The name “Presto Magix” might not immediately ring any bells, but I’ll bet that a great many of you used to love these kits. It’s my job to jog your memories, and what better way than with some stranger’s grainy YouTube video?
As that old commercial explains, Presto Magix was a series of rub-on transfer sets. Think of them as a more permanent version of Colorforms.
They’re rarely mentioned today, but these sets were absolutely ubiquitous in the early ‘80s. I don’t just mean for Star Wars fans, either. So many kid-targeted things had one, from Spider-Man to Strawberry Shortcake. Cartoon characters couldn’t call themselves “big time” until they’d been immortalized as a Presto Magix kit.
Course, the Star Wars sets represented Presto Magix at its peak popularity, and I’m not just saying that because I’m on the right website to say it. There were tons of Star Wars sets available, from boxed versions that were as big as board games, to super small sets that retailed for peanuts.
If you do remember Presto Magix, it’s likely due to those smaller sets — such as the one shown above.
There were several Star Wars kits in this size, which were sold for just one dollar and available pretty much everywhere. I have such fond memories of tagging along on my mother’s grocery store runs, because back in the early ‘80s, you could even find these things in supermarkets.
This is one of the four smaller-sized Return of the Jedi kits, based on the “Sarlacc Pit” scene. Just like the others, it came with a fold-out “action scene” and a sheet of rub-on transfers.
No matter which set you bought, the sheet of transfers would include a number of characters… and a number of abstract explosions.
(The pencil wasn’t included, but you did need one. What you didn’t need was a pencil topped by a Troll figurine, so I’ll come out and admit that that was the only one I could find. Used in a tribute to a plaything from 1983, I think it’s fitting.)
First, you decide where you want your character (or abstract explosion) to be placed. Next, you pencil over that character (or abstract explosion), which magically removes it from the transfer sheet and makes it a permanent part of the action scene. Rinse and repeat a bunch of times, and you’ve created high art simply by scribbling.
I compared Presto Magix to Colorforms, but the reality was that Presto Magix was Colorforms’ much cooler cousin. The fact that the art was permanent meant so much. When you finished penciling over the transfers, you just felt so accomplished — no less so than you’d have felt had you drawn and colored the characters yourself. I can’t think of many other things that gave kids such feelings of triumph in five short minutes!
On the other hand, finding spots for those transfers wasn’t always easy. You weren’t creating Star Wars art as much as Star Wars outsider art.
Notice how Luke seems to be battling Jabba’s henchman on a platform of thin air. I’d say I was going for some form of existential commentary, but the truth is that I just had nowhere else to stick them.
When you’re done, the action scene comes alive with warring characters.
Presto Magix’s relationship with the Star Wars brand started with The Empire Strikes Back, and continued with Return of the Jedi. Between those two films, there were at least 10 different kits, available in various sizes and depicting many classic Star Wars scenes. (And we can tack on several more from a short-lived revival in the late ‘90s!)
The good news? The kits work just as well today as they did in the ‘80s, and they’ve remained inexpensive. A set like the one featured here only costs around five bucks.
Should you decide to hunt one down, just remember to sign your work when you’re finished!
(Yeah, they give you a space to do that.)