ball-jointed dolls & accessories

The Guide & Tips on Faceups


I started painting faceups in 2009, and I went a long path learning a lot of stuff, both from other people on Internet and from my own experience. I'd like to share this big lump of knowledge with you.


If you only begin to research faceup techniques here is a list of supplies that would help you to start and won't cost you an arm and a leg.




You should cover the head with sealant varnish before you do the faceup. It protects polyurethane resin from staining, as it's porous and takes the bright colors, so it's hard to remove them afterwards. Also matte varnish creates a somewhat rough surface, so you can rub the pastels onto the doll head.


There is a plenty of sealants that you can use to seal the layer of paints. There are two of them that are pretty standard for both novices and professionals: Mr. Super Clear Matt/Flat and Zoukei-mura Finishing Powder Spray.


Mr. Super Clear is so common it's usually mentioned simply as MSC, and most BJD people know what it means. It comes in several kinds, like Matt, Satin, Gloss and UV Cut Flat.



Matt MSC creates a matte layer, so you can rub the pastels into it rather easily.


UV Cut Flat MSC is stated to protect your doll from a negative effect that UV rays have on polyurethane, like yellowing and discoloration. I've seen quite a few tests through the years that prove that effect or show almost no difference. Honestly I didn't notice any visible effect, like I and my friend purchased 2 dolls of the same brand and mold the same year, mine was covered in UV Cut Flat MSC from head to toe, and hers was only faceupped. No noticeable difference since 2009 to 2021, I swear. UV Cut Flat MSC is more expensive, I don't have a reason to buy it anymore.


MSC has a very important quality that many other sealants lack: it doesn't matter how many layers you apply, the surface is still matte.


Zoukei-mura Finishing Powder Spray, or ZM, is also pretty common, works as good as MSC and even better on a tan dolls: while MSC applied in 3+ layers makes the tan head looking a bit paler, ZM has no such disadvantage.



You can see other options like Vallejo or Krylon in this great video from Xhanthi on Youtube.


Maimeri Idea Mat Spray is a budget option, though try not to apply more than 3-4 layers, as it starts to shine. Good for basic natural faceups.



How to use: I used mostly MSC, Maimeri and some automotive matte varnishes, rules were pretty the same for all of them. I've heard a lot of stories on how people put a can of spray into the warm water - it doesn't have any difference from my experience. If your spray can was stored at home, it's ready to use.


What is much more important is to shake the can thoroughly before usage. Matting agent tends to go to the bottom of the can, so you may have surprises with a very first shiny layers, and also when your can is nearly empty, so you can get too matte and flaking layers. Shake it thoroughly for a few minutes after you took the can from the shelf: just rattling of the ball inside is not enough. Do a few shakes before applying each new layer, too.


Manufacturers advise to spray from the distance of 25-30 cm. I broke that rule many times spraying at less than 20 cm, and it still was fine. I have a lot of experience though.


There is a lot of myths around MSC being sprayed at below zero weather, or in humid environments. I sprayed many times in winter, also in humid conditions, like 85-90% humid weather, and never had issues. I just don't spray when it's foggy or raining and immediately take the parts inside to dry in a warm and dry place.


You can apply the varnish, pressing the can gently and rotating the piece, or you can do a series of shots - it's up to you, there is a learning curve anyway. Just don't overspray when the varnish starts to drip and run down. A slightly shining surface that becomes matte as it dries is what you have to get.


Hint: if you have to cover a piece with varnish completely, it's better to attach a wire or a stick to it. I usually add wire to the hands or feet, as they have a stringing loops, or I attach a chopstick with hot glue to the insides of the head, if it's impossible to hold the head in your hands.



CAUTION: Most of the sprays are solvent-based and toxic! Full respiratory protection with organic vapors filter is required!


You should spray in a well-ventilated area, no other persons or animals should be present there. You can do this outside, or if you have an extractor fan, like in kitchen. I have a dedicated space on my balcony, and I still spray out of the window, then place a piece to dry and turn my extractor fan on to suck all the fumes away.


I use 3M 7502 respirator for any toxic stuff.



All varnishes in spray cans are toxic! Even if it's stated otherwise, my advice is to wear a respirator using all of them, because if you inhale a cloud of spray, it may affect your lungs anyway. You should wear a dust-proof mask at least, but you'd better use a full protection.





Basic blushing is usually done with pastels.


Only soft pastels are allowed on polyurethane resin, as oil pastels may stain it, may get into the pores and ruin the perfectly clean surface. That's the reason why human cosmetics aren't allowed on a doll.


A perfect choice for a novice is Mungyo pastels set. There are 24, 48 and 64 colors sets, all of them are great. I purchased my set in 2009 and did a lot of faceups with it: some chalks are a bit worn, but will last for a long time. Still, it's a starter pastels, and their pigment fades a bit over time.



If you aim for a professional outcome, you have a lot of options, but professional pastels are pricey.


There are hard pastels like Koh-I-Noor or Faber-Castell, I won't recommend those, as they're great on rough paper, but it's hard to get a powder out of them.


There are medium pastels like Rembrandt. I use Rembrandt, and I'll tell you more about it below.


There are also soft and extra-soft brands like Unison, Schmincke, Sennelier and PanPastels, though these are the most pricey ones. You can rub the chalk with your brush, and it gives you enough powder to apply to the doll's head. PanPastels even come in a cans inside of sticks.


If you look at the sets, you'll see that all-purpose sets have a lot of greens, blues, yellows and so on, that are rarely used in BJD faceups. So if you decide to go for a pricey pastels - try to find brands that offer you individual chalks. That's why I chose Rembrandt. I have a lot of pinks, there are some browns, reds, blue and lavender, a few darker yellows, and so on. Here is what I currently have:



I plan to buy a few more chalks in the future for a different kinds of faceup.


BRUSHES: as you have to rub the pastels onto the surface covered with varnish, it's better to use brushes with a thin yet resilient hairs. It could be natural or synthetic brushes.


I cut this flat natural brush, so as its hairs are about twice shorter than it were originally. I use it for the large areas like cheeks, forehead, temples and so on.



I use human makeup brushes for a smaller areas: nose, lips, eyelids, eyebrows, and so on.


Hint: use several brushes, so you won't mix colors, or apply a lighter pastels first, then a darker ones, with the same brush.



Hint: you can mix several pastel colors to get the desired shade.


More: if you need to add some pretty dark colors, i.e. gray, dark brown, and you're afraid of messing up with those, mix it with an equal amount of pastel close in color to your doll's skin (pink, yellow or tan), so the color will be kinda diluted. This trick is especially useful on tan skintones when you often don't know how much color has been added because the pastel looks much paler than it would look after being sealed.


How to use: if your pastel is soft enough, rub the brush against it - and you have a powder to apply.


Otherwise you may draw a circle on paper and then rub the brush on it:



Or you can shave some powder with a knife:



Apply the pastels on a doll's skin with light round movements first, so you avoid occasional stripes, then rub harder, so the pastel gets into the surface. It's much easier to apply the pastels into the folds of the skin, and flat tiny brushes come in handy here.


If you want to create uneven blushing similar to skin texture, you may apply pastels with irregular touches, so it stays in blotches. Do it lightly though.


If you messed up with pastels, use kneaded eraser to remove the pastel powder. I use Koh-I-Noor eraser:



It's also great when you work on the eyebrows or lips shape. You can even do a lighter stripes with it kneading it and creating a very fine tip.


I highly recommend to seal your pastels with varnish before you start applying paints.





It's considered the easiest way to paint hairs and thin lines with watercolor pencils. Maybe I'm not good enough, but all I get is a grainy line, because sealant varnish has a rough texture. So I use brush to get the smooth lines I like.


You can buy a high quality 00 or 000 brush, or you can make your own. I purchased a thin brush for nail art and cut its hairs, so as it became even thinner than it was initially.



Just remember that hairs of this brush have to be at least 7-8 mm long, because the shorter the hairs are, the faster the paint dries, and the longer the hairs are, the less control you have over your line. So there should be a balance.


I started to use acrylic paints from the very beginning, and I purchased a set of Vallejo Model Color paints for miniaturists. They have a lot of pigment in them and also have a very thick creamy texture, so you can dilute them to a desired thickness easily.



I tried another brand MIG , but that was way too liquid for me. Also acrylics in tubes, even the quality artist brands, are too gel-like and have less pigments than dedicated miniaturist paints. So Vallejo is my choice.


Acrylic paints are hard to work with and require a steady hand. The stroke dries out on a surface in a few seconds, so if you messed up, you have like 1-2 seconds to wipe it off. I always keep a cotton stick slightly wetted with water at my workplace, and I'm ready to catch it fast.


Also you can correct mistakes with a cotton stick dipped in alcohol. I use 70% ethanol, it's not strong enough to ruin the layer of a sealant underneath, but it may remove not the all paint from the stroke. If you rub too hard, you can rub through the sealant ruining your blushing. So please don't use too wet stick: it should be just slightly wet.


Hint: there is a medium that makes acrylics to dry slower, it's called retarder. I use Maimeri brand. 



It has a downside though: it also makes the paint a bit creamy and transparent, so the strokes aren't as thin as they're without it. So a true Jedi uses only water diluted acrylic paint ^_^ I'm not a true Jedi, so I do both depending on my goals.


You can also use watercolor or gouache for painting hairs. Gouache has one downside: it becomes lighter when it dries, so I prefer watercolor. The same rule is applied as for pastels: search for a brand that sells individual colors.


I purchased a set of top quality Albrecht Duhrer watercolor pencils, so I can use them both as pencils and as paints. Here are mine:



I usually wet the tip of the pencil, so the paint becomes liquid, and when I have enough I dip my brush in it and paint.


As the watercolor paint is water soluble you can correct your mistakes anytime, with a slightly wet cotton stick, or you can cover a tip of the toothpick with some cotton wool and do even the tiniest corrections.


Hint: watercolor paint has another peculiar disadvantage: it gathers in drops, so your line isn't perfectly smooth. But there is a cure that's called Ox gall. I use the one from Royal Talens:



I recommend to dilute your paint with Ox gall and not water. Working time with watercolor paint is longer, you can get a brighter colors and achieve a very thin strokes.

Please read my Ox Gall usage for watercolor on BJD + blushing with acrylics article for more tips.


Hint: you'll need a lot of practice to make your lines smooth and clean. Each time after I dip my brush into paint I always do a first stroke on a paper, so my paper palette looks like this:



If you see that the line isn't thin enough, do a few more strokes until it's perfect. Sometimes the paint dries too fast and you need to add more paint and start all over again. Nobody said it's easy(( Then you do your few strokes on a doll's head until the paint dries out.


Hint: to make your hands steadier lay both of them onto the desk.

Hint: keep your thinnest brush clean during work. Even a small amount of paint residue on hairs can worsen flow of liquid paint, so the lines would be too thick or blotchy.


I rinse my brush with water, then dip it into 70% alcohol, then wipe the tip with cotton disc. Repeat until it leaves almost no traces.

I add skin texture, dots and moles to my dolls in two ways: with the same kind of brush that I use for the hairs, or I have a dedicated brush for creating texture. It's a simple synthetic brush that I cut by myself making a dozen of spikes instead of having a flat end:



So I dilute brown paint (either acrylic or watercolor), dip the brush in it, remove the excess water and try it on paper. If it leaves dots but not drops of water, it's ready to use. Then I add texture to the doll's face. If there are occasional drops, I remove them with cotton stick, pressing it over a drop, so it's sucked inside the cotton tip and not smeared.

You can use a foam sponge for painting texture with acrylic paints as well. If it's too big, you can cut it with scissors, make a round tip, and so on.





Lower eyelids, eyewells and lips are mostly varnished: it adds a natural shine of a slightly wet mucous membranes of human body.

I use acrylic brush-on varnish of a local manufacturer:






It's an expensive gear for experienced users, but as I'm using airbrush already I'd like to share some hints with you as well.

When I decided to purchase an airbrush I asked advices from different people including BJD faceup artists. I was given advice to purchase the airbrush with 0.3 mm nozzle, so it could serve me as an all-purpose airbrush. I purchased Sparmax MAX 3 airbrush + Sparmax Arism compressor. 



While compressor turned out to be everything I hoped for, the airbrush was too powerful to my taste and extremely hard to control. It was great for painting furniture but not for doing faceups. I still don't believe that having fine motor skills like mine I can't operate a device because my hands aren't good enough.


So I seeked further help from a local airbrush painter, and she helped me greatly, her main advice was to change my tool))) Now I'm using a local brand airbrush which isn't perfectly polished on the outside but works wonders.
Here is my Sparmax on top and Bezan Lotos on the bottom:



It has not only 0.2 nozzle but a spare 0.3 nozzle + needle so you can try both diameters.


So, TL;DR if your aim is to do doll faceups and blushing, then 0.2 mm nozzle is your choice, don't repeat my mistakes. Iwata is the best one, but if you don't have money for it, then go and buy some generic Chinese brand just to try and learn to use it.

There are acrylics that are made just for airbrushes, Vallejo Model Color that I mentioned above is just for that. But you can use any acrylic paint if it's properly diluted. Every paint has tiny particles that are too big for a super narrow nozzle of the airbrush, so filtering the paint before it goes into your airbrush is a must.


I tried to search for a ready solution, but most of our miniaturists use old pantyhose of their wives (sic!) to filter the paint, and what Aliexpress offered me was a bunch of disposable filtering cones. So imagine if you need to paint a faceup with 3-4 colors at once, it means you have to use 3-4 cones and throw them away afterwards. Such a waste.



So I researched further and found a very fine steel mesh with 0.08 mm cells. I purchased a roll of it and cut a piece. Now I'm filtering the paint into the bigger jar through that mesh, then use a plastic dropper to pour it to a smaller jar with a rubber lid (couldn't find a ready solution again so used jars from antibiotic drugs). The paint can be stored in that jar for weeks. Then I rinse the bigger jar and the mesh and move on to filtering paint of another color.




Holding the doll parts


Please remember that your hands produce moist, even if you have a very dry skin, so please avoid touching areas that will be sealed with varnish, as it may cause flaking. You may use knitted gloves, but I don't like gloves because they produce tiny hairs that may get into the sealant, and pastels will only highlight those obstacles. So I hold the doll head by bare hands on its back:



And when it's a faceplate, I glue a chopstick to it and hold the head by the chopstick. 



I attach the chopstick with hot glue in two spots, so the head is secure:



I never touch the faceupped area with my right hand. If I have to remove anything: dust, excess pastels and so on, I do that with brushes.



Cleaning the head before faceup


I clean even the blank heads, because people (including mysef) already touched them, so there could be dust, grease, mold release leftovers, and so on. I wrap a cotton disc into a piece of fabric to lessen the amount of stray hairs left on the head, wet it with ethanol alcohol or isopropyl alcohol and wipe the head clean. 


Light colored cotton or silk fabrics are the best ones, synthetics are also OK, and please make sure that the fabric won't stain your doll!



Then I put the head under a hard light, like a lamp with a hood, and remove any stray hairs with a brush.



Hint: sometimes stray dust particles are caught into a sealant, especially if you seal on the outside, as our environment isn't sterile. Take a sharp needle and prod the particle very gently until it falls off or moves. You can take the particle off with a kneaded eraser.



Painting order


There are different approaches of sealing BJD faceups while you proceed. Some people prefer to seal each added feature that they like, so they can play on the next layer not being afraid to ruin it. Some end up with a whole can of MSC stuffed onto a single head. I consider that a huge waste of sealant and harmful for the environment, so I prefer to do as few layers of sealant as possible. There are a few hints on how to achieve that.


First layer of paint: I usually do basic blushing, it means cheeks, temples, all the folds that I want to highlight. I also can do the eyewells and lower eyelids with a brighter pink, but it's better to do that prior to adding pastels to the outer part of eyelids, because the edge of a lower eyelid is tricky, so you may have to remove the excess pastels with a kneaded eraser.


I also add a bit of lavender color to the inner corners of the eyes and temples after I added all the pinks.


If it's a male character who needs some 5 o'clock shade I do that blushing with lavender or gray as well.



Second layer of paint: I define the eyebrow shape with pastels. I often do realistic faceups to resemble a certain real persons, and even a slightest change of eyebrow's shape can change person's mood impression, so I play with the eyebrows until I'm satisfied. A lot of adding pastels and removing it with kneaded eraser is involved here.


I also may add more blushing in the same places if the color is not bright enough.


I add a basic layer onto the lips, so I can remove the excess pastels on the edges not being afraid to ruin the blushing around the lips.



Third layer of paint: I paint the top eyelids, the eyebrows, the lower eyelashes and the lips with paint, i.e. all those tiny lines, with watercolor, or acrylics, or both. If there is facial hair, whiskers or other markings I add them as well. 


After that I add more pastels if needed, usually it's lips, upper and lower eyelids, beards, and so on. Thus I save one sealing, because adding pastels on top of the paint usually doesn't affect that paint. I use close colors mostly, with pastels being lighter than the paint, so I don't blush with brown over the white paint, and so on.


If it's a basic faceup I'm usually done. Faceup can be sealed.



Fourth layer of paint: often the head requires more work, like adding texture, wrinkles, moles and so on. I prefer to do this on a separate layer, after I added all the pastels, so it's easier to define the color of texturing paint. Still, texture can go onto a previous layer as well.



You can do as many layers as it's needed for your faceups, as elaborate faceups may require more layers.


I even know artists who do only two layer faceups: a basic layer and a sealing layer, painting doll's face with paints first and then adding all the pastels on top, as I did on the third layer. This trick requires a very steady hand, as you have to paint symmetrical eyebrows without any stencils. Also soft pastels with a lot of pigment are best to use, as you have to build all the color on a single layer. 


Sealing tip: I usually do the very first basic layer and the very last layer a bit thicker: I spray until the surface looks a bit wet. But when I do middle layers I just add as much varnish, so the paint and pastels are fixed and can't be wiped off with water, alcohol or kneaded eraser.



Applying varnish


I use glossy varnish on a lower eyelids, eyewells and lips. While I apply varnish to the eyes as is, creating a nice shine, it may vary for the lips. I dilute the varnish with water for just slightly wet look, for a natural faceups, especially when I paint males.



I can do a thick glossy layer to achieve the effect of lips painted with lipstick or gloss:



If there is a separate teeth inlay it should be varnished too:



And sometimes I aim for a matte lipstick look, so I don't apply varnish at all.



I alsoto created a separate post on eyelashes: BJD Eyelashes Guide + Tutorial.

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