So what exactly is a “card model”? A card model (more properly a paper model, since card is only one of many kinds of paper, though the terms card and paper are frequently used interchangeably) is simply a model made primarily out of paper. Many modelers are surprised when they hear for the first time that a ship model can be made from humble paper, but paper as a modeling medium has a long history dating back to the early 20th century. During World War II, paper was one of the few resources not heavily regulated due to the war effort, and paper models enjoyed a brief peak in popularity, even in America. After the war, though, plastic model kits began to take over the market, and paper model kits eventually become so scarce that most modelers have never heard of them, except in the countries that formerly made up the East Bloc. Communism may not have had much going for it as a system of government, but what it did do is preserve card modeling as an art form. Because plastic models were prohibitively expensive in Eastern Europe, card modeling remained a popular hobby there. Once the Cold War thawed, commerce started flowing between East and West, and one item in particular had a huge influence on card modeling: CAD technology. Our card modeling friends in Eastern Europe were quick to apply computer-aided drafting to the art of designing card models, and as a result an ever-increasing number of card model designs became available with better artwork, more detail, and closer fit tolerances. Although the number of Western designs is also increasing, for the most part the hobby is still dominated by designers and publishers from the East, particularly Poland, home to some of the preeminent publishing houses, including GPM, Modelik, JSC, Orlik, Maly Modelarz, and the company considered by many to be the gold standard of card modeling, Kartonowy Arsenal. Germany is another leading producer of card models, with HMV, Moewe-Verlag, and J. F. Schreiber being some of the better-known publishers.
Paper has a number of selling points as a modeling medium, probably the most important of which is that it is relatively cheap. With the prices of wooden and plastic kits exploding in recent years, the fact that most paper kits can still be purchased for under $20 US makes them attractive candidates for modelers with small budgets. Paper Shipwright of the UK, for example, offer 44 ship designs in their catalog, none of which has a price tag greater than $16 US. Of course, just like with wood or plastic, after-market additions can push the price of a card model project up considerably, but even with the cost of laser-cut or photo-etched details thrown in, a card model costing over $100 US is rare. In addition to being inexpensive, paper is also versatile, and with careful manipulation can be molded into almost any three-dimensional shape. A third advantage of card models is that they are, with very few exceptions, pre-colored, meaning that the color of the finished model is printed on the paper. Modern graphic design programs allow designers to produce card model kits with exceptionally realistic weathering already printed on the model. In most cases, painting or coloring of a card model is limited to the need to obscure the seams between adjacent parts. And finally, card models require very few tools to get started – most people probably already have the basic cutting and gluing supplies in their house somewhere.
One of the most compelling reasons to try card modeling is that a card model kit that starts as a set of flat, printed sheets can be transformed into a stunning finished product. There is a learning curve, of course, but hearing someone say, “I can’t believe that’s made out of paper!” upon viewing one of your finished card models never gets old.
An excellent one-stop site to see a variety of completed card ship models is the website for Hamburger Modellbaubogen Verlag, better known as HMV. Their site is available in both German and English. Enjoy!
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