Throughout the life of the Transformers brand, package art has been one of its most common elements. Though not as widely noted and celebrated as Tech Specs, it is just as enduring and iconic to the brand. In the fandom, it is also referred to as box art, though it also appears on carded toy packages.
Transformers package art most often serves to portray the toy in the mode that it isn't packaged in. As most Transformers are sold in their non-robot forms, it typically shows them as robots (or whatever their equivalent primary mode is.)
Every Transformer sold in Generation 1 featured hand-painted artwork on the front of the package, most often showing the robot mode, with the vehicle form of the actual toy visible alongside it through a clear plastic window or bubble. A smaller version of the art was shown as part of the character's biography and Tech Spec profile. Generation 1's package art also showed up in numerous merchandising items, such as Action Cards, pack-in flyers, iron-on patches, party hats, and more.
Some toys would also have art depicting their vehicle mode. The Jumpstarters had vehicle art because they were packaged in robot mode, and the Triple Changers had art for the vehicle mode the toy wasn't packaged in. The tech specs still used the robot art only. Punch also had boxart for both of his robot modes. Another exception to the rule was the Clones, sold packaged in their identical robot modes, with artwork of their different alternate modes alongside them. Vehicle mode art was generally used only on windowed boxes, since the non-windowed boxes (such as Omega Supreme, Metroplex, Fortress Maximus, and Countdown) had large pictures of all alternate modes on the front.
Package art for the multiple-form Pretenders featured all of their forms: outer shell and both modes of the inner robot. As the multiple-form Mega and Ultra Pretender toys came along, this resulted in some rather crowded package art.
The character art for many of the Diaclone-licensed characters was directly appropriated from their original Diaclone boxes, including Autobot vehicles, Dinobots, and Decepticon cassettes. This style was maintained for all newly commissioned Generation 1 (and Generation 2) character art, presumably for consistency.
This art style often depicted a somewhat fictionalized version of the robot mode. While the reproduction of the toy's finer details was done very faithfully, the actual poses were often utterly impossible to reproduce given the limited articulation of most Generation 1 toys. Seemingly, the less the posable the toy was, the greater the artistic exaggeration tended to be; thus, the Throttlebots and Battlechargers were shown with jointed arms, separable legs and posable heads, even though the represented toys lacked all these features.
Some of the first year's character art, such as Optimus Prime, Jazz, and some of the Seekers, were painted by Jeffrey Mangiat. The 1984 mini-vehicles, as well as Shockwave and Jetfire, were illustrated by Mark Watts. A large portion of the 1986 through 1988 character line art was done by Richard Marcej, including some if not all of the Predacons, Headmasters, Targetmasters, Powermasters, Seacons and Pretenders. Much of the late-run Generation 1 package art was the work of Japanese illustrator Hidetsugu Yoshioka, whose work brought a dynamic and appealing style to the often blocky and simplistic toys.
A number of the original Generation 1 paintings have appeared for sale at recent BotCons, at asking prices starting at $650 and ranging up to several thousand dollars. The classic character artwork reappeared with the release of the Vintage G1 line, featured on both the front of the box and on the Tech Spec card on the back.
For the first five years, the boxed toys of Generation 1 also featured hand-painted, mural-like artwork depicting that year's toyline engaged in battle.
Compared to the fiction which developed around the toys, these paintings often feature some rather surreal elements. Multiples of the same character are shown (sometimes to depict movement, and possibly a result of the Transformers toys' original fictional origin as piloted mecha), and cars are seen to fly through space. Occasional off-model characters appear as well, such as a red Tracks or a strange-looking Broadside.
The original 1984 painting by David Schleinkofer showed the Transformers battling in deep space. The 1985 toy assortment was shown fighting in Earth orbit, with the planet sustaining some massive damage below them. In 1986, they were on the barren surface of a planet, centered around Metroplex. (1985 and 1986's were painted by Jeffrey Mangiat.) The 1987 battle was once again in deep space, with Fortress Maximus and Scorponok as the clear centerpieces; 1988 was likewise set in deep space.
With the proliferation of Pretenders and Micromaster bases in 1989, the standardized back-of-box art was replaced with a series of rather crude and cartoonish hand-drawn scenes, each showing a few of that year's characters engaged in combat, typically the toy type (Micromaster base, Mega Pretender, etc.) that was being sold in the package. The line art for these illustrations was apparently all done by Richard Marcej , who was creditably also responsible for much of the higher-quality character art from earlier years.
The Action Masters in 1990 did get a more traditional mural painting, showing a battle in low Earth orbit, complete with ground vehicles flying through space.
With the Vintage G1 line, the classic box styles returned, including the back of box mural art.