Spreading Your Wings-Toy Design-Part 2


Last week we talked about the fact that the same skills it takes to conceive of and create a children’s book bleeds over into other related fields.  (See article) These related fields are also potential employment and freelance possibilities that we should consider exploring. In this day and age it can be beneficial to be as diverse as you can. Many of us can attest to how hard it is to find work. So being able to look at other employment opportunities that don’t lead you too far astray from your general interests may be a smart option to explore.

Also know that this is meant to be a basic overview. A jumping in point. This is what you would use to get your foot in the door at an entry level position. The art of developing toy lines and the specifics in regards to production and manufacturing can take a lifetime to learn.

If Toy Design sounds like a possibility to you, then the first question you may have is;

What do toy designers do?

As with any job that involves creating a product of this nature, the creation of a toy does not rest solely in the hands of one person. There are many positions and jobs that encompass the creation of a toy from concept, to sculpts, to the final product.  The portion that overlaps the most with what a Children’s Book Artist does is the initial conceptual development phase. This will focus us mostly on the 2D portion of toy design.  At this stage being able to sculpt may not be required but can extremely beneficial to the realization of your design. This would not only be beneficial for you, but for your potential employee as well. Since your final product is going to be an actual 3D object rather than a 2D one.

Artwork is copyright Chris Lauria see more of his work here

The conceptual artist comes up with initial concepts for new toys and new brands. The sketches are well, sketchy initially.  In much the same way your roughs would be on initial illustrations. These are done more to convey an overall idea and concept and may not take into consideration how the toys would function. That portion comes at a later phase.

As we noted in the previous article once the concept is approved we move on to a tighter turn around sheet, or as it is called in the industry, a control drawing.  The toy is drawn to scale and from multiple viewpoint including; front, side and top views with accurate measurements listed. Colors will be called out and listed using Pantone Colors. Why? Pantone Colors provide a universal method of making sure that the colors used by one source remain consistent.  With them inaccuracies that can occur with Printers or Screen Calibrations tend to be rendered moot.   (See examples)

Artwork is copyright Michal Luk see more of his work here


Once these are approved they are then transferred out for sampling to the manufacturer. In many instances the Director or a liaison overseeing the product may take over at this point if you are working on a freelance basis. But don’t be surprised if it is asked of you to address any issues with the product with the manufacturer. In fact you should be prepared for interactions with the company’s development, marketing, and sales departments. Each Department will have its own concerns, issues and quotas that need to be met before a product can be completed. Prepare to learn a great deal.

What do you need to include in your portfolio?

Artwork by Cedric Hohnstadt Follow link here to see more.

In much the same way that your Children’s Book Portfolio is reflective of your ambitions and the type of work you want to solicit, you’ll follow a lot of the same rules here. 

  1. Know the market. Go to toy stores and walk the aisles. Learn the various types of products available and who produces them. They are even more varied than the genres or publisher types in publishing.
  2. Decide which market(s) you’d like to do. Is it action figures? Is it plush toys? Is it dolls and clothes for them? Is it robots or cars? Figure out which draws you in the most and are the ones you want to explore or freelance in.
  3. Start creating works that are reflective of the type of work you want to get. Act as though you have been assigned to create a new line of Barbie fashion, or plush toys. If you want to do licensed toys, like Barbie, Marvel, or Disney then orient your works in that direction.  (See image examples in article.) But always show your creativity and myriad of skills. 
  4. Show your process. Many potential employees will want to see your skill levels throughout your process. Show how you come to your final products!  Show your process as described in “What do toy designers do?”.  From sketches to tight sketches, to color comps including dimensions and color swatches.  Remember you are the initial creative stage of development. You are the idea person. They want to see your imagination at work. Show it to them. Let what makes you unique and stand out shine!
  5. Be sure to include 10-15 images.
  6. Start with your best, end with your best. Show your best.

Artwork by Cedric Hohnstadt Follow link here to see more.

Be sure to check in next week for even more details and answered questions.

If you are still curious to the type of work to include in your portfolio do a search online for toy designers and browse their portfolios. My personal suggestion is that you start with the amazing examples from the artists who did the examples shown in the article.

See you next week!

Artist’s featured in article:
Chris Lauria
Michael Luk
Cedric Hohnstadt

Click their names to view their websites and work.
As always you can click on the images for a larger more detailed view.


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  1. Christine

    This was a very helpful post to read about the area of toy design. I’ve been interested in this area for the last few years but never found very many resources about the topic. Thank you for providing your valuable insight on the topic. The artists you featured are very talented and skilled at what they do.

    • WilsonWJr

      Thanks Christine. I’m sure the artists appreciate your admiration. We have at least one more part to go, maybe more. We’ll see!! Come back in a week!

  2. Geo

    Hi thanks for the help, what do you call the kind of illustration on the lion model, when you draw a charachter or animal in different poses? this is awsome !!!

    Usually I draw a charachter but then Im stuck at the same position I drew it, I would love to lean this technique!! Thanks in advance

    • WilsonWJr

      Hey Geo! The name for that kind of illustration is in the article. The best technique for beginning to draw a character in multiple view points is to start with the front face first. From that pose you’ll draw parallel lines that line up with various body parts. This can vary depending on what you are drawing, but for a human you may use the top of the head, top of ears, eyes, bottom of nose, chin, shoulders, chest, elbows, belly button, wrists, fingertips, groin, knees ankles and bottom of feet. You would then use these parallel lines as a guide for where the body parts should line up when you draw the next pose, facing left or facing right. You’d continue the process until you’ve drawn the figure in a complete turnaround. Make sure that you draw the figure to scale because those measurements would then be used to get an idea of the dimensions for an above and under shot of the figure. Hope that helps. Be sure to read all parts of the article.(There are three right now) and come back next week for part four.

  3. Jim Bousman

    I applaud you for passing on some very valuable information on toy design. One only needs to monitor the toy blogs to see how many young designers are all asking the same questions. There is a lot of information here that will help them.

    Perhaps I have missed it of perhaps you will cover it in future articles but there is one element that seems to be missing in your discussion on talents and skills. That is understanding how things are made. What are the processes used to make toys. What are the limitations or more important, how can you exploit them.

    Back in the day toy companies had a core of in-house engineers who followed up on an individual designer’s work to help guide designers and adapt their designs for manufacturing. This is not the case now. Most of this is outsourced to venders, most of which are in the Orient. The greater loss in all this is that the opportunity to gain this type of experience over time no longer exists.
    My point is unless a designer comes to the party with some understanding as to how things are made, they will have a tough time impressing a toy company. What they are looking are new ideas but relevant designs. To help illustrate my point the DecoPak lion illustrated above, while cute, would be a nightmare to in anything but a plush. This is not to criticize the designer’s work but to emphasize the type of critical knowledge toy companies require of their designers. I know that is what I required of mine.

    • WilsonWJr

      Thanks so much Jim for your comments and pointing this out. I will go back in and add that to the appropriate article. From the input I received from designers many of the construction issues you mentioned were dealt with when dealing with the manufacturer. I was also told that that intimate a level of knowledge isn’t generally expected from an entry level position. But this could of course be wrong. Also, there’s no excuse to not know as much as possible about the toys that you want to design and produce.

  4. Jim Bousman

    You are correct. Toy companies typically do not require high levels of technical expertise from the entry level designers. Unfortunately Toy companies are hiring fewer and fewer entry level designers. Their investment in the tuition to instill the necessary level of experience to become a fully functioning designer is extremely high and the opportunities to provide practical knowledge is getting less and less.

    The concept of “leave it to the manufacture” has grown directly out of the boom of Orient sourcing. Companies basically delegate the engineering to third party sources to interpret and deliver a product to the best of there ability. Regardless of one’s position on out sourcing this arrangement has a definite impact on the designer and his designs. Bottom line is the result often sink to the lowest common denominator. No designer wants that and toy companies are becoming weary of it.

    A designer does not need to be an engineer to know how things work, but knowing how things work improves their ability to create better products, challenge manufacturers to do a better job, and exploit their processes.

    Input from designers may tell you otherwise, but to get a job you have to consider the needs of toy management.

    • WilsonWJr

      You are definitely on point Mr. Bousman. In this day and age with job security being so flimsy, I would imagine having as many skills as possible can only make you that much more indispensable to the company that may hire you.

      What resources would you suggest, if any, for someone who wants to cultivate that skill set?

      • Jim Bousman

        Some design schools specializing in 3D design will offer limited insight into manufacturing processes and other practical applications. Beyond that there is a wealth of information available for self-study. The net is a great place to start. Beyond that on-site visits to manufacturing facilities are extremely useful. Much depends on the product category you are interested in. When it comes to toy design, since most toy are molded plastic, study and/or visit a plastic molder. When it comes to board games or puzzles, visit a printer. Areas like plush toy design or toy electronics are very specialized and will require a bit more research to find a source of knowledge.

        Perhaps the best source of hands-on knowledge would come from an internship with either a manufacturer, toy design house, or toy inventor group. These jobs pay little or nothing but the practical knowledge is invaluable and it can be a great door opener to better things.

  5. Ronaldo Barangan

    Wilson, you are an angel ! Thanks for these wonderful articles. They are very encouraging and inspiring.


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