Friday, 29 September 2017

Craft Along with GIY: Doll tattoos (3 ways)

Hello! I finally completed a really simple project that has been in my queue for a while. My schedule got more relaxed this month and when Bane from Goth It Yourself posted the theme for September, "Things with Wings", I knew it was the perfect opportunity. For those of you who don't know what I'm talking about, Bane holds monthly craft challenges centered around a theme of her choice. The theme is open for wide interpretation and you can join even if your project isn't remotely goth. For more details, check out her blog and past challenges!

For my project, I decided to tattoo "Things with Wings" on my Xinyi doll. And I wouldn't be me if I didn't make it into a tutorial with several different methods :) Without further ado, let's go!

First method: Temporary tattoos (for people)

I took this photo before I thought of the third method so in it you can see the supplies for the first two (they are almost identical):
- doll
- temporary tattoos
- scissors
- water
Also handy:
- tweezers
- cotton pads, sponge or clean cloth

First, choose your design and figure out the size and placement. Cut it out roughly. Note that it will be mirrored on the doll. I had a set of angel wings specifically for this purpose.

The middle size looked best suited for my doll. I bought these on Aliexpress and I had to do it twice because there are two colour versions - this black(-ish) and a sort of teal, like faded ink.

Cut out the tattoo as close to the outline as you can. This is especially important for asymmetrical designs because you can put it face down on the doll to see where it will go. For my tattoo, I folded it in half to keep the symmetry and then cut it out. Do not skip this step, the more precise the outline the better it will conform to the bumpy surface of the doll.

Clean and dry the area where you apply the tattoo. I wiped it with alcohol.

Peel off the clear film and gently place the tattoo face down on the doll. Do not aim for perfection; the more you nudge it, touch it or stretch it the worse your result will be. Here you can see my wings "anchored" in place aligned with the spine, a little crooked. They don't stick to the whole surface yet because the paper is thick and flat.

I would say "follow the instructions of your tattoo" but all of them boil down to "wet it and smooth it". So this is what you should do. Pat with a wet cloth until the paper backing is soaked, from centre to edges. Don't rub.

I snapped the photo above and I went back to pat a corner that I thought wasn't wet enough. I barely touched it and the whole backing slid right off. Ooo-kayyy...

This was so anticlimactic but really, that's all! Wait for the tattoo to dry and don't touch it. If it didn't turn out right, there's no fixing it now. Wipe it with alcohol and start over with a new one.

You can seal the complete and dry tattoo with varnish if you want. I chose not to because the finish matched my doll very nicely.

There are downsides to this method. You can't see the tattoo while you're applying it. When you can see it through the wet paper it's already too late to adjust it. You can only eyeball the placement and hope for the best.
The next method is my favourite because it doesn't have these shortcomings.

Second method: Nail art water transfers

You will need the same supplies as for temporary tattoos, with one difference.
- doll
- nail art water transfers
- scissors
- water
- tweezers
- cotton pads, sponge or clean cloth

There are many things people use to embellish their nails; if you search any beauty shop, you will come across many "stickers", "decals" and the like. You need to read through the descriptions to find the ones you soak in water before use. Most are regular stickers - printed sticky film that looks very 3D in small scale. We only want the ink, nothing else! So be sure to find true water transfers.

My doll already had a group of bats tattooed with this very method. But for the purpose (and theme) of the tutorial, I added a single bat on her leg.
Peel off the transparent film. Cut out the design, it doesn't need to be too precise.

Put it in a small bowl of water. Soon it will separate from the backing and float away.

When that happens, fish it out with tweezers (or your fingers, if you think you can manage).

Wet the surface where you want it and place the design. You can nudge it around all you want as long as everything is thoroughly wet.

Once you're happy with the placement, leave it alone to dry completely. Don't try to hurry the process by soaking up the excess water, blowing on it or patting it.

I'll quickly show you some more tattoos I applied in the same manner. I later moved the armband closer to the crescent - water transfers are very forgiving!

Also pictured: the struggle of choosing a tattoo design from limited options

These are the most common methods that people use to tattoo their dolls. I like the water transfer because it's so easy to use, but the ones I have are kind of stupid - designed by people who don't understand the concept of Halloween or the English language (there is writing in a creepy font that says "Happy Hours", I mean... seriously?). What I really wanted was a flock (is it flock? swarm?) of bats and then it hit me... the third idea :)

Third method: Nail art stamping

For this one you'll need:
- doll (should be obvious by now)
- acrylic paint
- alcohol
- nail stamping kit (more on that later)
- cotton buds
- paintbrush

The most control you'll have over a tattoo design is if you draw it yourself. You can choose your style, size, colour and placement. But when you're a rightie with two left hands, the best shortcut to drawing tiny designs is nail stamping! I wanted to find out how to transfer these lovely bats from a Halloween plate onto my doll's other leg.

For starters, I tested the paint consistency. Now, normally nail stamping is done with nail polish, but for my doll I didn't want any strong solvents, so I chose the safer water based acrylic paint. The left is straight from the tube, the right is mixed with acrylic medium.

Medium made the paint too runny and it smeared all over the stamper. I decided to try undiluted paint for the tattoo.
Once you're satisfied with your paint colour and consistency, use it as you would a stamping polish. There are countless of tutorials on nail stamping all over the Internet who can explain the technique better than me.
Here is the design on the stamper, ready to be applied:

...and here is what happens when you stop to take pictures:

Acrylic paint behaves differently than nail polish, instead of sticking to anything but the stamper it just forms a crust and refuses to transfer. I persevere...

This time I applied it too fast! The wet paint smudged on the slippery plastic of the leg. I grabbed a different stamper, one so soft it causes the nail polish to retract from the edges of the design into a crisp bead. This one:

"soft silicone stamper" are your keywords

It worked much better! Far from perfect, but good enough.

Note that there's virtually no cleanup between the bats. With the regular stamper, I had to go in with an alcohol-soaked Q-tip on the stamper to remove paint residue before applying the tattoo.
I decided this was as good as it could get.

I wiped all extra bats with alcohol:

... and stamped a separate bat to balance the composition:

Then I touched up the paint with a tiny brush and, since acrylic paint is much more fragile than the previous methods, I sealed the dry tattoo with matte varnish.

Once dry, the varnish has a different finish than the doll plastic, so I wiped the extra varnish as close to the paint as I could.

Finally, here are more pictures of Xinyi showing off her tattoos. The dress came in a J-doll themed package from a friend and it complements those angel wings perfectly.

For once I have a photo prop! But that is a story for a different post.

Which was your favourite tattooing method? Do you like dolls with tattoos? Share your thoughts in the comments!

The Black Kitty (^^)~


  1. I would not have thought of tattoos for dolls. What a great idea! :) I'd probably prefer the water transfers method because it allows you to move it around. I can never place anything properly the first time. Thanks for sharing the detailed tutorials and for joining the craft-along. :D

    1. Thank you! There are many ways to customize dolls - tattoos, piercings, wigs, dreadlocks, vampire fangs... even the most boring doll can become gorgeous in the right hands :)

  2. That is so freaking awesome! I also had no idea that you could put tattoo and nail transfers on plastic. How do they hold up? I am totally in love with the way your doll turned out. :)

    1. Thank you! Yes, you can absolutely use these on plastic - after all, many people use transfers on plastic nails! They hold up well for me, but if the doll is meant for active play, I'd seal with water-based varnish.

  3. Ohhh, another great post! As always you have such smart ideas! I couldn't even make the stamper work for my nails xD The doll tattoos I tried were water transfers. I always apply the varnish over it, it helps preventing dust from sticking to the surface. Your girl looks so cool, you found such beautiful and delicate designs that work so well as tattoos ^^

    1. Hey, it's you! I don't have issues with stickiness once they are dry. The tattoo sticker is mushy right after peeling the backing, like a wet postmark (contrary to my own advice, I DID touch it), but it goes away completely. I'm glad you like the result, I had very few choices indeed between "Happy hours" and earthworms.

  4. I love Xinyi, she's such a gorgeous doll! Wow, I love the tattoos you chose for her and that you did so many different tutorials for adding them!

    1. Thank you, I love Xinyi too! I would like to get more of her and a boy - they make boys now too. I also found a store with really neat water transfers, so there are plans for more crafts with those :)

  5. She looks so cool :-)! I would have to try the methods first to see what would work for me, but tattooing one of my dolls is certainly something I want to give a go! Thank you for sharing this awesome tutorial!

    1. You're welcome! Good luck with the doll tattoos, they are really fun and addictive!

  6. Panna wygląda obłędnie. Uwielbiam tatuaże.
    Zapraszam do mnie.

    1. Thank you! Google really butchers Polish but I'll try.

      Miss looks crazy. I love tattoos.
      I invite you to me.

  7. Wow, BlackKitty, I'm really happy to see this tutorial from you. I love how all of the tattoos turned out in all three. Since I've used the first method, I'd be tempted to say that was my favorite, but I'd still like to try the 2nd (nail art). Have not done that because all I've found is really stupid decals that don't lend themselves to tattoos. I didn't think I would like tattoos on dolls but after applying them on my own dolls and seeing the motifs you found, I've really grown to like them.

    1. Thank you! Actually, I was frustrated by the poor assortment in my water transfers while writing this tutorial. Afterwards, I accidentally stumbled into a store with a huge variety of amazing designs and they are sinfully cheap too! Their reviews look promising (most complaints are about long shipping) so I ordered a lifetime's worth of doll tattoos for a couple of bucks :) Here is the store link if you're interested:

  8. You do VERY good tutorials! Thank you for the detailed photos. I am now all excited about customing my dolls!

    1. I'm glad you liked them! Good luck with your project list - it's even bigger than mine D:


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