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All but the smallest Transformers toys come with an instruction booklet telling the consumer exactly how to convert their newly purchased plastic robot from one form to the other. The instructions also list all the toy's accessories and (usually) demonstrate its action features.
Though they are commonly referred to as "booklets" in the fandom, almost without exception they are printed on a folding single sheet of paper.
The 1984 instruction booklets featured photographs of the actual toy in various stages of transformation. After that, they were replaced by black and white line art for the duration of the line, with two-tone color shading to clarify which part was to be moved. The Mini Vehicles and other similarly small toys had their instructions printed on the back of their packaging card; boxed toys came with booklets.
All the Generation One toys included a verbal description of the action to be taken ("Grasp rear section of helicopter and extend back"), in addition to the visual illustration. With weapons in place and arms swung forward, the instructions would note in congratulatory fashion that "Blades is now ready to battle the evil Decepticons!"
Generation One instruction booklets featured art of the character on their outermost fold. The nature of this art varied widely: sometimes it was a line reproduction of the package art painting, and other times it was a straightforward line drawing of the toy. Sometimes, however, it was a unique composition, showing an articulated interpretation of the toy, or occasionally a different design altogether. These variations appeared with little regard to toy assortment or subline. For example, Snapdragon's instructions feature line art of his toy, while his case-mate, fellow Horrorcon Apeface, has a line version of his box art.
Combiners in Generation One had their own separate instruction sheets, printed on a small, heavily-folded sheet of paper. These instructions came with each carded member of the team, and showed how to convert all of them into their combined mode. Boxed team members simply had the same line art printed on the back of their instruction sheet.
Generation 2 changed very little on the instruction booklet format. Toys that came on genuine blister cards still had their instructions printed on the back of their cards while boxed toys had their instructions printed on the usual separate sheet. Some larger toys, however, came in clam-shells with cardbacks which were unique tho the Generation 2 line. Like their boxed brethren, these toys also included separate instruction sheets.
The instructions themselves continued to use line drawings with additional written instructions, and the established wide variety of different-natured line drawings for their "cover" images. The quality of the cover art, however, took a sudden nosedive as the line neared its end.
Beast Wars continued to use line drawings of the toys with two-tone shading. The line art is often simplistic and somewhat crude, however, making it hard to follow at times—particularly as the toys became more and more intricate.
Carded toys (Basic and Deluxe) had their instructions printed on the cardback, similar to the smaller toys of Generation One; boxed toys (Mega and larger) came with a booklet.
Early Beast Machines toys also used toy line art, at about the same level of quality and detail as Beast Wars. Later in the franchise's run, however, the line art was replaced by photographic images of the toys themselves, rendered in white and gray.
Robots in Disguise
Toy instructions from the Robots in Disguise line used line art, but at a much greater level of accuracy and detail than the Beast Era drawings.
Disclaimers and other text on these instruction sheets were trilingual. Perhaps related to that, Robots in Disguise was the first line to omit previous series' verbal instructions for transforming the toy, instead relying solely on the images to provide the information. This has become the standard, as no franchise since has provided verbal instructions.
Armada, Energon and Cybertron continued the use of higher quality line art (though ironically, the toys became much simpler to transform.) With the corresponding proliferation of electronics during the Armada franchise, much of the instruction sheet was taken up by warnings and legal declarations regarding the batteries.
Pressed for space by the requisite trilingual packaging, even smaller toys like the Mini-Cons and Scout class toys began to get their own instruction sheets. Instruction sheet notes continued to be trilingual for Armada and Energon.
Cybertron saw a switch from two-sided sheets, to one-sided; in the US, the instructions were noted only in English. The same pattern -- line art, single-sided, booklet for all sizes -- was used for Alternators and Classics.
The Movie franchise toys continued to use one-sided sheets with detailed line art, but added photographs of the toy in both modes at the top, superimposed over an image of Earth. US editions are in English only.
The Animated franchise toys use instruction sheets that are identical to the movie sheets, only with an image of Detroit instead of the Earth.