We’ve already talked in another blog article about toy manufacturers and how this industry is a very powerful one all over the world. Numbers, sales, and the largest companies are a good amount of data to have a good picture of the toy industry’s relevance. Nevertheless, there is still an interesting question about this: how plastic toys are made? In this post, you will find the answer. We’ll show you the process, step by step, in a toy factory to deliver the final product: a toy ready to hit the world.
Toy companies: the starting point
In order to start producing plastic toys, you need to have a clear idea of what do you want to create. A toy company employs many people who will be of use at each step of the process. But toy companies are not the only ones that produce toys, many other companies fabricate toys, according to the needs and requests of their clients.
To have a better picture of what you want to produce, brainstorming is a vital element to begin with, for the reason that imagination and research find in this practice a way to coexist and put together a plan to fabricate the toy.
In Martin’s, we have professionals that will help you to put your ideas in order, so you make the best of them to get a quality plastic product. From the very beginning, designers will be glad to turn your ideas into action and so it begins all the process until the client is satisfied with the result: a bright new toy ready to hit the stores.
Designing a toy
Toy factories need the work of designers. Clients and toy company employees have a brainstorming session and, after that, designers prepare sketches of the toy in question. They include the size, colors, and facial expressions and poses, according to the type of toy (it can be a figurine, a doll, a car or some plastic food).
Sketching precedes a 3D depiction of the product, which is regularly made with specialized software. Here, depending on the equipment of each toy factory, the process can take different paths. One of them is to get the toy model with the help of a 3D printer. Another more traditional involves modelers. And, finally, top-notch technology allows a machine to sculpt the design pattern into the metal that will shape the plastic.
Modelers will work the traditional way by sculpting wax models following the 3D depiction of the toy. You may think this step takes a long time, but an experienced wax modeler can work faster than a computer. Models can also be made externally, there are factories that specialize on this. Anyway, once the model is finished, the toy factory will use it to fabricate the molds that will be of use to produce plastic toys.
Toy factory: the manufacturing
After the wax model is finished, engineers will determine whether the toy should be manufactured in just one piece or in many of them. For each one of the parts, toy factory works will create a silicone mold to make many copies in hard plastic. To create this mold, a metal box is filled with silicone that takes around 12 hours to cure.
These hard plastic copies are the prototypes, but the silicone molds can’t endure a very large production (we’re talking about thousands of toys). So, the prototypes go to different places, like the art department where the workers sample paint colors, but necessarily one copy is sent to make the production mold.
Some other toy factory workers create the production molds. The hard plastic copy goes to a metal form which is filled with plaster at the midpoint, so when the plaster cures, the prototype can be removed and leaves a cavity.
Then, this cavity is filled with a mix of metals, that includes molten zinc, copper, aluminum, and magnesium. When this mix cools, it solidifies, the plaster is broken and the metal production mold is ready. The process is repeated in order to make the other half of the toy piece and the process repeats on and on until all pieces are ready.
When the mold is finished, usually it’s a two-part mold, but there are molds that are made of 4 or more parts, the next step in the process is the plastic injection molding. The mold is mounted in an injection molding machine. Polymers or plastic pellets are introduced in the machine to be melted. The pellets mix together with dye at high temperature and they form a thick paste.
This paste, or hot molten plastic, is shot by the machine into the molds cavities. Then it cools, it hardens, and, now a solid object, it is ejected. The plastic is still soft, though, so the toy is further hardened by plunging it in cold water.
Each one of the expelled pieces gets carefully tested for high quality. Then, depending on the type of toy, each piece will follow a different path, this means, each piece will go through a different process in the toy factory, some of which we’ll talk about a few lines below.
Different toy-making techniques
To manufacture certain toys, some plastic pieces require other processes, such as tampography, also called pad-printing. This technique transfers a 2-D image into a 3-D object and it allows details like an expressive face to be applied to the plastic piece, think of the Lego, Mega Bloks, Miniland or Playmobile plastic toys with their eyes and smiles.
But other toys, like plastic fruits or little balls, will go through air injection, a process in which air is blown into melted plastic, this applies pressure against the interior surfaces of the mold. Later, the plastic cools and solidifies and the piece is ready to proceed to the next step.
One of the most interesting as well as fascinating processes when talking about how toys are made is doll-manufacturing. To create the pieces that will become the doll’s head, arms, legs, and body, a small amount of liquid vinyl is poured into the molds. These molds go inside rotation furnaces where they rotate until the plastic assumes the shape of the mold.
After some minutes of rotation, workers take out the pieces, which are still hot, and they begin to assemble the body with the legs and arms. Meanwhile, the head goes through decorating with aerography to get facial expressions, such as blushing, and the eyes and hair are added. When the head is ready, it’s assembled to the doll’s body and limbs.
As you can see, the adequate technique depends on the toy you want to produce. This might seem obvious, but each product to make demands its own requirements. As toy manufacturers, in Martin’s, plastic injection molding is one of our essential processes and we’ve got years of experience in this business. But, aside from this, one of the great advantages our clients have with us is that we also handle everything, from the very conception of an idea to the distribution of the product, in this case, the toys, no matter which kind of toy it would be.
Toy manufacturing: final details
Many toys go to the art department where they are hand-painted or airbrushed, as we’ve already explained. Dolls get their faces, as well as some other toys, like smiling trucks and cars. Dinosaur and animal figurines, for example, get their details, like the painting effects needed to show texture.
After all these different processes, when the toys are made of more than one piece, the plastic parts move to the assembly line and product handling. Technicians and workers join together the pieces skillfully, by glue, by pressure or another mean, in order to create the final depiction of the toy.
The toys are then placed in their boxes or containers, depending on their kind. Packaging is the second-to-last step of the whole process, industrial designers conceive the way the toys are going to be presented, packaged and sold in all the places they’ll go. After this, toys are now ready to get to the final step of the process: the distribution.
Toys everywhere, toys for everyone
We have presented so far, in general terms and in a very concise way, the making of plastic toys. Now, you might be wondering why toys? Or maybe you’re thinking now if it’s the right choice for your business to take. These are perfectly valid questions to pose. And they just don’t have a simple answer.
Let’s remember some figures: in 2018, the total revenue of the global toy market was 90.4 billion USD, with just the U.S. market size being about 25 billion USD . In the same year, in North America, the average amount spent on toys per child was 306 USD . All these numbers give us an easy idea of how large and profitable is this industry.
But if this is not enough reason for you, since you might think that the market represented in those numbers is highly taken by very large companies, you might find in other approaches a good motive to invest in a toy factory. One of this is the use you can make of a toy to help you with your business.
Toys are also marketed as promotional products. This is a golden opportunity to increase your sales or get potential customers interested in your business or in a specific item. Toys are an attractive way to prompt people to buy something that includes them. This applies mostly to kids, but not exclusively, just think about cereals, chips or other snacks that contain little toys inside them. But there’s also the modality where you can get a collectible item, sometimes a toy, when you buy a certain product.
Toy manufacturers produce a diversity of products, from educational and colorful toys for babies, toddlers, and preschoolers, to promotional products for different brands, to collectible figurines such as the super popular brand Funko, which works with many other brands through licensing and now it’s a successful company that in the third quarter 2019, increased its sales 26% to 223.3 million USD .
There isn’t just a type of toy, of course. On this post, we’ve focused a lot on figurines, plastic toys like fruits, cars, collectibles, and dolls. However, plastic is also present in other kinds of toys, like board games (think about the tokens or character figurines) or now even electronic toys, with some of the pieces being made of plastic.
In the middle of all this production diversity, it must be said that toy companies and manufacturers don’t work in isolation. They are in constant interaction and they are always networking with many other enterprises and businesses. The toy industry gathers in annual or periodically events, such as K Fair, the most important toy fair in all the world, that takes place in Düsseldorf every three years. This kind of events make possible important associations in order to maximize toys production.
We’ve shown you roughly how a toy factory works and, by extension, how plastic toys are manufactured. It is not an easy or simple process and it involves many people. Graphic and industrial designers, wax modelers, engineers, technicians, workers, and drivers are just a few of the professional people that give the best of themselves day by day to produce toys everywhere and for everyone.
In Martin’s, we’re a team of professionals that have worked for many clients to produce plastic objects. These include fun, quality, and beautifully designed toys as well as useful and appealing promotional products. We are a Mexican company that acknowledges that one of our greatest perks is our geographical localization, the bridge that connects Canada and the United States with Central and South America, as well as our competitive position in the market, with low costs and effective production.
As toy manufacturers, we, in Martin’s, understand the concerns and doubts that might come up in the manufacturing process; and as a solid plastic company, we are aware that in order to fabricate a toy or any other plastic item, the best we can offer is our professionalism and experience all along the process, this means from conceiving the idea to distributing the products, from planning the toy you want to produce to having in your hands the toy you’re going to sell. Don’t think it twice and get in touch with us, we’ll gladly assist you.