So you're interested in making an order of action figures? You've come to the right place!
Happy Worker has been manufacturing action figures for 10 years. Toymaking is all we do, and we won't let you down.
On this page, first we'll answer the top 3 questions we receive about transforming beloved characters into great custom action figures.
Then we'll share all sorts of details on our action figure design & manufacturing process
– what design decisions need to be made, how we prototype action figures, and then how we manufacture them to become treasured toys and true collector's items.
We hope you'll like what you see, and that you'll contact us for an estimate.
[Super Leasing Pro] was the hit of the show and I wanted to once again thank you and the team at Happy Worker for all of the work you guys did to ensure that she would be ready on time and looking super fantastic!Maureen Boyle, Director of Marketing
... this type of giveaway creates memories and also leads naturally to viral marketing – I'm passing mine on to my property manager along with the rent this month.Chris Wood, Senior Editor
Top 3 Questions About Making Action Figures
1. How many toys: Quantities & Ideal Order Sizes
We can produce 5,000 or more action figures per production run. We have experience with large, complex toy distributions and can readily support orders in the hundreds of thousands to millions.
p.s. A note about personalized one-off figures.
2. Timelines: Creation-to-Delivery
It takes about 26 to 32 weeks to design, prototype, manufacture and deliver an order of action figures. Some figures that have complex designs or that mix different materials or production techniques can take a bit longer.
“Rush” schedules are possible, but toys can only be made so quickly. Contact us to see what's possible for your project. For rush schedules review & approval stages are reduced and some additional rush costs apply.
3. How much $: Costs
Each of our clients' action figures are made-to-order and many variables affect pricing.
The cost to create an order of action figures depends on:
- Character design
- Action figure size
- # of joints and accessories
- Painting complexity
We Design to Budgets
Because we design and produce figures from scratch, we work backwards from budgets and program goals to help recommend the right features for your order. Contact us to discuss your goals.
Budgeting for custom action figures includes three parts:
- Per unit
Most 6-inch tall action figures with accessories cost between $8 and $12 each for an order of 5,000 toys, while 4-inch tall action figures can range from $5 to $8 each for an order of 5,000 toys.
- Setup Investments
One-time costs for design work, prototyping, and tooling are additional and normally range between $20,000 to $30,000 or more, depending on the action figure's complexity and reference artwork/assets available.
Freight costs are billed separately and vary based on the order quantity, the size of the packaged action figure, and the shipping destination. We can help with an estimate once we discuss your project.
Action Figures 101: From Design to Production
Want to know how we make action figures? We’ve created this section as a handy resource about the fun process from idea to final figure birthing.
Before we created our first action figure, we spent two years learning the basics of how to design, manufacture and retail action figures. In the 10 years since, we’ve been continuously improving as we strive to make each new figure our best ever. This knowledge is distilled here for you.
Part 1) Decisions on How to Turn a Character into an Action Figure
It should go without saying, but great action figures come from great character concepts and design choices. So the first place to start is the original character.
Together we'll decide what figure style and specifications will best bring the character to toy life. From articluation points / joints, accessories, to lights and sound chips. We love pushing boundaries in toy design.
A number of creative toy decisions are made in sync with the concept, including:
- Action figure size
- Materials & Colors
- Joints / Articulation points
- Features (lights, sounds, magnets, etc.)
- Branding & Logos
We’ll recommend the best design options to suit the toy or collectible’s purpose, audience and business goals. Once all the decisions are made, either your design team or a Happy Worker illustrator will create action figure “control artwork”, or blueprint designs that will be used for toy prototyping. Some of our clients have only rough character sketches, and we help create final artwork. Other clients have final character artwork all ready and are rarin’ to get toymaking!
Your proposals were the most fully researched, thoughtful and appealing... you really knew all about our brand which is far beyond anything I’ve ever seen.Brand Manager
Happy Worker is amazing. They are creative wizards, enthusiastic, extremely detailed... they definitely exceeded my expectation and their customer service is phenomenal.Andrea Franklin, Partnership Account Manager
Toronto Argonauts Football Club
Action Figure Sizes & Scales
All of our toys are made-to-order, and we can create action figures in almost any size.
The most desk-friendly action figure are usually between 3 to 8 inches (7.5 to 20 cm) tall.
Common action figure sizes are:
- 1” – 3” Mini Figures - Smaller art toys and figures like “Mini-Mates”, “Smurfs” or “Lego” people
- 3¾” Figures - “Star Wars” or smaller “G.I Joe” RAH figures
- 6" Figures - Modern superhero size, common for desk-sized figures
- 8” Figures - “Mego” action figures
- 11.5” Figures - “Barbies” and dolls
- 12" Figures - “G.I. Joe” (traditional/retro scale) figures
- 18"+ Figures - Large scale figures, “life-size” replicas, or larger display pieces
Materials & Colors
We work with a variety of plastics and paints:
- Plastics – Vinyl a.k.a. PVC (polyvinyl chloride), ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene), PS (polystyrene) and others, depending on toy design & function.
- Paints – We work with a variety of oil and model paints, with a variety of application methods including washes, air brush, hand brush, tampo pad printing. We can readily match PMS colors.
- Other Materials – We can incorporate other materials into the toy, such as magnets, electronics, resin, plush and fabrics, metal, etc.
Joints… putting the “Action” in Action Figure
Articulation points are poseable joints and limbs that move, rotate or disconnect. The simplest action figures have 1 articulation point (e.g., the head can rotate) or 3 articulation points (e.g., the head and both arms can rotate). Some of our figures are highly poseable, with over 14 points of articulation. We hide the engineering and joints into the figure sculpture as much as possible.
Some figures have no articulation points at all, and are more like figurines, statuettes, or "inaction" figures than action figures. These static figurines have the best character integrity, and they're popular for simple mini figures (e.g., Smurfs toys).
Sometimes we make very high end figurines out of different materials, too. See our polystone figures page for examples of our statues and "inaction" figures meant for display.
Action Figure & Doll Accessories – Heroic Tools and “Weapons”
What would “Superman” be without his cape, “Wonder Woman” without her golden tiara, “Batman” without his gadgets, “G.I. Joe” without his weapons, and “He-Man” without his power sword?
We’ll work together to create miniature accessories that are right for your custom action figure, character and brand:
Materials – while most accessories are made of plastic, they can be created from fabric, metal, magnets, cardboard, and many other materials.
Number of Accessories – action figures and dolls can have any number of accessories. Some have no accessories and others have a few, 5, 10, or even more trusty tools of the trade.
Compatibility – all accessories are engineered alongside the toys to be completely compatible
Fun toy accessories we’ve created include:
- Replaceable heads and faces to play up multiple moods and personalities
- Magnetic accessories that stick to different parts of an action figure
- Tiny briefcases and toolboxes that open and close
- Changeable hands and shoes
- Wearable mini toy costumes
- Custom figure stands and displays
Branding & Logos
Branding and logos can be sculpted or engraved into the figure, or applied almost anywhere on the surface of the action figure and its accessories via painting and imprinting.
Fun Content & Unwrapping Reveals
Packaging adds to the value and gifting experience, and serves as an excellent canvas for graphic design. Each packaging style has its own advantages – some are best for collectors, others for retail shelves or gifting at trade shows, and other styles are best for environmental sustainability or reduced shipping expenses.
Popular styles of action figure packaging
- Blister Cards – cardboard backing with a transparent plastic bubble sealed on top
- Card Gift Boxes – also referred to as “blind boxes”; made of recyclable thick card stock
- Clamshells – similar to blister cards but made entirely of plastic; can be permanently sealed or re-sealable so collectors can remove and replace their action figures
- Window Boxes – card or cardboard gift boxes with a transparent plastic window in front
- Polybags – smallest and lightest possible packaging, these printed and sealed plastic bags are an economical choice and have the smallest transportation footprint
- Tin Gift Boxes – made of tin plate; can be formed, printed, and embossed into original shapes
- Acrylic Display Cases – for higher end collectibles, these thick UV-protective cases are a classy display
- New & Unique – we're always interested in experimenting with new packaging designs and materials
Designing the packaging
First we help our clients choose the best style of packaging that meets their goals. Then the package design is created by Happy Worker or by our clients’ creative team. If Happy Worker is acting in a supporting role, we supply full graphic templates, assist with ideas for copy, and provide required regulatory content.
Corporate Gifting & Distribution
Design with Distribution in Mind
When selecting the right packaging style, it’s important to consider who will receive the toys, as well as when, where and how they’ll receive them.
- Direct Mail – toy packaging and mailer box can be tightly integrated into complete direct mail pieces
- Trade Shows & Events – package and figure can be designed to be easy to carry around a show floor
- Retail Options – including common retail product options like hang tabs or dangling tags, UPCs, stickers, and point-of-purchase displays
- Marketing Literature – reply cards, brochures and sales rep business cards either attached to, inside, or as part of the packaging
Part 2) Action Figure Prototyping
If you’re the detail-oriented type and want to know how the toy magic happens, then this section is for you!
Here we give a behind-the-scenes peek at how Happy Worker prototypes and manufactures custom action figures and dolls.
Concepts, Sculpting & Prototypes
Custom action figures begin life as rough concept drawings. Through an iterative and fun design process we turn sketches into final toy prototypes that are used to mold and produce the action figures.
- Rough Illustrations – figure concept art is created either by hand or digitally, noting accessories, special features and toy functions. This uncolored concept art helps guide design and engineering decisions.
- Final Concepts – this is an evolved colored design of the action figure and its accessories. The color palette is still a draft, and will be finalized in the next step.
- Turnarounds & Toy Control Art – this series of illustrated turnarounds shows the figure from multiple views and angles. Also called "Control Art", it acts as a blueprint for sculpting and engineering. During this step, we’ll also create color guidelines for painting.
- Packaging Mockups – if Happy Worker is designing the package, we’ll create draft designs and mockups for your approval. If our client is designing the package, we’ll supply a template with all required information and graphics, plus copy and design tips.
- Prototype Modeling – physical prototyping begins! Each body part and accessory is sculpted either by hand or digitally via 3D modelling/CAD. Once the initial sculpture takes shape, more intricate details are added until a fully detailed and semi-functional prototype is finished. The first prototype is unpainted, and made of different materials than the final toy.
- Production-ready Prototype – final engineering is completed, and the parts are converted to a production-ready prototype. This is the last opportunity to make any changes to the shape of the toy or its accessories.
- Tooling & Molding – from the production-ready prototype, steel tools and molds are created, which will be used during production to form all plastic parts.
- Packaging Approval – final packaging copy and artwork are approved by our clients’ marketing, design, and/or legal teams. UPCs are assigned and included.
- Painted Prototype (a.k.a. Paint Master) – the prototype is painted by hand, normally by air brushing. This is also called the "paint master", and serves as a paint guide for production.
- Test Toys (a.k.a. Engineering Pilot) – the first action figure samples in their final plastics and materials. Also known as an "engineering pilot" or “first shot”, these unpainted samples are used to double check engineering and function of the final toy.
- Packaging and Artwork Proof – we create several proof samples of the packaging to ensure that the colors are correct and alignment is perfect.
- Finished Action Figures (a.k.a. Production Samples) – prior to production, we send final samples of the toy in its packaging to confirm that the final action figures meet quality expectations.
Part 3) Action Figure Manufacturing
…it’s Toy Making Time!
Our Production Process
After the production sample is approved and the tools (large steel molds) are created, it’s toy making time! At a high level, action figure manufacturing includes the following steps:
The various parts are made by plastic injection or rotocasting. Plastic pellets are melted and injected into the tool with heat and pressure. After the plastic cools (a matter of seconds), the tool is opened and parts are removed and separated.
Body parts and accessories are painted by hand, normally as individual parts. Skilled painters apply paint through a combination of air brushing (using 3D stencils called “spray masks”) and careful hand brushing, using the Paint Master and approved production samples as guides.
Toy Finishing & Assembly
All painted parts are assembled into complete action figures. This involves ‘popping’ parts together, adding plastic rivets or metal screws, and in some cases, gluing or sonic welding parts together. Each action figure is finished and assembled by hand.
The newly finished toys and their accessories are placed neatly into their packages and packed into cartons.