Figure Durability Test 2019

Although I do not leave my figures or other scenery outside for extended periods I am curious as to how well they would hold up. New Mexico has some of the highest UV ratings in the country with over 300 days of sunshine a year. Coupled with the mean elevation of 7000 ft it is a harsh climate.

For comparison Santa Fe, the nearest city for which I can get data ( and visible at night from my backyard) has a UV index of 9, 10, 11, 12, 11, 9, 6 for April through October. Death Valley National park in California goes 7, 9, 10, 10, 10, 8, 5.  While New York City compares at 6, 7, 8, 8, 8, 6, 4.

On Dec. 29, 2003, a world-record UV Index of 43.3 was detected at Bolivia’s Licancabur volcano. A range coming close to the surface of Mars which regularly reaches into the mid 40s.

For the new year I decided to find out just how well figures from various manufacturers will hold up. Or possibly I just like to torture figures….

I would say that most of you should get as good or better results than this from your people. If not I highly recommend torturing them until performance and moral improve..

I have attached factory painted figures from 8 different manufacturers to a 2X4. Beginning New Years day they were placed outside in the yard where they are exposed to the elements, UV and public ridicule without any protection. They will remain there for the next year…maybe longer. Each month on or about the first I will take a picture and post it here so everyone can see how they are doing.

This is science so you all need to take it serious. The lives of your figures just might depend on it.

Jan 1st – New, pristine and ready to go.

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From left to right the brands are: Mojo (molded vinyl), Railroad Avenue (resin), Just Plain Folks (resin), Woodland Scenics (resin), Fun & Games (resin), Prieser (resin) Cheaple (resin) and Scleich (molded vinyl).

Feb 1st – No noticeable change. We have had temperatures swings from – 4 to 58 degrees, three feet of snow, some rain and winds sustained at 55 with gusts to 68.

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If you are seeing a lot of difference in color let me point out it is all the photography. There is no discernible change in any of the figures yet.

I am using a 15+ year old Sony Cybershot 7.2 digital camera that has seen better days. In addition to being handled by my caveman hands it is has done duty in both Iraq and Afghanistan and has the scars to prove it. Some times the flash does not go off, other times it does not auto focus properly. Occasionally I have to coax the lens cover open with my fingernail. On top of that I am not a trained photographer, not even a good amateur photographer.

Look at these two pictures. They were taken just seconds apart, inside, on my paint bench with natural light and a flash. You see the difference.

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Don’t put too much emphasis on the photography I expect the UV damage to the figures to be dramatic and very obvious. As an example look at the picture below. The fuel tank on the left was cast this past summer and has been living in a drawer waiting for a project. The trunk on the right was cast 5 years ago, primed with Krylon Grey enamel and then painted with brown acrylic enamel paints. It then set outside in partial shade for 3 years.

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All of the paint was blistered off including the primer except in some of the deep corners. The resin itself was pitted and turned the dark yellow. The little bit of grey on the side is from over-spray from sitting to close to other projects in the shop. The flesh tones on the Railway Ave and Just Plain folks figures are the raw resin. I suspect they may discolor in a similar fashion.

I do not think any of the figures will reach this level of deterioration in one year but whatever happens will be obvious even with poor photography.

Feb 19th

Weather: single digits overnight with day time high in the mid 20’s. Five inches of snow. Being a figure on the Cibola is no job for those fainthearted plastic cowboys from the grocery store. Out here, those that can,.. DO!

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…and those that can’t? Well they wind up in somebodies display cabinet being eyeballed by one or more curios kitties.

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March 1st

Another month has come and gone. We have had high winds (60-75mph) through most of it and some precipitation. I found the figure board on the ground following one wind storm. Temperatures are now ranging from the mid teens overnight to daytime highs in the upper 40s. We will see how the resin likes the expansion and contraction effect.

Today is overcast so the pictures look more pale than they are. Nevertheless I think a couple of figures are starting to show signs of general fading. The blue uniform of the baggage handler and the coveralls of the workman to his left.

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Spring is just around the corner here in New Mexico bringing with it those long UV heavy days.

April 1st

April is here. mother natures joke was 2 1/2″ of snow overnight. All gone now but this is the time of year where we get temperature swings from the teens overnight to the 70’s during the day.

Her is how the gang looks on April 1st. Some of the edges are starting to peel and flake off.

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Railroad Ave, Just Plain Folk and Woodland Scenics are showing the most although I think the WS figure may be damage from an animal or bit of hail as the cap bill is broken off.

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April 18th

Spring in New Mexico and the winds are sustained at 55 and gusting to 70mph. For the second time this month I found the people laying on the ground. This time damage was incurred. Repairs were made by drilling and pinning the broken joints with steel floral stem wire and super glue. Back out into the hostile world.

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The lesson here is that resin is brittle regardless of its tensile strength.

May 1st

May and here are the victims.

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June 1st

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Heading into the brightest, hottest part of the year. We will see how the figures like that.

July 1st

July first is the half way point. The figures have now been outside for six full months. Its been a full onslaught with June taking its toll. Even with more cloudy days than normal that summer sun is brutal. There is noticeable fading on all of the figures with the Just Plain Folks and Railroad Ave being the worst. You can see the Railroad Ave figure is getting a chalky haze front and back on the blue coveralls and his shirt is starting to wash out completely.

The vinyl figures are also showing some signs of exposure. Both have lost their high gloss sheen with the little girls pink shirt starting to fade.

The least effected figures are the Prieser and my own Cheaple painted with Vallejo paints. I am really surprised by this. While Vallejo is a top quality model paint it is not designed for extended outdoor use.

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August 1st

Ouch! The full sun of summer in New Mexico is doing its worst.

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September 1

I am actually on time this month. Here is the view taken around noon.

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Some comparisons.

The top group of figures are the baggage handlers from the Woodland Scenics “All Aboard” set. The figures on the left and right have never been outside, the center one of course just crossed eight months in the elements. Looks like the red hat and blue uniforms are holding up very well. The only fading I see is the green suitcase is very sun-bleached.

The bottom picture is a comparison between the original picture of the vinyl native girl and “Jack” from Railroad Avenue. I will order two new figures of these two for an end of year side by side.

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October 1

High wind, Long evening sun and wide temperature swings are all part of fall in New Mexico. Here is the latest look at the victims.

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November 1

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December 1

Not seeing as much UV deterioration as the summer months. Wind and rain are still taking their toll. I have ordered new figures for the end of year comparison. I will have that up by the end of January. For now here is how the peeps look.

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January 1st 2020: End of Project Summary

Well here we are at the end of the year. It has been a brutal New Mexico turn. A below average snowfall and rain meant an above average number of clear sky days with lots of UV and wind. I think a few animals got their licks in as well.

Below you will find side by side (new versus the test subjects) comparisons for six of the figures. I could not find new versions of the other two. The most telling damage is from UV. The broken pieces are from meteoric hail strikes and not deterioration. Note that all test subjects are on the left. The inset picture is the test subject in original condition.

My observation is the most durable figure was the Woodland Scenics baggage handler. His blue uniform, red hat and dark skin are still very close to their original colors. Only the suitcase in his right hand faded significantly. The only damage of note is the bill of his hat.

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In second place is a tie between the the two vinyl figures. I was surprised at the amount of oxidation on both figures even though the fading was slight. You can see it distinctly on the Mojo Indian girl. Note that the Schleich figure test subject had painted skin. I could not find one like that so I went with a molded skin color version. Nice thing about these is they don’t break. The line however is mostly 1/24th scale with few choices for 1/20.3


In third is Fun and Games with a mostly intact lumberjack. You can see that the paint held up well except for notable changes in the face and hands. This figure is epoxy like most of the others. It suffered a lot of damage and seemed to be exceptionally brittle. It was glued back together several times.

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Next we have a workman from Just Plain Folks. With this one you kind of have to hold your tongue just right. There is so much variation in the production of the JPF figures that not all of the change you see is from the test. The most notable is the fading of the blue clothing.

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Last place goes to Railroad Avenue. Everything on this guy faded severely. You can see their is also a weird discoloration in his crotch where it looks like the figure exuded something.

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In addition to the UV fading several of the figures have whitish oxidation on them which I suspect is lead oxide. These are all made in China (except for the Prieser and Cheaple figures) which has been found to still be using lead in paint and children toys as late as 2018. Probably should not let the kids or pets chew on them.

One comment on the Cheaple figure. I cast and paint these myself. It is not really a commercially available product although I have sold a few on E-bay. The paint I use is Vallejo Acrylic Enamel, which is a commercial product and a damn good one. You will notice that this water based hobby paint not only held up for a full year without peeling or flaking but it did not fade much either.

I guess the best advice is “do not leave your figures out for extended periods” but if you do I recommend a location shielded from hail and shaded as much as possible.

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