Oil Painting on Vinyl

Topics on This Page:

~ Brief History of Reborn Painting
~ Oil Paint Advantages
~ Safflower Oil Medium
~ Liquid Alkyd Medium
~ Risks of Coloring the Inside of Vinyl
~ How to Apply the Oil Paints to Vinyl
~ Allow Time to Dry & Cure
~ Sealers & Finishes
Oil Paint is Not for Everything
~ Restoring Flesh Color on Vintage Dolls


Reborn artists use many different kinds of paints and colors to blush and tint the bodies of their vinyl dolls. Initially they used acrylic craft paints and stamp pad inks.

Eventually RIT dye, lipstick colors, stencil paints and glass paints also became popular for tinting and blushing. As I write this, the reborners have experimented with just about everything from the craft and art supply stores.

Vinyl is an oil-based product, so you need to select paint or glue that will adhere to vinyl. Even if the product you apply today seems to work ok, within a matter of days or weeks the vinyl can work against it and repel it.

Acrylic based paints didn't adhere well and had a tendency to flake off the vinyl - especially if the paint was thinned with water first; which is what they were doing with the reborn "purple wash."

Yes, acrylic paints are used for the popular fashion doll "repaints." You can use acrylic paint on vinyl, but you should buy good quality artist acrylic paints and don't thin them with lots of water.

The acrylics are not suitable for blushing the reborn dolls or creating skin tones, but they are useful for eyebrows, fingernails and lip color.


Oil Paints have been used on Reborn dolls for a relatively short time, so there is a lot to be learned yet about the long-term affect of oil paints on vinyl dolls. This method for coloring vinyl is still experimental. However, I am excited about Oil Painting on vinyl because it seems that this method offers many advantages.

  • SELECTION & FLEXIBILITY. Oil Paints offer more selection and flexibility. When you start using Oil Paint on vinyl, it's as if you've walked into a different room that is bigger, brighter and better than where you've been before. But you have to go INTO the room to know the difference. There are more choices and you can do more, when you switch to oil paints.
  • TRANSPARENT. Some brands of oil paints are transparent: which is a nice surprise. I think it's important to tint the vinyl rather than obscure it, so I prefer to select oil colors that are as transparent as possible. We think transparency is a very important consideration when making reborn dolls. After all, we selected the translucent vinyl because of it's lifelike glow. Therefore, I don't want to paint over that lovely vinyl and obscure it: I prefer to enhance the vinyl with transparent tints.
  • LIGHTFAST. Some of the better brands of oil paints have ratings for Lightfastness. How permanent are the colors you are using? There are very few brands that will tell you. None of the craft brands that I have seen give any explanation about their product. The Scuola brand of oil paint that I use does provide that info. Therefore, there is no guessing: I know I'm using colors that have the absolute best chance of holding up over time.

PRACTICE FIRST... The Oil colors are intense so if you have not used oil paints before, approach the doll CAUTIOUSLY and apply very SMALL amounts until you are comfortable with how the oil paints work on vinyl.


We recommend SAFFLOWER OIL MEDIUM for thinning the oil paints. There are problems with any other kinds of oil mediums. Linseed oil has a tendency to turn yellow over time. This is not noticeable on a painting where only a very little bit of oil has been used, but when making reborn dolls we do use a lot of oil to thin the color. Therefore, the yellowing could become very evident in a few years. Safflower oil medium does not yellow as it ages.

DON'T USE COOKING OIL... (Do not use Safflower cooking oil or other cooking oils with your paints: it is NOT the same thing as oil mediums and will turn gummy eventually.

DON'T USE BABY OIL or LOTION... Some people use baby oil, baby lotion or other kinds of body lotions to thin their paints. Paint technicians say that baby oil never dries, and it "spoils" the paint. Baby oil is an absolutely non-drying oil.

Theoretically, this means that the baby oil will continue to seep through the vinyl year after year. It may not be possible for the paint color to stabilize: the oil colors will continue to spread and migrate through the vinyl. There may always be gradual changes, and not always for the better.

One other concern about using non-drying oil on vinyl: will the vinyl eventually destabilize and become mushy? This happened to early vinyl dolls from the 50's. Eventually, oil seeped from the vinyl, the dolls got sticky and there was general breakdown of the vinyl. Eventually the dolls needed to be thrown away. Therefore, using a lot of oil on vinyl has some risks involved as well. We could actually ruin the vinyl with excessive use of oil.

Because the reborn methods are experimental, we don't know the long term affects that these methods will have. Moderation is always the safest course.

Having said ALL that... how much safflower oil medium do you need to use? Not much. I dabbed a little oil into the paint until it was a consistency I liked and then I used makeup sponges to apply the mixture. The paint soaked into the Special Edition doll body that I was using and I didn't need to wipe any of it off. The blush colors will need more oil than the skin tone colors.


Liquid Alkyd (or Liquin is another brand) is an oil medium that accelerates the drying time. Liquid Alkyd helps to thin and transparentize the oil paint, besides adding a drying agent.

This sounds good, but the Liquid Alkyd prevents the oil colors from soaking into the vinyl. The color sits on top of the vinyl and tends to streak and smear. So I don't recommend using it for blushing or applying any kind of color to the BODY of the doll.

HOWEVER... the Liquid Alkyd does have it's useful purpose for Reborn Artists: Debbie R. uses it when painting doll lips. She says the oil colors stay where she puts them. The colors don't soak into the surrounding vinyl and make a mess, even after many months later.

Ordinarily, oil paints tend to bleed into the surrounding vinyl, so the doll's mouth ends up with a "koolaid mustache." But when Debbie applies the Alkyd resin first, this "bleeding" does not occur. Debbie thinks the Alkyd resin medium is probably the reason why this does not happen with her dolls. The Alkyd resin prevents the oil paints from spreading.

To learn Debbie's special technique for using Oil Paint on the doll's lips, CLICK HERE.


If you use oil paints for the INSIDE purple color wash, there is considerable risk for eventual "bruising", because it is even MORE likely that the purple oils will seep through the vinyl. Bruising occurs when the blue colors inside the vinyl pieces leech through to the outside and look like bad bruises on the babydoll. Even acrylic color has been known to cause bruising after a year or so... There is even more risk of bruising with oils since the oil base has even more ability to seep through.

CLICK HERE to read all about painting the inside of vinyl: why the reborn artists do it, and the problems that have developed.

If you use oil paints for tinting and blushing only the outside of the doll there probably won't be a problem with unwanted bruising or coloring later.

Debbie's Reborn Gallery says she has abandoned the inside coloring altogether now, because she was having problems with dolls turning into strange colors later on. Since she can get the results she wants using the oil paints, she is very happy. Debbie doesn't think that anything has been sacrificed by foregoing the inside colors. Oil Paints allow her to give the doll all the depth, dimension, and subtle shading that she wants.

If you do decide to color the inside of the vinyl pieces: go lightly. Never use heavy color inside the doll. Even if it looks good now, there will be changes after months or years. This is true no matter what kind of paint or dye you use. Caution and moderation are good habits.


Squeeze a little of your oil paint colors onto a palette or disposable plastic plate. Use a brush or palette knife to mix the colors as desired. Add safflower oil to thin the paints as desired.

I dabbed a little safflower oil into the paint until it was a consistency I liked. I didn't use a lot of the oil, because the Scuola paints are creamy and don't need a lot of thinning. The paint will take longer to dry if you add oil medium to it, so you don't want to use any more than necessary.

You will probably add more safflower oil to the blush colors, than the skin tone colors, in order to make the blush colors more delicate. The red oil paints are very vivid, so add white or Flesh color and safflower oil to make the delicate rosy shades that are so beautiful on infants.

Then I used makeup sponges to apply the paint. The paint soaked into the Special Edition doll body that I was using and I didn't need to wipe any of it off.

My experience is only with the Scuola paints ~ so your method may vary due to the consistency or characteristics of the paint. I specifically selected Scuola colors that are transparent because I only want to TINT the vinyl, not obscure it. I don't think it's necessary to cover the doll in a layer of paint. The Berenguer vinyl is beautiful, we don't need to hide it.

You only need a little bit of paint and a little bit of oil. A little bit goes a long way.

You can use brushes or sponges to apply the colors. This is especially true when you apply the blush colors. Since oil colors are intense, apply small amounts and be cautious until you are more comfortable with painting vinyl. In fact, it would be a good idea to make a practice doll first before you try oils on an expensive doll.

MAKEUP SPONGES... The sponges are a wonderful tool to work with. They provide more flexibility than fingers, for applying paint in tiny crevices. In fact, I don't think that fingers alone do a very good job. It bothers me when the blush is on the surface of the vinyl but the creases and wrinkle lines are uncolored. Makeup sponges can get into places where your fingers can't. And, the sponges are gentle: they don't damage the vinyl.

PAPER TOWELS... I've heard that some people are using a lot of paper towels to clean the paint off the dolls, but I don't understand why this is necessary. Is the paint real thick and hard?

I'm concerned that paper towels will remove the textured surface of the vinyl, and once that happens, there will be a slick shiny spot that doesn't accept color as well. It's important to protect the textured surface from damage.

When I use the creamy Scuola oil paints and apply them with sponges, there is no waste. All the paint soaks into the vinyl and there isn't anything extra to wipe off. That's why I've wondered about the paper towels. Maybe there is a big difference in the texture of different brands of oil paints.

If your paint is thick and hard, I suggest that you try other brands until you find one that is easy to work with.


If we use oil paints on vinyl dolls, the paint needs plenty of time to dry. It also needs several weeks to "cure"... therefore it will take at least one month to make a reborn doll using oil paints.

Many changes take place during the Cure time. One artist says she never knows exactly what the doll will look like until at least 3 weeks later, when the colors have soaked in, spread out, blended and dried. And, sometimes she needs to do a little more touch up on the doll during the Curing process. So don't rush it. Take your time.

For one thing, it's a very bad idea to apply any kind of sealer over the oil paint until it is completely dry. Otherwise you could lock in moisture, which causes various problems in vinyl.

If you do apply a sealer, we recommend low gloss silicone protectant such as Vinylex. Don't use varnish or other sealers that are traditionally used on oil paintings, because they will crack and crackle on vinyl.

SEALERS & FINISHES... Although sealer may not be necessary, it's probably a good idea to put some kind of protectant on your doll. But don't apply ANY sealers until after your doll is completely finished, thoroughly dried and cured. Make sure you are completely done with your doll, because once a sealer is applied it will work against you if you try to make additional modifications.

We recommend several sealers for vinyl dolls. Low gloss silicone is possibly our favorite for sealing the body. Acrylic type sealers are good for lips and fingernails. CLICK HERE to learn about our favorite sealers and finishes.


We don't recommend using the oil paints for fingernails, eyebrows, nail polish, lips etc. It is better to use GLASS PAINT for the lips, or Acrylics for the facial features. Oil paint tends to soak into the vinyl and spread out. It won't stay where you put it.

Oil paint should not be used on the lips unless you use the Liquid Alkyd resin with it. Even with the Liquid Alkyd, use only small amounts of the oil paint. (See the section on Liquid Alkyd, on this page.)


Some of the vintage doll collectors are using RIT DYE to re-color their old dolls which have faded. I've heard the PlayPal collectors are doing this, because the arms of the PlayPal dolls sometimes turn a ghostly white. They try to restore the color using dye. I don't know what "recipe" they are using or what their method is.

The RIT dye manufacturers suggest this formula for mixing FLESH color with RIT dye: Use 1 part of Tan and 1 part of Peach dye.

One collector recently used our Flesh color oil paint to color the arms of her PlayPal doll, and she is very happy with the results. She used makeup sponges to apply the flesh color, and removed the excess with a soft cloth. It was not necessary to take the doll apart (one advantage over RIT dye.) And, our Flesh color paint is permanent and lightfast, which means that the color will not fade or change. I'm not convinced that RIT is very permanent or lightfast.

The vintage Chatty Cathy dolls have arms and legs which have a tendency to turn a very sallow, sickly color. My own Chatty was difficult to paint using the oils, and it took a very long time to dry. I did not apply a sealer over the paint when she was finished, so the paint tends to pick up dirt even faster than the vinyl did. I don't think oil paints are a very good solution for restoring color on vintage dolls, or any dolls that are intended for children. RIT Dye is probably the best option.

Disclaimer: The methods for making Reborn vinyl dolls are experimental. We try to offer the best materials and suggestions that are available. However, we cannot make any guarantees or warrantees about results, partly because methods and results are in your hands. And, the long term affects of oil paints on vinyl are not yet known. Therefore, use of these instructions is subject to your own discretion and your own risk.

For more information on Oil Paints and Oil Mediums, this book is recommended: THE ARTIST'S HANDBOOK OF MATERIALS & TECHNIQUES by Ralph Meyer. This book is considered the ultimate handbook for artists who want to understand the technology of paints and pigments.

Since Reborn artists are using a very unusual canvas (vinyl dolls) the technology is a huge consideration in our work. We need to learn as much as we can, and document what we learn from our mistakes.

Copyright (c) 2002, 2012 Cynthia Stevens All Rights Reserved