Makerbot & Miniatures: Common Sizes & Playsets

Furniture and architecture elements are common subjects in many miniature genres.  This week we’ll learn about how to use common sizes to create cohesiveness in a scale model, and consider how these rules change when working on a playset.  Measurements of real objects are great source material for modeling, but if you’re working off of photographs, or designing something from scratch, it’s helpful to know typical measurements of a variety of common objects.

Common Sizes

Width and depth vary, but the height of common furniture pieces is fairly constant.  Online catalogs are a great source for photos that are accompanied by dimensions.

Building code and human proportions have changed over the centuries.  Common architectural dimensions like door width and railing height are typically wider and higher in modern buildings than in older architecture.

Considerations for Playsets

If you’re working on a toy, playset, or miniature without human figures, the rules change.  Objects in the real world are perfectly suited for human beings, but if your character has a bulky helmet like a MakerBot astronaut, four legs like a My Little Pony, or odd proportions like a Lego Minifig, you need to make up your own rules.  Start by comparing your character to a six foot tall human in the scale of your choice.

A MakerBot astronaut might look a lot like a person at first glance.  The astronaut is almost exactly 6′ tall in scale, but compared to a human being, there are some definite differences.  The helmet is large, his shoulders are wide, and the jet pack will make sitting down tough.  Make the same comparison with the character in your playset.  Based on what you discover, make up your own rules and measurements for the world you are creating.  Perhaps your doorways will be shorter to accommodate a stout character, or chair seats will be extra wide to accommodate a four-legged creature.  Make note of the rules you establish, so you can keep your measurements consistent throughout your project.

Example Project: The Control Room

When I was working on the Rocket Ship Playsets, there were several factors to consider.  I was working in 1:18 scale.  I decided to work directly in scale so I had better control over the details, and more easily share my design files.  I wanted to create designs that had nearly real world proportions, but accommodated the astronaut’s dimensions.

For each key measurement, I translated a common height measurement into 1:18 scale and the metric system using the charts I introduced in last week’s post.  Here are some things I considered.

The Navigation Console:  I decided the console would be counter height, at 36″, which translates to approximately 51mm in scale.  I also made sure the astronauts arms would reach and rest near the steering wheel.  I made the steering wheel big enough to accommodate one of Tbuser’s pin connectors.

The Chair:  I decided the chair should have a typical seat height of 18″, which translates to approximately 25mm in scale.  I expanded the seat width and depth, because the astronaut is wider than a typical human.  He also has a jet pack on his back, so I lowered the seat back so he could balance on the chair.

The Desk: Usually a desk would be 30″ high, which translates to 42mm in scale.  Unfortunately, the astronauts legs wouldn’t fit comfortabely under the desk at this height, so I raised it a few millimeters to 45mm tall.

Other considerations included the dimensions of the top room of the rocket, including the diameter of the room and the angle of the walls.

Wrap Up

Common heights are a good place to start.  These rules help maintain consistency across your designs so your miniature looks cohesive.  Make a decision when you start about how accurately your scale model reflects the real world.  Some modelers pride themselves on strict reproduction, but some projects require you to break the rules and establish your own reality.

Be sure to check back next week for the next post in this series!

Kacie Hultgren is a scenic designer in New York City using MakerBot 3D printers to explore her craft.  You can find her on Thingiverse under the handle PrettySmallThings.  Visit her online shop at