Photo Stickers Have Long Been a Part of Youth Culture

Enjoying photo stickers
(Photo courtesy of FURYU Corporation)

   Photo sticker machines are interactive photo booths where you can take photos and print them out as stickers and have been a hit among teenagers ever since they first appeared in amusement arcades back in 1995. They also allow you to add frames, decorate them with doodle functions or edit the photos themselves. The craze has continued to grow to the point that the first thing teenagers say when they hang out is "let's take photo stickers!" — it's even become a slogan. Here, we will delve into why photo sticker machines are so popular and how teenagers like to enjoy them.

From the Advent of the Photo Sticker Machine to the Present Day

   At first, photo sticker machines were mainly found in amusement arcades where young people would use them to preserve memories of hanging out with their friends. Later, facilities specifically for photo sticker machines also began cropping up, attracting crowds of young people, particularly teenage girls. When the first photo sticker machine was created in 1995, smartphones hadn't been invented yet, so the machines quickly grew in popularity as an easy way to share photos with friends. At first, the only additional feature was one which allowed users to add frames with various patterns to their photos, but other features have been added over the years, including a doodle function with pens and stickers, and brightness adjustment to enhance skin tone. In 1998, a model that could take full-body pictures was also released! As opposed to before where only half-body photos or portraits were possible, this machine opened up the possibility of taking various full-body poses, leading to a surge in popularity among young people.

A type of photo sticker machine launched in 1999. The main improvement was the inclusion of lighting, which allowed users to take brighter pictures than before. (Photo courtesy of FURYU Corporation)

   Moving into the 2000s, the camera's angle of view was widened and a series of distinctive features were added that allowed users to take pictures of large groups of people, make wind blow through their hair, or touch up the photos to the user's liking. Teenagers are sensitive to trends, so in order to keep them interested, makers of photo sticker machines survey them to better understand what they want, and what new features and functions to propose. Today, full-body shots are the norm and an increasing number of young people are concerned not only with capturing a pretty picture of their face, but also with making the photo stylish. It's also linked to the latest fashion and makeup trends, and an increasing number of young people are choosing machines from a wide variety of models for the different effects and features each one offers.

An establishment with a collection of popular photo sticker machines. There is also an area where customers can do their hair and makeup before getting their photo taken. (Photo courtesy of FURYU Corporation)

Photos can be decorated however you like from inside photo sticker machines. (Photo courtesy of FURYU Corporation)

Shifts in the Way People Enjoy Photo Stickers

   From the late 1990s to the early 2000s, most young people would exchange photo stickers with friends or stick them on notebooks to keep as memories. Now that smartphones and social media are mainstream, young people are less likely to exchange photo stickers with friends, instead keeping them as mementos inside their phone cases or posting them on social media.
   In the past, young people would often use doodles and stickers to decorate their photos, but today, an increasing number are using makeup and retouching functions while keeping the background simple. In this way, the way in which people enjoy photo stickers has changed over time. Other modern trends include taking pictures with friends in matching outfits and striking the same pose to create a twin-like vibe — a fun experience that you can only get with photo sticker machines. Peace signs and heart hand gestures are particularly popular as they are considered important for making faces look smaller and cuter.

The photo sticker poses that teens adopt also change with the times. (Photo courtesy of Kawabata Yume (yumepote))

Photo stickers are also popular among elementary school students. Early teen magazines detail the various photo sticker poses and editing techniques that are used. (Photo courtesy of Nicopuchi, December 2022)

Many people keep photo stickers inside clear phone cases as decorations.

What Will Be Required of Photo Sticker Machines Going Forward?

   Today, the functions of smartphone camera apps are rapidly evolving and there are now many ways to take amazing photos. Nevertheless, one of the reasons why photo sticker machines are still coveted by young people is that they offer a wide variety of functions that make it easy to 'beautify' yourself. While results with apps may vary depending on the shooting environment, inside a photo sticker machine, the lighting and environment make it easy to take attractive photos. Another factor is that photo sticker machines are fun! The photo sticker machine itself is a special space, and entering a booth with friends has become a popular pastime for young people. The ability to preserve memories as stickers is also a major appeal of photo sticker machines.

   Future photo sticker machines will need to offer more features that are in line with youth trends, and more variation in how they can be used. In addition, more and more young people are using selfies for their social media profile pictures nowadays, so there are high expectations for photo sticker machines that allow people to easily produce cute selfies by themselves. Since youth culture is so trend-sensitive, it can be challenging for manufacturers to identify which trends interest today's youth, and to create photo sticker machines that will be enjoyable to a wide group of people.