Plastic Perfection: A Look At LEGO Quality Control

LEGO makes billions of elements every year, and they are well-known for the strict quality standards that they have. This is what allows parts from today to connect with parts from decades ago. There is no doubt that LEGO makes a high quality toy which has kept them in business all this time, but what about those times where the product just doesn’t seem to live up to the name?

It has been touted that LEGO only has an error rate of 0.000000018%. That’s eighteen in a billion. So why does it seem that some items are more error prone? It is helpful to first discuss the main categories of errors that occur.

The first type of error is related to pre-production planning. This includes things such as errors in box art and minifigure or ship design. One particularly notable Star Wars related one is the black haired Kanan Jarrus minifigure that was included in the first runs of 75053 The Ghost. This was based on the early material that LEGO was given that made it appear that he had black hair. Subsequent versions were corrected with a brown haired Kanan. Another example is the 75152 Imperial Assault Hovertank seen in Rogue One. Original source material referenced it as a hovertank, and LEGO wasn’t the only toy company who created a product based on this info. By the time the film hit the big screen, the ship no longer hovered but instead had treads like a regular tank.

Another type of error is related to the printing of non-ABS portions of a set. This can include items such as stickers and instruction manuals. Many collectors have shared photos on social media of manuals having duplicated pages, missing pages, steps out of order, or diagrams that don’t match the build.

The next two types are related to the manufacturing process: molding errors and printing errors. Molding errors include things such as poor mixing of colors (milky or marbled parts), incomplete molding (short shots), and stability issues (defective parts). Of these the most notorious in recent years has been the fragility of reddish brown parts. For an unknown reason, these parts will snap spontaneously and can even fragment into multiple shards. A similar phenomenon occurred with what is known as “brittle blue” with some older blue parts.

Printing errors have been around for as long as items have been printed. These oddities have become a focus across many collector circles, and LEGO is no different. Misprints have appeal for a variety of reasons, but the rarity is definitely one factor. Based on the error rate from above, it stands to reason that most collectors will never find a misprint in the wild. This used to be the case at least until the 75280 501st Legion Clone Troopers set was released.

This highly anticipated set came with an unprecedented spike in misprinted items. The initial jump had oddity collectors scratching their heads, but as the number continued to rise it became something of a scavenger hunt with buyers crossing their fingers to see if their box contained one. Who knew the golden ticket would be a poorly printed Clone?

Circling back around to the original question the answer is that all portions of the design process are at risk for error. Errors in pre-production planning are widespread due to the large batch that is produced in a single run. Non-ABS items are similarly at risk based on batching but also because the quality control of these items is different from molded or printed elements. Printing errors are not common but do show up fairly consistently. It is unknown why the error rate was so high for the 501st Clone Troopers. It has been speculated among some collectors that there was a push to get the product out quickly due to consumer demand and that perhaps quality control became more relaxed in order to get more product through. It is unlikely that we will ever truly know.

LEGO draws a wide array of collectors – something that we covered in our LEGO Star Wars collecting guide series – and oddity collectors fall under that umbrella. Rare minifigures have always been sought after, and our friend Shawn over at Minifigure Price Guide covers many of these in his Top 100, but this list only counts production figures. In order to see misprinted minifigures, you’ll have to search elsewhere.

Social media has brought collectors together in a way that the days of conventions and flea markets never could. If you are interested in LEGO misprints and other oddities be sure to give @lsw_misprint_collector a follow on Instagram for some of the most unique items around. Do you have any misprints in your collection? What would you do if you found one? Let us know in the comments section down below.

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