To Stick, or Not to Stick: That is the Question…
Stickers. To apply them or not? For AFOLs, this comes up as a regular topic of conversation. Its up there with instructions vs free build; Yellow vs realistic coloured skin tones; space vs castle; police vs firemen. All of these questions plague AFOLs (and indeed other FOLs) for a variety of reasons.
There has, in recent years, been a tendency to increase the number of stickers in LEGO sets, allowing for an increase in detail shown in a product that could not be otherwise achieved by bricks alone.
There is no doubt that the use of stickers can greatly enhance the appearance of a set – but is it currently getting out of hand?
The Ford Mustang GT
I recently got hold of the new Speed Champions Ford Mustang GT 75871 (RRP $AUD22.95) with a 20% discount (reduced to around $19). For me it is the most appealing of the current single vehicle sets – I suspect because it represents the car that came with our first Scalextric Set…just before lego started to get in the way. This set has 3 bags of pieces, along with another small bag containing hubcaps: the piece count comes in at 185. The car comes in at 18 studs long, and 7 studs wide (The chassis is 6, but allowing for the wheel arches at approximately half a stud wide each…) and just shy of 6 studs (5 bricks) high. There is a choice of hubcaps available, in line with the contemporary Mustang GT options
However, it comes with a sticker sheet containing 20 stickers: 1 sticker per 9.25 pieces. I don’t want to have to forcibly break down those pieces for the sake of an average so I’ll leave that statistic alone now. But I was so distracted by my irritation in the number of stickers, that I forgot to take a photo before I removed any of them. Here is the sheet after the stickers have been removed:
Now there are a couple of stickers necessary for branding, but that only accounts for four of them. Another four went towards the full effect of the front grill. Other labels go towards adding details such as the indicators and brake lights. But several stickers exist almost for the sole purpose of changing the color of the base element: A 2×2 white space in the middle of a 2×4 tile, and black stickers on the back of the cabin to represent the rear window – occupying most of a 2 x 4 slope.
Without the stickers, aspects of this set look a bit bland. There are a few obviously unlabelled tiles on the roof of the car, breaking the white racing stripe down the middle of the vehicle. The front grill is decidedly missing, and then the back of the vehicle is also missing four labels (some of them glaringly absent).
So…why don’t I like to stick a sticker onto my sets as I build them?
- I am impatient, and don’t wish to spend the time on it: perhaps this is really just an excuse. It is more likely that my actual reason
- I may wish to use the stickers more creatively in a MOC in the future. There are some who manage to do this. In reality, I am more likely to want to use the piece with the sticker on in a MOC in the future.
- I am concerned that after a couple of years, the sticker may start to peel and lift. I have found this to be extremely significant in a number of sets that we obtained around the turn of the century. Now, some of this may be a lack of care in application but they certainly DON’T stick as well as others in the past. The ‘old stickers’ from the 6000 Lego ideas book can be applied, and after 30 years still show no signs of peeling off, only wearing away around the edges. This is related to the change in sticker materials (paper/plastic and glue) used over the years
- Accuracy in placement is difficult. I am all thumbs. And as I get older, I find that poor lighting and reduced visual acuity just make this all the more difficult. Not to worry: this is in fact a task that can be enhanced by the brick separator if available; or the use of the spanner tool. Oh look, there is one in this set. It’s not just for removing hubcaps. Placing the corner of the sticker on the tool does make it a lot more stable, and it makes the job of applying the stickers much easier.
- And then there is the psychological reason. This is probably the big one: Like an embryonic stem cell the majority of Lego pieces have infinite potential: Once a sticker is applied, there is a cognitive barrier to re-using the piece. This is an existential crisis for a piece of lego: the sticker cannot be easily removed, or indeed reused for that matter. This plate is now a mustang grille; that one is a tail light, that one is an indicator. If all of the stickers have been applied to a model, you are less likely to choose to disassemble that model, and return the pieces used to the general pool for later use. It is as if once a sticker is applied, a LEGO piece loses its potential, and a previously unlimited toy/sophisticated interlocking building brick system is severely restricted in its use. This finality of purpose is anathema to LEGO, where every piece has near unlimited potential. Until stuck down. In the early 80’s, some stickers were applied across multiple laters of bricks – for example the movie screeen in the 6000 Ideas Book. At least now panels mean such stickers only affect one piece.
Alternatives to stickers:
So, if I don’t want to use stickers, what are my options?
Printed tiles and bricks have a role: The printing is
located properly, and if the design has been done well, it should line up between adjacent pieces. Of course this printing has the same dedication of purpose that stickers provide, but is more
durable: this is a computer piece, this is a tape..or is it a movie, or is it an old mainframe computer… this is the front grille of a small car…this is the gateway to Legoland…
So: there are swings and roundabouts here. At least the printed parts still have the markings on after 5 years.
Don’t place all the stickers: be selective: Some stickers are essential for a model’s identity. Without the Batsymbol, it’s not Batman- you have to use that one. But probably not the others. Aspects of the model will still look sparse, but the important parts will be there.
Can the markings be brick-built? Can a substitution be made to make the model maintain the feel of the ‘stickered up’ model, but with only bricks/tiles/plates/grilles? I think this particular set lends itself to this approach nicely, and all that is really lost is the detail of the horse on the grille, as well as the rear window pillars. The brake lights can be modified, but not in a way that screams Mustang GT. Can the air intakes on the bonnet be modified? Then you have to source the pieces, redesign the model you are modifying, do a bit of trial and error and see how it goes. All of a sudden, the time required to apply the stickers doesn’t seem to matter as much. I’ll have to admit, the challenge was fun
Of course, brick building these parts does not really allow the distinguishing licensing marks to be applied as readily.- such as the horse on the grille of the Mustang (OK… the mustang on the grille of the Mustang).
How I learned to stop worrying and to love the decal.
Perhaps the reality is that with some of these sets, we buy them for the model, rather than the pieces (Dragons, I’m looking at you here – you are all part fodder; the car – less so). In this situation, perhaps we are better to relish the build, placing the stickers – or at least the important ones if the set is for display. We need to recognise that stickers add to the time required for the build, and allow for it when we place them. Strong lighting is essential, and a tool to assist with placement is essential: spanner, brick separator or good old fashioned tweezers. And put your reading glasses on. Go on. Do it now. You are probably not even wearing them to read this.
Do I need a Mustang? Put on the stickers!
Do I just want a cool car that looks like a car: change a few specific pieces.
As with most LEGO modelling, a degree of compromise is necessary.
Perhaps we can all learn something from that.
So…how did I like the set?
I found the build quite satisfying. The car is certainly out of scale with ‘typical LEGO car sets’ in the city range. The longer length and breadth were certainly an improvement to increase the level of displayable detail. The final model is extremely ‘swooshable’ and zooms along the floor nicely after a solid much. No aspect of it feels flimsy. The stickers were fiddly, even with the aid of a tool to place them, and for me were the main disappointment of the model. Many of them are not essential for a great car build – so do what you wish!
What I liked:
- Good representation of the car it purports to be.
- Choice of Hub caps
What I didn’t Like
- The number of stickers
- Placing the stickers
- The fact that in 5 years time many of these stickers will probably peel, blister and crack!
I’ll give it 4/5 Arbitrary Praise Units up until I started to place the stickers. Then it lost most of its virtue!
If you like cars, this is a satisfying build, but I suspect you will find the same from any of the current Speed Champions line. Just get some reading glasses to help you line up the stickers!
How do you deal with stickers in sets? Apply all? Apply Selectively? Ignore? The time has come to overcome the existential crisis and consider what you are building for!
Thanks for your time.