As a big fan of toy companies like Kid Robot and Medicom, I've always wanted to make an art toy.
I've always admired artists in the vinyl toy scene. There are so many unique styles that you can get excited about, and there always seems to be something new. This project is my exploration into creating my own toys. After a number of attempts using different mediums, I finally pursued the development of my first vinyl production.
Previous One-off Toys
Sketching to Handcrafting
Whenever I started developing a new toy concept, I always began with concept sketches. I usually start with simpler forms that capture the essence of my concept, then further develop the details as I flesh out the feeling of the character. To demonstrate, Below are some of my preliminary sketches for one of my resin-cast toys, Sappy.
Once I was happy with my sketches, I either sculpted or made CAD for a master model. I then created two-part silicone molds for my toys.
Once the mold was made, I slush cast my toys using either opaque or translucent urethane resin. After casting I cleaned up the flash and finished with paint and varnish.
Creating these toys through handcrafting methods was fun and good practice, but I had always been interested in making a manufactured toy one day.
Developing the Production
From School Work to Side Project
During my final year of study I worked on a project focusing on fictitious correspondence for factory production. Due to my interest in vinyl toys, I decided to make the focus of my assignment the production of a vinyl toy. Like my previous toys, I started with sketches and eventually worked up to a CAD model.
At the time when I was coming up with the design I was inspired by the seasonal styles of Fall, such as puffer jackets and anoraks. These were the styles that the hypebeasts and "Toronto Mans" (as they're referred to by some in my neighborhood) always wore. My biggest inspiration was how some wearers would huddle and hide their mouths and hands in their jackets to escape from the cold.
I had found my muse, so I fleshed out a concept through some sketches, then made a CAD file of my design in Solidworks. Since this assignment was about manufacturing, I aimed to consider the manufacturability of the design by incorporating draft and avoiding undercuts as best as I could.
After doing some Keyshot renderings of the design, I was enticed to see what it actually cost to get this toy produced. With permission from my instructor I pursued obtaining an actual production quote instead of the fictitious correspondence for my assignment.
As I had learned to do during my internships, I created a simple manufacturing spec document to distribute to potential vendors. This document allowed me to communicate very quickly with the factories with less interference from the language barrier. This document can be viewed below.
To kick off the process of finding a vendor, I had to decide on a couple of important things such as my MOQ and my budget. Once I decided on those factors I began to search for factories. Based on my research, there were 3 main geographic zones I was deciding between for sourcing.
Comparing the Common Manufacturers
North American vinyl toy producers were a potential option. These firms would have provided easier communications, reputability, and a more holistic design and manufacturing process. However, many North American producers also had higher prices, longer project times, and many also had wait lists for your project to be addressed.
Since the vinyl toy scene was deeply rooted in Japan through Sofubi culture, this was a region worth investigating. Despite this, I found out through a connection that it was a very closed community. Getting a toy made by a Sofubi craftsman was very difficult and very expensive, but the quality was unmatched.
China was the most typical place for manufacture. Through platforms like Alibaba it is possible to contact a wide variety of factories directly with a range of prices and MOQs. Although this was a very flexible and affordable route, there was also a lot of risk involved in regard to reputability, quality, and cost.
After Comparing my options, I decided to source from China. However, with little experience I was cautious when proceeding.
After comparing my options, I decided to source from China. However, since I had very little first-hand experience dealing with vendors I was very cautious when proceeding to find the right vendor. To begin, I found factories that specialized in vinyl toy manufacturing, reached out to them describing my project and MOQ, and after some conversation, I sent them my spec document to receive a quote.
Assorted vinyl samples from factories.
Once I reached out to a few factories and received a few quotes, I selected the most relevant factories, and ordered samples of their production capabilities to evaluate their quality. Some manufacturers only sent tools from previously made tooling, while one factory also sent a 3D-printed prototype of my design as well. After evaluating these samples and some further negotiations and correspondence, I selected my vendor and proceeded with manufacturing.
Once I reviewed the agreement details of the factory I selected (e.g. terms) and the initial payment was processed, we proceeded with manufacturing. After just under a month of waiting for tooling, the first vinyl sample was pulled and painted.
The toys were rotationally molded in soft vinyl, manufactured as a two-part piece that was assembled after casting. Throughout the production I remained in close contact with my factory rep to stay involved in the process.
This first pull came out nicely from the mold, but the purple gradient didn't come out quite right. I really liked how the 3D-printed sample from a different factory had come out, so using photos of that sample I requested the changes to be made. The factory that did the 3D sample had apparently not used the purple I had spec'd in the CMF, so I had to find a purple that matched the one they had used for my factory. Once I found the swatch they went to work and I received an updated pull within a day.
After the colors were corrected, an issue with the mold was found during secondary inspection. There were several sand spots on the mold that were making visible blemishes. We had these repaired, but this delayed the production by about a week.
Receiving and Personal Inspection
Once all of the necessary revisions were made, the production run was made. I had a small MOQ of 50 units, so it was very quick. When the parts finally arrived in Canada, I had to pay some customs fees, but receiving was fairly simple. Once my toys arrived at my house, I unboxed, unbagged, and personally inspected each toy for issues or manufacturing defects.
Branding and Packaging
Creating a Style
I had my toys and inspected them all, so now it was time for packaging. In order to do so, I needed to come up with a simple brand language to work with. I started by looking at my inspirations.
My initial theme was based around the quote "We're more ghosts than people." from the game Red Dead Redemption II. I tried to build on that foundation with trendy urban styles.
I got a lot of inspiration from sneaker culture when it came to the packaging. The material combinations and accent details of some of my favorite shoe styles such as the Nike Vapormax.
Clear "X-Ray" Styles
When I was designing the packaging for this toy there was a bit of a spike in all clear, or X-Ray, CMFs for products on websites like Urban Outfitters. Tying in with my whole "More Ghosts" theme, I thought that minimal opacity would match my product and also help make the product's color pop.
Since the design was derived from the street culture, I wanted to try and incorporate similar fashion trends into the typography, graphics, and composition as well. I looked at some major brands and tried to distill some interesting styles I could try to use.
The End Result
I didn't want to stray too far from the standard plastic bags with cardboard hanger tags, but I also wanted to do something a little more elevated than that. Trying to align with "X-Ray" style and sneaker CMFs, I found these cool textured transparent vacuum seal bags to work with. These bags provided the same level of protection as the standard bags, but looked much more polished when sealed. I added a ballchain and plastic tag as an accessory detail to elevate the bag a bit more. For typography, I was inspired by hypebeast brands and the SNES, so I used an SNES-like font to add on the branding. As a finishing touch, I added a QR code that leads to my portfolio, as well as the quote which inspired the brand underneath.