Action Transfers

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Action Transfers were a type of art-based children's pastime that was extremely popular in Europe, South East Asia, Central America and South America in the 1960s to 1980s. They consisted of a printed cardboard background image and a transparent sheet of coloured dry-transferables containing such things as people, vehicles, weapons, explosions, animals and so on. These figures were to be applied on to the background scene through a process called chromolithography, accomplished by rubbing the back of the transparent sheet with a soft pencil. Careful part application of transfers could result in such imaginative compositions as a character with an arrow sticking out of his head, or people dismembered by explosions.

A number of different sets were produced by several companies between the late 1970s and the 1980s; these included sets based on popular comics and cartoons (e.g., DC Comics, Marvel Comics, Scooby Doo, and Disney cartoons), television series and movies (e.g., Star Wars and Battlestar Galactica), as well as original content sets.


Typographic character sheets made by Letraset (left) and similar product made by a rival (right).

Letraset, the company that developed Instant Lettering transfer sheets that dominated design and publishing before the advent of desktop publishing, created the first dry rub-down transfer sets for children and marketed them as "Instant Pictures" in 1964.[1] They were originally silk screen printed and monochromatic, but by 1966 they were being produced using four spot colours.

Most of the Instant Pictures after 1965 were produced for either John Waddington Ltd. or Patterson Blick.

Letraset purchased a rotary gravure press which they installed at Ashford in Kent, and there they produced true full-colour transfers for the first time starting in 1967. These were not strictly CMYK colour transfers, because white ink is also required - since transfers are printed on transparent plastic, and not on white paper.

In 1969 the first Action Transfer sets were produced in this way, initially with a range of 12 sets - although the range rapidly expanded. Letraset stopped using the title "Instant Pictures" and from then on referred to their own transfers as "Action Transfers", even if they were not actually in the range of sets originally given that name.[2][3]

In 1976, the production of Action Transfers was transferred to Letraset's Italian factory, Sodecor, where offset litho printing was used with transfers for the first time. The impetus for the move was a joint venture undertaken with Gillette to produce Action Transfers under the name Kalkitos. These were widely distributed around the world, with the brand name occasionally differing; in the US, they were known as PrestoMagiX.

After the acquisition of Letraset by Esselte in 1981, the production of transfers was continued by a British company named Acorn, that was formed by several ex-Letraset staff members. Acorn still produce transfers to this day.[4]


  1. ^ Letraset
  2. ^ SPLAT (Society for the Preservation of Letraset Action Transfers)
  3. ^ Action Transfers: the Chronology
  4. ^ Action Transfers