Transformers toys and stickers are inextricably linked throughout their history. The vintage Generation 1 Transformers came with factory applied stickers on them already and, in most cases, an extra stickersheet for the owner to apply once the toy was opened. By the time Transformers had moved into the Beast era in the 1990s, stickers on toys were no longer as prominent, especially ones you would apply as an owner. Reissues in 2000 and Car Robots brought them back to some degree. They are once again an emerging part of modern Transformers too, with Titans Return once more offering toys with factory applied stickers and the larger Titan Class toys having their own gigantic sheets for owner application. Even Masterpiece Transformers can come with optional stickers.
With vintage Transformers, there’s no doubt that some of those figures benefit hugely from a set of well-applied and glossy stickers, adding genuine embellishment and brilliance to the overall look of the toys. They suited the G1 aesthetic. However, it is very difficult to find vintage Transformers with perfect stickers, and so many a collector will invest in reproduction stickers to once again restore their vintage figures to former glory. If you’re not interested in going the repro route, your choices are to buy unused toys where the stickers were never applied, but this is an expensive habit. Alternatively, some collectors just like the look of their vintage Transformers (and Diaclone) without stickers applied, as it is all part of the appeal of mint toy ownership and preservation of history. There are, after all, a finite number of unused vintage stickersheets left in the world – a number that will only decrease.
Another thing to keep in mind with stickers is that they can really help age a vintage toy when they are worn. They can turn an otherwise appealing specimen into one that seems a bit worse for wear, and badly mis-placed stickers can be an eyesore. This is not always down to over-zealous application by children back in the 80s, sometimes the adhesive straight out the box was not good enough and stickers would move easily under the touch of a finger. Some vintage G1 TFs have stickers in all the wrong places, i.e. where you would naturally grip limbs and parts to move them, leading to inevitable wear.
Some collectors do very much enjoy the thrill of applying stickers to Transformers toys, though, seeing it as a lovely benefit of brand new reissues throughout the last 18 years. Personally, I have quite enjoyed finding vintage G1 with excellent stickers which make for outstanding display and photography specimens. Since I won’t go the repro route for vintage, I have on occasion used up a vintage stickersheet in order to have a perfect opened specimen. Contrary to that, some collectors despise the stickering process and were happy when reissues moved to tampos after a short while. I can’t imagine they were pleased with the Platinum Edition Thrust, Ramjet and Dirge packs where even the former factory stickers were on sheets to apply!
There were mixed feelings when Titans Return Megatron, Sixshot, Broadside and co came with factory stickers. These proved to be of lesser quality than vintage factory stickers and were prone to peeling straight out of the box. They are already lifting on all of my specimens and they are a spot that I know will exhibit wear throughout the lifetime of those toys, a bit of a shame. I was equally unimpressed with the quality of the stickers that came with Masterpiece Ratchet and Laserwave a couple of years back. To me, they were essential, and although the intention was good (allowing collectors a choice of location and style), having them be of such delicate quality and entirely allergic to being cut with a knife made life difficult.
I’ve also heard takes of woe regarding the stickering of Titans Return Trypticon, a mammoth undertaking by all accounts. So, with that in mind, I don’t think recent Transformers releases have been well served by the inclusion or use of stickers. Looking back at some Encore reissue Transformers, I have had more negative experiences than positive, even compared to the earlier era reissues. All of this has conspired to make me wary of new Transformers toys with stickers, given the quality they seemed to lack when compared to vintage labels. This is a shame, because I feel they can really bring a toy to life. While I’m not always a fan of Toyhax sets on new toys, some of their work just elevates a toy to new heights. Take MP Wheeljack and Smokescreen, for example.
Even 3rd Party companies are getting in on the label act, with the incredibly nice Fans Hobby MB-09B Trailer for Gun Fighter II coming with a gorgeous trailer-length sticker illustrated by the legendary Geoff Senior – something a friend and I helped set up. I’m exceedingly proud of my minor involvement in this project, as the final result is simply magnificent. That said, the level of adhesive was so strong, that after a slight misapplication, I was unable to lift the label again to fix it. I shall forever have to live with the crease along one side of the trailer sticker! Worth it.
In conclusion, I think if the stickers provided for use with, or pre-applied to modern Transformers were of higher quality, I’d be all for them. The labels on TR Sixshot are nice but peeling. And who doesn’t like a Megatron with a hairy chest? I will continue to enjoy adding stickers to vintage Transformers or buying them with already-applied labels in great shape as the effect is unbeatable. With Masterpiece, by the time it got to Inferno, I was steering well clear of applying them. Toyhax and reproduction labels seem the way to go in that regard, or dry transfers like Ocean if you’re up for that level of intricacy.
All the best