Peel Here #110: Presto Magix, or scrapbooking for nerdy children…

By Shawn Robare

I was picking through a pile of ephemera that I plan on sharing on Branded in the future when I came across my meager collection of sticker transfer sets.  I bought most of these around the time I started this website and for some reason I never got around to really talking about them.  Though not stickers in the most accepted sense, these sets pretty much hit on all of the reasons why stickers were/are cool, and they’re an example of an interesting microcosm that exists within the hobby.

Basically these sets were a much cheaper variation of the Colorforms playsets (which debuted in the 50s), both of which are plays on the evolution of paper dolls.  While Colorforms were a bit sturdier, consisting of cardboard background scene and a bunch of re-useable vinyl cut-outs featuring pop culture characters and imagery, the various brands of transfer sets were much cheaper, featuring paper backdrops and single use transfer “stickers.”  Like coloring and activity books, these sets were designed as a way for children to use their own imagination to create a story with pop culture imagery.  I loved these sets when I was young because I always had more fun setting up a scene when I was playing (be it with actual toys or when I’d draw) then actually executing my ideas.  These sets play on that part of the creative brain that leads kids to drawing scenes of two opposing military forces where you see the cut-away of bases and underground drilling machines.  Best of all they were really cheap, around $0.50 to $1 in most cases, so it was much easier to convince parents that they were a worthwhile purchase.

Though I’m sure there are more, I’m really only aware of two brands for these transfer sets, Colorforms Rub N’ Play sets and Presto Magix.  The Colorforms sets tended to feature more transfers in their sets, but Presto Magix always had cooler backdrops…

Here you can see an example of a Presto Magix Thundarr the Barbarian set from 1981.  Each package had a small sheet of transfers and a fold out scene with which to place the action…

To transfer the stickers you simple had to place the sticker sheet in the desired position and then use a pen or pencil to rub over the area you wanted to transfer.  Some of the more deluxe sets came with a little red plastic tool with a rounded tip that you used to rub the transfers off the sheet.

When seeking out these sets after 20 odd years I was surprised at how many I managed to find.  Like stickers, these sets seemed destined to be used, and afterward I’m sure that most of them ended up in the garbage.  Since they’ve quadrupled in value over the years I limited my shopping spree to 8 sets.  In addition to the Thundarr set above I also picked up a handful of Star Wars Return of the Jedi Presto Magix sets…


…as well as three Colorforms Rub N’ Play sets featuring Michael Jackson, Masters of the Universe, and Gremlins.


Aside from the single use aspect, the biggest drawback of these sets was getting the transfer on the backdrop in one solid piece.  The heavier plastic material that these transfers are housed on tended to stretch and distort when you’d rub the stickers off of them and since they were so thin and fragile they’d often break in half or have a bunch of cracks in the image.  Sometimes it was also easy to mistakenly get a second transfer stuck to the backdrop while you were working on a separate one simple by the pressure of your hand on the transfer plastic.  For $0.50 though, it was worth the risk.

One of the other things that I loved about these sets was the opportunity to mix and match characters from my favorite TV shows and cartoons.  Why wouldn’t Scooby Doo go on an adventure with Ookla the Mok from Thundarr?  Breaking these sets out again seemed like a great opportunity to put together that dream super-band I’ve always wanted to see…

I always imaged Admiral Ackbar had a very William Shatner-like delivery when singing, and you have to dig those hairy back-up singers!

  • Chuck – Hmmm, I actually haven’t seen anything like this in years. Sorry I couldn’t be of more help. You can pick up these sets rather cheaply on eBay though, and for the most part they still work fine…

  • Chuck Ghostman

    Any idea if there are companies who still make similar products? I’d love to get some for my kids!

  • Dex – No problem man!

  • Paxton – Yes I did sir, and it was glorious!

  • Aha! So you’re where I got the Thundarr Presto Magix graphics from which is my site banner. Thanks!

  • All these years and never put Presto Magix and Scrapbooking together!! Love it!

  • Used to freaking LOVE these. Would get them at the corner store if I had enough dinero!

  • This was EPIC, Shawn. I loved Presto Magix. They had the coolest character transfers. Did you seriously open up the packages to create the masterpiece above? Because I love it.

  • Kingkrikkit

    Thanks for the article, I loved these as a kid, I remember getting them when our family would go out to Papa Ginos, who gave them away for free to kids! A bit of nostalgia for me today :)

    • Cool, I love helping folks feel the nostalgia feels. I remember getting them as prizes in school for doing good work. All, good times…

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