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Repaint FAQ: Sealant Alternatives

There are a lot of well known Fashion Doll repainters, like Noel Cruz who is famous for recreating celebrities as dolls.

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Valkyrie of Dolls and Daggers’ fame also had her start in portraiture and applied the same techniques, materials and discipline when she transitioned into customizing dolls.

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Plastic is a relatively recent invention, so a lot of its properties as an art canvas are yet to be fully understood. A lot of artists and hobbyists learn through experimentation; there isn’t one definitive process of how to use it. Some methods seem to stand the test of time, but there’s still a lot to learn.

The process I currently use is something I like to call the “layer principle.” It’s a concept similar to oil painting, where the canvas is primed, you do your painting, and you finish it off with a protective layer.

Who says you have to use a sealant or fixative? When it comes to fashion doll painting, it isn’t necessary to use a fixative or a sealant if you don’t want to. High quality doll manufacturers even state that it isn’t “mandatory” to seal your work. However, it is recommended that you do.

For a lot of Play line dolls like Barbie, Bratz or Licca it’s almost necessary due to the porous nature of the plastic used. What we do know about a lot of plastic fashion dolls is that the squishy parts are porous, rubbery and don’t react well to most commercially available fixatives and sealants. Why use fixatives and sealants in the first place?

  • Create a smooth and consistent finish (no globs, you have the choice of giving it a matte or shiny look)
  • Create a layer that prevents your paint or materials from bleeding into the plastic over time.
  • Create a layer that allows your paint or materials to adhere to the plastic.
  • Create a protective finish for your work, letting it last longer and protect it from damage.
  • Create various effects and/or textures in a controlled way. Some of us don’t like to see our fingerprints all over the place.

Reality vs Expectation

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It’s natural to want to get affordable materials and supplies, but if you want to get specific results, you shouldn’t skimp. It’s critical to get the right materials. The quality of the paint, pastels or watercolors you use is especially important. What you want to use for painting miniatures are artist grade materials. This is extremely important since you want the “pigment.” Ordinary materials contain a lot of filler (and sometimes no pigment at all) which might actually be harmful to plastics. Low quality materials also suffer from fading, deterioration, uneven consistency—just not a good idea at all.

That said, there are small trace amounts of metal or materials used as pigment that could be an allergen concern for some people. If you’re an especially sensitive person health-wise, consult a medical professional.

How do you know what the difference is between low grade and artist grade materials? The short answer is to visit Blick’s website. They do a really good job with their product listing. You can also consult any art teacher for something more specific!

Aerosol Safety

I’m assuming that most people who ended up looking at this article are absolute beginners and want to explore doll repainting. If there was a recommended fixative or sealant to use, Mr. Super Clear is a popular choice. Check out my article on Mr. Super Clear, here!

A lot of artists and hobbyists like to use fixatives or sealants that come as an aerosol due to ease of use, consistent application and the variety of finish (matte, semi-gloss, glossy!). An obvious concern is that sealants can be harmful for the following reasons:

  • Strong smelling fumes that can linger.
  • Atomized particulates that can be harmful when inhaled. These are the tiny little dust-like result of the fixative or sealant drying in mid air.
  • Chemical additives included like acetone which are used as vehicles or necessary for the aerosol to perform or function a certain way.

That said, be sure to practice the following when using an aerosol type sealant:

  • Ensure proper ventilation. Make sure you have access to fresh air.
  • Ensure that you do not inhale the particulates. You can do this by wearing a mask or a gas mask.
  • Wear gloves or clothing that cover up exposed skin.
  • Create ideal conditions in which the aerosol can be used as stated by the manufacturer. Most aerosols will not work as intended due to high humidity, bad weather. Read the label. Follow those instructions.
  • Read the ingredients if available. Some folks are sensitive to certain types of chemicals so be sure to check for anything that doesn’t agree with you. Talk to a medical professional.

These are all just general knowledge so if you have more questions or concerns about aerosols in particular, talk to a medical professional. Some people may require more safety precautions than others especially those who have pets and children in the household. If you have a specific question about a particular aerosol product, contact the manufacturer.

The following are aerosol sealants recommended as an alternative to Mr. Super Clear. Keep in mind that there is no such thing as a “non-toxic” alternative. All sealants are toxic. Practice all safety precautions and protection when using sealants:

Ideal Conditions

The most important safety consideration is proper ventilation. Folks who don’t have the option of going outside can use a spray booth. A spray booth is essentially a little box that has a fan in the back that acts like a vacuum that keeps aerosol or anything that requires spraying from spreading. A spray booth functions just like the fan/hood above your stove.

These things vary a lot and it’ll take a lot of research to see which make or design will work best for you. There’s a lot of tutorials available at YouTube to create your own Spray Booth. Blick has some for sale!

The Airbrush Alternative

Popular BJD Faceup artist Andreja has demonstrated that you can use a brush-on alternative using Liquitex Matte Medium or Liquitex Matte Varnish as an alternative to Aerosol. The benefit of using an airbrush is that it requires no added chemical propellant, so the only substance sprayed on your doll is the paint itself. Like aerosol fixatives or sealants though, you are still subject to atomized particulate exposure so you still need to wear a mask or a gas mask when working.

Brush on Sealant

The least “toxic” approach is simply to use a brush. I wrote about an experiment in a previous article. I would do this more often but it tries my patience and doesn’t achieve the kind of results I’m looking for. I’m sure that with more practice, experimentation and exploration that Brush on Sealants will work just as well.

Taking the brush-on route simply means looking for a reliable paint medium like Liquitex Matte Medium or Liquitex Matte Varnish which are compatible with plastic. Keep in mind that this isn’t the most well-established method; the long term results when it comes to Fashion Dolls are not fully known. It seems to work just fine for plastics used for BJD (Ball Jointed dolls) which are superior in quality to play line dolls but it’s worth a try.

End Note

A lot of artists or hobbyists don’t like to share their methods because they feel protective about the knowledge they discover (It takes YEARS to observe and realize what long term results might be), or because they really don’t know and are still in the process of perfecting a method they are comfortable with. A lot of beginners tend to follow a tutorial/process and not understand why the methods are the way they are which sometimes lead to unintended results.

I like to document my findings because, after all, a lot of what I know now I learned from other artists. It also helps to get feedback and confirmation that certain methods or materials work and that can only be known if there’s some kind of documentation about it. The key is to understand the materials, how they work, how to use them and if you don’t mind at all, share your findings with others!

Further Reading

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What’s your preferred fixative or sealant to use for fashion dolls? Please share your thoughts, concerns and findings in the comments!

This Post Has 24 Comments
  1. After I sprayed my sealant, white bits started to form on the doll. Is there somethings did wrong?
    Ps, I used Aleenes Acrylic sealer matte finish.

    1. That usually happens because you aren’t using the sealant within the recommended ideal conditions. You will need to do several experiments that will give you the desired results. Try to keep a spare doll head to test on or consider looking up if there’s a way you can contact the manufacturer so they can walk you through on how to use their product.

      1. Oh. I took the coat off the next day and re sprayed it with a thinner coat, and I believe I did it in the afternoon instead of the night, and it worked just fine. Although, my sealant didn’t have enough tooth to hold on to the pigment of the watercolour pencils, which is a bit sad.

  2. Thanks for share this!!
    I have some problems…
    – I use acrylic paint with MSC (I don’t if those two works well together. I listened a lot of things)
    – I use gloss varnish on lips looks sticky, I don’t understand why. Another artist said me that I should use Modo Podge lustre instead glosa varnish.

    Thanks so much for your help!!!

    1. Please consider reading all articles found under the “MSC” tag. I use acrylic paint with MSC myself and they work well together. Please don’t use Mod Podge as a sealant since it’s intended for paper and is not waterproof. It’s more likely to damage your work over time. Please consider reading the tutorials found on this website regarding recommended materials to use for repaints.

        1. As I had mentioned earlier, Mod Podge is not waterproof. If your client or recipient is not aware of this, it could result in unnecessary damage due to water, UV, etc. I liken using Mod Podge to using Crayola pencils or dollar store acrylics to create your face up and wondering why it isn’t getting the results that you were expecting due to lack of pigment. Yes, you can use it but the results are temporary and not likely to last as well as Artist Grade materials.

  3. I have some Americana acrylic spray, after i googled what MSc actually was in terms of product, which is acrylic spray too.
    Has anyone ever used it before??
    Getting MSc in the UK is difficult unless you want to pay massive amounts for it, if its the best then I’ll stretch to it but realistically how long does a can last??
    I’m tempted to try this amercana stuff but don’t want to cause myself problems unnecessary

    1. I’m working on my second custom doll now, and I’ve been using the Americana matte spray. No problems so far, it gives good tooth. Its a little shinier than MSC, but I like it. I put a coat of Liquitex Matte medium over the top to matte it down.

      I’ll check in after a few months to let you know how it lasted ( if it gets sticky later on etc) But as of right now I really like it.

  4. Hi, there again, it’s been well over a year since I last commented and since then I’ve learned a lot… and I continue to learn… is learning ever done? I don’t think so!

    I wanted to add that I’ve used a variety of colored pencils and even experimented with cheaper brands and have had really good results. I experimented with cheaper brands of gloss for my finished work and have had very good results. Stuff you can buy at your local sewing store or a Michaels or even at big box stores, like Target…

    I don’t compromise on the use of Mr. Super Clear… hands down it’s the best. I’ve learned to spray in-between layers, yes, I work a little at a time, such as creating eyebrows that I like so I spray to preserve them… just in case something else doesn’t seem right and I want to remove it, I won’t lose everything. I use a Q-tip dipped in water to remove any mistakes (before sealing)… or I’ve used a magic eraser to remove bigger mistakes such as blush that I suddenly don’t like (even after sealing)… the magic eraser is terrific. Working in layers gives much more depth to your features and you can experiment with colors or techniques and wipe them away with water if you don’t like them… I get better brighter colors as well… the whites of the eyes are brighter. Oh, and speaking of brighter eyes… I stopped using white to create the light in the eye and instead I use a softer slightly cream color and leave the white for the eyeball its self…

    I’ve tried my hand at body blushing and adding tattooes, the same kind you add to model cars only people-like designs (there’s a guy on ebay that sells tiny tattoos — they’re great!) I just use MSC after I’ve applied the tattoo to seal it just like the paint.

    I’m loving the repainting. I get super nervous when I start but quickly, the face starts to reveal it’s self to me — yes, I have to give into a reveal because I’m just not talented enough to get exactly what I want yet, most of my repaints are happy accidents! And, I’ve sold several on ebay for really good prices, over $100 each!

    Again, thanks, just wanted to add my 2 cents because I loved this article (and the blog/website) so much plus you just never know where a few questions will take you.

  5. I have a few questions. That I would be really glad you would answer as quickly as possible.
    – Is there another gloss varnish besides liquitex you would recommend?( please recommend a cheaper option)
    – Is there another water color pencil brand that is cheaper than prismacolor and you can find it in a craft store like hobby lobby.
    (I always buy my craft things at hobby lobby.)
    – How do you put matte varnish on a doll using a regular brush?
    THANK YOU so much for replying! I appreciate it!

    1. These are the brands I’m used to using and more experienced using and I haven’t put any thought on using any other since I already know their quirks and how to use them well. They get the job done the way I expect them to.

      If you want to pursue doll repainting, you can practice with whatever you feel like but there’s a huge difference in using “Artist Grade Quality” materials. Cheaper alternatives contain a lot of filler which is something that usually doesn’t react well with plastic in the long run. They also don’t behave the way you expect them to since there isn’t a lot of actual “color.” The pigment is what you’re paying for.

      There’s a lot of articles I wrote regarding doll repainting. I suggest you just do a search using “Sealant” on this website and it should pull up most of those articles. Read them, read the comments.

    2. Derwent pencils are fairly inexpensive and work well. Another option is buying from eBay so you have to give up quality for it to fit within your budget.

  6. I have successfully used Liquitex Matte Medium with an artist sponge. I practiced applying it to cheap vinyl heads, then moved on to abs bjds. I am going to experiment with resin soon and will report. If there is one problem so far, it is watercolor pencils will try to run and smear unless you use a dry sponge to apply the final coat.

    1. If the pencils or pastels aren’t sticking, your primer doesn’t have enough tooth. MSC has been reliable in giving tooth for pastels, pencils and paint to stick to so whatever you might be using might not have that particular quality.

      What kind of tooth or texture are you looking for after you apply a primer? Look for a 500 or 1000 grit sandpaper. That’s the texture you want to have or achieve.

  7. Excellent article!!! I am a beginner and I’ve had questions I didn’t even know I had! It’s a seasonal hobby for me because I live in a tiny place and can’t access the out of door during the winter. Mr. Super Clear doesn’t work well below 50 degrees.

    The one thing that comes to mind reading your article is that most doll repaint artists don’t realize that their work, the paint or pencil they lay down on the doll, is their calling card — that that is the talent and it’s as individual as any work of art.

    Those of us wanting to repaint have a lot more to learn than just understanding the steps and the materials… there’s that tricky thing called talent. I have all the tools and I can’t produce a repaint that meets my own expectations… not yet, anyway. We beginners have to learn about color and blending and light sources and shadowing and creating illusion and facial qualities and creating expressions and… the list goes on and on. Most artist have an innate talent for understanding these processes without even being aware of it… they can create what they see in their mind’s eye. Those of us without talent will eventually give up or best case move on to another type of creating. Maybe even using the skills we learned here.

    I give high praise to you and other artist out there that can create a facial expression and/or give life-like depth using paint and pencils… again, this is the where the artist’s talent can be seen. So, is any of us, beginners, have a drop of talent as we begin to understand and try our hand at repainting, how lucky we will be… congrats to you and the other artists you mention in your article. I admire you all and aspire to emulate your work as I learn and develop my own. I think this is the ultimate compliment to any artist — when you inspire others to create. Thank you.

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