What is the vinyl?

In the strange world of designer toys, imaginative designers use toys as a medium to express their observations and thoughts about the world. In the process of turning abstract design concepts into real products, the materials and production processes used become a bridge between collector and designer, influencing the collector's experience of the toys.

Vinyl Process

Vinyl is a very old fashioned manufacturing process. The first vinyl machine was built in Germany in 1924 and the first vinyl toy was a chocolate bunny that was successfully produced. Many toy-loving children have grown up with vinyl toys. For example, the little yellow duck that you put in the bathtub when you take a bath. These kinds of squishy, soft, and smooth hollow toys are vinyl toys. Vinyl toys have a special feel and are often thought to be a very special material. But it is made from a soft plastic - PVC.

Vinyl is not a material.

Vinyl is a manufacturing process. The word "vinyl" comes from the manufacturing process in which "colloid" (a colloidal PVC material) is evenly applied to the inside of the mold by centrifugal rotation. The PVC is used as the raw material for the vinyl process and there are two types of vinyl, hard and soft. Sofubi is the Japanese translation of "soft vinyl"; soft vinyl is also known as soft gelatin and Japanese soft gelatin.

Handmade vinyl toys

The price of Sofubi has risen over the years because of the "handmade" gimmick. The Sofubi process is very similar to the normal vinyl process. We start with the vinyl, put the colloidal PVC into the mold, and then close the mold. The mold is placed in a high temperature Rotocast oven and then rotated at low speed around the two vertical axes. In this way, the molten plastic material is evenly "lined" on the inner wall of the mold under the effect of gravity. The finished product is removed from the mold after cooling. As for Sofubi, the heat-curing process is the difference between the Sofubi process and the normal vinyl process. The quality of the vinyl toy also depends largely on the control of time and heat in these steps.

Time-consuming, labor-intensive, and costly mold-making

High-volume production can't do without the mold. High temperatures are required for the mold of the vinyl process; the metal molds are usually made of copper material. With the popularity of 3D printing technology, many of the art toy designs are modeled on the computer, and then the master samples are 3D printed directly. However, in the traditional vinyl process, the production of the mold type is much more complicated and is generally divided into two steps: clay sample and wax sample. First, there are the clay samples, which are hand and machine-molded to create a prototype of the design. Then there is the wax model, which is reproduced in the shape of the clay model. Due to the shrinkage of approximately 3% in the subsequent mold-turning process, the size of the wax sample must be increased to match the intended final size. Why use wax samples? On the one hand, the surface of the wax sample is easy to polish, so the surface of the mold can be very flat. On the other hand, the next step is the same as the "lost wax method" used to cast bronzes in ancient China. The wax samples are placed in an electroplating tank and the copper molds are poured through the electrolytic reaction of electroplating. It is then heated so that the wax melts into liquid form. After the wax liquid has evaporated, a hollow copper mold is obtained which has a negative shape to the wax sample. This copper mold is called the 'master mold'. In mass production, even metal molds are subject to wear and tear and obsolescence. As a result, many production molds are often made from master molds. The production molds are then welded to a steel frame, which allows the subsequent shaping of the mass production.

Advantages and disadvantages of vinyl toys

Imagine the flow of colloids inside the closed molds. We will see the various advantages and disadvantages of the vinyl process. The parting lines are the biggest disadvantage of the injection molding process. The vinyl process doesn't have this problem at all. Because the mold is made in one piece, it is possible to achieve a finished product without any parting lines. In addition, vinyl toys are generally hollow due to the centrifugal force of rotation. Lightweight, elastic feel, hard to break, easy to play, carry, location shooting, in addition to the collection of station cabinets can provide more companionship and social functions. Perhaps that's why so many designer toys use the vinyl process. What are the disadvantages? Firstly, vinyl has design limitations. If there are many sharp elevations and depressions in the shape, the flow of colloids in the mold will inevitably be obstructed, resulting in bubbles, colloid shortages, and other defects. That's why most of the vinyl toys we see have a simple shape, blunt and without sharp corners. Secondly, every step of the process has to be done manually (except for the copper mold plating process). For example, the time control of the molding, the manual removal from the mold after molding, and also for example, there is a big difference in the shape of the finished soft plastic toys, which makes it impossible to batch machine painting and can only be painted by hand. So there is a high degree of uncertainty in the finished product, a high rate of obsolescence, and high labor costs for production. Finally, because the material is PVC plastic, vinyl toys are prone to warping, cracking, and oil absorption. This is a common problem with PVC materials.

There is nothing superior or inferior about the materials and production processes, they are simply chosen to complement certain products and forms of expression. The imprecision of vinyl toys is somehow the source of their charm and value. And the vinyl process, with its hand-coloring, gives designers even more freedom. This has led to the creation of many one-off disposable toys, adding to the scarcity everywhere.