"Faceup & Disassembly"
Most of the basic customization has to do with a BJD's head. The majority of BJDs are assembled when you receive them but you will have to take them apart to do some things such as a faceup. A faceup is painting the doll's face onto the head. You can often pay extra to the company you buy your doll from to send your doll with their faceup already done, but it will not last forever. Alternatively, you can pay another BJD owner to paint the face exactly how you want it because most companies have a default style in which they paint all their faceups. Sometimes you can ask for something special from a company faceup artist, but you may not get it or it may not look how you had imagined it would. The best route to take if you want something less generic is to commission a faceup artist or to do it yourself. Be aware that no faceup will last forever, especially if you wash or touch it often. A faceup commission can be anywhere from $15-$150, but it averages about $50. Some faceup artists will even do it for free to build up their portfolio, as long as you pay the shipping costs.
To do a faceup, the doll MUST be taken apart. The head is hollow and has a cap on it that can be removed. Sometimes this cap is attached to the elastic that runs through the doll. It can be hard to remove, or simple depending on if it is fitted, has magnets, an 'S' hook, or screws on. The first thing you have to do is to remove the top of the head or the 'headcap'. You may want someone else to assist you, especially if your doll's tension is tight. It helps to have tools like twine, pliers, paper clips, pens and clamps, but they are not absolutely necessary to disassemble your doll. You will at least need some tough string though to put your BJD back together again. Many owners are scared to take their dolls apart while many others think next to nothing of it. It's not too terribly difficult to do. The main thing to remember is to keep the parts organized in the manner that you took them off.
Lay down some clean light colored towels (preferably plain white) on a steady flat surface that will not be bothered. Determine if the stringing is connected in the head or neck. You can mark the string if you like the tension level, so that it will be easier to put it back. Untie the knot and remove the head. You can also start with the arms or legs, if you like. Simply untie or unhook the hands or feet. As you take each piece off, lay it down on your clean towels in the order that they come off. For example, when you take the left leg apart, place the foot on the left at the bottom, then the ankle joint or calf above it, also on the left side. Then put the knee joints above the calf on the left side and so on, until you have the entire doll apart. When you want to put your doll back together, just do the reverse of how you took it apart and if you kept your parts organized, this should be pretty easy.
The next thing that you will do is to clean the head with gentle soap and water. Make sure the head is completely dry before you attempt to do the faceup. A good suggestion is to draw out what you would like the face to look like ahead of time on a piece of paper and put it next to your workspace so that you have something to reference. Also print photos of faceup details that you like on other dolls so you can experiment with them. You will need a can of matte sealant, and watercolor pencils, chalk pastels or acrylic paints to do the faceup. DO NOT use anything oil-based or containing oils because it will eat the resin. Before you begin to actually work on the faceup, spray the sealant on your head and allow it to dry. Be aware that these sealants are sensitive to temperature and humidity, just like the resin casting process.
After your head has been coated, you can paint or draw on it with the pencils, pastels or acrylics. When you do something you like and want to keep, give the head another coat of sealant and let it dry before you continue to work on it. You can use pastels to create a "blushed" look on the cheeks and seal it as well. When you are happy with the faceup, don't forget to seal it properly so it will not come off at the slightest touch. If you do something you don't like, simply wash it off gently. If you finish the whole head and decide you don't like it, you can just clean it off and begin again. No faceup is permanent, and every head mold is versatile and can have lots of possibilities. Don't settle for something you don't like. You can always try again and if you just can't do it yourself, you can always commission someone. However, it can be a very special experience to do your own faceups and can make your doll that much more precious to you. Once your doll has a faceup, try not to touch it as much as possible because it will rub off eventually and the oils in your skin will only make it happen faster, as well as dirtying the face.
When you remove the headcap, you can also have access to the eyes. You can remove, replace and reposition them to change the look of the doll's face. Prices for eyes range from a few dollars to over $100 per pair. Eyes can be hot glued in, (but this is not recommended unless you never want to change them) or 'puttied' in with Blu-Tac, eye putty and a variety of other materials that make changing eyes and their position fairly easy.
For me, the easiest way to choose eyes is MSSCD. MSSCD is short for Material, Size, Shape, Color, Dome. If you make your choices in that order, it will make finding the eyes you want much easier. You could also add "Brand" to the list if it is important to you.
Material: The first decision that you will have to make is what material you want your eyes to be made of. They come in plastic, acrylic, silicone, urethane and glass with plastic being the cheapest and glass being the most expensive.
Plastic/Acrylic: The cheapest eyes, so it's easy to buy a lot of them and change them often. A good way to try different colors without spending a lot of money. Come in a huge variety of colors and patterns, but some people don't like them because the color can be very pixelated or flat. Acrylics do not reflect light as well as better eyes. Eye material most likely to have a stemmed eye. Well-known brands: Volks Metallics, Souldoll, Schwarzaugen.
Silicone: A little more expensive, but fit into eyewells very well because they are squishy. Some depth and reflection, but not as nice as urethane or glass. Collects dust like mad. Well-known brands: Masterpiece, Soom.
Urethane: Pricey, but very nice. Many people put them in a class with high quality glass or better because they "glow" and "track" like glass. ("Tracking" is when a doll's eyes seem to follow you around the room, and a "glow" is really just a nice way they bend the light that they attract.) Less expensive than some really well known glass brands, but more expensive than lower quality glass. Good Depth and Reflection, wide range of colors and custom options such as pupilless, odd colored pupil, pupil in odd shape, dome choice or border colors. Well-known brands: Enchanted Doll, Ethereal Angels, DropRops.
Glass: Can be bought from $30 to almost $200. Known for "glowing" and "tracking". Best depth and reflection, especially higher into the quality spectrum. May have dome choice. Mostly realistic colors, but expanding. Well-known brands: Luts, CustomHouse, Volks HG, Silver, Zoukeimura, Antique Rose.
Size: Next, you need to decide the size of eyes that you are buying. Eyes are usually available in even numbered millimeter sizes such as 16mm, 18mm, and 20mm. Most dolls have a certain size recommended for their face sculpt that is decided by the manufacturer. Going bigger than this size can make your doll look innocent and cute, but it can also make them look permanently shocked, so be careful going big. Going a size smaller is often good for a more realistic look, but it can make some dolls look beady-eyed so again, caution is good. The manufacturer's recommended size is usually a good one, but a few dolls look even better with a bigger or smaller eye.
Shape: The third step is eye shape. Eyes can come in many shapes, from completely round to round with a stem, half rounds and even flats. The best choice is really to choose an eye shape that fits your needs. Some dolls don't have big enough eyewells or head space to accomodate full rounds with stems. Whether your doll has an S-hook or other mechanisms in her head is important too. A good eye to start with until you are more familiar with different eye shapes and how they work for different goals is half round or flats.
Color: The fourth criteria is Color. The color choices that you make can completely change how a doll looks, so it's important yo put some thought into this, too. Firstly, do you want a pupil and what color? Should it be shaped normally or should it be cat-eye or heart shaped pupil? What color should the iris be? Should it be one color or a pattern? Do you want threading or color variation? What about a colored border for the iris? Transparent Whites? You can order your eyes with any of these options, but only certain option are available with each brand or material. Eyes can come with large or small pupils or even no pupils at all. They can also be bought with neon colors, metallic colors, patterned irises and without whites or without pupils.
Dome: The last criteria is Dome. This is a reference to the height of the dome over the center of the eyes. Some companies only make one dome choice, so you often won't even have to make this decision. If you do though, pick the one that suits your doll best. If you often position eyes mostly straight or slightly off center, then high domes are probably a good choice and often bring more depth and realism to the color. High domes increase "tracking" and "glow". If you generally position eyes off to side or very far up or down, then low domes may often allow you to move the eyes farther because the height of the dome isn't interfering as much. High domes are also called "paperweighted" eyes.
The positioning of a doll's eyes is very important in determining the look of the doll. While eyes completely centered and looking dead straight is pretty, there are lots of other ways to position the eyes that flatter your doll even more. Try different angles and take photos so that you can see the difference. Eyes can portray a lot of emotion, even for a doll.
Once you replace the headcap, you can put a wig on your doll. There are as many styles to choose from as you can think of and most wigs are in the $20-$40 range, with the exception being fur wigs which are generally pretty cheap. Most wig styles are available in 'natural' colors such as brown, blond and black as well as white or silver. It can be a little harder to find 'crazy' colored wigs, such as red, blue or green depending on the size of wig your BJD wears. Wigs can be made of human hair, synthetic fiber, mohair or fake "fur". Wig sizes are most often determined by one inch increments such as a 6-7 inch wig or a 7-8 inch wig. Some wigs have elastic and some just 'perch' on the doll's head. Some can use velcro to attach them and some wigs can use double sided tape to stay on.
Something that you can change while you have the headcap open is the tension on the elastic stringing. Some dolls must be taken apart completely, while others can simply be knotted and unknotted with the headcap removed. The tension of the elastic is a big factor in how well the doll poses and how much you have to mess with your BJD to make it keep the pose. A doll with very loose stringing is floppy and hard to stand, but very cuddley. A doll with tight stringing may kick or hit because the joint will pop into or out of place from the tension on the elastic, but they stand much easier than a doll with loose stringing. Some dolls have the stringing located in the neck instead of the head, but the elastic tension issues are the same.