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How to Repaint Barbies and Other Dolls

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 collectibles (like Fashion Royalty).

eBay serves as a wonderful showcase for these custom dolls, and it's a great place to go if you want to buy one instead of making 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.

What Is Doll Repainting?

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 an OOAK (one-of-a-kind) customized doll.

Barbie Muse repaint

Barbie Muse repaint

Tips Before You Begin

Repaints require a lot of trial and error.

  1. First, you will need a couple of 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 of 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.
Tips for your first doll repaint

Tips for your first doll repaint

Good Lighting Is Essential

When you set up your workspace, 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 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.

Magnification of the eye

Magnification of the eye

Other Supplies Needed

You will need paints, brushes, and 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 choose 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.

How to Paint the Eyes

The eyes are really the main focus of 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 liners come next, and lastly, the white highlights in the eye.
Painting the doll's eyes

Painting the doll's eyes

Finishing With Lips, Cheeks, and Sealer

  1. Having already laid down a preliminary outline to define the shape, I now 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 of 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.

Add details

Add details

Just the Basics

This has been a grossly oversimplified explanation of repainting a doll. There is a ton more to know, lots of information, and do's and don'ts that can make the difference between success and failure.

Repainted Barbie doll

Repainted Barbie doll

My Etsy Shop

  • Fantasy Dolls by D on Etsy
    Welcome to Fantasy Dolls by doll repaint artist Donna Anne. Monster High Doll and Barbie Doll OOAK face ups and repaints are my passion!
A Tonner Doll repaint

A Tonner Doll repaint

Eve Kitten repaint

Eve Kitten repaint

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

Question: 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?

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

Question: Do I have to use a primer before repainting with acrylics?

Answer: No - acrylics are painted right on the vinyl.

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

Answer: 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.

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

Answer: 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.

Question: 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?

Answer: 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.

Question: I would like to close the mouth of a Barbie. There is a tutorial on Youtube, which shows to remove the teeth and to glue the lips together with flexible gel glue. I think about: the teeth zone of my Curvy MTM Barbie is very small, so maybe I would color and shade the teeth. Do you have experience in doing this? I would be thankful for example.

Answer: I have found that the procedure of teeth removal leaves a very unnatural and unattractive look. It works, but you have to use super glue and it just looks awful. I have a client who I repaint for and the dolls sent have this done usually and even my repainting skills can't make them look very nice. Better of doing a head switch if you want a non-smiler on the Curvy MTM body.

Question: Does acrylic paint smudge when wet?

Answer: Any paint will smudge when wet.

Question: I watched a video on YouTube and they said to use chalk pastels to repaint Barbies, what are your thoughts on that?

Answer: I use them all the time in conjunction with acrylic paints and watercolor pencils. Watch DollLightFull on YouTube- I believe she gives a lot of explanations and supplies list. Too long, detailed and complicated for me to cover here.

Question: Can I use oil colours for Barbie face painting?

Answer: Absolutely not. Oil paint not only will damage the vinyl potentially, but it will never, ever, ever dry. Acrylic paints only for doll repainting.

Question: 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?

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

Question: How do you do blush to get a soft powdery look? Women usually apply a powder.

Answer: We use soft pastels for all blushing as well as eye shadow.

Question: Have you ever repainted a doll to cover green ear?

Answer: Green ear can be faded with Oxy Ten cream sometimes. I would never paint over green ear.

Question: Can you use normal colored pencils to paint on a barbie face?

Answer: No. You must use watercolor pencils. You use them dry though, not wet.

Question: What sort of primer and/or sealer is used with pastels?

Answer: I use Testors Dullcote. Many people use MSC ( Mister Super Clear ) but due to the extremely toxic nature of this item I choose not to use it. For the vast majority of fashion doll repaints, Testors Dullcote works just fine ( at half the price as well. ) For BJD's MSC would be the way to go.

Question: Do you use paint or pastels to repaint barbies and other dolls?

Answer: I use all three on all my dolls -- acrylic paint, pastels, and watercolor pencils. Paint is the majority, however.

Question: How do I remove acrylic paint that has already dried on a doll, & also has a smudge from the acrylic paint?

Answer: Use straight acetone- not nail polish remover.

Question: I colored my dolls hair using sharpie how can I get it off of her face? What can I use?

Answer: This will be almost impossible to remove. You can try Oxy Ten Cream and leave it on the stained area for a few days and lay her in the sun to help the bleaching process if you can. However, Sharpie should never be used on vinyl dolls because it bleeds like what happened to your doll. If the Oxy Ten Cream does not help then there is not much more you can do. Sharpie markers are permanent and stain terribly by soaking into the vinyl and sadly there is no helping that. At least it is a lesson learned and you can avoid doing this again.

Question: Is there a way to get acrylic paint off a doll if it has already dried? I am afraid the black ink may be stained.

Answer: Yes, easily- just use acetone. It will remove all the paint.

Question: I am having trouble finding dolls to get started, doll customizers have pretty much emptied the used lots here and soaked up all resources available. Do you have any suggestions?

Answer: Yes- Buy online. Amazon, Ebay, Walmart. :)

Question: I am completely new to repaints, and just started on my first doll a few days ago. I wanted to use my watercolor pencils, so her head needed to be sprayed with sealer. I don’t have any sealer around my house, but I have quite a lot of varnish. I sprayed on a thin coat of varnish, and it still hasn’t dried after more than 24 hours. Should I just purchased some sealant, or is the individual bottle just bad?

Answer: You can't use just any spray sealer on a vinyl doll. Some are just not suitable as they don't dry well, leave the doll shiny, do not have any tooth, etc. The recommended ones that the vast majority of us use are Testors Dullcote, Mister Super Clear and Purity Seal ( I have no experience with that one ). Testors Dullcote is inexpensive and can be found in most craft and hobby stores. MSC ( Mister Super Clear ) is extremely toxic and requires a respirator to use it- OUTDOORS only. For a beginner, don't waste your money on MSC. You will get just as good results with Testors. Good luck- NEVER spray in the house, do not breath in- keep away from all pets. Be safe!!

Question: What brand of soft pastels is used for the blush and eyeshadow for Barbies? Where would I buy the soft blush and eyeshadow for Barbies? Do you have makeup classes? I'm willing to travel

Answer: You can use any brand you like. I use Shminke as well as others. You can purchase these in any art supply store or even Dick Blick online. No- I don't have classes.

Question: I have repainted a Gene's lips. It turned out ok but around the lips, the skin is light reddish/pink from restarting and wiping. What can I use to clean my doll's painted lips?

Answer: At this point, you will have to wipe it clean. Then use Oxy Ten cream or other similar product that has hydrogen peroxide in it. You can use this to remove the staining as you are past the point where acetone will help. Leave cream on the stained area and let the doll sit in the sun. Next day wipe off Oxy Ten cream and repeat how ever many times are needed until the stain is gone.

Question: I have an old barbie doll that I want to repaint there are stains of old permanent marker, how do I get rid of the stains?

Answer: You may be able to fade them with Oxy Ten acne cream. It contains peroxide and is what doll artists use to remove staining. Put the cream on the stains and let doll sit in the sunlight. Repeat as often as needed until stains have faded.

Question: I've got the Hottoys 1/6 Superman figure. I'd like to be able to touch up the neck here and there by just matching the color that's been rubbed off by the headsculpt.I understand that acrylic is the way to go. The neck is soft vinyl. Can you recommend the type of sealer that would be best after I'm done touching it up? The part of the neck that is still looking good has a satin-like finish. I really can't strip the paint off that's existing because of the clothes. Any advice?

Answer: I have always used Liquitex Matte liquid sealer- and on the rare occasions I have done figurines, this worked well for them as well.

Question: What kind of pastels do you recommend for doll repaints?

Answer: I use Schmincke and Unison. Both are very soft and easy to use. You can also use Pan Pastels.

Question: Why is the paint chipping and coming off? What can I do to prevent this?

Answer: Factory paint or paint that you applied?

Question: Can you use make-up, like blush or eyeshadow on a doll? I know you would NEVER want to use lipstick or any type of gloss, but would powders be okay to get some glitter or sheen?

Answer: Short answer is no. Most makeup for people has oil in it, which will stain and ruin a doll's face. You can use mica powders however as these are oil free.

Question: What can I use to get ride of factory paint instead of 100% acetone?

Answer: Most anything else will not work well and may damage the doll. Most everyone uses 100% acetone. It is cheap, easy to obtain and only takes a few seconds to remove the face paint.

Question: Is it ok to use enamel paint on the heads and bodies of a Barbie?

Answer: I have never heard of anyone using enamel for fashion doll repaints, so I would have to say no. If no one does this, then there is usually a very good reason why it is not done. Would not chance ruining a doll with enamel paint.

Question: How do I make acrylic paint look smooth with no brush strokes on vinyl dolls? I see a lot of artists paint with acrylic and it looks smooth almost like machine-made.

Answer: It starts with high-quality paint, like Golden or Utrecht. High-quality fluid acrylics to start and if needed a good flow improver will help. Golden makes one, and so do other companies. The paint has to be thinned especially if it is cheap craft store paint like Apple or Delta. I use all these paints, but the cheap ones do need to be thinned. Not too much- just enough to get a good flow.

Question: Do you have to use shading on the skin when repainting dolls? I tried this and it didn't work.

Answer: No, you don't have to do any shading on the doll bodies. That is a personal preference. If you had a problem with shading did you do the following steps? Make sure you have at least 3 layers of MSC or Testors Dullcote sealer applied to the body areas before you use your soft pastels to shade. Then make sure you use 2-3 more coats of sealer to seal it and prevent it from rubbing off.

© 2014 Lady-in-a-Window


Lady-in-a-Window (author) from United States on August 28, 2018:

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

Albert Roman on August 27, 2018:

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 on June 28, 2014:

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