Manufacture a Custom Designer “Toy”


If you read the article in the November issue on how contemporary artists are creating custom lines of vinyl toys, based on characters they create, and you want to know how to make your own toy from a resin cast, here are step-by-step instructions. For more information on the custom toy trend, refer to the November 2008 issue of Art Calendar magazine.

With all the enthusiasm surrounding designer toys, you may be inspired to create one. If you would like to try your hand at creating a sculpture made from scratch, or if you abhor the idea of working with a set platform and prefer your own design, you may want to have your toy manufactured independently. The following steps are intended as a brief guideline.

Step 1: Make a Design


Keep in mind that the cost of producing a figure is largely determined by the complexity of its design. In general, the presence of undercuts and tiny details complicate the casting and manufacture of a design. Keeping your figure compact and simple in shape will make it easier and cheaper to reproduce. Also, don’t forget you’re going to sculpt the figure yourself and it needs be attractive in order to lure collectors. Consider these factors, then let your imagination run wild.

Step 2: Sculpt It

Once you’ve put together a design, it’s time to sculpt your original. Polymer clay is a cheap, easy and accessible sculpting medium that has a texture similar to Plasticine. It comes in multiple colors and can be found in most art supply stores. Note: Polymer clay is made with PVC and phthalate. Wash your hands after use. Do not ingest polymer clay. Do not use kitchen utensils as tools to mold it if you intend to continue cooking with them. Fire polymer clay in a well-ventilated room. There are several brands of polymer clay: Sculpey, Fimo and Kato Poly Clay are among the most popular. Each kind has its own properties. Determining the best is a matter of personal preference.

To sculpt your figure, you will need a few modeling tools. You can also buy these up at the art supply store or use an assemblage of household items.

Once you are satisfied with your figure, you will need to bake it in a conventional oven order to harden the shape. Consult the directions for temperature and baking time.

Step 3: Create a Prototype

After you’ve finished your work of art, find a local company to create a cast of your original polymer clay sculpture in resin. For instance, Tom Banwell Designs ( ) does custom casting in resin and has experience casting prototypes for several clients including Disney and Warner Brothers. This is a great option for artists who don’t have the facilities to work with resin. If you have any questions or concerns about your design, send them a picture or a drawing, and they will be happy to make suggestions.

If you prefer to do the resin-casting yourself, be sure you have good ventilation in the studio. Resin can be harmful to one’s health so observe the proper precautions. Do not inhale any fumes and do not let any materials come in contact with your eyes, skin or mouth.

Step 4: Paint Your Resin Prototype

Once you’ve got your resin prototype, wash it with soap and warm water. Twice. Rinse the figure carefully. Wet-sand any seams and bumps with 320-grit sandpaper. Look the piece over, and check for any air holes. Fill any air holes with putty (Wonder Putty or Squadron will do). Let the prototype dry completely. Apply a light coat of primer such as Krylon Sandable Primer. Let the figure dry thoroughly before applying paint. Resin models can be painted using water-based acrylic paints, lacquer or enamel paints.

Step 5: Contact a Factory for Manufacturing

Once you’ve decided your toy is suitable for production, contact a few factories that specialize in toy manufacturing such as the Shenzhen Chuangji Gift and Toy Development Company ( Spend some time to do research and cost comparison among your choices.

Look for a factory with a project manager who will guide you during the manufacturing process. This should be someone who can explain things to you clearly and to whom you can adequately express your needs or concerns. Make sure the factory replies promptly to e-mails and doesn’t expect you to pay all the production costs in advance. A good factory will always answer your questions and tell you about every available option.

Send the factories photographs of the resin prototype from various angles. Give them some details about its height, width and length. Ask for an estimate for the cost to manufacture it. State how many toys you want to produce in total and the packaging option you desire.

At this point, you should receive a cost breakdown of the tooling process (creation of the steel mold and a few test figures) and a unit cost per figure including manufacturing, painting, packaging and shipping for the order as a whole. If the cost is prohibitive, walk away or modify your design to lower costs.

Once you are happy with a quote, send your resin prototype to the factory. If everything checks out with the estimate, you’ll be asked pay the tooling costs. You should know, due to the nature of making this type of mold, the size of the final toy will be slightly smaller than the prototype because resin shrinks slightly when exposed to extreme heat. You may want to adjust for this in your design and provide the factory with more than one prototype.

After the factory finishes creating a mold, they will send you some test runs. If you are unhappy with something, you can stop the project and ask for changes to be made. Otherwise, you will be asked to pay the remainder of the production costs and your order will be completed. AC


A former art consultant and assistant office manager at Hoypoloi Gallery in Orlando, Florida, Louise Buyo is the assistant editor of Art Calendar. In 2007, she graduated from the University of Florida with a B.A. in Art History, and has also studied at the University of Miami, Pratt Institute and the Paris Research Center at Columbia University’s Reid Hall in Paris, France. She has served as a curatorial assistant in the exhibitions department at the Orlando Museum of Art and in the contemporary art department of the Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art. To see a portfolio of her writing, visit her Web site at Louise can be reached at [email protected].