LEGO sets often come with various decorations; sometimes these are printed right on the elements, and other times they are stickers that you need to apply. A good example of printed LEGO elements are minifigures. While there are a few minifigs (especially from the early days) that came with stickers to apply to their torsos, most modern minifigs are printed.
In fact in the past few years printing on LEGO minifigures has vastly expanded with details not just on the front of the torso, but at the back, the arms, the legs, and recently even the sides of the legs! I believe this has a lot to do with LEGO making more franchised products and thus needing to make the minifigs look more like the original characters. Also, because LEGO customizers are springing up everywhere, giving LEGO fans excellent quality highly customized minifigures – my guess is that LEGO realized how popular fully detailed minifigures really are. 🙂
The downside of such specialized minifigures is that their uniquely printed body-parts can’t be interchanged so freely as unprinted or more generically printed ones. For example a LEGO Legends of Chima torso-print would look a bit weird on a LEGO City minifig. However I believe LEGO is keeping a good balance with providing both specialized and plain minifig parts. At least I haven’t really heard any complaints, and I’m certainly not complaining myself; I love beautifully printed details on minifigures!
Printing on LEGO elements however is a whole other story. Despite much protest from both young and old LEGO fans, LEGO insist on using stickers in most LEGO sets. This wouldn’t be a problem if the stickers were optional and didn’t take away from the completeness of the set (like in the smaller LEGO Creator and LEGO City sets), however when the model doesn’t look good, or doesn’t make much sense without the decorations, the fragile nature of stickers causes a lot of disappointment and lowers the value and display-ability of otherwise great LEGO sets. And that’s another problem; LEGO stickers are low quality. In fact, you can get better stickers from other companies, individuals and customizers. You can probably print better ones on your own semi-advanced printer! 😕
LEGO stickers are also hard to apply, especially by children who supposed to be the target-audience for most LEGO sets, and even adults find it difficult to align and apply them properly. In addition LEGO stickers don’t last long even if the set is only used for display, not to speak of exposing stickered elements to regular play. Stickers are highly sensitive to basic things like water, sunlight, humidity, bodily oils, etc. and not to speak of dirt and grime that they can get in contact with during play. While LEGO elements themselves can handle even the occasional rough play, the stickers simply disintegrate under the lightest wear. If these parts were printed they would last so much longer, making everyone happy. (Photo below from LEGO Answers at StackExchange).
The interesting thing is that LEGO seems to be using stickers randomly. Although I have never heard or read an official explanation from a LEGO representative of why they keep using stickers, LEGO fans often cite cost as the reason. However I don’t believe this is the case, as there are cheap sets with full printing – like the LEGO Juniors sets we talked about recently (see here: LEGO Juniors – No Stickers, Pretty Prints!), or the LEGO Friends sets with beautifully printed parts – and on the other hand there are many sets over a $100 that are fully stickered – which is especially upsetting for LEGO fans and collectors. The recently released #70816 LEGO Benny’s Spaceship is a good example; a $100 set in LEGO Classic Space style, with almost all the decorated elements stickered. Some of the stickers (like on the fins at the back) don’t even fit properly!
I recently read an article by Huw Millington, the owner of LEGO fan-site Brickset.com, about his own experience with stickers, titled “Sticker Horror”. Huw is an adult LEGO fan and a collector who carefully takes care of his LEGO models. The pictures he has taken (see below and more at the above linked article) of some of his LEGO sets with disintegrating stickers is very discouraging, especially because these LEGO models were specifically designed for older LEGO fans and collectors. Do they look like they are from a company who’s motto is that “Only the best is good enough”?
➡ So what do to about the LEGO sticker problem? One thing is to make sure to apply stickers as carefully as possible. Wash and dry your hands before touching the sticker-sheet, and make sure that the elements you will be applying stickers to are clean. Instead of peeling off the stickers with your fingers (and thus leaving fingerprints and possibly damaging the adhesive), use a thin blade or hobby-knife to lift them up at the edge and apply them to the surface. It helps to attach another element to the stickered part, so you have a handle you can hold on to while applying the sticker. Align stickers carefully before fully pressing them down. Press them from one end to the other gradually, eliminating any air-bubbles. Once all the stickers are applied, do not expose them to direct sunlight as it can deteriorate the adhesive quickly and making the stickers curl up or fall off. Sunlight and heat can and also dry out the sticker-paper making it crumple to pieces. Ideally you should lock away your LEGO sets in a climate controlled vault and never touch them or play with them… just kidding… 🙄
➡ A lot of LEGO fans deal with the issue by simply not applying stickers. Again, sometimes this is not a problem as the decorations are there to enhance the model instead of being integral part of it, however they are times when this just doesn’t work. For example on the #10232 LEGO Creator Palace Cinema – an expensive sets catering to collectors – the posters on the windows are stickers. Without them the building looses a lot of its charm and character. Interestingly, the same window-panes are fully printed in the much cheaper LEGO Ninjago sets. And the fact of the matter is that if someone buys a LEGO set – especially an expensive one – they should be getting what is displayed on the box, with both parts and decorations lasting for the lifetime of the product under normal and reasonable usage.
➡ Another thing LEGO fans do is buy extra sticker-sheets at BrickLink or other second-hand outlets. They apply the original stickers to the set, and keep the additional ones carefully stored away in ziplock bags as replacements. This is actually what I do as well, although it is not something I’m happy about. As I said above; LEGO should be taking care of the problem of disintegrating stickers and not expect customers having to spend extra money to replace them. You can actually get replacement stickers from LEGO directly, but only while the set is still in production. Also, if you make too many requests, they will deny your ability to use the replacement service.
➡ If you have a high quality printer you might consider scanning the original sticker-sheets and print them out. Use the printed stickers to apply to the set, and keep the originals stored away. When you need fresh stickers, just scan and print from the original again. This unfortunately doesn’t work with transparent stickers or stickers with metallic printing as most printers can’t handle them. However LEGO’s transparent stickers tend to be better quality and last longer, although they have the problem with attracting fingerprints and dust – nothing is as unattractive as a LEGO sticker with lint sticking out from under it. Yuck! 😡
➡ I have also found that for paper-stickers applying a thin layer of clear nail-polish or other clear glaze or top-coat used in various hobbies can expand its life considerably. Make sure you test whatever you are planning to use on a non-essential part of the sticker to assure that it doesn’t smear the print. Use a thin layer on the stickers before you peel them off, let the top-coat dry, then use as normal.
➡ And if you are unhappy about stickers, please contact LEGO; call their customer service, write them a letter, talk to LEGO representatives and ambassadors at conventions and other LEGO related events. They do listen to feedback. Sometimes they are hard on hearing and takes them a long time to respond, but in general they do… at least that’s the hope… ultimately I think LEGO will make the change to fully printed parts when their business model gets threatened by competing companies and customizers – the loss of revenue is a great motivator.
So what do you think? Do you dislike LEGO stickers with the same passion as many LEGO fans do? How do you handle the problem? Do you have some tips and tricks on expanding the life of LEGO stickers? Feel free to share and discuss in the comment section below! 😉
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