What is designer vinyl aka, urban vinyl, art toys, boutique toys?
Well in my opinion, these are toys that are created by artists, illustrators and graphic designers in limited quantities for an audience that appreciates toys that are different and have a unique appeal. The companies that produce these toys are not huge corporations but small to medium sized. There are exceptions such as Kidobot who produce not just designer vinyl but plenty of other types of toys. Most of these toys are purchased and collected for their aesthetic value and not play value.
About Limited Editions
It’s safe to say that 9 out of every 10 designer toys are produced in limited quantities, from as low as 10 to 2000. Smaller edition type pieces (qees, bearbricks, dunnys) are produced in larger quantities from a 1000 to 100,000 per series.
When a famous artist is involved in a particular toy, don’t be afraid if you missed out on a certain version, as chances are high, that another version will be released in another color. This is planned in advance, or if sales are very good for it, will be re-released for fans who missed out on the original version.
In the world of designer toys, limited editions and colorways go hand in hand it seems, Whats a colorway? Well it’s the exact same version of the toy, except in a different color.
A famous example is Mr.Bunny by Joe Ledbetter it was released in 3 colorways, Yellow (400 made), Snow (150) and Lava (40). All molds are exactly the same, just the paintwork differed.
Soft vinyl is the most commonly used material to create designer toys, many collectors prefer this as it has a “warm” matt finish to the product.
Also note, some small toy companies (Secret Base, Wonderwall) in Japan have perfected a method of creating soft vinyl that has a rubbery “squeezable” feel to it. This material is possible only for Made in Japan toys, no similar toys have appeared from China yet.
ABS plastic is much harder and used more for smaller toys as the print adheres more easily to the surface than soft vinyl. This is the material of choice for Trexi, small Qees and Bearbricks (all sizes)
Resin, polystone is more for statues and busts. Hard and heavy, these will break if dropped on the floor. But make great paperweights!
Plenty of factories use certain paint chemicals that have a very strong smell to it, also if left in a warm location, have a tendency to become “sticky” to the touch. Avoid direct sunlight and hot spotlights! These toys are also NOT kid friendly, remember to store them behind display cases
When it comes to soft vinyl toys, please remember to always place them away from warm surroundings, especially if they are large (8 inches and above). There have been reports of “knee bending” “neck twisting” “back slouching” toys. When in doubt, lean them on a wall for support!
A lot of designer toys are not meant to be played with, even articulated joints (neck, arms, legs, waist) have been known to break, so please be advised not to twist them too much!!
Buying Designer Toys
So its time to purchase some toys and brighten up your living spaces! I have to admit, these toys are great to stare at on a boring weekday in the office or at home. Here are some tips:
1) Compare prices, there are plenty of online stores that retail designer toys, a Google search can attest to that! However, it is advisable to choose stores who’s locations are closest to you, as you will be able to cut down on shipping charges. In many cases, shipping fees can come up to 50% (sometimes more!) than the cost of the toy itself!
2) Avoid buying new toys on EBAY, why would I say that? Well, when hot artists (Kaws for example) have their toys initially released, Ebay will be the first place you can spot them, they tend to skyrocket in price but devalue over time (after all the hype has cooled down) . So patience and timing is the key!
3) Avoid being a completist, only buy what you really really like. Remember when we were kids and Star Wars came out, we only wanted the ones with the best designs and appeal, we really didn’t need the Death Star Janitor in our collection did we? Well, the same applies to designer toys, You Don’t Have to Have every single colorway or toy ever produced by Mr. (insert famous artist here) just buy what you like but please don’t buy into the “hype” of getting every single one.. it’s a neverending hobby, money (and space!) can run out very fast!
4) Space, especially in today’s society, our living (and working!) quarters are shrinking, always remember when you purchase a toy, to take a mental note of where it could be displayed, the bigger the toy, the more space is required
5) Avoid buying older release by hot artists on the secondary market, they tend to be double (or more) their original retail, always ask yourself if its really worth the money before you purchase it. With the money spent on such items, you could be buying many more new releases!
6) Lastly, always visit toy related forums, toy news blogs and pick up toy magazines, and with prices in-hand you can budget your expenditure for that month, collect happily and not feel the burn in your pocket!