Forgotten Dolls

an encyclopedia of dolls and doll collecting

Airbrush your dolls -- tips, tricks, and how-tos


Airbrush your dolls

I have often been asked what I am using for the custom full-body paint on my dolls such as ball jointed dolls. This is entirely done with an airbrush rather than pastels or normal paint. I find that ground pastels leave a grainy texture to the body colouring, and simply painting the colours on with a brush will of course leave streaks and visible brush strokes.

However, these common problems can be avoiding through the use of an airbrush when painting your doll. A steady hand while airbrushing ensures a clean smooth paint job on your doll -- brush stroke free!

Basic airbrush supplies

What do you need to begin airbrushing? An airbrush, hose, compressor (to supply air), and good quality paint appropriate to the type of figures that you are painting. For a doll, an acrylic paint is needed.

Warning: Do not use enamel paint on your doll! Even with a strong solvent, it is almost impossible to remove fully.

Blick's normally has these things in stock. I buy my airbrush supplies from them including safety gear, and I highly recommend them.


Choose your airbrush

I recommend buying the best airbrush you can afford. If you buy the cheap one, it will break easily, and you won’t get much painting done if it is always away for repairs.

Note: Iwata has standard-size parts that are easily to replace. Badger, Paasche, and Testor’s do not. Should something break, it may prove difficult to replace with the standard parts used by another company.

Accordingly, I highly recommend an Iwata airbrush. I have a dual-action Iwata with a gravity-feed cup. For me this is preferable to both a single-action airbrush and the siphon-feed variety as it gives me greater control while painting.

Why I don’t recommend an Aztek airbrush

I don’t recommend buying the Testor’s Aztek airbrush. Some hobbyists may recommend it; I don’t.

It’s made of plastic, so while it may be imperious to most solvents, it also breaks easily. One of the seals broke on mine within the first hour of use. The common joke you may see is to buy two because one will always be in for repairs. This is quite the truism, and Testor’s does offer a three year warranty so long as you haven’t opened the body of the airbrush. However, I have little patience with tools that keep breaking. As a younger hobbyist I swore by Testor’s products, but their quality has greatly gone downhill since that time. Save yourself some aggravation by not buying this airbrush.

Go cheap on your airbrush compressor

Any shop-grade compressor will work so long as the hose that fits your particular airbrush model can be coupled to it. If you already have a compressor, try that first to see if it might work with your airbrush.

Tip: If you are short on shop space or get headaches easily from noise, I suggest a small tankless quiet compressor. It won’t take up much room and will head off the headaches. I have an Iwata Ninja compressor, which is small and extremely quiet if noise levels are a concern.

Buy good quality airbrush paint

Do not go cheap on the paint you are using. I cannot stress this enough. It is painful to see the paint peel from a figure you have spent hours painting because you bought the cheap paint instead of the good one.

You get what you pay for when it comes to paint. The more expensive, the better quality it is. Buy the best you can find. High quality paint will last a long time when stored correctly.

Tip: I recommend Golden brand airbrush paint. The consistency of the paint works very well on prepped resin. Start off with a basic set of colours and add new colours as needed.

Safety first while painting!

Protect your eyes and lungs while airbrushing. It should go without saying that an OSHA-approved respirator is necessary for airbrush work. You do not want paint to get into your lungs. Wear wrap-around safety goggles to protect your eyes. Nitrile gloves are also helpful if you have any.

Warning: Do not bother with the coffee-filter mask; it won’t work for such a fine paint spray.

Reduce painting stress with these airbrush supplies

While not strictly necessary, it is also helpful to have an airbrush stand, cups and stirrer to mix your paint, and a brush cleaning device with cleaning solution.

Warning: The cleaning station is especially important as many hobbyists try the milk-jug cleaning station, but it’s not a good idea to let the paint fumes build up in a small plastic container. The fumes are highly flammable, and may spontaneously combust under the right circumstances. Get the right tool for the job instead of trying to make-do.

Once you have your supplies, it is simply a matter of practice, practice, practice in using your new airbrush.

How to use an airbrush

Warning: Don your safety equipment before doing any work.

Prep your doll

Begin by dissembling the doll as much as possible (unstring a ball jointed doll, for example). Use a solvent to remove any old paint and sealant. 91% rubbing alcohol with work for this purpose and can be applied with a cotton swab.

Once that is done, use hot water and a strong liquid dish soap such as DAWN to wash all the parts. This removes all mold release agents from the doll's body if this is a new doll, and it will wash off any solvent for a doll that required cleaning. Leave all the parts to dry for at least an hour. If you see any white streaks, use more solvent to clean those parts again, then re-wash. When your doll is dry, you can begin the painting process.

Begin by applying at least two coats of sealant to all parts that will be painted. Depending on the type of doll, this can be a water-based sealant or a spray-on resin sealant. Allow time for each coat of sealant to dry completely.

While you are waiting for things to dry, set up your equipment and do a test spray onto some scrap paper. If you need to adjust the spray or the colour mixture, do so now.

Paint your doll

When the doll parts are ready, work on one part at a time, spraying lightly and carefully to ensure an even coat of paint. Let each coat dry before spraying the next coat. When you are done with one part, work on the next part until all the painting is done. If possible, let everything dry overnight before reassembling your doll.

Tip: It's easier to do several light coats of paint than one heavy coat. This also makes for easy colour gradients.

Happy painting!

Tealmermaid's Treasure Grotto