostly with what the box supplied except for sometimes aftermarket decals.
    Early 2000s I started using some resin ejection seats.

    Now as my health declines I’m building far fewer models overall, tanks are gone, aircraft are minimal, though an Airfix 1/72 Grumman Widgeon/Gosling is in-progress right now to eventually be mailed to a friend in UK for addition to the RAF museum she’s making on her model railway layout in her sewing room.
    It is pretty much box stock except for 2 pilot guys from some old kit somewhere.

    I’m very glad to see 3D printed aircrew available for kits which have nobody home.
    I’ve never comprehended the logic of making a model kit without representing the people who put the thing to use.

    Etched metal detail sets have been used in recent years on a couple space and sci-fi builds.

    It was hilarious several years back looking at a conversation on an armor modeling forum discussing whether 3D printing would ever be useful for model parts or details when at the same time the railway modelers, especially the old timers and narrow gauge, and the space and sci-fi modelers, had been producing 3D printed replacement and detail parts and even a few full kits for a couple years at that point.

    Have gotten a 3D printed Quest airlock for Revell Germany’s 1/144 scale International Space Station kit & some 1/144 scale 3D printed astronauts to put with it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Now that is an interesting comment – I too got my start in ‘aftermarket’ during my model railroad years. If you wanted anything close to accurate, you had to add a lot of bits to your locomotive. I remember doing one rather badly but then improved a lot on my second attempt. Maybe that is why I was never intimidated by aftermarket years later. Thanks for posting that!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Right on brother!

    I’ve given up on after market after wasting a lot of time and money on it. It may be useful in larger scales to enhance a model but not so much in 1/72 and rarely in 1/144 where I have only used aftermarket engines on airliners because the kit does not provide the engine option I need.

    The only aftermarket I use regularly these days is decal sheets. This is mainly because they allow me to make a greater variety of models that the kit makers don’t give us. This is not usually a matter of better decals than are in the kit but a wider variety of choices.

    I should add that I make a lot of resin kits, but again this is because they allow me to make a wider range of models than the mainstream kit manufacturers provide.

    For me the success of a model is not the amount of aftermarket you add to it but the amount of skill and dedication you demonstrate in making it yourself.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. You wrote this for me, didn’t you? I’m infected with some disease that compels me to buy aftermarket sets for nearly everything in my stash. When Roden came out with a new tool 1/48 T-28 I was ecstatic. That venerable old Monogram kit hit the bin immediately after getting the Roden. Unfortunately, I also bought the Eduard “Big Ed” detail set. Now I’m almost afraid to build the kit. Years ago I bought a 1/48 Hasegawa P-38 and a Verlinden aftermarket set. THOSE items all hit the bin because my skill level was not up to the task.

    Bottom line: I’m almost 71 and I had better get a move on if I want to build what’s in my stash.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. The one aftermarket PE that I really enjoy is PropBlurs, but only if representing a running prop! Other than that, it’s a model by model choice! In general, I like the idea, but like you said, after primer and paint, only the builder really knows for sure!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Interesting topic (as usual)!

    Aftermarket (AM) bits aren’t a slam dunk either way. As your post pointed out, quality, fit, and accuracy vary WIDELY and I think what would help greatly is if there were builder reviews that we could check out prior to spending PRECIOUS beer-money (or whatever your vice-of-choice is) on them. The spread of accuracy and fit vary about as much as the same factors vary in the kits themselves. Some AM sets are really worth it, some I coulda done far better myself (and in the latter situation I do and the waste of beer-money gets consigned either to the spare parts cache or tossed). As with pretty much anything in our hobby is, experience will teach us who makes the Good Stuff and who doesn’t.

    Some kits fair beg for help and some do not. The Testors 1/48 SR-71 I did was really enhanced by PE and resin (as well as a metric butt-ton of scratch building). Tamiya’s P-38s just got brass gun barrels, different tires, and a resin seat. For aircraft, I think that bulged tires are generally a waste. They’re overdone, especially on modern jets. (And speaking of overdone, I won’t even mention recessed panel lines! They could be the poster child for out-of-scale.)

    What drives this bus for me is the interplay of getting the accuracy and detail I want as opposed to the amount of time (always a consideration when one is 71 because I should live long enough to make a dent in the kits I have in inventory) (and if I did live long enough, I probably wouldn’t be able to build anyway). The accuracy consideration is dependent on my eye. If it looks wrong (cue references to my Blackbird build), then I’ll most often resort to AM. If I know that *I* will be the only one to notice the inaccuracies, I’ll go have a beer instead.

    I NEVER remotely assume that whatever AM set I intend on using will fit. Sure, I’m thrilled when the set does fit, not at all surprised when they need sometimes considerable work to. Some of the AM sets I used on the Blackbird didn’t fit at all (TOSSED!) and some were modified to fix what the AM provider also got wrong…or to provide a bump in details. If I can get the details I want without scratch building (time, again), I’ll use them.

    When I build armor, I’ve found AM sets very useful. Academy’s M3A1 simply is NOT either an M3A1 OR an M3. AM as well as kitbashing enabled me to build a decent M3 without spending a lot of time scratch building. When I did Bronco’s early production M24, Verlinden’s resin sets gave me a starting point for a nicely detailed interior and kept me from having to build the engines (two of them) and engine bay. These AM sets were the starting point (as it frequently is for Verlinden sets) which received a fair amount of added details.

    PE is a mixed bag. In some cases they allow parts to be added that are more to scale. It’s very rare for me to use everything on the frets, particularly those parts that should have a round cross section instead of flat. I often will use the PE parts as forms and will make my own parts. I will trace the PE parts onto styrene because it’s just (to my eye) stupid to hassle with something that can be SUCH A HASSLE to try to use CA to attach.

    So I don’t think that AM sets are good or bad. I’ll use them if they permit less time to achieve my ends and avoid the sets from manufacturers that experience had shown me aren’t worth the time, effort, or cost.

    What really love about our hobby is that there really isn’t a one-method-fits-all approach. There are SO MANY ways to achieve whatever our individual goals and problem-solving solutions are.

    I think that RIGHT NOW is the golden age of modeling!


  6. Your article really struck a chord in me.

    For many of the kits I build or have built, getting aftermarket bits — big or small, extensive or limited — was second nature for many years. I started primarily building U-boats, which most often greatly benefited from a/m barrels, PE parts, and some resin assemblies… up to a full PE main deck replacement on a 1/72 U-boat. I learned valuable skills in working with those a/m parts, and I have no regrets in the time or money spent. Needless to say, I am not a speed builder. 😜

    Fast forward to 2021 where I find that many new kits need less and less a/m parts to make them fabulous. For aircraft, I find that resin ejection seats with molded seatbelts, 3D-printed colour instrument panels, and metal-turned gun barrels & pitot tubes are the main exceptions.

    I am becoming much more particular in how much a/m I invest in now, as it usually greatly prolongs and complicates the building process, not to mention adding more cost. Now it’s a kit-by-kit evaluation and soul searching for whether or not to go down the a/m rabbit hole.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Let me share the experience I had some years ago. I succed in adding ALL the photo etched parts of the Eduard set to the Airfix R. A. F. Be2c and believe me, each of them really improve the model, from the seat to the pulling system.
    The exception does prove the rules ?

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Great article. I would add ordnance to the list of must have aftermarket, but realise this is scale and subject dependent. My last 6 builds have been 1/72 Russian jets and the kit ordnance was poo.

    Liked by 1 person

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