Urban vinyl is a type of designer toy, featuring action figures in particular which are usually made of vinyl. Although the term is sometimes used interchangeably with the term designer toy, it is more accurately used as a modifier: not all designer toys can be considered urban vinyl, while urban vinyl figures are necessarily designer toys, by virtue of the way in which they are produced. Like designer toys in general, urban vinyl figures feature original designs, small production numbers, and are highly sought-after by collectors, predominantly adults.
The urban vinyl trend was initiated by artist Michael Lau, who first created urban vinyl figures in Hong Kong in the late 1990s. Other well-known creators of urban vinyl figures are Japanese artist and designer Takashi Murakami whose work has been exhibited in the Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and Australian designer Nathan Jurevicius's Scarygirl, based on characters from his comic of the same name, and produced in conjunction with Hong Kong company Flyingcat.
Urban vinyl figures are designed primarily by musicians, DJs, illustrators, and graffiti artists from urban areas in Asia (especially Japan and Hong Kong), North America (especially the United States), and Europe.
An offshoot of hip hop and youth-oriented popular culture, urban vinyl often depicts real-life figures from Asian and American culture, particularly artists who perform in a hip-hop or related styles. Noteworthy examples are Lau's depiction of the LMF rappers from Hong Kong, and figures based on the members of the virtual electronic band Gorillaz, produced by Jamie Hewlett and made by Kidrobot.
A toy may be designed entirely by a single artist, including the body, clothing, accessories, and paint applications, or one artist may create a sculpt for a figure and another artist may apply paint and other finishing details. Some pieces are a collaborative effort, with as many as 12 different artists contributing to the final design.
Urban vinyl is commonly designated as either Eastern Vinyl, including anything designed and produced in Asia or Australia, or Western Vinyl, encompassing pieces which are designed and produced in North America, South America, or Europe. Urban vinyl figures have become highly collectible. Rare pieces may sell for hundreds or even thousands of dollars.