Colorforms is a creative toy named for the simple shapes and forms cut
from colored vinyl sheeting that cling to a smooth backing surface
without adhesives. These pieces are used to create picture graphics
and designs, which can then be changed countless times by
repositioning the removable color forms. The name also refers to the
specific registered trademark brand these products are produced under,
as well as the company that manufactures the toys,
Sets initially featured basic geometric shapes and bright primary
colors on black or white backgrounds. Eventually, however, the
Colorforms line evolved to include full-color illustrated play sets,
games and puzzles, interactive books and creative activity sets for
children of all ages. The licensing of media properties related to
contemporary pop culture became integral to the product and company's
success. Since its inception, more than a billion
Colorforms play sets
have been produced and sold.
3 Company timeline
5 Licensed characters
6 Other products
7 Out of the Blue/9 Story Ownership
9 Further reading
Colorforms are sheet-thin, die-cut vinyl pieces, in colorful geometric
"forms" and abstract shapes (figural or object), often with
over-printed images that are to be attached to a smooth plastic
laminated paperboard background, much like placing paper dolls against
a paper backdrop. The pieces stick to the background without chemical
or static adhesion, and in a secure, but non-permanent manner when a
vacuum is created between the two polished surfaces, holding the piece
in place. The
Colorforms vinyl pieces can then be repositioned on the
board a virtually unlimited number of times to create new designs and
scenarios. The sets aide in promoting creative expression,
concentration skills, comprehension of spatial relationships, and
manual dexterity in young children.
Colorforms concept was developed by Harry and Patricia Kislevitz
in 1951, firmly rooted in the Modernist design ethos and reflecting
Color Field abstract style prevalent at the time.
The basic concept behind
Colorforms is the ability to adhere and
reposition abstract and geometric color form shapes on random surfaces
to create art. Both recent art students, the couple discovered the
idea when they acquired several rolls of flexible paper-thin colored
vinyl used to manufacture plastic pocketbooks, and found that it would
stick to the glossy paint in their bathroom and allow them to
reposition it at will without affecting either surface. Simply cutting
shapes out of the material and sticking them to the wall turned out to
be amusing enough that they left extra vinyl with a pair of scissors
for guests to add to their creation. The positive reactions they got
to the project led Harry to believe there was market potential for a
Colorforms sets were spiral-bound booklets hand-assembled
by the husband and wife team in their New York city apartment. The
first 1,000 sets were sold 'on concept' to the
FAO Schwarz toy store.
Shallow boxed sets containing screen-printed, die-cut pieces, and
illustrated backgrounds began appearing soon after. The company used
the slogan "It's More Fun To Play The
Colorforms Way!" in print ads
and television commercials to promote their products. Prominent
Paul Rand was commissioned to create the company logo
that remains in use today; he also gave input for a 'signature'
edition play set.
The company rarely employed an in-house creative staff, relying
instead on the Kislevitz' own artistic direction provided to top
freelance illustrators for layouts and finished work. Indeed, even the
company's creative director from 1965 until 1986, toy designer and
inventor Mel Birnkrant, was not a formal
Colorforms employee, working
instead for a royalty percentage.
The defining feature of most
Colorforms play sets is their signature
plastic ‘Stick-Ons™’ that can be placed and repositioned on top
of graphic backgrounds to create endless scenes and scenarios at a
1951 - Harry and Patricia Kislevitz experiment with new flexibly vinyl
sheeting material to decorate their apartment by cutting out shapes
and affixing them to smooth surfaces; they realize that this could be
applied to an activity toy set, thus beginning of the Colorforms
Popeye becomes Colorforms' first licensed character applied to
1959 - Graphic designer
Paul Rand creates the
1968 - The
Outer Space Men
Outer Space Men carded action figures are released.
1962 - Miss Weather, a
Colorforms character featuring a wardrobe that
changed with the weather, makes her debut.
Colorforms acquires licensing rights to
Shrinky Dinks kits;
during its licensing period,
Colorforms created and marketed more than
Shrinky Dinks toy activity and creativity kits.
Toy Biz acquires Colorforms.
1998 - University Games acquires
Colorforms listed among the Top 10 Toys of the Century by the
Toy Industry of America (TIA).
Colorforms named one of the Top 100 Toys of All Time by Time
Out of the Blue Enterprises acquires Colorforms
2018 - 9 Story Media acquires
Out of the Blue Enterprises and
Original character sets focused on household themes such as Miss
Weather, a girl whose wardrobe changed with the weather, and Miss
Cookie's Kitchen, a woman with a variety of kitchen tools and
utensils. Later sets relied on the use of licensed cartoon characters
such as Mickey Mouse, and Gumby.
Colorforms products have expanded
beyond the simple "paper doll" concept to more than 75
products currently in distribution, with more added every year.
Colorforms product to utilize a licensed character property
featured Popeye, the
King Features Syndicate
King Features Syndicate cartoon character,
released as a boxed set in 1957. Since then, licensed products have
remained critically important to the
Colorforms marketing strategy,
with hundreds of brands connected to Colorforms. Later Colorforms
licensed various properties, producing sets supporting varied
cartoons, TV series, movie releases, and popular musical artists, like
The Beatles, Peanuts, Gumby*, Tarzan, The Three Stooges, Doctor Do
little, Star Trek,
Superman (along with a whole pantheon of
comic book super heroes), and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Michael
Jackson, The Smurfs, and even Steve Urkel.
In a licensing twist,
Colorforms developed their own character
property, Sugar & Spice to compete with Strawberry Shortcake
(1979) when master license holder,
Kenner Products would not allow
wide usage of character rights throughout the toy industry. Colorforms
turned around and sold their character concept to other companies that
got shut out of the 'Shortcake' craze. Another property that
Colorforms was never able to translate into their own form was the
Star Wars franchise, again because Kenner held the toy
products master license very tightly.
In 1968, saw an interesting diversion from the typical 2-dimensional
toy lines that
Colorforms specialized in, when they released The Outer
Space Men (a.k.a. Colorform Aliens) bendy action figures. This group
of aliens, hailing from other planets in our
Solar System were
designed to tie into the popularity of Mattel's Major Matt Mason
astronaut line (1966);
Colorforms nicely complimented the larger
manufacturer's line due to Mattel's dearth of alien adversaries.
Colorforms also offered a respectable 'knockoff' of the Silly Putty
concept—the pliable rubbery clay-like substance that picked up
newspaper-ink images when pressed upon them, with Moon Putty and
Monster Print Putty. The former packaged in a hard plastic moon
container, and the latter, packed in a little plastic human skull for
heightened "monster" effect.
Colorforms company was the major licensee of the
of modeling clay in the
United States from 1979 until at least 1984;
Plasticine is a non-drying putty-like modeling material made from a
proprietary mix chalk and vasoline. This provided
Colorforms with a
viable competing product against Hasbro's Play-Doh.
Colorforms acquired the rights to license and distribute Shrinky Dinks
in 1981, and continued creating and promoting their products until the
brand was sold to Milton Bradley in 1988.
The company has also, at times, carried a wide range of children's
board games, and both child-targeted, and high-end jigsaw puzzles.
Out of the Blue/9 Story Ownership
Colorforms was acquired by
Toy Biz. A year later, Colorforms
was sold off to University Games Corporation. In September 2014, it
became a new division of Out of the Blue Enterprises, as Colorforms
Brand, LLC. In January 2018, Toronto-based 9 Story Media Group
acquired Out of the Blue also inheriting Colorforms
'out of the blue' enterprises
Colorforms brand page
University Games Corp.
Colorforms brand page
A child's toy grows up:
Colorforms turn 50
Colorforms sets produced over the years
All-TIME 100 Greatest Toys
"Paint a Sound"
Colorforms still popular after 60 years
Toy Firms Turn to Nostalgia to Mark Anniversaries
Mel Birnkrant the
Colorforms Years - An illustrated memoir by
Colorform’s Creative Dir