Plastic is an extremely versatile type of material for many different kinds of merchandise: figurines, collector’s items, statues, and more. But there are many different types of plastics to consider in creating merchandise for your next game. Popular products for press kits or collectors editions often include figurines and statues. They are not just collectibles, they serve to further realize the characters, environments, and objects of your world. As a video game marketing agency, we often need to decide the best material to use for any given figurine or statue. From experience, the team here at Waypoint knows choosing the appropriate material for your project is important in making sure your game’s models come to life properly.
We will be going over several standard plastics and the pros and cons of each. They all differ in durability, texture, cost, and more. There is no perfect material for every case, but this should help you decide which one fits your game’s vision the best.
Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) is likely what you are most familiar with, and for good reason too: it is inexpensive, easy to work with, and is easily painted. When browsing small to mid-size figurines and statues online, you will likely find most of them are made from some PVC. If your next press kit/collector’s edition is going to be mass produced, PVC is a solid choice financially.
PVC figurines have low resistance to high temperatures and pressure; meaning they can encounter problems in intense environments. When pressure is applied, PVC is more likely to bend instead of break. Over time, pure PVS statues tend to have leaning problems (especially the larger they are). You’ll also want to keep smaller PVC models away from younger children. PVC contains harmful additives that can be dangerous if ingested. PVC figurines are not toys and, like any complex model, should never be left lying around.
However, higher quality PVC can be reinforced by condensing it, increasing it’s density and overcoming the leaning problems. But due to it’s low resistance to heat and pressure, PVC is fairly malleable. Should a PVC model ever have any structural problems down the road (leaning or bending), you may be able to carefully correct it by applying heat and shaping it back. If you ever need to bring color back to your PVC models, basic acrylic paint sticks perfectly. Because PVC lends itself to modification, it is no wonder why it is so widely used.
Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS) is very different from PVC. Unlike PVC, ABS is extremely tough. Fun fact: if you have ever stepped barefoot on a Lego, you know exactly how tough pure ABS is. However, not many figurines or statues are made from only ABS.
While ABS is tough, it has its drawbacks too. ABS figurines do not lend themselves to painting and are usually primed beforehand. ABS is also very smooth and not ideal for fine complex details. While there is some firm flexibility to ABS, it will likely break if enough pressure is applied (instead of bending). Careful with leaving ABS figurines in direct sunlight for a long time; this can cause ABS to lose color and become brittle over time. Even though ABS is known for being tough, always consider the environment that your figurines are intended for.
ABS is commonly used for weight bearing portions of figurines, such as legs or bases. Combined with PVC, ABS is useful to from the basic structure of a figurine while the PVC handles the more complex details or shapes. To ensure no leaning or deformation, many figurines are made up of both ABS and PVC.
Considering vinyl as its own plastic is a bit of a misnomer. Vinyl covers a wide range of plastics; even PVC is technically a type of vinyl. Depending on how it is manufactured, vinyl can have a lot of different properties. Some vinyl is similar to PVC while others share qualities with ABS.In recent years, there has been an upsurge of mainstream vinyl figurines with the popularity of Funko Pops.
Resin, Polystone, and Cold Cast.
These three share many similarities, but also have distinct individual properties. They are all structurally sturdy; however, they are brittle overall and are prone to shatter if broken. All three are also more resistant to temperatures and humidity.
Resin shares the smoothness of PVC, but cannot be painted on as easily. Because of this, resin, like ABS, has to be primed before coloring. Resin lends itself easily to sanding and cutting. In fact, many hobby kits use resin because of this.
Polystone and coldcast appear similar to porcelain. Polystone is a compound of resin and tends to be more brittle. But polystone can also support a fair amount of small details. The feel and weight of polystone is comparable to real stone. This impressive texture along with its ability to show details is why polystone is one of the most popular mass-produced resins.
Coldcast is a resin mixed with metallic powder, giving it an impressive finish. The mixture hardens after a long time, hence its name. None of these materials are as popular as PVC or ABS, but they have their own unique qualities that should be accounted for. Although they come at a higher price point, these three materials can provide a striking visual difference for a figurine/statue compared to other plastics.
Cleaning and Care
Once you have your figures made, upkeep for different types of materials is important as well. The primary risk factors for figurines and statues are sunlight, heat, dust, grime, and moisture.
As stated earlier, direct sunlight can damage fade the paint on figurines. This primarily applies to PVC, ABS, and resin models. But this damage can also occur with different light sources, such as fluorescent lights. If you display your figurines on a lighted display, LED lights are generally safe. If this is not possible, then keep your models as far away from the light source and always have the light source off whenever possible. Heat can damage the structure of figures, although polystone and cold casts are more resistant than the rest. Keeping a consistent temperature is important for the longevity of your figurines, no matter what material they are made up of. You should avoid placing models near air conditioning units or near electronics that can heat up (e.g. your computer tower).
Dust can be more problematic depending on where your figures are stored; an open shelf will gather more dust than a glass case. If your figurines contain a lot of details, dust can settle in many different nooks. Compressed air works best against dust stuck in really tight spots. Grime gathers in figurines due to the natural oils and dust from people’s hands. It is best to always wash your hands before handling a figurine. Despite that, it is also important to clean our figurines regularly.
Plastic is waterproof in general, but figurines should never be scrubbed or you risk damaging the paint. You can also also let figurines soak in water with detergent or dish soap. After washing, be sure to let your figures dry naturally or dry them yourself with cotton balls. Leaving moisture on a figurine can potentially damage the paint or weaken joints. Resin, polystone, and cold cast figures should not be washed with water; they tend to have a more delicate texture than PVC or ABS. Instead, a humid fabric or microfiber cloth can clean these materials well. Other than soap, no other cleaning materials (e.g. alcohol) should be used when cleaning figurines. If you are more interested in how to care for plastic figurines, you can check out an in-depth blog from My Figure Collection.
The Order 1886 Premium Edition Statue
Overall, many of these materials can do the job you need for your game, but it is always important to consider all your options. Need a lot of simple figures? PVC is a great go-to! A simple structure that needs to be very sturdy? ABS or even vinyl can do that. Or maybe sturdiness isn’t a priority and you need something more visual detail? You might want to look into cold cast models. In the end, you need to decide what plastic material matches your product the best. For some inspiration, check out some of the plastic figurines that we have made for clients’ collector’s editions in the video above! And to read up more about collector’s editions in general, check out another one of our blog posts here.
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