PEZ dispensers are plastic novelty candy dispensers that have been popular since the 1950s. The name “PEZ” comes from the German word for peppermint, “PfeffErminZ”, reflecting the minty candy that the dispensers were originally designed to hold. Over time, PEZ dispensers have evolved into collectible pop culture items, with dispensers made to look like popular cartoon characters, movies characters, and more. But despite their enduring popularity, many people don’t know what exactly PEZ dispensers are made of. This article will take an in-depth look at the materials and manufacturing processes used to create these iconic candy dispensers.
Before diving into the materials that make up a PEZ dispenser, it helps to understand what PEZ candy is. PEZ was originally created in Austria in 1927 and was sold in small tins. It wasn’t until the 1950s that the first mechanical “PEZ Box” dispensers were created to package and help promote the peppermint PEZ candies.
PEZ candy itself is a pressed, straight milled, cube-shaped peppermint sweet. Traditional PEZ candies are flavored with mint oil, sugar, corn syrup, and natural flavors. They are caffeine-free, gluten-free, and certified Kosher. While the most iconic PEZ candies are the peppermint version, other fruit and candy flavors were later introduced as well, including cherry, lemon, orange, and more.
So in summary, PEZ candy pieces are pressed brick-shaped mints that come in a variety of fruity and minty flavors. The candies themselves are made from sugar, corn syrup, flavorings, and colorings. Now let’s look at the materials that contain these tasty little bricks!
PEZ Dispenser Body
The main body or head of PEZ dispensers through which the PEZ candies are loaded and ejected is made from plastic. Early PEZ dispensers from the 1950s were composed of cellulose acetate plastic. In the 1970s, PEZ transitioned to using an acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) plastic to craft the dispenser bodies.
ABS plastic is a common thermoplastic polymer often used to make light, rigid, molded products like pipes, automotive body components, and toys. ABS is appreciated for being a strong, durable plastic that can withstand bumps and drops without shattering. ABS can also be easily injection molded into complex shapes, which allows the iconic PEZ heads and bodies to take on diverse geometric designs from squares to snowmen to Minions.
So in summary, the majority of PEZ dispenser bodies are made of ABS plastic. This is a hard, durable plastic perfect for forming the often cartoonish dispenser shapes without breaking while still being lightweight.
PEZ Dispenser Feet
While ABS plastic makes up the main structure of a PEZ dispenser, the feet at the base of the dispensers are composed of a different material. PEZ feet are most commonly made from high impact polystyrene (HIPS).
HIPS is another thermoplastic that can be injection molded like ABS plastic. But it differs in that it is even more rigid and durable than ABS. This makes it a sensible choice for the PEZ feet that support the weight of the dispensers. It helps the dispensers stand upright solidly, even when fully loaded with candy.
So in short, the feet of PEZ dispensers tend to be made of high impact polystyrene or HIPS. This gives the feet extra rigidity to properly prop up the dispensers.
PEZ Dispenser Springs
Another key component that gives PEZ dispensers their functionality is the spring inside that pushes the PEZ candies up for dispensing. While most other parts of a PEZ dispenser are plastic, the springs are typically made of metal.
Early PEZ dispensers used compressed metal springs. But modern PEZ dispensers tend to use a thin, coiled metal wire compression spring. This type of spring can be repeatedly compressed and expanded which allows the spring to push PEZ candy bricks up one by one as each brick exits the dispenser.
Steel is a common metal used to create these dispenser springs as it is an affordable metal that still provides good flexibility and tension capacity. However, springs may also be crafted from stainless steel, nickel silver, phosphor bronze or beryllium copper alloys as well. The key is finding a thin wire metal that can be tightly coiled without deforming while still generating the continuous tension needed to lift the PEZ bricks.
So in summary, the internal springs of PEZ dispensers are made from thin metal wire, often steel, that is coiled into a compression spring to provide the upward pushing force discharging the candies.
PEZ Dispenser Flip Tops
The flip top openings where PEZ candies emerge from PEZ dispensers are also made from plastic like the bodies. Typically, the same ABS plastic used to mold the dispenser heads and shapes will also be used to form the flippable dispenser opening as well.
However, some vintage PEZ dispensers used lower impact polystyrene (IPS) plastic for the flip top instead. IPS is similar to HIPS but with slightly less rigidity. The increased flexibility of IPS allowed the flip tops to be opened easier, an important feature back when PEZ dispenser designs had tighter spring tension.
So in summary, PEZ dispenser flip tops or exit openings are molded from ABS plastic or, in some older models, IPS plastic. This keeps the flip function integrated seamlessly with the rest of the dispenser body.
PEZ Dispenser Printing
The iconic fun character faces, accessories, and details printed on PEZ dispensers are applied using a pad printing process. Pad printing allows printing on three-dimensional objects like the uniquely shaped PEZ heads and bodies.
In pad printing, the graphics are etched into a flexible silicone pad. Ink is applied to the etched design on the pad. Then the ink is transferred from the pad directly onto the PEZ dispenser surface through applied pressure. This allows the prints to wrap around curved surfaces of various PEZ dispenser shapes.
Pad printing inks are formulated to bond effectively and permanently to the ABS plastic material of the dispensers. This allows the prints to flex and bend with the opening and closing of the dispensers without cracking or peeling. Polyamide-based inks are commonly used but may also contain acrylic or nitrocellulose compounds.
So in summary, decorative graphics on PEZ dispensers are applied through a pad printing process using ink formulated to adhere to the ABS plastic material permanently.
PEZ Dispenser Packaging
For packing and shipping the assembled PEZ dispensers, both paper products and plastics are used. PEZ dispensers are commonly sold on colorful cardboard backings that allow visibility of the dispenser through a plastic bubble.
The cardboard is often 14 point thickness, which provides both good rigidity and low material weight. This thickness strikes a balance between sturdiness for shipping and shelf presentation while avoiding excess material waste.
The transparent plastic bubble that wraps the dispenser itself is commonly made from polyethylene terephthalate (PET). PET is valued for its excellent clarity and can be thermoformed into the dome shape to hug the contours of the dispenser head. A glue is applied between the cardboard and PET plastic to seal the packaging.
For bulk packaging of multiple dispensers, polyethylene (PE) plastic bags are frequently used as they are durable and resilient. PE bags help prevent damage during transport of large numbers of dispensers while keeping material costs low.
So in summary, PEZ dispenser retail packaging combines PET plastic bubbles with glue-affixed cardboard backings. PE plastic bags are also often used for bulk transport and storage.
While PEZ dispensers may appear simple, a surprising number of materials go into creating these fun candy toys. From durable ABS plastic for the dispenser bodies to flexible steel springs to vivid pad printed graphics, each component contributes to making PEZ dispensers both amusing and functional. This wide mixture of plastics, metals, inks, and paper comes together to produce the PEZ dispensers cherished by candy lovers and collectors for over 90 years and counting.