Purple Wash

Please read through this entire page,
In order to learn all the Pros and Cons of Coloring Vinyl!!

Updated 5/1/04

Experimental Reborns

It is important to remember that the Reborn Art is developing through trial and error. This is a new art medium, and working with the soft translucent vinyl requires new tools, methods, paints and techniques. This art form is truly being Pioneered, as we speak.

And we are still learning what the long term affects of these methods might be. Dyed or painted vinyl might stay the same color, OR it might fade or it could even get brighter over time.

The way your doll looks now might be different from what it will look like in six months, or two years.

Vinyl is an oil-based product and that's why many paints or glues will loosen up over time: because the oils in the vinyl will work against it. I've glued rhinestones to vinyl shoes, for example. This seemed to work just fine at the time, but when I pulled the shoes out of a drawer a month later, all the rhinestones fell off.

Some ladies have told me that the wig on their reborn doll fell right off in their hands. The choice of glue is as critical as the paints/dyes we select. (I have more information about glue on the page about doll wigs.)

Vinyl is wonderful to work with. I love vinyl. But it's important to understand the problems with vinyl, as we work with reborns or refurbishing any vinyl dolls.

The purpose of the "purple wash" is to give the vinyl a blue/red undertone that compares favorably with real human skin tones. Originally, the reborn artists painted the inside of the vinyl pieces using a watered down purple paint such as acrylic. They also washed the outside of the doll with some of the purple and wiped it off again. Thus it was called "Purple Wash."

As the reborn art has evolved, many ladies have experimented with various paint colors such as rose, wine, peach, bronze and others. And, they have also layered all these colors and applied many coats of paint inside the vinyl limbs.

Most likely there are very few artists who use the purple wash anymore. The reborn art has evolved VERY rapidly. Some methods that were popular in the beginning have already been abandoned.

Problem: it is possible to use too much purple paint and then the doll looks blue -- like a dead baby rather than a live one.

Problem: In order to paint inside the pieces, many ladies cut off the flange joint on the end of the vinyl pieces so they can get a brush or hemastat inside to paint it. Although the vinyl pieces can be attached again to a doll body, the construction of the reborn doll is flimsy and many reborns have been known to fall apart later. I would rather not cut off the flange on the arms and legs.

Problem: the Berenguers are highly desirable for making reborn dolls because of their translucent vinyl, but if the doll is painted inside and out and then opaque stencil paints are used for blushing, the doll is no longer transclucent. Yet, that is one reason why the doll was selected to begin with.

Problem: I heard from people (buyers) who complained that the purple wash on their reborn was flaking off. Which is not surprising, since most waterbased paints or glues will not stick to vinyl. And yet, the ladies have been using watered down acrylic paint. Yikes.

Problem: The most SERIOUS problem I've heard of is BRUISING. This happens when the inside color seeps through the vinyl and the purple blotches look like bruises on the doll. Bruising can happen no matter what kind of dye or paint you use. The bruising may not show at first, but it could show up a year later. I've heard of severe bruising with Acrylic paint and Dye so far. Artist Oil Paints are a newer method but I expect there will be even MORE likelihood of bruising with oil paints, because the oils are even more likely to seep further into the vinyl.

Therefore: if you choose to color the inside of your dolls, you should not use a heavy application of color. Go lightly!! Don't use a strong bold color inside the doll, use pastels. AND, it is possible that the reborn artists may have to abandon the inside color wash altogether. The long term effects of the reborn methods are still being discovered. The inside wash is proving to be risky business.

The remainder of this page explains methods that have been used for coloring the dolls, both inside and outside the vinyl pieces.

Dye: We have tried using RIT liquid dye -- instead of purple wash paint. Some ladies are using a combination of rose or blue, tan or pink dye colors in order to avoid "bruising" of the vinyl. And some ladies are even making ethnic dolls and changing the vinyl color completely, to shades of tan or brown.

Color: The dye colors which are most recommended are ROSE and TAN, blended. We have used other colors with success, but apparently there is more RISK of "bruising" with the wine or purple RIT dye. The rose and tan combo has been more successful. Generally the liquid dye is better, otherwise the vinyl can be spotted by the powder dye if it's not completely dissolved in the hot water.


This method is still in the Experimental Stage but so far many people have been happy with the results. If you want to contribute Your Experience to this site, just email me at prilly@prillycharmin.com

1. PREP. It's important to prep all your pieces first, before you begin coloring the vinyl. Remove all the factory paint from the doll. Some ladies use nail polish remover, paint stripper, goof off and others. I prefer stripper. It's not a bad idea to use stripper all over the vinyl pieces, to remove any paint and surface finish that is on the vinyl. If you do only spot cleaning, then you might end up with streaks where the surface finish has not been completely removed. When you're finished stripping, then wash the vinyl pieces well in warm sudsy water, rinse and dry. All finished Prepping!

If you want to remove the molded hair grooves from the head, you should do that as part of your prep work. (PrissyMayDolls recommends using a dremel tool.)

HOLES?? Sometimes the doll head has factory holes in the ears. You need to plug these holes tightly before you put dye in the head. I used a small wood peg.

2. INSIDE COLOR WASH. Pour the liquid dye (undiluted) into the vinyl piece(s). Immediately wash off any dye that gets on the outside of the vinyl piece. Wait 2 to 5 minutes. I don't have the timing down exactly, and anyway the timing might vary according to room temperatures such as hot or cold (summer or winter.) So, it's necessary to babysit this project.

Some people like to heat up the dye. If you heat the dye you will probably need to dilute it as well because it seems to work faster when it's hot. In cold weather or cold climates, it may be necessary to heat the dye in order to get any results.

Do not overcolor the vinyl. There is much risk of bruising, so you're better off to go lightly. If the vinyl is thin in some places, the bruising could show up within days.

Some artists don't color the entire interior of the vinyl pieces, they just paint a bit of color at the creases in the elbows, wrists, knees etc. Don't go heavy with the color.

3. SAVE THE LEFTOVERS. Then pour the liquid dye back into the bottle or bowl (so you can save it to re-use on other dolls.) --

4. REPEAT AS NECESSARY. The vinyl inside will be stained a blue/red color thus giving the blue tones that are desired, but the vinyl is still translucent. If you think the vinyl needs more blue tone, then pour the dye back into the piece for a couple of minutes more: repeat the process until the desired tone is achieved.

Rinse the vinyl piece thoroughly.

It is better to be cautious... don't overcolor the vinyl pieces because the dye color will continue to seep into the vinyl over time.

Don't walk away and forget about this project or your doll will look like blueberries.

OOOPS!! If you do get too much blue, it might be possible to bleach the pieces if you do it right away before the dye settles into the vinyl. Katheran puts the pieces outside in sunlight if there is too much dye color. After a few days of hot sun, the color will fade.

5. BLUSHING THE DOLL with DYE. I blush the outside of the vinyl pieces using artist oil paints. I do not use the RIT dye to blush the outside of the pieces. However, some of the ladies have been trying this so here is a report on what they have been doing...

Ongoing Experiments!

Shannon has experimented with diluting the dye and floating the vinyl pieces so the inside and the outside of the vinyl is tinted. She was very pleased with the results. She did watch over the pieces diligently to make sure she got the right tones. She does recommend turning the pieces frequently so they won't develop a darker blue "float line" at the water line.

The three photos in this section show the pieces that Shannon dyed. She thinks that the dye brought out detail in ear and bottoms of feet. The photo of two heads, below, shows a regular blushed doll head on the left and the dyed doll head on the right.

Shannon used HOT water dye to dye the pieces above. Hot water is important, she says. She diluted one part water to one part dye. And, she also tried two parts water to one part dye. She thought that 2 to 1 gave her a bit more control over the results. She dripped the dye onto the ears to give them a bit more color.

CAUTION! Ladies who have tried floating the pieces in dye are having problems with the doll getting too red on the outside. If you do float the entire vinyl pieces in hot dye, then do it for a very short time, perhaps less than one minute or possibly just dip the pieces a couple of times in the hot dye and then rinse them immediately.

Some ladies said that floating the pieces for even 2 minutes is too much and the dye does need to be diluted quite a bit, such as 4 to 1. And, the outside of the vinyl pieces seems to accept dye more readily than the insides.



ASIAN DOLLS... The Berenguer asian dolls do not have translucent vinyl, and their skin tone is very yellow/sallow. The vinyl needs warmth rather than blue tones. When I made Judi Linn, I used bronze color spray paint. I sprayed inside the head only. I did not paint inside the limbs of the doll. I thought the head looked very sallow and needed color. The bronze tone inside the large head did improve the "complexion" somewhat. The vinyl had a warmer, richer tone.

DRY IT OUT! Be sure to give the vinyl pieces plenty of time to dry and cure after doing the "purple wash", especially if you have used paint on the inside of the pieces. I've heard of people constructing a doll in 24 hours, including the painting. This bothers me... Vinyl can go moldy inside very easily, and the mold is caused by moisture.

Let those pieces dry for several days and find ways to get air inside the small pieces. You might want to put them out on a sunny day. Don't be in an all-fire hurry to put the doll back together. Make sure every bit of the paint is dry before you re-assemble because if you pack the doll with weighting material, the moisture from the damp paint will be locked into the fingers and toes of the doll. It might take a few weeks or even months for the damage to show, but vinyl mold is a serious problem that vintage doll collectors are very familiar with.

And, the filler needs to be bone dry as well. I know one lady who buys sand, and bakes it in her oven in order to ensure that there is NO moisture in the filler that she uses to weight the doll. I applaud her for using really good sense.

WARNING! The dye doesn't work for everyone. Sometimes the dolls can develop the appearance of "bruises" as the dye seeps further into the vinyl. I haven't had problems with the translucent Apple Valley doll that I dyed many months ago, but the Berenguer vinyl is not as thick and heavy as Apple Valley. Where the vinyl is thin, the dye can bleed through and look like bruises.

Some people love the dye and use it all the time... I've heard that they have experimented with various colors in order to get the results they want. Purple, pink, blue and custom mixtures. This has helped eliminate the "bruising" for some of the reborn artists. The favorite dye combination is ROSE and TAN mixed together. The ladies report there are fewer mishaps with this dye combo.

FLESH TONING... Debbie Ch. in Florida dyes all her vinyl pieces with a tan mixture, just to tone down the "plastic" look. She dips them quickly so the effect is subtle but produces the flesh tone color she prefers.

She doesn't use dye or paint inside the face at all, due to the risk of bruising. She likes the way it looks, but she says that within a year the color can leech through and cause problems because the vinyl is thinner inside the face. She applies a bit of color inside the temples, with paint or dye, but she is very cautious. Debbie believes that pastel colors are less likely to cause problems.

ACRYLIC PAINTS: Many people use acrylic paints for their "purple wash". However, you have to know what you're doing when you select paint to use on vinyl. Some buyers have complained about the paint flaking off, later. Which is very likely to happen since it's not easy to find paint OR glue that will stick to vinyl.

Acrylic paints are popular with the fashion doll artists who are doing repaints, but they use an undercoat first, and a topcoat to seal the paint. If Acrylic paints are applied without a basecoat and a topcoat AND the paint is watered down... it's going to flake off the vinyl eventually!!

Read the labels to find out if YOUR paint is recommended for vinyl. Vinyl is an oil-based product and the oily nature of vinyl makes it resist many paints AND glues. The paint or glue will simply come off within a short time because the oil in the vinyl will work against it.

Vinyl and Plastic are not similar materials. Things that might work on plastic are not automatically suitable for vinyl. Or vice versa.

OIL PAINTS: Some of the reborn artists have been using oil paint colors mixed with Linseed oil. They mix up the color they want and thin the paint with linseed oil. Then sponge it on the doll. The oil/paint mixture are used inside the doll pieces or outside or both.

The translucent nature of the vinyl enhances the oil paint. After it has had time to "cure", the dolls have a very lovely skin tone with a wonderful healthy glow. I am very impressed with the results that I have seen. The oil paint method is well worth considering. However, I am concerned that using oil paint INSIDE the vinyl pieces is risky: there is even more likelihood of bruising if you apply purple wash inside the vinyl pieces.

CURE THE VINYL! No matter how you color your doll, it is important to allow plenty of time for the colors to dry and cure. What does it mean to "cure" it? When you use dye or oil paint or makeup colors on vinyl, they will seep into the vinyl slowly.

The full results of your work will not be known for at least two weeks or more. The colors will spread and change to some degree. They will also develop more of a natural "glow" during this time. You may want to apply more color in a few places. And you may see that you applied too much color in other places so it is VERY important to give it TIME: otherwise you will never learn what works and what doesn't!

As with almost any art form, patience is part of the process of making wonderful reborn dolls.

The art of making reborn dolls is not a "paint by number" system. This is not a craft, it is an art form.

This means that the results will be determined by the skill and talent of the artists. Your own artistic ability , and your own creative ingenuity are an important, essential part of making beautiful reborns.

Ultimately you will settle on your own favorite colors and methods. These notes will help you learn from the experience of others.

For external blushing, I like to use lipstick colors, of which there is endless variety. They are oil based, durable colors that soak into the vinyl and will last after they've had a chance to dry and soak in. I use the lipstick color for vintage dolls especially.

For reborns, I prefer to use the Scuola oil paints for blushing. The Scuola paints have the highest rating for permanence and lightfastness.

Red is one of the least durable colors, no matter what kind of paint or pigment you use on the dolls. Don't put the doll in sunlight because it will fade the red colors.

This is true of ANY doll, no matter if it's a reborn or manufactured doll. The reds and pinks can fade in sunlight, and even the vinyl itself can be damaged by prolonged exposure to sunlight. It does help to apply a UV sealer such as Vinylex or 303 Protectant to the doll, as a final surface finish.

Just remember: all dolls should be kept out of direct sunlight. Sunlight damages the vinyl and the coloring on the vinyl. The paint will turn colors (pink turns orange). The vinyl will fade out to sickly white. The eye color will fade. Sunlight is very damaging on vinyl.


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