Materials, Maintenance, Safety

This guide is intended to help beginners and hobbyist level artists be safer and more informed while handling and working with resin ball-jointed dolls. Professional artists have their own processes and typically know how to be safe with whatever they use. Information provided here is based on simple chemistry and personal experience and does not represent any responsibility on my part regarding what you, the reader, might do with that information, nor is it a reflection in any way on the work of other artists (who, again, usually know what they’re doing). You are always responsible for doing due diligence and exercising good sense. I hope this helps you as you research materials and safe practices.

General Safety Guide: 

Artists are constantly developing health problems from the materials they work with. Many of these are completely preventable. Here’s how you avoid inflamed lungs, new allergies, nervous system damage, etc.

  1. Wear respirators when working with anything aerosol.
  2. Work in a well-ventilated area.
  3. Read the SDS sheets for all materials.
  4. Use and mix materials appropriately by chemical class.
  5. Wear particulate masks when working with anything dusty (like pastels).
  6. Avoid real cadmiums and other toxic pigments if at all possible.

General Doll Maintenance 

  1. At some point, you will need to restring your doll if you collect ball jointed dolls. Invest in s-hooks, elastic, coated wire, and hemostats.
  2. White vinegar rinses will prevent staining better than anything else. Color lock your clothing, wigs, etc to protect their colors and your doll. Some wig-makers color lock their wigs: read your artisan’s info.
  3. Dispose of eye putty after handling 2-3 times. Hand oils caught in the putty should not be left in a head. Thoroughly remove all residue inside the head before changing putty. Stope the mystery goop process before it starts!
  4. Faceups, like the dolls themselves, are original works of art and must be handled with care. Unlike most dolls, faceups are also completely irreplacable: if you damage a faceup, it may end up gone forever. Oils from your hands, excessive moisture, heat, or cold can all damage a faceup. Handling a doll with jewelers gloves (simple, washable, and very affordable cotton gloves) ensures cleanliness and avoids breakdown from oils or transfer from polished nails. Scratches and scuffs can also be avoided by protecting your doll from falls and by never resting resin pieces against each other where they can scrape easily (sealant sticks to sealant: thats how it works to seal layers of paint and also why you should never let heads bump together, etc).
  5. UV protection is a huge concern with resin dolls, given the instability of pigments used to color resin. The best protection is proper storage in a dark, dry, temperature regulated place. There is a great deal of well-meaning but misinformed conjecture out there about UV protection in sealant sprays especially, so I’ll just say this: no spray will protect your doll or its paint entirely from UV light, and none of them offer any protection against heat. As a whole, Zoukeimura, Mr Super Clear UV, and archival UV acrylics airbrushed, all offer a nice layer of anti-yellowing protection to faceups and blushing. Acrylic tends to yellow less itself than resin types. Dolls sprayed with these substances, and properly stored, mellow gradually and pleasantly in color as a rule. However, the factors influencing yellowing include: the particular batch of resin (yep, each one is different!), the type of resin, the pigments used to color the resin, the lightfastness of materials used to paint the doll, heat/temp/humidity in storage over time. That last one is what the owner of a doll controls, and it is absolutely the biggest factor in the vast majority of cases.

Essentials

  1. Dawn Dish Soap original formula. Dawn is used to safely remove crude oil from wildlife. This stuff is liquid gold: it’s safe to use, removes just about everything from anything, and it doesn’t damage even the most delicate of materials. Note: If you live where Dawn isn’t sold and you can’t order it, see if you can get Fairy liquid dish soap. I use Dawn to wash cleaner off of heads after removing faceups, to wash alpaca/angora fiber for wigs, to wash my brushes, and to wash surface dirt off of dolls.
  2. Magic Erasers. These disposable sponges contain a chemical sanding agent. Used wet and very gently, they can get rid of even the most stubborn staining on a blank doll. Used dry and very gently, they can get rid of scuffs on even painted areas. These should always be used gently and carefully or you can absolutely remove the texture from your doll’s resin.
  3. PVA glue. I Like Aleene’s clear gel type for its long-term durability and fast grab for its quick and strong adherence, but other brands are fine. A good PVA glue is your best friend for anything you need to attach to a doll without risking damage. This kind of glue is strong but dissolves in warm water, meaning you can remove faux piercings, eyelashes, etc without damaging your doll’s paint.
  4. Many ‘eye putty’ types cause staining or chemical damage over time. The only brand consistently recommended by myself and other faceup artists is basic white Uhu tac.
  5. If you’re going to be painting/sealing: Respirator rated for both particulates and vapors and appropriate filters. This is not optional. You will develop long-term, and lethal, health problems if you don’t use a respirator while working with aerosols. If you’re lucky, these substances lead to cancer, which is at least potentially treatable. That’s right, BEST CASE IS CANCER. If you’re not lucky, the cumulative inhaled particles lead to pneumoconioses (which is untreatable and agonizing). This doesn’t even get into fumes, which can cause permanent nerve damage and brain swelling. Wear a respirator, replace your filters often, use the right filters, and wear the respirator correctly.
  6. A well ventilated space to work in if you’re going to be painting/sealing. If sealing, you also need a spray booth to deal with particulate pollution. This is also not optional. Not everyone has access to this (I’ve had times when I didn’t) so please remember: nothing is worth your health. You can never recover what you lose by working in improper conditions.

Brushes

I use a mix of artist brushes and makeup brushes these days. Some faceup/repaint artists use strictly one or the other. The only rule here is that you want to use solid quality. Otherwise, whatever works for your process and materials, works!

Check out this short wiki entry on different brush shapes and the components of a paintbrush.

I don’t have any particular brand of brush I recommend. I’ve had the same goat-hair mop brushes for the better part of a decade, and I use whatever liner is handy or cheap for linework details (cheap because liners don’t last long no matter what). Remember, good artists don’t blame their materials: fine details are the product of practice, not a particular brush.

Cleaning and maintaining your brushes is honestly not too difficult. Cleaning your brushes can be done with Dawn/Fairy dish soap; no need for anything fancy or special. When you first get a new brush, make sure to clean it thoroughly with this soap to remove the sizing agent used by the manufacturer. Your brushes will last longer this way. You’ll also want to practice keeping media in the bottom 1/3-1/2 of the bristles. Never get your paint in the ferrule (the metal part that holds bristles) or your bristles will splay and become useless very quickly.

Resin-Safe Media

Artist grade is assumed. If you don’t now what that means, head to https://www.dickblick.com and look at how they divide quality tiers. Do not waste your money on student and craft grade material.

Soft Pastels come in 3 general densities: hard, medium, soft. This confuses people because we call them all soft pastels (as opposed to oil pastels, which you should never use on a doll). For faceup work, very soft is best as it gives you the most control in mixing and layering and the best color-payoff in application. Softest: sennelier, schminke, terry ludwig, mount vision, pan pastel, unison, blue earth. Some pigments (cadmiums, cobalts, etc) and some proprietary binding agents may pose health risks. Read the MSDS, and use a face mask to protect your lungs from dust.

Watercolors are my preferred wet media. They offer translucency and brilliance, but they are, of course, very hard to control. Getting really good at using watercolors is a long-term effort. As always, real cadmiums are dangerous. Watercolor uses gum arabic as a binding agent, which is as safe as it gets. Any artist grade watercolor is good and perfectly workable. Make your own pans to save money (daniel smith is best for this).

Watercolor pencils come in endless varieties and are the best go-to for under-sketching. Quality is very important here, and you’ll want to stick with derwent, faber castell, caran d’ ache, etc. Very safe!

Acrylics are available in heavy and soft body formulations. I use heavy body liquitex artist-grade mixed with liquitex flow aid when I use acrylics. Liquitex makes the best mediums in the business and they’re the most toxicity-concious maker around. Golden is also great, but you will run into more fume hazards (their airbrush colors are lovely though). Holbein makes some fabulous airbrush colors as well. The only real learning curve here involves line control (which is true for anything) and mixing ratios. Hint: if it looks like watery paste or is lumpy, the ratio is wrong. You want a water-to-skim milk consistency depending on your purpose (thinner for blushing, very slightly thicker for lines). I tend not to use acrylics because I like the way light reflects through watercolor better, but acrylics are popular for a reason: they’re a lot more affordable than watercolor, easier to control, easier to learn, and very versatile. On the downside, acrylic is actually pretty awful environmentally, and it can absolutely be toxic. As always, read the MSDS, and if you use an airbrush, protect your lungs.

Sealants used in doll painting are all acrylic or resin formulations. Whether you’re airbrushing your own mixture or buying Mr Super Clear flat or Zoukeimura powder sprays (these are the only two sprays I can recommend), these are all essentially compatible with other acrylics and enamels (for gloss, etc). They’re resin-safe, but should always be used with respirators, ventilation, etc. The propellant in aerosols is hazardous to your health, but you shouldn’t be inhaling airbrushed acrylic either. Only achival mediums and sealants are actually archival (seems obvious put that way, I know). Hobby sprays are not archival.

Pure Artist’s Pigments like pearl ex and other mica ‘pearl’ powders are safe to use on resin and vinyl. As with anything dusty, make sure you’re protecting your lungs with a mask. These are much more environmentally friendly than glitters (which are plastic).

Mediums and Varnishes are typically either the same materials used as binding agents in your color media to improve flow/increase work time/seal pigment or use some kind of solvent/drying agent to interact with that binder in other ways. Mostly, we care about the former category. So, acrylic wetting agents and varnishes are acrylic (plastic). Watercolor wetting agents are gum arabic (the primary binding agent in watercolor). Understanding this basic fact will help you select safe materials for doll painting. Use acrylic or enamel varnishes since those will layer safely over your sealant. Use wetting agents appropriate to your chosen media. Easy peasy.

Solvents/Cleaners

Disclaimer: Many artists use these materials with no issues. That doesn’t mean you won’t have an issue if you try it at home. At all times, you are responsible for exercising common sense, accepting the risk, and doing your own research. There is no 100% guarantee about anything because resin is a mixture: each batch, each type responds differently. If you want absolute safety, hire a professional. Information provided here is just that: information. I am not responsible or liable for what you do with that information.

I use Windsor & Newton (W&N) brush cleaner to remove faceups in my own work. Technically, you can use materials like alcohol, terpenoids (standard industrial paint thinners since the 1940s/50s), and even acetone. I do not recommend any of these to beginners for reasons you will see below. Regardless of what you choose to do, please follow basic safety guidelines.

Non-toxic brush cleaners like W&N do not interact with the dyes in urethane resin. This means I can clean even a dark resin or a fragile french resin if necessary with no fear of lifting dye. Additionally, cleaners like this are meant to be gentle for the person using them as well as for all brush fibers, which means they’re non-drying and won’t make the resin brittle over time.

Usage guide/caution:

  1. Use in a well-ventilated area.
  2. Wear gloves to protect your nails and skin. 
  3. Do not ever soak or aggressively scrub a doll! Cleaning should be done quickly and gently.
  4. Soap up the cleaned area with Dawn dish soap immediately, then rinse thoroughly with warm water.

Isopropyl Alcohol 90% or higher will remove most acrylics/acrylic sealants and can, therefore, be used as a cleaner. However, alcohol can absolutely lift the dye out of the resin, particularly in creased areas (around the nose etc) where media tends to be thicker and require more effort to remove, and on darker/brighter resins. Additionally, alcohol is highly flammable, drying (it can make french resin very fragile), and its fumes should not be inhaled. This means there are more variables for beginners to worry about.  Many people use alcohol without major or obvious issues, but I’ve seen lots of damage from novice users over the years as well. I steer clear of it for the hazard reasons and tend to advise against its use by beginners.

Usage guide/caution:

  1. Use only in a well-ventilated area.
  2. Use only pure Isopropyl (not denatured)!
  3. Dilute with water.
  4. Extremely flammable!
  5. Keep away from skin.
  6. Do not inhale.
  7. Do not ever soak or aggressively scrub a doll! Cleaning should be done quickly and gently.
  8. Soap up the cleaned area with Dawn dish soap immediately, then rinse thoroughly with warm water.

Terpenoids/Industrial thinners should not be used at home by most people. You need an incredibly well-ventilated area to use them, and they still cause long-term health problems. You absolutely should not inhale turpentine fumes as it causes severe lung inflammation and damage to the nervous system. This is the one material I will say: you absolutely should not be using this. Keep in mind I work with oils in my 2D work, and I still say terpenoids are awful and should never be used by most people (I only use walnut oil in my oil work). Additionally, these materials are strong enough to destroy the bond between dye/urethane resin as well, so it is theoretically possible to damage the doll and to lift dye in the same way alcohol does.

Usage guide/caution:

  1. Never use without a respirator and studio/professional grade ventilation.
  2. Extremely dangerous to your health!
  3. Extremely flammable!
  4. Do not ever soak or aggressively scrub a doll! Cleaning should be done quickly and gently.
  5. Soap up the cleaned area with Dawn dish soap immediately, then rinse thoroughly with warm water.

Acetone or Acetone-alternative nail polish remover is technically usable on resin and vinyl dolls. It can also melt vinyl if you’re not careful, and it may soften resin. It’s also drying. I can’t recommend acetone, but it’s not as horrifyingly dangerous as industrial thinners for example.

Usage guide/caution:

  1. Avoid polish removers with a lot of dye in them.
  2. Use in a well-ventilated area.
  3. Do not ever soak or aggressively scrub a doll! Cleaning should be done quickly and gently.
  4. Soap up the cleaned area with Dawn dish soap immediately, then rinse thoroughly with warm water.

Over-all, non-toxic brush cleaners free of oil or acetone are the safest and most efficient material. Even so, you can see that no matter what, you want to wear gloves and work in a well-ventilated area. You should also never, under any circumstance scrub, soak, or otherwise expose a doll to prolonged contact with any of these materials. These are basic precautions for all solvents and cleaners.