Forgotten Dolls

an encyclopedia of dolls and doll collecting

Selecting doll eyes -- tips, tricks, and how-tos


Selecting doll eyes

For certain types of dolls such as modern ball jointed dolls, the eyes of the doll can be removed and changed.

Most new dolls of this type come with a default pair of eyes, but the doll's owner is free to change the eyes to a pair which best suits the character for that doll.

Eyes are available in a variety of sizes, colours, and materials to suit every price point.

Options for doll eyes

Doll eye materials

Doll eye shapes

doll eyes shapes Doll eyes are shaped to fit the doll's eye sockets. Some shapes will work better for one doll than another.

The two basic shapes are either round eyes with a stem or eyes with flat backs. Antique eyes (typically from a German glassblower) are hollow round handblown glass.

Over the iris is a domed area which adds depth to the eye appearance. This dome is available as what is termed "paperweight", which means an elevated "extra" lens over the iris, or as a "low lens" eye which does not have this elevated area. Low lens eye domes will not have as much depth in appearance.

Tip: Eye bevellers are available if you have a resin doll whose eye sockets require reshaping.

Doll eye sizes

doll eyes sizes For those who wish to change their doll’s eyes from the default for a different look, one thing to consider is the size of the eyes. Would your doll look better with larger eyes? Smaller eyes? How do you determine what size eyes to use for your particular doll?

The company may recommend one particular size eyes for a particular model, but many dolls can wear a variety of eye sizes.

Doll eyes are available in a variety of sizes from 4mm up to 22mm and larger. 4mm are rarely used for all but the smallest of dolls, but tiny dolls such as a Pukipuki will take 6mm or 8mm eyes. 12mm is typically used for a Unoa or similar slim mini. Most 60+cm dolls will take 14mm to 18mm eyes, and certain older ball jointed dolls are specifically sized to use 20mm eyes or larger.

Tip #1: If you aren’t sure what size eyes your doll needs, start with the smallest size and work your way up. Generally, a smaller iris creates a more mature look, while a larger iris will make your doll look younger. Some large eyes may not fit into your doll’s head at all, however. Likewise, too-small eyes will leave gaps in the eye socket.

Tip #2: If your doll's eyes are half-closed, go down one size from the default.

How to change doll eyes

Proper eye setting in a doll can make all the difference in photos, yet often the stock placement is slapdash and simply doesn’t look right. If your doll’s eyes seem out of alignment, you will need to open your doll’s head to reset the eyes in a more appropriate position.

For a new hobbyist, it may seem daunting to change the eyes on your doll, but it’s really not that difficult. All you need is your doll, a pair of eyes of your choice, and some eye putty.

Tip: I use the Scotch brand mounting putty because it doesn’t stain, but I believe 3M and similar companies will have a product that will work for you if you can’t find the Scotch brand one. It’s about $3 a packet.

A single packet is enough for the eyes of several dolls such as a ball jointed doll. This putty is reusable when removed from a doll.

Opening the head

The first order of business is to open the head. Remove the doll’s wig, and you should see a seam line around the head. Pop that open. Most newer ball jointed dolls have a magnet system keeping the head closed, so give a tug to the removable part (either a headcap or face-plate).

If your doll still has their default eyes installed, the eyes will need to be removed. The eyes on a factory-standard doll are usually held in with hard putty or hot glue. Putty needs to be chiseled out (tedious!). Hot glue can be pried out with a blunt knife.

Tip: Applying either low heat or cold can sometimes help with the glue removal. If you’re lucky, they will be held in with mounting putty, which can be easily removed with the eyes.

Once they’re out, switch in the new eyes. The important thing to keep in mind when setting eyes to go slow and ensure the eyes are set properly.

Positioning the eyes: common errors

Contrary to new collector belief, you really shouldn’t just chuck the eyes into the head and hope for the best. The eyes are the very first thing that will be noticed about your doll, so position them properly.

Changing doll eyes
You don’t want your doll to have eyes looking off in different directions.
  Changing doll eyes
Or worse, to have the dreaded forward blank stare. This is common for factory default dolls.
  Changing doll eyes
There is also the ever-popular look of “eyes rolled back into the head”. Unless your doll is dead or insane, please don’t do this.
  Changing doll eyes
Then there are those collectors who manage to have their doll’s eyes positioned too far down. This likewise looks bad.

If your doll’s eyes look like any of these common errors, take the time to correct it.

Positioning the eyes: the correct way

Changing doll eyes The goal of proper eye positioning is both to have an expression in keeping with the personality of your doll and to have both eyes track properly. Choose an position that suits your doll’s character.

Don’t be afraid to try out different positions -- looking to one side or the other, perhaps.

Tip: If you can’t find a position you like, a slightly cross-eyed and upward-tilted position is cute and endearing for most dolls. This works best if the upper edge of the pupil is just touching the upper eyelid.

Position the eyes, one at a time, to your liking. Ensure that the pupils line up and there is an equal amount of white space around both irises. Squish the putty into place so it holds. Close up the head and put the wig back on.

Where to buy doll eyes

Once you have determined a "look" for your doll, it's time for shop for doll eyes. If you are not using the doll's default eyes, you will have to check the secondary market (typically a forum centered on this type of doll), and wait until you find the doll eyes you are looking for. If you don't find the eyes within a reasonable time, you can post a "WTB" (Want To Buy) with the model, condition, and the price you can pay.

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