Action Figure Glossary

This is a glossary of terms related to the action figure industry. I’ve created it primarily so I can just link to these terms from my blog, rather than having to explain them every time.

Words denoted with an asterisk (*) are words I made up myself.


2-up: A sculpt of an action figure that is larger (usually twice the size) that the actual production figure will be. Allows the sculptors to add more details to the figure than if it was sculpted at the smaller size; this is particularly useful if the manufacturer is considering releasing a larger version of the figure.

Accessory: Items that are included with an action figure, usually intended to be used by the figure.

Army builder: An action figure that represents a generic character (usually some sort of soldier) who can be bought in bulk to create an army. Example include Cobra Troopers from G.I. Joe and Stormtroopers from Star Wars.

Articulation: The points at which an action figure can be posed.

Ball joint: An articulation point, usually shaped like a ball, that allows for near-full rotation of the limb. Most often used for a figure’s shoulders, but often seen on the neck and hips. Usually contains a hinge running inside the ball that connects to the torso and/or the bicep.

Ball-and-socket joint: A type of ball joint which is truly just a ball plugged into a socket, with no hinges inside.

Bio: A description of an action figure’s character found somewhere on its package. Often has a dotted-line border to encourage buyers to cut out and save the bios.

Blister or bubble: The clear plastic container that holds an action figure to its backing card in its package; also displays the figure and its accessories.

Buck: A generic body type used as a base for many different characters. Often seen in superhero toys; most famously used by Mattel in their 1980s Masters of the Universe line.

Build-a-Figure (BAF): A figure who can be assembled by purchasing other action figures, each of whom comes with a piece of the BAF’s body. BAFs are often larger than normal figures; if not, they may be an obscure character who wouldn’t merit a regular retail spot.
Other names: Collect & Connect (C&C) figure

Card: The cardboard (or sometimes plastic) backing of an action figure package. Often features colorful graphics on the front and photos of other action figures from the line on the back. May also have bios or Proof-of-Purchase points.

Casepack (often just “case“): The contents of a typical box of action figures that are shipped from the manufacturer to a retailer. For instance, a particular department store might receive two cases of DC superheroes toys; each case contains two Batman figures, two Superman figures and two Wonder Woman figures, meaning the story has four of each character to put out on the racks.

Clamshell: Packaging that completely seals the figure in plastic; usually includes a paper or cardboard insert that serves the same purpose as a card.

Combiner: A term specific to Transformers toys, meaning a robot character who is formed by a combination of five or six other Transformers. The most famous is Devastator.
Other names: Gestalt

Custom: A figure not released in stores but made by a collector, usually by using parts from existing action figures.

Cut joint: See Mushroom joint

Dry brush: A painting technique in which most of the the paint is removed from the brush before the brush is touched to the figure. This “dry brush” is then stroked lightly over the figure to bring out raised details and textures. It is often used on fur, hair, metallic surfaces, bases and scenery.

Dumbbell joint: An articulation point in which a ball or knob sits in a socket with a peg extending from the ball to another ball or knob, which then attaches to the limb. Allows for ball joint-like movement, but not quite as much of a range of motion.

Fiddler*: A collector who opens and “fiddles with” all of his or her action figures, rather than keeping them in the package.

Flocking: Giving a toy a fuzzy texture to give the impression of “hair” or “fur.” Examples include Panthor from Masters of the Universe and Man-Bat from DC Superheroes.

GOtSOM*: Gross-Out-the-Significant-Other-Meter. A personal measurement of how scary or disgusting a toy may appear to one’s non-toy-obsessed significant other. The rule to remember is: if the GOtSOM is high, you ain’t gettin’ some. Example: a Care Bear toy is a 1 on the GOtSOM; any of McFarlane Toys’ Tortured Souls would be a 10.

H-joint: A special type of articulation found on DC Universe Classics figures in which the hips are designed so as to move with the range of a ball joint, but the parts are all flush against one another to minimize the joint’s interference with the sculpt. The joint is a sort of combination mushroom/hinge joint.

Hinged joint: A point of articulation in which two prongs or holes are fastened around an anchor on another limb. Allows for forward-and-back or side-to-side movement. Usually found on elbows and knees.

Kibble: A term for the superfluous parts hanging off the robot mode of a Transformer, left over from its alternate mode and not well-incorporated into the robot mode; e.g., a monster’s head hanging off the robot’s left arm.

Mint-on-Card (MOC): A figure that is still inside its bubble and attached to its backing card. As action figures on cardboard cards become more rare, the terms Mint-in-Package (MIP) and Mint-in-Box (MIB) have also become common.

Monc*: A collector who prefers to keep his or her toys MOC (mint-oncard or mint-in-package).

Mushroom joint (also known as a peg, swivel, or cut joint): The classic articulation point, consisting of a “mushroom-shaped” peg that inserts into a hole and allows for movement in a circular direction around the peg. If there is nothing to stop the limb, this type of joint allows for 360° of motion. This used to be the standard joint for all parts of an action figure, but in today’s market it is most often found at a figure’s waist or wrists.

Peg joint: See Mushroom joint

Pegwarmer: An action figure that doesn’t sell well (thus “warming” the metal pegs of the toy store racks).

Prototype: A pre-production sculpt of an action figure.

Repaint: An action figure that is identical to a previously-released figure, except it has been painted in different colors.

Retool: An action figure whose design recycles many parts from a previously-released (or sometimes unreleased) figure, but represents a new character or version of a character.

Shortpacking: A case of action figures sent to a retailer might contain, for example, two Batman figures, two Superman figures, two Wonder Woman figures, and one Green Lantern. In this case, Green Lanter is the “shortpacked” figure–the one who is found only one-to-a-case (or sometimes one to a few cases). A much-reviled practice among many toy collectors, shortpacked figures nonetheless tend to command huge aftermarket prices.

Swivel joint: see Mushroom joint

Test shot: A production model of a figure from the factory that is sent to the toy company before manufacturing begins to ensure the product meets their quality standards.

Variant: An action figure that is nearly identical to another released figure except for some small detail. It might be as minor as different color eyes or as major as a different accessory or head sculpt. In the early days of action figure collecting, variants were often simply factory mistakes; today they’re often a deliberately produced item by the manufacturer. Generally one figure is the “regular” figure and the other is the “variant.” Usually, the variant is produced in smaller numbers.

Variation*: An action figure of a character that is not an “iconic” version of the character. For instance, an “iconic” Batman would simply be wearing his usual black-and-gray or blue-and-gray outfit seen in the comics. A variation would be Batman wearing “Arctic Gear,” or “Street Luge Batman”…or Capture Claw Batman.

Wash: A painting technique in which paint is first diluted (with water or some other solvent), then added over previous coats of paint. The diluted paint settles into the crevices and depressions in the figure, highlighting details and adding shading.

Wave (or Series): A group of action figures who are released together at the same time, usually shipping in the same casepack.