If you are building model tanks or AFVs, it is useful to know what options you have when it comes to making tracks. In plenty of modern plastic kits, tracks are of better quality and much more realistic than they were years ago, which helps you achieve better results with less effort. However, for various reasons you might want to find an alternative to the tracks included in your kit. In this blog post we are going to talk about different types of standard and after market tracks, what is available on the market, and why you might prefer one option over another.
The quality of tracks is an important factor which greatly affects how realistic your model will look at the end. If you look at the photos of real tanks, you will notice that track links always sag due to the heavy weight of metal. This effect can be difficult to achieve with plastic and rubber tracks, which is why some modellers choose to buy after market metal track links. A Hungarian manufacturer Friulmodel has a wide range of metal tracks, mainly for 1/35 scale, but also for 1/16, 1/25 and 1/48. A typical set includes individual track links and a wire to make track pivots and hold the links together. These metal tracks have amazing detail, they will sag just as real tracks, and they make it easier for you to create wear effects just by sanding some areas until the metal shows through (however, this effect is not impossible to achieve on plastic or rubber tracks using dry brushing techniques).
Overall Friulmodel metal tracks help create a very realistic effect because they are basically just miniature versions of the real ones. To add even more realism to your model, you can find solutions that via a chemical reaction, alter the colour of metal tracks, for example: Rail Weathering Solution from Micro Engineering. The downside of Friulmodel metal tracks is that they might cost you nearly as much as the kit itself, on average – over £20 (€27 or $30). You should also keep in mind that since these are individual track links, it might take you quite a while to assemble them. Sometimes you might even have to re-drill the openings in the track links because the casting does not always leave them perfect.
Another type of track is those made from rubber, or rubber bands. Various manufacturers supply their kits with rubber tracks, and the main advantage here is that you do not have to spend much time assembling them. You can often find rubber tracks of very good quality which will make your models look realistic. Tamiya kits, for example, often come with good rubber tracks, so you will not have to spend extra time and money on after market alternatives. However, if you are building a diorama with a damaged tank and broken track links, you will have to choose an after market option. Another disadvantage of rubber tracks is recreating a realistic sag. Due to their weight, these tracks will not sag naturally, and you will have to glue them to the wheels or use a needle and thread to imitate the desired effect.
Finally, there are plastic tracks which you can find included into the kits or sold separately. One of the most popular plastic track manufacturers is a Japanese company ModelKasten. ModelKasten offers a variety of workable and non-workable track sets. Some of the track sets need glue to assemble them, others come with little plastic pins to hold the links together. As with any plastic parts, ModelKasten and other plastic tracks will often require a clean up. It is possible to create a perfect sag with some plastic tracks, but you might find it more difficult than with naturally heavy metal ones.
Some plastic tracks come already removed from the sprue, like the Magic Tracks from Dragon. They will save you the time you would spend on cutting tracks off the sprue, however you might still need to do a bit of clean up to remove the seam lines. Magic Tracks are highly detailed and generally good for achieving a realistic effect. However, they do not have plastic pins to connect the links, and require glueing. The Dragon Magic Tracks come in two bags containing tracks for the right and the left side of the vehicle, which slightly differ in colour.
Some kit manufacturers sell a limited number of after market tracks. They are usually intended for use with the kits from the same manufacturer, but in general can be suitable for other brands as well. For example, HobbyBoss offers a limited number of tracks for several types of vehicles like the King Tiger, Sd.Kfz. 184 "Elephant", Soviet T-35, and some others. Most HobbyBoss kits have individual plastic track links on a sprue. Some models, for example the kit #82424 - M26 Pershing, have soft rubber band tracks.
MasterBox supplies tracks for the Jagdpanzer I Ausf. B, the Befeglwagen 3KLB, the Opel Blitz Maultier, and the Panzer I Ausf. B; these are individual tracks on a sprue which require glueing.
AFV Club has workable tracks for several models – the U.S. M60 and M48 T142, M1A1 / M1A2 Abrams T-158, M3 Stuart Early T-16, M5 Light Tank, M8 Howitzer Motor Carriage, M4 Sherman T51, and some others.
Tamiya offers vinyl tracks for Tamiya kits – Pz.Kpfw.V Panther Ausf.D, Pz.Kpfw.V Panther, the King Tiger.
Trumpeter has workable track links for several models - Jagdpanzer 38(t) 'Hetzer', Russian PT-76, Soviet T-64, IDF Merkava MK3, Pz.Kpfw.II Ausf.J, Russian T-72, and some others.
Bronco Models have a number of workable track link sets – for Panzer II, British Challenger, German Leopard, Valentine, Sherman, Pz.Kpfw.V Panther, and other models.
We recommend choosing the tracks depending on your skills and the end result you are aiming for. If you are building your first model, it might be a good idea to choose a kit with rubber tracks and focus on the basics of assembling and painting the model instead of spending hours on individual track links which require more skill. If you are an experienced modeller and want to built a truly realistic diorama, you are very likely to prefer metal tracks. However, some high quality plastic and rubber tracks can also work well for your purpose.
Thank you for reading, look forward to our next post on creating weathering effects on tracks.