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The process of reborning a doll

Reborning is the art of taking a vinyl doll kit & enhance it by using detailed painting techniques to create a near lifelike look & feel of a real baby.  There are some things to consider for artists to take up reborning.  A lot of people think reborn dolls are extremely expensive & that they can make one for cheaper.  That is not necessarily true when considering all of the factors that go into creating a One-of-a-kind (or OOAK doll).  Given the time involved plus the amount of money invested in the supplies & kits, $400 is a very fair price for an heirloom-quality doll on an average-priced sculpt.

In making one of these dolls costs can include the following:

Sculpt: head & limbs only ($50-140); quality body ($10-25), glass beads & Poly-fil ($25), lashes, acrylic eyes ($8-25/pair – glass eyes are more expensive), plugs ($8), tummy or back plates ($25 each) & that’s just to put the baby doll together!


Then there are necessary supplies to create the life-likeness of the baby doll.  This is what I use, but everyone is different in what they choose to use to make their own doll. 

Assorted heat set paints (in ½ oz. jars $30), sponges ($5 package), thinner ($14.99/ 32oz), ceramic or metal palette ($2.49), brushes ($5/10pk), Tacky glue ($3), Magnets  ($4-$5 each…regular craft store magnets do not work well with vinyl), paper glaze  to give the glossy look on lips, nostrils, nails, etc. ($6), Knee-highs to package the glass beads.  clean ones around the house), craft sticks & toothpicks to scoop paint, cotton swabs, paper towels ($2), premium Mohair ($45/ ½ oz.) & Mohair needles (good quality ones can run approx. $3/needle), rooting tool, hemostats ($10-15/pr), drying rack, & sharp scissors. Then extra costs include clothing, pacifiers, bibs, blankets, bottles, & any other accessories the doll artist would like to include on the doll.  (Also want to factor in the electric/gas bill as you will need to bake the doll parts to set the heat set paints).  Then there is also shipping, both from purchasing packaging supplies & shipping the finished doll to his/her destination, plus eBay, etsy, & PayPal fees This means the cost of supplies alone for a closed-eyed, low-cost sculpt is around $175-200.  The more detail in the skin tones & hair, & the higher quality sculpt, the more the asking price of the doll.  A serious reborn artist will also want to invest in a good camera, some form of a photo program & a computer system.  Taking good photos that clients will want to see is key to selling doll creations!  This is just a glimpse at the potential costs involved in making a reborn.

Sounds like a lot of investing, doesn’t it?  A little goes a long way.  A lot of the supplies can be used & re-used, like the sponges & paints.  Also, my advice for beginners is to start off small by practicing on a lower-cost sculpt.  Your first should be considered your learner piece & may not be your best work. That’s perfectly ok though because we all have to start somewhere!  There are also tons of tutorials out there.  There are also many artists, like myself, willing to lend a hand.  I offer workshops where I can teach you basic techniques.  Do your research, study anatomy.  Look at human skin, it’s not just one color.  Study where the veins are, where the shadows form.  Sell your creations to buy more supplies & create more dolls.  The more dolls you do, the better you will refine your techniques!  Practice makes perfect!


Reborn artists who sell their dolls for $300 are barely making a profit.  So why do it, one may ask? Because we are artists.  This means we are passionate about what we do, not because we expect to become wealthy at it.  We also remind folks that these dolls are pricey to make.  If a person is wanting a reborn doll & thinks it’s too expensive, they may not understand the extent of what goes into making one.  Each doll is OOAK & hand painted, hand assembled.



















So now you have your investment, now what? 

The process of making a reborn doll is a dedication of many hours & craftsmanship.  I’ve been making these beautiful dolls for many years & have been fortunate enough to win some awards for my creativity!  Here is my technique:


*Step one is choosing a kit, which typically consists of just the vinyl head & limbs. These kits are unpainted & what I refer to ask “naked vinyl”.


*Step two is washing the kit with warm water & a mild detergent to rid of any oils or dirt. Dry thoroughly.


*Step three is getting all the materials ready:

Cosmetic sponges, swabs, toothpicks, various paintbrushes, paint palette, squirt bottle of paint thinner, heat set paints in various colors, matte varnish, paper towels, dry rack, doe suede body, cable ties, wire cutters, scissors, tweezers, doll joints & plugs, poly-fil fiber, glass beads, nylons, scent packet, Mohair, felting needles, Reborn hair conditioner, permanent glue (like Gem-tac), paper glaze, magnets, pillow, clothing, accessories.


*Then the many layers of painting begins. Each layer adds subtle differences. This includes neutralizing, blushing, veining, mottling, shading. Each layer is then baked in an oven to cure the paint. After the vinyl has cooled, another layer of paint is added, baked again, cooled, baked. This process continues until the desired effect has been achieved.  On average, there can be 20 or more paint layers on a doll.


*After skin tones are finished, additional features may be added: blemishes & scratches, birthmarks, nail tips, etc. This step is also where I paint the fine baby hairs around the face & temples & eyebrows. After this layer is baked & cooled, I will paint a few layers of hair then baked. Mohair can be added later.


*Once the desired skin tones have been achieved, I apply a skin texture mixture, to give a realistic look & feel. It is then baked & cooled. Then matte varnish is applied to the vinyl. This ensures the many layers will be protected & will never wear off, fade, or crack. The matte varnish layer is then baked three times to be sure it cures properly.

Now it’s time to add the eyes if the doll is an open-eyed doll. The eyes come in a variety of sizes & colors & look very realistic. If the doll is close-eyed, eyelashes may be rooted by hand with Mohair.


*After eyes have been set, I use a paper glaze to give the eyes that gloss wet look.  Apply to the corners of the eyes, around the lower lid, & the eye itself. Also apply a thin layer of the glaze inside each nostril & each ear. After the nails have been tipped, apply a layer of the glaze to each finger nail & toe nail.  


*Mohair is a tricky process & is very time consuming but the end result is awesome. I use a big comfy chair & strong bright light. A u-shaped pillow inside a pillowcase is perfect to prop the doll head. Using 42-43gauge felting needles, I insert 2-3 hairs at a time into the doll head. Many hours later, a permanent glue will be applied to the inside of the doll head to seal the hair, which can then be brushed, cut, & conditioned (spritz with Reborn hair conditioner then brushed through).  This is a good time to add magnets for a hairpiece &/or pacifier, if the doll calls for them. The head is propped up & left to dry overnight.


*After everything is dry, it’s time to assemble. Glass beads & poly-fil fiber will give the doll weight. Never use sand. The glass beads are poured into nylons which are wrapped & tied to ensure no leakage. The nylon packets & poly-fil are placed inside each limb, head, & body cavity then sealed with plugs. A scent packet, beating heart box or voice box may be added at this time. Once the doll is stuffed to desired thickness & weight, assemble each limb & fasten with cable ties, being sure to snip the extra length off with wire cutters. Tuck into the doe suede. Assemble head same way.


*After assembly, I stitch a tag on the bottom of the doll with the doll’s name, my name as the artist & my nursery & sculptor’s name, & date reborned. After choosing the right outfit & accessories, I take a full photo shoot to capture all the details.

Each of my dolls goes home with a laminated birth certificate that I designed & a reborn doll care sheet.




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