Friday, 23 August 2013

Doll Customising: Monster High Dolls - Prepping and Rerooting

I've been fascinated by custom dolls far longer than I've been in love involved with the Monster High franchise.
I began collecting BJDs (Ball Jointed Dolls) back in 2009 and love how some come as a blank canvas for you to create your own characters. 
I have given multiple dolls face-ups, sewn clothes for them, bought shoes, eyes and wigs and despite my affection for these wonderful resin dolls, they're so expensive!

I currently only own 1 BJD after shrinking my collection. She's a Bobobie Isabella, 27cm/MSD sculpt and the first BJD I ever bought! Bobobie is a great company, with prices much much lower than others but the quality is still superb. I would attempt more complicated modifications but given their £100 minimum price tag, I don't have the confidence to attempt it! (Bobobie's dolls range from a tiny 10cm at $80, to a huge 70cm at $220)

[ETA: 30/01/2014: Since writing up this post I have added 2 more BJDs to my collection, a Doll Planet Riz and a Doll Chateau Ada!]

However, Monster High dolls caught my eye and their personality won me over. Their much cheaper price tag (of £13 - £25) was enticing from a customisation and collectors point-of-view so I took the plunge and bought my first MH doll (then I carried on collecting and can't stop!) 

I've customised a few dolls and this is the process I follow to prep them.

You'll need a few supplies:
  • cotton-buds (q-tips) 
  • and/or make-up remover cotton pads. 
  • Substance to remove factory paint (acetone, nail varnish remover, etc)
  • Reroot tool (or needles/hot glue dependant on the method you're using)
  • Hanks of hair
  • Paint for the scalp to match the hair
  • Paint brushes in various sizes
  • Tweezers or thin and long needle nose pliers
  • Superglue/nail glue (just in case)
  • Nude doll (Here is a Ghouls Rule Draculaura!)

Let's start!

This part is not 100% necessary if you're just repainting the face as it's all down to personal preference. If you find it easier to handle the whole doll, or just the head, the choice to remove it is up to you!

You'll need to remove the head if you're planning on rerooting using the punch method, knot method etc where you'll need access to the inside of the head. If you're simply glueing new hair over the top of the old stubble, then the head can be left on. However, you'll get much neater results removing the head to remove all the old plugs through the neck, then glueing the new hair on.

1) Removing the dolls head.

This looks tricky, but is relatively easy. The plastic lip inside the head which holds onto the neck's post needs to be heated in order to loosen it.
Simply heat up the neck/head area by using a hair dryer (on a medium setting but hold it far away so the plastic doesn't warp) or hold the area under a hot tap until the plastic feels more pliable. 

Carefully pull and wriggle the head from the neck post. There's a 'T' shape in the post that makes it tough but if you're struggling too much and don't want to risk snapping the post or tearing the neck hole plastic, try heating it more.

2) Removing the factory paint.

I purposely chose a doll from the store with a factory error, so I wouldn't be 'ruining' a doll with a perfect facial screening that someone else could enjoy.
I was pretty happy to remove the gross grey smudge down the side of her face!

I use a colour free, acetone free nail varnish/polish remover to get rid of the factory paint. Some nail varnish removers come in bright colours like pinks, blues and purples, but these can leech into the plastic and stain them, so I opt for colour-free.
Other customisers use pure acetone, and whilst it it is much more effective at removing the paint there are risks of the chemicals reacting. Acetone has to be washed off quickly and thoroughly to avoid the plastic 'melting' and warping.

I dip the cotton-buds into a small pot of varnish remover and scrub away at the paint. At first it seems the colours are just smudging it around, but perseverance will get rid of it all. Using varnish remover isn't the most effective way (substances like rubbing alcohol and acetone are much more potent therefore remove paint easier) but I feel that a little elbow-grease is worth cutting out the risk of damaging the plastic.

Another cotton-bud later:

And another, and she's clean!
I cut one end of the cotton-bud off at an angle, to leave a quill like tip. This is great for getting into the tiny lip creases. The hollow stem soaks up a reservoir of varnish remover and the point can scrape out stubborn paint. 

3) Removing the hair.

To avoid a mess of stray hairs, I tie what I can into a ponytail using the clear elastic bands that attach dolls/accessories to the packaging (those things are so useful, I try and save as many as I can when I open dolls!)

I usually put the dolls head in a plastic shopping bag whilst cutting the hair to make sure all the hair is contained and easy to clean up.

Then I snip as close to the scalp as I can.

I trim off excess fringes, bangs, partings etc.

Trim all the way around the hair line, as close as you can to make removing the left over plugs easier. 

Snip snip snip and the hair comes off in one big chunk! However, I was too busy taking pictures at this point and totally forgot about putting it in a bag.

After cleaning up a bit, I use a smaller pair of scissors to trim the left over hair. I really suggest a bag for this next part because it's gross and messy..

4) Removing the excess hair from the head.

I keep trimming the hair and it's time to ruin a pair of tweezers! 
I recommend the ones cheap from the super-market that cost less than £1/$1. Don't use your mother's/father's/sibling's fancy pair because they'll end up covered in glue and hair and they'll be bent out of shape and.. ugh, bad.

To remove the hair from the inside of the head, THIS is what you'll have to contend with:

Looks like an alien in a space ship: "Hello human life forms!"
Mattel have a problem with too much glue in the MH heads, which is bad for a play doll, let alone a collectors line. The glue seeps out and makes the scalp shiny and greasy. Not all dolls lines suffer from this, but it's becoming more common.
It leaches out of the plugs and into the hair, which becomes matted and gluey and gross. Sometimes the glue molds into a big blog that gets in the way of the neck peg, which means the head has limited/no movement!

It can be washed out, or covered with talc but it often seeps through regardless.. Many complaints have been made and we're yet to see improvement.

Put the tweezers into the neck hole and run it along the inside of the head to pull the hair out of the plugs. You can see the hairline plugs above the ear are now empty!

Keep going, scraping and pulling the clumps of hair out of the plugs and out of the head. Don't prod or pull too hard as the plastic may tear if it's thin in places, or plugs can split open.

The back of the head is mostly clear here.

And this is everything from the inside of the head. After scraping all the hair out of the plugs, it took me a good 20 minutes just wrestling the contents out the neck hole because the glue was a solid clump!


These nasty grease/oily spots on the paper are leftovers from the glue. Eww..

5) Cleaning the head.

Take some tissue or the make-up remover cotton pads and soak it in the varnish remover. Wipe all the paint from the head (unless the original paint is the same colour of the new hair you'll be rooting in, then leave it) 

6) Painting the head (optional)

Painting the scalp a similar colour to the hair is a method used by toy companies to make the rooting look denser and fuller. Unpainted, the scalp would look bare in contrast to the colour of the hair, so it's looks more appealing to the eye if there are no obvious colour gaps.

I chose a red acrylic. If I was painting the face, I would totally avoid oil based paints as they can leach into the plastic and stain it, which is a pain if you end up wiping the face paint to try something different/another colour. However, I won't be repainting the scalp or changing the colour so it's not a problem.

My concentration lapsed for a second and I smudged the paint on her temple. Whoops!
This came off with a little nail varnish remover once the paint had dried.

7) Fixing torn plugs/split plastic.

The plastic between plugs that are close together sometimes splits, and these cannot be rooted because it leaves a gaping hole. This can be easily fixed!
Use super-glue with a thin nozzle or brush on nail glue to secure and fill all the split plugs. Once this has dried, use a pin to recreate holes for you to push hair into.

8) Rooting the hair.

I use the punch method to reroot dolls. This means I use a specialised tool to pick up a small number of hair strands and punch them into the existing plugs. The tension of the vinyl keeps the hairs in place until it's glued from the inside.

To make sure the rooted hair's length is as long as you want it to be, the hank needs to be twice the length as desired (because you fold the length in half in order to push them into the plugs.)

Example: I want a long bob to the shoulders. This means (including a couple of cm extra for what's pushed into the head, trimming and styling allowances) I want the hair's length to be 3 inches from the head once rooted. Therefore I want this hank to be about 6 inches long.

This hank has been cut to the desired length and the black plastic tie is in the middle of the hank where I'll 'scoop' the hair up.

I have a bright red hank and a rooting tool from mylittlecustoms

Take a small section of the hair. I suggest keeping a pot of water near by to wet your fingers to keep flyaway hairs together. 

Ignore those awful false nails..

Separate this section of hair into an even smaller part, containing approximately 9-12 hairs. (Obviously you don't need to count out individual hairs, this is just an estimate)
The thickness of the plugs depends on what type of hair you're using.

There are several types of natural and synthetic hairs (wool, human, mohair, nylon, saran, kanekalon, acetate, etc) with their individual properties such as thickness, strength, oiliness, resistance to heat and so on. 
The thicker the individual hairs, the less you use for individual plugs.

The rooting tool is basically a needle with it's eye (the hole which you thread cotton through) cut at an angle, so you're left with one prong slightly small than the other.
This acts as a scoop to pick up the hairs, and a point so the tool can slide into the plug easier. 

Be careful of the pointy ends! I accidentally pricked my thumb and it wouldn't stop bleeding! WARNING: Gross bloody thumb picture!


Hold the hair taut and scoop it up using the tool. I couldn't seem to get a better picture of the needle, sorry!

Time for some terribly drawn MSPaint instructions for making your own rerooting tool, and the rerooting process! Hooray!

6) Pull hair taut

7) Push tool into plug hole

9) Pull tool out of plug

10) Repeat!


  1. I like that you can custoimize them,Now that’s what I call unexpected! It’s very interesting to me.

    Breat Post!!!!!!!

    1. Thanks! :)
      I love this doll line because it's such a versatile play line and great for customising. Pretty much every doll has a different face sculpt and feature like claws, ears, scales that give the custom dolls that extra but of character!

  2. Great tutorial, so easy to follow and with clear pictures. Refreshed my memory a lot (I'm finally getting back into doll modding). You're a lifesaver!

    1. Thank you very much :3 I'm glad this blog is actually helping people!

  3. Is. There an alternative method for re rooting CAM dolls,I am so new to this and CAM face painting is really hard to get right,any help is appreciated


    1. I haven't been receiving notifications of comments. Sorry for taking so long to reply! You can reroot CAM heads as normal but there are 2 set backs. The first being no pre existing holes to root into. However, you can just use another tool, like a large needle to punch a hole for the hair first, then punch in the hair. I may write up a post about that too, so keep an eye out!
      The other problem you can run into is the hard cap of the head. Older heads had softer caps in the middle of the head (with a hole in for the wig post to go in). This softer plastic cap can be rooted through as normal, but older runs have a hard plastic cap that, if you want to root through it, you'll need to drill through the plastic to make the holes for the hair!
      There are replacement caps out there, where you remove the old hard plastic and simply glue in the new cap. I suggest soft Rerooting caps by PlasticCurves online store, which are soft to reroot through :) Hope this helps!

  4. So wait... Why is part of the tool wooden? I'm confused XD Can you email me? I'm about to make several custom dolls and am very nervous... my email is
    Sorry XD

  5. is there any place to buy the punch style needles?

    1. I've never bought any, but I know you can purchase them from My Little Customs (they're a UK stockist, and I'm not sure about any abroad). However, I've only ever made my own using a simple sewing needle and clipping the eye at an angle :)

  6. Thanks for answering my mystery as to why my Frankie's hair suddenly went greasy. I can't believe the amount of glue I'm having to pull out of my Clawdia custom at the moment.

  7. Funnily enough I got into Monster High through BJDs too (I've been a collector since 2007 but pretty much the same story as you expense and space I'm not on to fashion dolls).

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  9. OMG YOU JUST SAVE MY LIFE! I was rerooting my Twyla for the first time and the scalp above the forehead open up. I freaked out and thought it was over xD thanks alot!!

  10. Just an FYI! You changer the hair and glue out a thousand times faster if you boil her head first, then scrap along the inside with something flat (I use the none grip side of my tweezers) c:

  11. How many bags of hair did you use ?

    1. Usually 3 to 4 bags will cover the head and might leave some left over. This is also accounting for any lost stands.