Consumer loyalty is important to decorators who understand that collectors are eager to acquire complete sets of work in a particular series or by a specific artist. Quality and concept are critical before such loyalty is earned. Emotional appeal remains the primary motivator for collectible buyers, with themes including dragons and medieval mythology, children, animals, sports, nature, country and home scenes, and Christmas remaining popular with consumers. Licensed characters and figures also remain popular in the collectible market, with well-known cartoon figures attracting consumer attention.
Most collectible decorators work with decal printers to produce multiple-color images that are generally applied to ware using water-slide techniques. The decals are printed using ceramic colors on decal paper that will separate from the decal when soaked in water. The decals are applied by hand, and water and air bubbles are pressed from under the decal, which is then allowed to dry before it is fired. When fired, the ceramic colors in the decal bond with the piece to form a permanent decoration. Given that many collector plates are produced as limited edition pieces, the use of automated heat-release transfer technology is generally impractical in the collectible plate market.
Collectible decorators can easily take advantage of the entire ceramic color spectrum, as figurines and collector plates are exempt from U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) heavy-metal leaching standards if the ware is produced only for the collectible market. As a result, collectible plates often feature a wide range of bright colors that are not used as often for tableware. (Collectible plate decorators must, however, apply standard warnings on the back of plates that state that such ware is not for food usage.)
Water-slide transfer applications are used in the figurine market because of the non-standard substrate shapes that are decorated. Decals that are die-cut to specific sizes and unique shapes are often used on figurines to produce intricate designs, while skilled decorators apply ceramic color accents by hand to embellish a piece. Decal suppliers can maximize the number of decals printed per sheet by fitting many unique shapes on the same sheet of transfer paper.
The use of mixed mediums, vintage designs and unique themes has provided collectible decorators with a number of ways to make custom collectibles that appeal to current consumer tastes. While it is not certain whether the current economy will support increased sales in this market, decorators continue to improve on the quality and concepts of their designs.