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Experiment: Plastic Alchemy

One of the first things we learn in early life is that different kinds of colors  can be created based on the primary colors red, blue and yellow. Add a bit of black or white and you can make the colors darker or lighter. In many arts, if you can remember just a few basic rules of color-mixing, you can create just about any color you can imagine.

In other cases, however—take stained glass, for example—creating colors is a matter of alchemy. Different colors can be produced by processing the same source material in different ways. At some point, someone had to take the time to record these various processes.

Dyeing doll heads seems to be a lot like the process of staining glass. Despite the range of colors that Monster High dolls offer, many customizers still want to change their dolls’ color. Maybe to match a particular head with a new body, or to duplicate the precise complexion of a template character. Like glass, plastic vinyl properties need to be understood to achieve the desired result.

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I happened to have several Draculaura heads handy and wanted to see if I could achieve human skin tones to transplant them on to Ever After High bodies. She’s the perfect candidate because of her pink tone (which means you’re already half way to any human skin tone!) and she’s got an adorable face sculpt.

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I used Tan dye (from Rit) for the experiment since they’re known to work with plastics. They recommend adding vinegar to the dye bath to help set the color, which also means a smelly concoction!

My goal was to recreate a skin tone match for the EAH girls. I was only successful in creating a skin tone match for Raven Queen since the resulting dark skin tones I got were lacking some in orange tones.

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Although one of the heads was a good match for Raven Queen, the head didn’t absorb dye evenly.  Thin areas of the head sculpt absorbed more dye than wide open spaces.

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I tried again on a Spectra, thinking that her pale white tone would function as a baseline that would let me better guestimate how long dolls should stay in the bath to achieve different results, but it didn’t help much. Heads floating in the bath would often look like the result I wanted, but once I took them out they would often continue to change color, or take on a completely different shade than what I was expecting.

Here’s a quick rundown of what I learned from the experience:

  • Use disposable sticks/prongs. You can’t use the same sticks/prongs for a new dye bath, especially if it happens to be a different color. There’s a strong chance that the previous dye from these tools will contaminate the next batch and result in blotches or uneven coloring.
  • Don’t mix dyes. Dyes don’t work like mixing paint.
  • Allow vinyl heads to rest to allow the plastic to relax and to check the color development. There are instances when the head looked lighter in the bath, but immediately darkened upon removal.
  • Powder dyes work best on plastic.
  • Dye baths are smelly and messy.

Although dyeing doll heads (or bodies) seems like it ought to be simple enough, it’s quite unpredictable. You can’t always tell if you’re actually going to get the intended dye color especially for blacks, blues and reds. Browns sometimes end up looking more reddish and blues looking more purple. Dark colors suffer fading over time due in part to the plastic vinyl breaking down with age.

Another downside to dyed plastic is that there’s always a risk of the dye bleeding into anything it comes in contact with. This could be mitigated by using a finish but any dolls with dyed skin needs to be stored by itself, separate from other dolls.

I’m sure that just like staining glass, there’s a recipe involved in getting the exact result you’re looking for with plastic vinyl. Unfortunately, that requires lots of dolls and lots of experimentation.

SweetBrown

Have you tried dyeing dolls? Please share your experiences in the comments below!

This Post Has 7 Comments
  1. Have you found a way to protect whites of the eyes and original make up when drying the head in the dye bath?

    1. Because dyeing is a chemical type of change, it will soak into anything and everything and that includes the factory paint. I’m not sure there’s a way to protect the factory paint but hopefully someone who has more experience with this type of experiment will find your query and answer it for you.

  2. There’s also another way to dye the bodies or heads and that’s to use your chalk pastels (this is more for fantasy characters shown in Dollightfully’s YouTube Channel for Umbrion) it takes forever and it goes through a lot of MSC but the finished result is miraculous!

    1. I honestly wasn’t paying attention to the temperature. I brought the bath to a boil and periodically checked on the plastic to make sure that it wasn’t melting. Please keep in mind that dyeing is EXTREMELY EXPERIMENTAL. Try it at your own risk.

  3. Couple more tips:

    *Most people who dye vinyl wait a couple of months because the color will change over time (usually lightens(
    *You can lighten and get rid of that extra dye that rubs off by giving the head a wipe down with a cotton pad w/acetone on it. This will also lighten the head a shade or so, but in the long term that will probably happen anyway.

    Since MLPs are vinyl all over, they’re easier to dye-customize, and some of the girls are freaky good at turning color A into a perfect match for color B.

    Just reading “12 hour dye bath” made me shudder 🙂

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