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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 50 Comments
  1. I keep getting these emails with new updates and questions people have about the sealants and color pencils not showing up.

    I want to add…

    I remove all the manufacturers paint off a dolls face, wash it and let it dry and then I spray and let it dry completely, sometimes 24 hours and I only spray when the temp is above 50 degrees and humidity under 50%. I use matte MSC and spray the face till it’s wet and shiny all over.

    I make my beginning marks and spray again, eventually the color builds but the first several drawings and sprays there is barely any color… the depth come with all the layering. The color builds with all the layering. If you’re not able to lay a first layer, any color at all, the product you’re using doesn’t have enough tooth to it as No Nap Time has said over and over.

    The bright white of an eye will only be bright white with several applications of color and spray. I may paint/draw on the doll’s face 10 times, spraying between each coat before I start getting a good foundation and the depth of color I’m wanting to obtain.

    So, bottom line, I can’t create in the cold or rainy or humid weather, I can’t create with one or two sprays rather, many applications of both color pencil and spray. I let each layer dry completely, waiting up to 24 hours in between applications.

    I hope this helps.

  2. I hope you’re still active enough… I can’t find answers anywhere else. I’ve tried 3 different sealants at this stage. 2 are on the alternative list, and a third is in the same vein as game works. All 3 give the same result: Virtually no texture on the monster high head. My pastels and paint adhere just fine, but when I use my water color pencils, only the black will leave a mark (I’ve tried 5 different brands of varying qualities, all with the same results).

    I saw someone else comment with a similar issue and your reply was not enough sealant got on the head, so I tried spraying more heavily, but still nothing. I shake well for 2 minutes, it’s nice and warm (and very dry!) out, so I don’t know what else could be done… :S the sprays work just fine on the bjd heads, but I’m new to vinyl.

    Do you have any thoughts?

    1. I kind of assume that most people who find their way to this article have already read through my repaint tutorials which explains my process. If you haven’t, I highly recommend that you do so:

      Mr. Super Clear
      An illustrated guide to repainting
      MH Repaint Part 1: Prepping the doll
      MH Repaint Part 2: Let’s Paint!

      When I wrote these tutorials, it was more along the lines of explaining how my process works not a step by step guide / color-by-number sort of situation. As CrazyZelda has pointed out, you gain color build up through the layering of medium and sealant. However, you could also explore different brands work best for you as some brands may actually require fewer layers to achieve the desired color depth.

      I highly recommend checking out Seasonal Frostbite’s youtube channel for various mediums/products used on doll repaints: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC1eWQOZUAXPoX_NyBsHecYw
      Again, when I wrote these “tutorials” they were initially meant to explain my process to help ease insecurities that custom doll collectors had from receiving custom dolls that had deteriorated with age. Custom dolls were a very experimental art form when I first started repainting. I was confident that the materials that I used would hold up well with age and were of immense quality since I have used them on similar projects before. There may be alternate methods or processes that work just as well but that would have to be something you will need to explore on your own.

      In the meantime, I also recommend checking out these articles (and comments on them!) for more information:
      Repaint FAQ: Using Watercolor Pencils
      Supplies for repainting
      WIP: Mishaps with Mr. Super Clear

  3. Hello! 🙂 I was wondering if anyone has tried using Army painter matt varnish as a sealant on vinyl and resin dolls.
    I have talked with several people that know of bdj dolls and miniatures on possible sealant options, and I was recommended different things every time…

    I would prefer to avoid brush on sealants as the results are riskier, and MSC is very very toxic and not readily available in local stores, so that is a secondary option as well… The two options available for certain are the Purity Seal by Citadel/Games workshop and the Army painter matt varnish. Professional miniature artists that I know scoffed at the first option and recommended the second one as a much better quality sealant. I don’t have the funds to currently experiment with different types, which is why I am posting for advice >..<

    What I am worried about are primarily to avoid a sticky surface reaction with the vinyl, as well as to get a good tooth without the need for tens of layers on the base. Secondary worries are the yellowing effect and the ability to make use of the sealant on multiple different materials.

    Any info would be very useful to get me started, especially if you have worked with both brands..! Thank you!

  4. Thank you for this article. It’s nice to know that there are artists out there that are willing to share their talents to others and one of them is you. This not only showcase your abilities but the mere fact that you have this posted in the internet means a lot to others who are still on the learning curve (like me).

    I got only one question: Can we use Derwent Inktense watercolor pencils on dolly’s head since they claimed that it is permanent once dried?

    Thanks and keep that talent shine!

    1. As long as it’s water based, which Derwent Watercolor pencils are, then yes! It’s only permanent in a sense that it’ll stay on there unless you decide to change your mind then you can erase your work and start over from scratch. It’s easier to re-do your work if you have a primer layer, which is one of the reasons that it’s good practice to use a primer layer. Good luck!

  5. Hi! So I have an issue. I use Mr. Super clear uv cut and it works wonders on my dolls face, but I can seem to get any “tooth” on her eyes. So whenever I do her eyes, nothing is showing up, what should I do? Am I doing something wrong?

    1. When you spray MSC, you have to ensure that you are giving the entire face an even coat. The issue might not entirely be because of MSC but the medium you’re using.

      I highly suggest you read these articles and the comments section:

      http://www.nonaptime.com/2012/09/mr-super-clear/
      http://www.nonaptime.com/2013/11/wip-mishaps-with-mr-super-clear/

      I also suggest exploring different kinds of brands. Some brands may work for you, others might not. It’s also very important that you use “Artist Grade” materials because of the pigment content and quality. Ordinary art materials will not work due to having so much filler instead of actual pigment that gives it that color. Filler is also sometimes harmful to plastics.

  6. Hi, your post is very informative thank you for sharing this information! After much research and trying to find an alternative I could buy from a local store in uk, I have found a spray Matt sealer by valspar. Being completely new to this I’m unsure what to aim for, and don’t like buying from online, so was hoping you or someone maybe able to tell me if this spray sealant will work on say a mh doll? It says washable and usable on plastics etc. T.i.a

    1. I’ve never heard of this sealer before but I suggest that you do your own tests with it. That’s really the only and best way to find out. I’ve heard folks from Brazil and other South American countries using local sealers in their area and they were pretty much discovered through trial and communication with the manufacturers.

      Remember, if enough people in your region contact manufacturers they’ll eventually give in and develop a formula for that particular hobby. I’ve seen this happen with Aves Apoxie Sculpt here in the USA. They started out small and eventually branched out to a lot of modeling products due to customer requests and feedback. There is no reason for these companies to ignore you so always request something like this. It might take time, but these companies are sure to provide it especially if there’s a lot of demand for it.

      I can’t speak for any other sealant brand outside of MSC or any that I’ve tried out here on the blog but hopefully, someone who has used that product will notice your query and give you an answer about specific brands to try.

  7. PlZ HELP!!! I sprayed sealent on monster high and it is sticky (dusts stick on the doll’s face and the colour pencil doesn’t work at all!). What do I do??

    1. Since you didn’t mention what kind of sealant you use, I’m assuming you did not use MSC. If that is the case, I can’t help you. You should contact the manufacturer in order to get information on what the ideal conditions are in order to get the sealant to work properly. I would also inquire if the sealant is safe or OK to use on vinyl or plastic used on dolls. Once you have all that information, it is your responsibility to create the ideal conditions that will allow the sealant to work as intended. aerosol products are notoriously finicky so you must create the ideal conditions (no exceptions) in order to get them to work properly, if you don’t then it will lead to disasters such as what you have encountered.

    2. The spray, it can be used for plastic. And yesterday it was little bit hot but dry. So I can’t even remove the coating??

  8. Hello I am thinking about repainting my monster high and barbie doll. For the coating, I am thinking about using mod podge matt, Liquitex Matte Medium or Liquitex Matte Varnish. I am going to use faber castel colour pencils and pastel for repainting. Could you recommend the best option for me? Thanks!

  9. I’ve always been using MSC when repainting, but it’s been a long while since I last did it (about 5 years). It’s a little tough picking up MSC where I live. After reading up on alternatives, I picked up a Liquidtex Matte Medium and Matte Varnish.

    It caught my attention that it was labelled as ‘permanent’ on the bottle after I got it. Was wondering if it really is permanent or if they (both matte medium and matte varnish) are removable with alcohol/thinner without damaging the resin?

    Am planning to use them on standard resin BJD.

  10. Hi,

    I have a question about Liquitex Matte Varnish. I don’t want to use MSC because of it’s toxicity. You write that Liquitex brush on sealant is the least toxic sealant, just like I’ve read/heard in other blogs/video’s. I’ve seen a method of using a make up sponge to dab very thin layers of Liquitex on the doll, which seems to work out very nicely for some artists. I’d like to work with this method, but do I need to wear a mask as well when using Liquitex matte varnish and dabbing it on? (not spraying?)

    Thank you in advance for answering!

    1. What makes MSC “toxic” is that with any kind of aerosol product, there are certain ingredients that are added in the mixture to help as a kind of propellant. MSC is only “toxic” in its wet state. You will still need to wear a mask when spraying Liquitex Matte Varnish because of the tiny particles that dry in mid air when you’re airbrushing it. In that regard, the “safest” way to use Liquitex Matte Varnish is to dab it on since you’re applying it directly to a surface. It won’t travel in mid air and somehow end up in your lungs.

  11. Hi! I just wanted to let you know of an experiment I tried.
    I can’t easily find MSC in my area (and I dont like purchasing from online) though I found a fixative called Grumbacher. It makes a great texture to draw on and seems to adhere to dolls quite well without the common problem of the doll becoming sticky that I hear about so often. Though personally I dont fully trust it to seal everything in and so I use a pair of final layers of Liquitex matte varnish to keep the whole thing safe

  12. 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. You’ll need to experiment to see what conditions you need in order to achieve a smooth finish. You could try cleaning the nozzle since it seems like there’s chunks being sprayed on to the surface or humidity is high.

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

  15. Question! Do you think it’s find to spray MSC over Liquitex Matte Medium?

    Thanks for your insight!
    T

  16. 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.

    1. I use Mr.Super Clear, however, when I spray my doll and wait 30 min or an hour.I try to draw on her, but, no color shows up but black. How can I fix this. I’m also using Faber- Castell water color pencils.

      1. I think, not sure, that the problem is you’re not getting enough sealant on the doll’s face to provide the grit you need to use pencils… I ran into that as well. And, it depends on the type of plastic doll you’re using… I’ve never gotten it to work on softer plastics, like Barbie but monster high was no problem and I typically now only paint on the 16″ fashion dolls… but, with all that said, I get very subtle color and build up to a more brilliant and bright color with layers. And, some colors are just easier and work better than others… white has been the most difficult for me, but, again, the layering makes for eyes with a lot of depth and eventually builds to a very bright white. Hope this helps.

  17. 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.

  18. 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.

  19. 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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