For me it really depends on what I'm modeling and where it will be on the layout. If it's close to the track and the observer I try for the most detail possible, less detail in the distance or behind trees and bushes. I find that certain types of structures look better in different techniques.
The best overall detail comes from brass kits. It gives you nearly scale thicknesses and etch detail. The kits are more DIY than most: trimming, fitting and bending brass. But they prooduce great detail for shingle or brick surfaced building and building whose prototype was metal, like some gas stations. Micron Art and Miller Engineering are two that I think you might find in Europe.
For wooden faced building like houses, barns, stations and the like; the laser cut wood kits work well. I like to go a bit beyond the instructions and add inside corner bracing. MTL and GCLaser are two you might find. although even Märklin has made a couple.
I'd place the polystyrene kits next with good detail but not quite as crisp looking. I think we all know the construction issue there. Actually for modelling the east coast, a number of the German manufacturers' building work well.
I put the 3D printed and plastic molded buildings together. Fair to good detail time consuming to paint and weather well.
There are also some kits that are resin cast. These work the best for stucco or adobe building in a southwest style. A bit more preparation work than polystyrene. I've done some kits from Randy Brown.
One word of advice regarding buildings is that they are most small run, hobbyist created. Specific models come and go quickly. To quote another member of this forum: "if you see it, buy it, for tomorrow it will be gone."
One set of kits to watch for is Townbuilder. Great detail and the sort of building that would make a 1950s main street USA. They have been out of production for a while, but you if you run across them in Europe, buy them.
I'm with Mark for the first slot, although I do like the variety you get with 3D printing. There are a couple of guys out there that are pretty good, and you get unique buildings, or at least very interesting.
I've not done any of the laser cut buildings, but I'd love to find the Marklin Foundry on EBay, or somewhere (styrene, I believe).
I've not done a lot of scratch work yet, but Micron Arts has some fine brass detail pieces. I've even seen some nice work with cardboard, like pressed relief (bricks and such).
My favorites are the ones from Micron Arts. They are the right size and are very well detailed. Miller Engineering are good also, but some of the buildings are too small.
That's something I forgot to mention: structures are just approximately 1:220. There's a number of undersized buildings best for perspective into a background. Likewise I like oversized buildings near the track. Z scale rails are twice the height of the scaled prototype, so I look for buildings with windows and doors that are oversized if possible.
Thank You for Your answers ; Micron Art looks well, but I think it's rather "tricky" to build (and paint) ; TownBuilder seems hard to find (often "sold out"), but You mentioned two firms that I din't know, GCLaser and Randy Brown, they seem fine, too. For my "town station" I have already ordered the "Torrnstein" (Archistories), together with my locos, at HRT (Jörg Erkel) ; "Friedrichstal" by Kibri is pretty too, but too big for a station with only one plattform (I thought of it during my "Amtrak" era). And I bought the "Kibri" gravel plant (for my hoppers) : the only problem I found is that the access ramps have REALLY a too high slope for trucks (but it can be modified without problems) !
Last Edit: Apr 22, 2017 3:10:23 GMT -5 by alberich
The Laser Cut Wood Kits are my first choice with the etched brass & nickle/silver kits running a close 2nd. The card stock, cardboard, and paper kits are ok but tend to warp and distort over time unless you add your own internal bracing. The plastic kits are easy to build but tend to look Toy-like, They remind me of the Plasticville kits from the 1950's and 60's.
The first Z Scale Laser cut wood kit I ever built was a Ranch house by "Paw of A Bear"
Brass kits really aren't very tricky. It's good to have a couple of tools appropriate for brass work, but other than metal bending, brass uses the same assembly techniques as a polystyrene kit or a laser kit. They are more time consuming, but you can't beat the look of the finished product. Check out the "Gulf" gas station in some of the "California Dreaming" thread images. I would suggest some of the smaller details such as the station wagon or platform or signal tower as an easy, inexpensive way to try out brass.
But ultimately it's a matter of where you want to spend your time on your layout. In most cases the additional details in brass aren't too important. The only time I really encourage brass would be for bridges. But I have several brass structures (including the gas station and bridges) mainly because it's the only material available the model I want.
I saw recently that Rokuhan (in Germany = Noch) is now selling buildings which would perfectly fit into a small US town in the 50's (if one changes the japanese inscriptions ! ) and are less expensive than those at Shapeways, for example. Did anybody test them ? There are several basic models, and each is available with several colour variations ...
Last Edit: May 25, 2017 0:48:19 GMT -5 by alberich