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What Are Action Figures Made Of? A Comprehensive Guide

Apr 14, 2024
What Are Action-Figures Made Of

Did you know that action figures have been captivating people’s imaginations for over 60 years? From G.I. Joe to Star Wars, these small yet intricately designed characters have become an iconic part of popular culture. But have you ever wondered, what are action figures made of? In this blog post, we invite you on a journey through the fascinating world of action figures, exploring their composition, manufacturing process, historical evolution, and the industry’s major players and niche manufacturers. Let’s dive into the vibrant world of these collectibles and uncover the secrets behind the intricate details and craftsmanship that bring them to life.

Key Takeaways

  • Action figures are crafted with a variety of materials and techniques to ensure their intricate design, safety, and durability.
  • The production process involves initial design and prototyping, molding & casting, assembly & painting for unique designs that meet safety standards.
  • Major players mass produce while boutique makers focus on quality & detail for discerning collectors.

The Composition of Action Figures

The Composition of Action Figures

One of the key aspects that make action figures so appealing is their elaborate design and attention to detail. From the paint and finishes to the clothing and accessories, every element of an action figure is carefully crafted to bring the character to life. To achieve this level of detail, manufacturers use a variety of materials and techniques, ensuring that the end product is not only visually stunning but also durable and safe to play with.

Now, we will examine the common materials used in the production of these iconic collectibles.

Types of Plastics

Action figures are predominantly made from durable plastics, such as ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene) and PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride). ABS is known for its strength and resilience, along with its heat and chemical resistance, making it an ideal material for creating sturdy action figures that can withstand rough play.

On the other hand, PVC offers flexibility and moldability, allowing for intricate designs and poseable limbs that bring characters to life. These materials not only provide the necessary durability for action figures but also enable manufacturers to produce comic book, figures and other popular characters with high levels of detail and accuracy.

As a result, collectors and enthusiasts can enjoy lifelike representations of their favorite characters, while children can immerse themselves in imaginative play with their beloved heroes and villains.

Paints and Finishes

To achieve the vibrant colors and intricate designs that make action figures so appealing, manufacturers use various types of paints and finishes. Acrylics and enamels are commonly employed to create detailed and accurate appearances for action figures. These paints are carefully applied using a combination of airbrushing and hand-brushing techniques, with 3D stencils called spray masks guiding the process.

High-quality acrylic paint is recommended for painting action figures, as it ensures a durable and vibrant finish that can withstand play and handling. The paint selection significantly impacts the design process, influencing not just the figure’s overall appearance but also its durability and quality.

Clothing and Accessories

Beyond the actual figure itself, clothing and accessories are essential elements that contribute to the overall appearance and functionality of action figures. Materials such as fabrics, metals, and plastics are frequently employed to create a wide array of clothing and accessories, including:

  • Shirts
  • Pants
  • Dresses
  • Jackets
  • Hats
  • Sunglasses
  • Jewelry
  • Weapons
  • Tools
  • And more

These additional elements serve to enhance the play experience and allow collectors to display their action figures in a variety of poses and settings. The careful selection of materials and attention to detail ensures that these supplementary components not only look great but also hold up well under normal use, further contributing to the overall quality and appeal of the action figure.

The Manufacturing Process of Action Figures

Now that we’ve examined the materials that go into action figures, let’s explore the intricate manufacturing process that brings these characters to life. The production process creating action figures includes the following steps:

  1. Initial design and prototyping
  2. Molding
  3. Casting
  4. Assembly
  5. Painting

Each step of the production process requires expert craftsmanship and attention to detail.

Next, we will investigate the diverse stages of action figure production and reveal the methods employed to craft these captivating collectibles.

Design and Prototyping

The first step in creating an action figure is designing the character, which involves artists transforming rough sketches or final character artwork into detailed designs using photo and sketch references. During this stage, factors such as the number of points of articulation, the range of motion for each joint, and the figure’s facial expressions independently are taken into account, ensuring that the final product is both poseable and accurate to the character’s appearance. This process typically involves the use of 3D modeling software, allowing for precise design and easy adjustments.

Once the design is finalized, the actual design process begins with the creation of a prototype. This process involves sculpting the figure out of clay or using 3D printing technology to create a physical representation of the design. The sculpted prototype serves as a basis for further refinement and testing, allowing manufacturers to make any necessary adjustments before moving on to the mold-making and casting stages.

Mold Making and Casting

With the prototype complete, the next step is to create molds for casting the action figure’s various components. Molds are typically made from steel and are used to form plastic parts through a process known as injection molding or rotocasting.

During the casting process, plastic is heated and injected into the molds, where it undergoes the plastic cools phase and solidifies, taking on the shape of the action figure components. This process allows for the production of intricate details and high-quality parts that make up the finer details of the final action figure.

Once the components have been cast, they are ready to be assembled and painted.

Assembly and Painting

In the assembly stage, the various components of the action figure are put together, sometimes by hand and sometimes with the help of machines. This process can be quite intricate, as each part must be precisely aligned and secured to ensure proper articulation and durability. In some cases, additional features such as light and sound effects may be incorporated during assembly, further enhancing the play experience.

The final step in the manufacturing process is painting. This stage entire sculpting process involves carefully applying paint to the assembled action figure to bring its design to life. Using airbrushing and hand-brushing techniques, artists apply paint based on the approved production samples, ensuring consistency and accuracy in the figure’s appearance. Once the painting is complete, the action figure is ready to be packaged and shipped to retailers and collectors around the world.

Evolution of Action Figure Production

Action figures have come a long way since their inception in the 1960s. From the first G.I. Joe figures to the elaborate and detailed collectibles produced today, action figures have evolved to incorporate new materials, technologies, and design trends.

Next, we will examine the historical progression of action figure production and discover how technological advancements and current trends are influencing the future of these cherished collectibles.

Early Days of Action Figures

The term “action figure” was first coined by Hasbro in the 1960s when they introduced the iconic G.I. Joe toy line. These early figures were made of plastic and designed to be poseable, setting the stage for future developments in the action figure industry.

In 1971, Mego released the first superhero action figures, featuring characters from Marvel and DC comics, further expanding the market for these popular toys. The huge success of G.I. Joe and superhero action figures laid the groundwork for the action figure industry, which would continue to grow and evolve over the years.

The introduction of popular franchises like Star Wars in the late 1970s further fueled the demand for action figures, including star wars action figures, and helped to establish the market for collectible and highly detailed figures that we know today.

Technological Advancements

Over the years, advances in technology have had a significant impact on the production and design of action figures. From the use of computer-aided design (CAD) software to create more accurate and detailed 3D models to the advent of 3D printing, which allows for faster production times and increased customization possibilities for toy lines, technology has revolutionized the way action figures are made.

Additionally, the integration of digital technology, such as artificial intelligence and augmented reality, has given rise to more interactive and immersive action figures. These advancements not only enhance the play experience but also provide collectors with an ever-growing array of unique and innovative figures to add to their collections.

Trends in Modern Action Figure Manufacturing

Today’s action figure manufacturing is characterized as much detail, by a focus on intricate details, unique designs, and high-quality materials. Modern action figures, such as highly detailed, voluptuous female figures based on comics and book characters, as well as sports figures based on the World Wrestling Federation (WWF), are some examples of current trends. The entire figure is crafted with precision to ensure the best representation of the character.

Other trends in modern action figure manufacturing include the use of eco-friendly materials and the implementation of green, toy making initiatives to reduce the environmental impact of these products. The combination of cutting-edge technology and a focus on sustainability ensures that action figures will continue to captivate the imaginations of collectors and enthusiasts for years to come.

Quality Control and Safety Standards

As with any consumer product, ensuring the safety and quality of action figures is of paramount importance. Manufacturers must adhere to strict safety standards and regulations, as well as implement thorough testing and quality control measures to guarantee that their products are safe for children and collectors alike.

Next, we will explore the different safety standards, testing methods, and quality control measures utilized to ensure the safety and durability of action figures.

Material Safety

Action figures must comply with safety standards such as ASTM F963-17, which covers mechanical and physical properties, electrical safety, and the presence of chemicals and heavy metals. Compliance with these standards ensures that the materials used in action figure production, such as plastics and paints, are safe for consumers and pose no health risks.

Furthermore, the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) mandates that toys meet specific safety requirements, providing an additional layer of protection for consumers. By adhering to these standards, manufacturers can guarantee that their action figures are not only visually appealing and durable but also safe for children and collectors to enjoy.

Product Testing

In addition to ensuring material safety, manufacturers must also conduct rigorous product testing to guarantee the durability and quality of their action figures. Tests are conducted to assess factors such as strength, stability, and toxicity, ensuring that the figures can withstand normal use and remain safe for play.

Moreover, third-party testing and certification are often required, particularly for toys designed for children aged 12 and under, to ensure that the action figures conform to the safety standards and regulations set by organizations such as ASTM. Regular retesting and certification are essential to guarantee continued adherence to safety standards and regulations, ensuring the safety and quality of action figures throughout their lifecycle.

Packaging and Distribution

The packaging and distribution of action figures have a significant impact on their safety and quality. Manufacturers must consider factors such as:

  • The intended recipient
  • The timeframe
  • The destination
  • The delivery method

when designing packaging for their products. In addition, transit tests are employed to replicate the potentially harsh treatment that a package of military figures may experience before reaching its destination, ensuring that the action figure remains intact and undamaged during shipping.

By taking these factors into account and implementing rigorous testing procedures, manufacturers can ensure that their action figures reach their customers in perfect condition, maintaining the high standards of safety and quality that collectors and enthusiasts have come to expect from these captivating collectibles.

The Action Figure Industry: Major Players and Niche Manufacturers

The action figure industry is a diverse and competitive market in the action figure world, with major brands like Hasbro and Mattel dominating the landscape, while smaller, niche manufacturers cater to collectors and enthusiasts seeking unique and highly detailed collectible action figures.

Next, we will contrast the strategies of these major players and niche manufacturers, examining their:

  • Design
  • Production
  • Marketing tactics
  • Influence on the action figure market.

Big Brands: Hasbro, Mattel, and More

Major players in the action figure industry, such as Hasbro, Mattel, and Lego, are known for their ability to mass-produce figures and secure licensing deals for popular franchises like Star Wars and Marvel Comics. These companies have the financial resources and production capabilities to create high-quality action figures on a large scale, reaching a wide audience and dominating the proposed figure market.

However, their focus on mass production and marketing can sometimes lead to a compromise in quality and attention to detail. The vast quantities of mass-produced figures, specifically action figures, produced by these companies may result in a more generic look and feel, as opposed to the unique and intricate designs offered by smaller, niche manufacturers.

Boutique Action Figure Makers

In contrast to the mass-produced offerings of major brands, boutique action figure makers prioritize quality and detail over quantity. These niche manufacturers often focus on producing exclusive and limited edition figures, providing collectors and enthusiasts with one-of-a-kind pieces that showcase exceptional craftsmanship and artistic vision.

While these boutique manufacturers may not have the same financial resources or production capabilities as the major players, their dedication to quality and uniqueness allows them to carve out a loyal following within the action figure community. By focusing on producing intricate and highly detailed figures, these niche manufacturers cater to a more discerning audience who values the craftsmanship and artistry that goes into every piece.


From their humble beginnings in the 1960s to the highly detailed and technologically advanced plastic figures produced today, action figures have captured the imaginations of collectors and enthusiasts around the world.

By exploring the materials, manufacturing processes, historical evolution, and industry players, we’ve gained a deeper understanding of the passion and craftsmanship that go into creating these captivating collectibles.

As the action figure industry continues to evolve and innovate, enthusiasts and collectors alike can look forward to a future filled with unique, high-quality, and immersive action figures that bring their favorite characters to life.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are action figures made out of PVC?

Yes, action figures are made out of PVC. ABS and PVC are both structurally strong materials, but they are also prone to breakage if handled incorrectly.

What are high quality figurines made of?

High-quality figurines are typically made of tough plastic resin, such as acrylonitrile butadiene styrene, and small accessories and costume elements are molded from softer polymers like polypropylene and polyethylene.

What technological advancements have impacted action figure production?

Technological advancements such as CAD software, 3D printing, artificial intelligence, and augmented reality have drastically changed the way action figures are produced.

What are some current trends in modern action figure manufacturing?

Modern action figure production is embracing eco-friendly materials, producing highly detailed female and sports figures, and incorporating digital technology for interactive play.

How do boutique action figure makers differ from major brands like Hasbro and Mattel?

Boutique action figure makers focus on producing high-quality, limited-edition figures that showcase exceptional craftsmanship, while major brands prioritize mass production and marketing.