Coloring Vinyl: Overview

Topics on This Page:

~ Brief History Reborn Painting
~ Four Skill Levels
~ List of Paints & Vinyl Colors
~ Learning Curve
~ Play Dolls
~ Skill Level & Artistry
~ Cost
~ Prepare the Vinyl
~ Sanding the Head
~ Facial Features
~ Lip Painting
~ Fashion Dolls
~ Ethnic Dolls
~ Blushing
~ Purple Wash, Other Failures
~ Lightfast & Permanent
~ Fingernails, Lips, Eyebrows
~ Realistically Speaking
~ Disclaimer


Reborn artists have used many different kinds of paints and colors to blush and tint their vinyl dolls. Initially they used acrylic craft paints and stamp pad inks. They painted the dolls inside and out with the craft paint. Sometimes they layered different colors inside the vinyl, to get different skin tones.

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, hardware stores, as well as cosmetic and beauty supplies.

And, they are still using all of it! The Reborn art has not settled on any one method or technique... the artists continue to use all their own favorite materials.

This diversity is good. However, vinyl is an oil-based product, so you do 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.


We have identified four different Skill Levels for coloring Reborn dolls. You don't need to be intimidated about making a reborn doll because you can start at Skill Level 1 (which is very easy) and work your way up to the more difficult techniques. In fact, you probably should start at Skill Level 1 in order to get acquainted with vinyl as a "canvas."

SKILL LEVEL 1: lipcolor pencils, manicure nail polish, stencil creams and glass paints are rated EASY because they are ready to use without much prep time or cleanup time. You don't have to mix colors, you just use them as is.

SKILL LEVEL 2: Acrylic Paints and RIT dye are rated skill level two because there is more care required in their application. You do need some inherent artistic talent in order to mix colors properly and apply them with correct results.

SKILL LEVEL 3: Oil paints are very nice to work with and they don't dry out while working with them, but they do take a long long time to dry: as long as two months to fully cure. There is more cleanup after using oil paints. You are likely to make some mistakes before you get comfortable with using oil paints on vinyl. Oil paints are wonderful for making ethnic dolls with beautiful skintones. I've been told that Oil Paints don't work on the silicone type vinyl.

SKILL LEVEL 4: The Genesis Heatset paints require more skill when mixing colors. There is definitely a learning curve while you figure out how to work with the heatset paints. The Reborn artists tell me they had to stick it out until they got the hang of it, but they feel it's worth the effort and expense of making a few mistakes, because the Genesis heatset paints dry fast and the colors are very durable on vinyl. The Genesis heatset paints can be used on the silicone type vinyl.


  • ADVANTAGES: Easy to use, easy cleanup. Transparent colors are good for blushing.

  • DISADVANTAGES: Limited color selection, there are only one or two colors that are popular. And only one brand name: Colorbox. Can be hard to find. Limited color selection.


  • ADVANTAGES: Easy to use, easy cleanup. Transparent colors are good for fingernails.

  • DISADVANTAGES: Rubs off the lips if the doll has a pacifier. Glass paints are available in limited color selection.


  • ADVANTAGES: Easy to use, wide range of colors available, easy cleanup, nontoxic, good for playdolls.

  • DISADVANTAGES: We don't know how permanent or lightfast the colors are.


  • ADVANTAGES: Easy to use, easy cleanup. Some of the reborners love the Stencil paints but I'm not real familiar with how they're using them. Stencil paints are opaque, which can be an advantage or not, depending on the situation. Also very good to use on vintage dolls for blushing.

  • DISADVANTAGES: Stencil paints are not transparent. Not good for overall skintones.


  • ADVANTAGES: Easy to use, easy cleanup. Transparent colors are good for fingernails.

  • DISADVANTAGES: Nail polish can get gummy over time. You should use an undercoat as well as a polyurethane varnish over the nail polish to seal and protect it from breakdown.


  • ADVANTAGES: Good for facial features and nail color. Popular for fashion doll repaints.

  • DISADVANTAGES: not appropriate for blushing the infant dolls. Requires an undercoat in order to stick to vinyl better. Requires a topcoat of varnish or else the paint might rub off.


  • ADVANTAGES: Good for ethnic dolls and all-over skintones. The dye can be re-used. RIT is recommended for vinyl and works well. You can mix the various RIT dye colors to blend your own special custom tints.

  • DISADVANTAGES: Don't overdo the color. It's easy to get too much. You have to work with the dye to get a feel for it, how long it takes to get desired results, etc.


  • ADVANTAGES: Very beautiful skintones and blushing can be achieved with the oil paints. The rich colors are a pleasure to work with.

  • DISADVANTAGES: Takes a very long time to dry. Don't use too much of the Safflower or Linseed oil mediums, or else the paint might never dry. When completely dry, oil paint needs a surface sealer or else it might attract dirt.


  • ADVANTAGES: Dries immediately when you want it to be dry, because you use a heat gun to dry the paints. Adheres very well to vinyl: forms a strong bond. You can layer the paint, drying each layer and then apply another layer on top of it.

  • DISADVANTAGES: Requires special equipment such as a heat gun or a drying oven. (A hair dryer is not hot enough.) You have to mix your own colors, which takes some trial and error until you are comfortable with the paints. Does not need sealer or topcoat.


Making Reborn dolls is truly an art form. There is a learning curve at EVERY skill level. You will make mistakes. You might ruin a doll or two. You won't make the perfect doll the first time... each doll you make will be better than the last one.


If you want to make a play doll for your children or grandchildren, then you should probably stay with Skill Level 1 or 2. The materials are good for play dolls: RIT dye, lipcolor pencils, stencil paints, glass paints and nail polish are typical household items and not very likely to cause problems for a child. RIT Dye and lipcolor pencils are nontoxic and durable: they won't rub off during vigorous play. In fact, these colors soak into the vinyl and probably won't ever come off.


You can make beautiful dolls no matter what Skill Level you choose. Selecting a higher Skill Level doesn't mean that the doll will be better or more valuable. Skill Levels have nothing to do with the Beauty of the Reborn Doll: the artistry is entirely in your hands.

Our definition of Skill Levels is ONLY intended to give you an idea of how Difficult these materials may be to work with. Many very successful Reborn artists are not using the Genesis paints and don't plan to use them, they much prefer working with dye or oil paints.


It is just a coincidence that the difficult techniques are more expensive: the materials cost more and you even need special equipment if you want to work at Level 4. The materials required for Level 1 are quite inexpensive. Level 2 and 3 are moderate price range.


Before painting the doll you must remove all paint and surface sealers that are on the doll first. Use some kind of remover or stripper that won't harm vinyl. After the paint is removed, then wash the vinyl thoroughly with sudsy water and rinse completely and DRY completely, inside and out. Use hot water because this helps remove any surface protectants that may have been applied at the factory. THEN, begin the reborning process after the vinyl is completely clean.


Many Reborners think it is essential to remove the molded hair lines from the head of the doll. This is one area where I think the ladies have gone to an unnecessary extreme. Most of the Berenguer dolls have little or no molded hair marks so they're not much of a problem. If you sand the doll, there are quite a few risks involved. You can punch a hole through the vinyl head. Or, the vinyl becomes thin and weak so it might break later on during the hair rooting process. You might scuff the vinyl on the doll's forehead and then you will have problems coloring the vinyl in those places.

I have seen many vintage dolls with molded hair underneath the rooted hair: this is nothing new. I know that the Reborners go to extremes in their quest for "realism" but I do think we should remember that this is just a doll. It may not be a good idea to sand down the vinyl. It may even be toxic, because of the fumes and vinyl dust that could be inhaled.

If some ladies choose not to sand the heads, I don't think it should be held against them. The Reborn Art has a tendency toward cult fanaticism. This is partly due to a high level of competition on the eBay market. I don't think we need to go to all extremes in order to be a good doll artist.


Acrylic paints are recommended for lips and eyebrows on the Reborns. Glass paints have been popular for doing the lips. Even the oil paints have been used successfully for lip painting. Genesis heatset paints are also used for lipcoloring and eyebrows. And the Lipcolor pencils are good for "blushing" the lips to give them additional color, rather than painting the lips.


The main thing to consider when selecting paint for lips: are you going to have a pacifier for the doll? The magnetic pacifiers can rub the paint off the mouth of the doll. The Genesis paints are the most durable on the lips. Some artists use the Genesis paints for the lips only, and use their other favorite coloring mediums for the remainder of the doll.


Acrylic paints are the only appropriate choice for doing the Fashion doll facial repaints. Many of the fashion doll collectors have inquired about our paints, so that's another reason why we added acrylics to our shop.


If you plan to make an ethnic Reborn doll with a darker skintone, the oil paints are the best way to make a beautiful overall skintone. Oil paints give the ethnic babies a glowing, rich skincolor that is just gorgeous. It does take a long time for oil paints to dry, so patience is required. We recommend a minimum of six weeks to dry and cure. One doll artist I talked with said that the waiting period doesn't bother her because she has so many dolls in progress that it's not as if she's waiting for this one doll to be completed.

If time is a factor, you might want to buy a vinyl doll that already has a dark skintone and enhance it, rather than do an all-over skin color.

RIT Dye is a good option for ethnic dolls or even the white dolls. Some doll artists like to dip all the white doll pieces in a tan/rose mixture, quickly, to tone the "plastic" color of the vinyl.

You can mix dye colors easily to create your own custom tones. I mix black and brown together for dark skin tones. Brown alone tends to be too red. Black has a bluish/purple cast to it. Together, the skin tone is not so reddish.

RIT dye is specifically recommended for vinyl. The RIT web site has "recipes" for mixing your own colors.

Some of the vintage doll collectors have used RIT to restore color to their dolls, such as the arms of the PlayPal dolls.

Some doll artists use RIT for the "Purple Wash". You can pour dye into the vinyl pieces to color just the inside. There are risks (see our chapter on purple wash) but some people still prefer to do the inside color.

I have even used spray paint inside the vinyl pieces, and it worked well. I sprayed a light pink color first, then a mauve tone next. It took a very long time to dry completely (several weeks!) but it did do a nice job for the inside wash. Two years later the pieces look the same. (There are some spray paints that are recommended for vinyl and plastics.)

It's probably best to use RIT dye if you must color inside the vinyl. I heard of some ladies who used acrylic paint inside the pieces, and assembled the doll within 24 hours. And I also heard about dolls that got MOLDY inside, because the paint wasn't thoroughly dry when the doll was put together.


Oil paints are popular for blushing the reborns and adding a bluish tone to temples and other areas where a blue undertone is desired. Almost all our colors are appropriate for blushing, except for the acrylics. Acrylic paints are not recommended for blushing and skin color... they are recommended for facial features only.


Acrylic paints were originally used as a "purple wash" on reborn dolls. The purple wash was acrylic craft paint thinned with water. The doll was painted inside and out with the purple wash, to give it a more realistic skintone. That practice was abandoned because the paint flaked off within a year. There were also some terrible problems with "bruising."

White craft glue was widely recommended for wigs, but the wigs would fall off after a year or so. Rubber cement is another one that was recommended to me. Even E6000 is widely touted as an excellent glue for vinyl, but we are learning that E6000 seems to lose it's grip after a year or so. I have seen some really wild claims made by companies that sell glue... it seems they are allowed to say almost anything. Truth is, most glue does not work with vinyl.

Some reborners were gluing their dolls together: they would cut off the ends of the vinyl arms and legs, paint inside, and then glue bear joints so they could attach the limbs to the doll body. They excused their shoddy construction by saying it was an "artist doll" and needed to be handled carefully. The dolls fell apart in a very short time.

These experiences illustrate how the Reborn Art is still in the initial growth period and is an experimental art. We don't know yet, how the materials we use will hold up in the next 2, 5, 10 or 20 years. Fifty years from now we will have a better idea of what worked very well and what didn't.

Therefore, it's not a good idea to promote your Reborn doll as an heirloom until we really know what we're working with. It is a good idea to do some research on the materials that we use. And, it is very helpful to share with one another, and pool our knowledge.


It's important to know whether your coloring materials are lightfast or not. We selected oil paints and acrylic paints that have been thoroughly tested and are proven to be permanent colors that are durable over time. The better brands of oil and acrylic paints have ASTM ratings for lightfastness. ASTM stands for American Society for Testing and Materials.

Lipcolor pencils don't come with that information. Neither do stencil paints, RIT dye and nail polish. Partly because they don't have to... many of the materials we use on vinyl were intended for other purposes than art projects. Whether the color will hold up for 100 years isn't even an issue with the manufacturer.

I haven't seen colorfast ratings for the Genesis Paints. I have not seen any ASTM information on the Delta or Plaid craft paint products either. The craft paints are very popular but the companies provides little or no information on the quality of their products. This doesn't mean we shouldn't use these products but it's something to be aware of.


Vinyl is oily. So it's a good idea to prepare the vinyl before painting it. It's not a bad idea to scuff the vinyl a bit using very fine sandpaper or an emery board. Scuff ONLY where the paint will be applied, such as nails, lips, eyebrows. (For blushing you definitely do not want to scuff first. Scuffing is for the detail work only.)

After scuffing, then apply acrylic sealer, allow to dry. Then apply your paint, such as glass paint, or nail polish, or acrylics. Then apply a topcoat polyurethane sealer over that. Be sure to allow each layer to dry thoroughly before you apply the next coat.

Glass paints are good for doing the Reborn fingernails. We have ivory color for that purpose, and a very pale Spring pink. We also stock French color nail polishes. It's important to note that you should use Acrylic Sealer as an undercoat, and Polyurethane varnish as a topcoat. You can also use the Acrylic paints for nail color.

Don't use clear nail polish as a topcoat for nails or lips, because nail polish tends to get "gummy" over time. We recommend using our matte, satin or gloss varnish as a topcoat for nails and also to give a shiny, "wet" look to lips.

The undercoat sealer and the topcoat sealer are VERY important when using glass paint, nail polish or acrylic paints. Please note that the acrylic undercoat and the varnish topcoat are different products.


The Reborn art has become a modern Gold Rush.... everybody wants to sell their dolls on ebay. Everybody wants to quit their job and become a doll artist. I've even seen ads for Reborn teaching aids, that encouraged you to buy the book so you could make thousands of dollars on ebay.

Reborns are not another get rich scheme. Slow down... don't get caught up in the Gold Rush mentality! We lose all the joy in life and in art, if it's always about money.

Making Reborns is definitely an art form, and it's a very lovely art form. The internet has made it possible for anyone to become an Artist... but it's not likely that many people will be able to become full time artists because there are dozens or maybe hundreds of NEW ladies (and gents!) who are learning this art every day. It is a very enjoyable craft, and it's a very unique art form that is fairly new.

Painting the doll is the most challenging part of making a Reborn doll. The artist's eye, the artist's skill and the materials that are used according to the artist's preference will all contribute to the end result. Reborns are not a paint by number system... each vinyl doll is truly an opportunity for unique creative expression.

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 paint on vinyl are not yet known. The same is true of the glue that we are using.

Therefore, use of these instructions is subject to your own discretion and your own risk.

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