Game Collections Part I: Sticker removal and cardboard care

Sticker RemoverIn Part one of an on-going series, we’ll take a look at the best ways to remove stickers and tape from the games just released or that 20 year old NES game box that needs some loving. Also proper care to prevent shelf-wear and the best ways to store!

The Game Collections series of articles at EPO aim to provide collectors with useful, practical information for preserving and maintaining their collections. In this first section, the focus is sticker removal and proper care of cardboard boxes. Future additions will include fading, scratch repair, proper beta/proto/review sample care among many other things.

The various sticker solutions and what works
products_being_tested.jpg Here is a description of different liquids to remove stickers from games, many of which were found on various gaming forums and put to the test on old VHS tapes and cereal boxes to emulate the success on actual gaming collectibles.

Lighter Fluid:
Being the thinnest of any suggested solutions, it can often run further than you’ll want it to. This can be a problem with older boxes with rougher surfaces, a problem that is mentioned below. Works fairly well, but there are better options.

Often suggested is the common house-hold WD-40 lubricant. While this stuff does indeed do a decent job, it often takes longer to work and therefore can stain a little deeper on some types of cardboard. Works well for plastic surfaces like game/DVD cases, but you should probably stick with something that works well for everything.

Oops! Water-based remover:
creal_box_test.jpg The problem with oil-based products is that often times they stain the surface easier. While trying out some alternatives I came across this stuff, and I have to recommend AGAINST it. While it is water-based, it actually took some of the printed surface away with it – much more than any other cleaner. Avoid.

Goo Gone products:
I tried both the general Goo Gone that has been highly recommended as well as the Goo Gone Sticker Lifter. Both seemed to perform very well, with no noticeable difference between the two formulas. Sticker Lifter came with a very handy tool, so it might be worth looking at for that reason alone. These products worked almost instantly for sticker residue, and after testing all of these products I’d recommend Goo Gone the most.

You’ll need this to do a good job. A standard hair blow-dryer will work perfect, you don’t need anything hotter. This is used to soften the adhesive that is holding the sticker in place.

The Process:
I have divided the removal process into two sections. As stickers age, the adhesive begins to cure and solidify, and removing it becomes much more tricky. Different adhesives cure faster than others (masking tape being one of the fastest) so use your best judgment as to how to approach the removal.

Step 0: Ready the materials. I have found Goo Gone to be the best at removing residue and softening the sticker for removal so I recommend having some handy. You’ll want to have a small container (I used a shot glass) with a small amount of it ready to go. To apply it, I found using a cotton swab (q-tips) to be the best. You’ll also need a tool to help peel off the sticker without “gouging” the surface. Goo Gone Sticker Lifter comes with one, but any thin sheet of plastic will do. All you have to do is sand down the edge to be as thin as possible for optimal results. You’ll also want to have a micro-fiber cloth handy, you’ll see why in the later steps.

Complete Checklist:

  • Goo Gone / Goo Gone Sticker Lifter
  • Small container (shot glass or similar size)
  • Cotton swabs (q-tips)
  • Plastic lifter (to help remove sticker without damaging surface)
  • Hair blow-dryer
  • Micro-fiber cloth

New stickers:

new_1.jpgExample: I used the tape on the top of a PS2 Online Pack. Been there for a few years, so it definitely wouldn’t have come off nicely by itself.

Step 1: Heat. Heat up the sticker surface for a moment. The older the sticker, the longer I would apply the heat. Newer stickers usually 15 seconds is good.

new_2.jpgStep 2: While the heat is still being applied to the sticker, start removing it from any intact corner/side. Using your sticker lifting tool, get underneath and lift up that side. Once there is enough sticker lifted to grab with your fingers, do so and remove the rest (while still applying heat to the remaining adhered sticker). Be careful not to burn yourself.

The sticker should now be removed! If it didn’t come off as easily as I made it seem, please see the next page for older stickers.

new_3.jpgStep 3: Time to deal with the residue. Use your cotton swab to apply the Goo Gone to the micro-fiber cloth. Goo Gone seems to work relatively quickly, so for newer stickers it doesn’t actually need to be applied to the game surface. Once it’s on the cloth, simply wipe over the residue applying slight pressure. Once you have made a few wipes, quickly use a dry portion of the micro-fiber cloth to dry the surface. Chances are, there is still more residue that needs to be removed. Repeat this step until all the residue is gone.

new_4.jpgSuccess! The final result is no sticker/tape residue being anywhere on the box, with no damage to the surface underneath. Pat yourself on the back and go put your mom/wife/girlfriend’s blow dryer back before they catch you with it.

Things to Remember:

  • If you are dealing with a fragile box, I would suggest that if possible you collapse the box so that no crushing damage occurs when applying pressure to remove the sticker and the residue.
  • Don’t apply Goo Gone (or any similar substance) directly to the cardboard surface. If there are any creases, cracks, scrapes, or other damage to the cardboard around the sticker, the liquid will very quickly seep in and stain (quickly as in less than a second). This also applies so some porous cardboards and paper (manuals/inserts), I have found the boxes used for Nintendo 64 games/systems to be like this… even with no damage to the cardboard the fluid will stain almost instantly. The same applies to anything paper. thermal_stickers.jpgAlways apply to a micro-fiber cloth and dry as quickly as possible for best results.
  • Thermal printer stickers (such as those used by EB Games and Gamestop stores) will darken considerably when enough heat is applied. This is normal. It can actually be helping in gauging how hot the sticker surface is (by how dark the sticker is becoming)

Head to the next page to see how to deal with stickers caked on over decades!

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  1. Datacide
    March 29th, 2008 | 9:21 am

    Or you can just leave the stickers on. :)
    I am one of those collectors who just cares about the game itself…so the packaging and presentation don’t mean anything to me in comparison to the condition of the actual media.
    But I’ve had to remove tons of stickers in my professional life…so I must side as well with the Goo-gone. I particularly like the “Goo-Gone” gels…they don’t run and sneak away on you.
    Now…everyone send a dollar to help with the costs of Don’s obsessive/compulsive disorder. :)

  2. Datacide
    March 29th, 2008 | 9:24 am

    Oh yeah…and the other benifit of the stickers is that you can see how much you spent on games years later. I was shocked to see the other night that I spent $31.99 on a used copy of The Suffering: Ties That Bind for the XBox. Great game…but I saw it in bins at Wally-Mart for $9.99 not too long ago. (and I *just* got around to playing it a couple weeks ago)

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