How to Repaint Barbies and Other Dolls

Updated on April 14, 2016
Repainted Barbie
Repainted Barbie

About Doll Repainting

One of the hottest trends in the hobby world right now is doll customizing and repainting. It started becoming popular more than ten years ago when people began revamping Barbies with custom costumes and making fairies out of them.

Today, most renovations are done on the most popular brands (like Barbie, Monster High, and Tonner Dolls) as well as other collectables (like Fashion Royalty).

Ebay serves as wonderful showcase for these custom dolls, and it's a great place to go if you want to buy one instead of make it yourself. Some artists are so talented that they are able to command prices in the high hundreds or thousands for their creations. This is where most collectors first see a repainted doll and decide it is something they want to try themselves.

So what is involved? A repaint is when you remove the factory paint, then hand draw the features with acrylic paints, usually with a more realistic and pleasing appearance. This creates a OOAK (one of a kind) customized doll.

Barbie Muse Repaint
Barbie Muse Repaint

Getting Started

Repaints require a lot of trial and error.

  1. First you will need a couple cheap dolls to practice with. Use the playline Barbies which cost less than ten dollars, or try Monster High ones if you prefer that basic shape. Even if you plan on painting the larger 16” Tonner dolls eventually, start on less costly models and you won't be upset if you have to redo it multiple times. If you must use a Tonner to start, get a cheap older one on eBay.
  2. Some people like to start painting right over the existing factory paint, just to get a feel for what it is like to paint on a 3D surface. Painting over existing paint is never done by professional doll artists, but many beginners do this when they start. This enables you to get an idea what the paint feels like on your brush, how it flows, and the shape of the doll's features. After you become accustomed to handling your supplies, you will have to remove the doll's factory features and practice on a blank face.
  3. When you are brave enough to start, you will be removing the face. Most artists use straight acetone, which is the quickest and most efficient method for vinyl dolls. It is perfectly safe and does not damage the plastic in any way. Don't get any acetone on the body, though, as it may damage the vinyl that the body is made from. Wrapping everything but the head in a cloth or paper towel before you start working is a good idea. This prevents accidental drips, smudges, and dirt.
  4. Once you have a clean canvas to work on, you can begin.

Good Lighting is Essential

When you set up your work space, you'll need a really bright light right. Daylight bulbs and a low table lamp are best. I use two OTT lights, one on either side, and two other lights as well. Incandescent bulbs give too much of a yellow cast, so I offset them with the Daylight CFLs that OTT lamps use.

If you are straining to see, you won't be able to paint well, so make sure your space is brightly lit.

You'll Need Magnification

Here is one thing that I recommend to everyone: A magnifying visor lens that you wear on your head. Why is this so helpful? Because even though my eyesight is perfectly fine for close work, I don't possess bionic magnifying eyes that allow me to see minute detail.

You may think that your doll looks great, but when you view her under a magnifying lens, you will see all the mistakes you made. If you intend to sell them, these mistakes will be apparent in photographs. If your repaint looks good under magnification, it will look fantastic to the naked eye and more likely to result in a sale.

I have the kind of visor you wear on your head. It has a 2x and a 3x magnification. You can use one or both at the same time. The detail you can capture is astonishing.

Other Supplies

You will need paints and brushes, and the acetone for paint removal. You can start off using cheap craft store paints if you like, but these are much more difficult to work with. The difference between cheaper and more costly products is the amount of pigment versus filler. I prefer Golden brand fluid acrylic paint: a tiny bit lasts a long time. Some people use Liquitex tube paints, but these require much more thinning.

If you do chose a craft store brand, Apple Barrel, Folk Art, or Delta are commonly used ones when starting.

For a sealer, I use Liquitex matte and gloss.

Golden Fluid Acrylics
Golden Fluid Acrylics

The Best Paintbrush

I have used the same kind of brush for most of the past thirteen years: an American Painter size 10/0 Spotter. It is inexpensive with synthetic bristles. I have tried more costly brushes with real fur bristles but did not like them at all.

Painting the Eyes

The eyes are really the main focus on a doll, so learning how to do great eyes is important.

  1. I like to start by laying down the shape of the eyebrows, as this can set the tone for the entire face. This is where the doll will get a great deal of her expression from.
  2. After the eyebrows, I outline the eyes and lips to get the general shape I want.
  3. After I outline the eyes, I fill in the whites of the eyes, add some shading, and paint in the caruncle (the triangle at the innermost corner).
  4. Shading can be used to give the appearance of roundness in an area that is flat. Some Barbies have a very flat eye area and you will need to create a rounded look using shading techniques. This is more advanced however and is not usually done by the beginner. You will learn all this in time.
  5. I then add in eyeshadow colors, and then the iris, finishing by adding the pupil.
  6. Lashes and liner come next, and lastly, the white highlights in the eye.

Lips, Cheeks, and Sealer

  1. Having already laid down a preliminary outline to define the shape, now I add all my highlights and shading, finishing up with a gloss or matte sealer when they are completely dry.
  2. Blush is the last step before I seal the eyes and brows.
  3. When I am happy with the doll repaint, I wait a couple hours to make sure all paint is dry and then seal any remaining painted areas with a matte sealer.

Everyone has their own style and preferences, so what works for me may not work for you. You'll find your own style as you gain some experience.

Repainted Barbie Doll
Repainted Barbie Doll
A Tonner Doll Repaint
A Tonner Doll Repaint
Eve Kitten repaint
Eve Kitten repaint

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Questions & Answers

  • I used a pink permanent marker on my Barbie doll's lips. They were perfect. Two days later, I noticed the color had bled, spreading out beyond the lip area and the color had turned bright orange. Can this be fixed?

    Possibly. You should never use any type of marker on a doll. Use Oxy-Ten cream to help fade the stain.

  • Is it possible and/or okay to change the entire skin tone of a doll? Let’s say, is it okay to use acrylic paints on a light skinned doll to make it darker in skin tone?

    A very talented artist may be able to get away with this with the right products and sealers, but for most people, the results will be poor. Brush strokes will show- it will chip, flake and won't look that great. The best option is airbrushing.

  • I have MSC and have primed 3 layers but my pencils won't put down pigment. They are cheap. Is this the problem?

    Are you using watercolor pencils and not just regular colored pencils ( which won't work under any circumstances )? Try either Derwent or another high-quality brand. You won't get good results with cheaper ones. Actually Derwent and similar are not at all expensive, just maybe a better quality. Dick Blick has good quality ones.

  • When repainting Barbies and other dolls, how do you get the watercolor pencil to stick? Layer upon layer until it shows up?

    You have to seal the doll well with no less than three coats of either Mister Super Clear or Testor's Dullcote. Apply more sealer after every layer of color to enable you to build up layers of color.

  • I bought this really cheap doll a couple of years ago, and just recently I tried to brush the hair ( I color Barbie hair with washable markers!) and the hair came out. I'm currently trying to sew the hair back in with yarn. The paint I've noticed is starting to come off some. They are small little details. What size brushes do you prefer for touching up small details on a doll?

    For a brush a 10/0 spotter is a good size.

© 2014 Lady-in-a-Window


Submit a Comment
  • Lady-in-a-Window profile imageAUTHOR


    22 months ago from United States

    I have never found that one coat covers well. You will need more than that and several layers of sealer.

  • profile image

    Albert Roman 

    22 months ago

    I only want to paint the hands and part of the arms to match the pink and / or blue of the doll's legs I'm going to put in space uniforms. What would be the best kind of paint to use? One coat if possible.

  • BeatsMe profile image


    6 years ago

    Thanks. I didn't know there are hobbies such as repainting doll's faces. This is very interesting.


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