Today we’ll be taking a look at one of my favorite modeling books – SM.03 Sazabi Custom, published in 2017 by Rinaldi Studio Press.

The author, Michael Rinaldi, needs no introduction in scale modeling world. Many Gunpla fans might be unfamiliar with his work though, so let’s get to know him first.

The Author

Long before starting RSP, Michael Rinaldi worked as a car designer. Eventually he switched careers and became professional scale modeler, writing for top model building magazines for nearly a decade.

Since striking out on his own, Michael published numerous modeling books, chief among them the TANKART series. Each book in the series is 200 to 300 pages long and features multiple tank models, grouped among a certain theme, like WWII German armor. Common focus of his publications is achieving realistic results through various painting and weathering techniques. More on that later.

In addition to his publishing work, Mike also runs workshops at various events, including prestigious Moson Model Show in Hungary. If you’ve got some time on your hands, they’re definitely worth watching. He also runs frequent Q&A sessions on his Facebook page, going in-depth on various modeling techniques.

Alright, let’s get on with the review!

Physical Quality

SM.03 Sazabi CustomAt first glance, SM.03 Sazabi Custom is a rather unassuming book. Like all the other books in SM (Single Model) series, it uses an unusual form factor of 16.5 by 19 cm (or 6.5 x 7.5 inches). According to Mike, it’s so it can sit on your workbench without taking too much space. As an added benefit, it’s easy to carry on the go, perfect if you like reading on a bus or train ride like I do.

Linen stock used for its softcover feels nice and tactile in hand, though the matte surface collects stains easier than your typical book. Author’s background in design is apparent both in cover art and book’s clean layout.

Page count totals at 136, making it the largest book in the SM lineup at the moment. Overall print quality is very good, with well reproduced photos showing every single weathering detail and subtle color variations on the model itself.

High quality photos clearly show every detail.

High quality photos clearly show every detail.


The Content

Oh boy, is there a lot of it. Despite the small size, SM.03 Sazabi Custom is packed with knowledge.

The book follows Michael’s first journey into the world of Gunpla. Over the course of two kits – a test build of 1/144 Dom, followed by a proper go at MG Sazabi Ver.Ka – he walks us through applying his armor painting techniques on a Gundam kit. 

Mike’s take on painting and weathering a model is radically different from what we’re used to.

Gone are the usual steps of color – clear coat – decals – clear coat – panel lining – clear coat – sponge chipping & weathering. Instead, he uses hairspray to incorporate chipping right into the painting stage. And his results are spectacular. On the other hand, panel lining, filters, streaking etc. are collectively replaced by what he calls OPR – Oil Paint Rendering, a process of selective repainting of the kit using oils.

Another big point is working in small sections. Instead of taking the entire kit through the usual stages, he focuses on completely finishing a single area  – like one of the legs – and using it to guide the weathering of the entire model. 

But Rinaldi’s process is not the only unique thing about the book.

The ‘How?’

Detailed step-by-step examples.

Some techniques are broken into small, simple steps for better explanation.

Most of us are familiar with typical modeling books and magazines. A bunch of photos on various stages of completion, with matching paragraphs of text. Usually along the lines of “Here I used x to do y”.

Mike basically went and said “Screw that, let’s actually teach people something.”.

And so, he holds nothing back. As he progresses with the build, each step and every single technique is explained in great detail. He assumes nothing and answers all the questions you might have, before you feel the need to ask them. How do you go about choosing colors? What products are you using? How much paint and thinner should I use? Why should I prime the kit? How long should I wait between layers? How to work with pure black or white areas? And many, many more.

That’s the ‘How?’. But it’s only half the story.

The ‘Why?’

In addition to explaining the techniques, and possibly more importantly as well, Rinaldi writes in-depth on the philosophy behind his modeling process. He doesn’t just show us how he does stuff – he gives us a glimpse of his thought process as well.

The subject of thinking about the build doesn’t usually get much as much spotlight as technique tutorials. Michael seeks to remedy this, tackling many subjects in those sections. From re-evaluating usual steps of the build and writing in depth on techniques we use, through importance of working in-scale (point he really tries to hammer home) to things like telling a story through precise, purposeful weathering and more.

All of these make SM.03 Sazabi Custom into more than just another technique manual. In fact, reading through the book, these were the sections I found most valuable.

The ‘Nope’

From what I’ve heard, my one complaint about the book is the same one he usually gets.

Every now and then Mike’s writing gets a bit messy. Some weird grammar, some sentence that seems to go on forever or his train of thought taking a sudden turn. Still, I can’t fault him much. Like with Panel Line Technic I reviewed last year, RSP books are pretty much one man show – from building the kits, all the way to dealing with distributors, Michael does it all by himself.

So while the writing is something I feel the need to mention, it’s a rather minor issue considering the end product.


All in all, SM.03 Sazabi Custom is one of the most interesting and value-packed modeling books in my collection.

In fact, I’d say it’s one of, if not the best book on painting and weathering Gunpla currently on the market. At least until Mike’s full TANKART-style books on Mecha and Gundams hit the market – hopefully later this year.

In the meantime, I highly recommend SM.03 to anyone interested in expanding their knowledge on painting and weathering. Whether you are a beginner or a seasoned builder, you’ll definitely get something out of it.

SM.03 Sazabi Custom
Title: SM.03 Sazabi Custom
Author: Michael Rinaldi
Price: around $20
Overall Rating:
Where to buy: Rinaldi Studio Press, Amazon

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