It’s time to start ordering pixels for this year’s show! I order all of our pixel strings starting now through about April. I add at least 1000 to what I feel we will need this year, and then split it up over a few months worth of orders. This gives us all the pixels we should need by May or June at the latest, while largely insulating us from any supply chain or transportation issues.
(Following is my opinion. Take it or leave it.)
Many US vendors will have “Pre-Buy” deals soon, where you can order large quantities of pixels early in the year (usually January-March), for delivery later in the year. They will aggregate all of the orders together and place a bulk order with their (Chinese) supplier with a delivery commitment later in the year, usually late Summer or early Fall. This has worked well for a lot of folks in the past, as the large bulk order results in very good pricing, usually on high-quality pixels. It has become problematic more recently, primarily due to Chinese supply and transportation issues.
There is no real guarantee you wlll get your pixels when you want them, or that those pixels will be of the quality you expect. This is a big deal if you are working on new props or show elements, or are hinging your entire display on one delivery of pixels. A pre-buy deal may claim delivery in August/September, but supplier or transportation issues may push the delivery date into October or even November. In the worst case- you may not get them in time for Christmas at all. (I saw several posts about this happening on some of the pixel forums.)
When you do get them- they may be of a lower quality than you expected, and you may not be able to get any help from the vendor, especially if they have been burned by their supplier and are dealing with large-scale failures. In most cases- the US vendor has the best of intentions and will do what they can to make things right. They may be overwhelmed with problems and won’t be able to make things right until AFTER the season is over though. Unfortunately there are also some vendors who have also gained a reputation for a complete lack of post-sales support. (I do not feature these vendors on my Resources page.)
Before entering into a pre-buy agreement, take a very careful look at what you may be risking. You are spending a lot of money up-front, and may be putting “all of your eggs in one basket” so-to-speak. No vendor can really guarantee delivery or quality, although I know reputable ones will do everything their power to insure you are happy. These deals can save you a lot of money too if you are willing to take the risk on them. If anything- consider distributing the risk by splitting your pre-buy orders among multiple vendors, or augmenting them with direct-buys of in-stock pixels.
In my opinion- if you need pixels to start or expand your show- you are far better off just ordering what you need now, either from in-stock US vendors, or directly from a reputable Chinese supplier. You may pay more, but you will get them way before any pre-buy pixels might come in. If you order in-stock pixels from a US vendor, you will likely get them in less than a week. Even from China- a 2-3 month supply chain or shipping delay in February or March isn’t going to impact your Halloween or Christmas show.
Another problem is “Promotional” Pixels. You will find these mostly from the “big name” Chinese suppliers. These are very-very low quality pixels that are designed and built that way, usually with the cheapest components possible and wire that barely qualifies to be called “wire”. They may also be pixels that generally work, but have failed higher levels of quality control. They may be malformed, not sealed properly, or have solder joints or components that don’t meet the QA requirements of the suppliers “standard” line of pixels.
In a very-real sense- think of these as “factory outlet” pixels. They may work, for a while, but are going to be prone to failure and will likely let you down at the worst possible moment. They are usually sold at “too good to be true” prices, and there is a reason for that! They are great if you are just learning and want something cheap to play with, but I don’t recommend them for actual show elements.
In both of these cases- I really don’t want to disparage any vendors, I just want to provide a fair warning to anyone, especially new folks, interested in getting into this hobby. Things are frustrating enough for new folks, and I’ve seen well-intentioned people advise “newbies” to jump on both pre-buy and promotional deals. Of course- my advice comes with the similar well-intentions, so take it for what it is worth. 🙂
In the case of pre-buy pixels- no reputable vendor is going to offer them without reasonable assurances from their suppliers that the pixels will be of the highest quality and will be delivered on-time. Unfortunately though- unforeseen circumstances seem to have become “normal” over the last couple of years. COVID-19 has snowballed already existing supplier, quality, and transportation problems in/from China, and right now- virtually ALL pixels are made there. If you are new, or your show otherwise won’t happen unless you get your pixels by a specific deadline (setup date), then a pre-buy might not be a good idea. For those with established shows that already have a good inventory of pixels on-hand, they are a great opportunity to add stock at a great price.
Promotional pixels are simply suppliers giving a lot of people what they want- the cheapest pixels possible. I’m all for cheap- the cheaper the pixels the more I can add to our show. But- at some point “cheap” becomes either too unreliable to be useful, or in some cases even dangerous. That’s not good for anyone. As I said above- if you want something to play with, especially if you are just considering getting into this hobby- then go for Promotional pixels. Just don’t count on them to last, and keep a careful eye on them.
Remember in all cases, the best a good vendor can often do is refund your money. If it’s December 15th and you can’t set up or run a show you’ve been planning all year because you don’t have pixels, or the pixels you have are failing at an inexcusable rate- getting your money back is of little comfort.