Reborn Babies and other hyper-realistic silicone dolls have made a splash in the world of high-end doll collecting as of late, with many people paying top dollar to obtain these hard-to-find toys.1 Manufacturers of these dolls are few and far between due to the incredible skill needed, but for the few that can manage, this can be a lucrative industry. For top-of-the-line dolls, some collectors have spent as much as $6000, making many toy manufacturers wonder if this is an area worth considering. However, the process for creating such dolls can be incredibly complex, making mass production difficult—but not impossible.
One of the most important features of these dolls is their skin’s color and texture. The ability to obtain a lifelike pigment from silicone pellets is no easy feat. There’s also little room for error, as many of these pellets cannot be melted down a second time to remix the color. When an artist is adding painted details later, if the skin tone is off, significant color correction will be needed. Using spectrophotometers as a part of the pigmentation creation process can help eliminate waste, enabling manufacturers to enter this high-demand market with lower overhead.
Challenges in Producing Lifelike Dolls with True to Life Skintones
While there’s certainly a demand for lifelike dolls among serious collectors, manufacturers are often reluctant to fulfill this demand due to the complexity of production. Molds and digital printing may allow for creating more detailed structure in the dolls, but lifelike skin is another matter. The development of a realistic skin tone is complicated by;
- Material cost: The realism of high-end dolls does not end at their appearance. Often, a significant factor in the dolls’ appeal is their realistic feel and includes silicone skin that feels like a baby’s. The cost of this silicone base is much higher than traditional plastic resin-based manufacturing. When it comes time to mix this material with pigment to recreate skin color, the formula must be precise or a lot of highly expensive, non-reusable product will be wasted.
- Labor cost: Mass production of realistic dolls requires an assembly line worth of workers to mix pellets for mold casting, assemble components, test quality, and add those final touches like realistic hair, eyelashes, and birthmarks. If the color of the base material is off, more time will be expended touching up the doll, increasing labor costs. Even if the materials weren’t as cost prohibitive, the high expense of such labor would still act as a significant barrier due to the attention to detail needed in creating these lifelike toys.
- Multiple components: Dolls are usually created not as a whole, but in batches of limbs, torsos, and heads. In cases where all dolls are exactly the same color, this presents minimal issues as long as basic color quality control is performed. However, lifelike dolls are created in virtually every skin color, meaning manufacturers must switch between different tones and back again regularly. This can lead to more complex issues with color matching, as the limbs and torsos from a prior batch may not match future batches if a precise color formula isn’t followed every time.
The factors that complicate skin color creation make it very difficult to produce lifelike dolls, particularly on a mass production scale. While companies can create very detailed molds for casting these dolls, creating natural appearing skin remains a significant challenge in the process. This is where spectrophotometers can provide an opportunity for manufacturers that wish to enter this market.
Using Spectrophotometers to Create Color Accuracy and Consistency
Manufacturers of dolls have an exacting process for mixing melted materials in the creation of the dolls’ skin. A critical part of that mixing process is achieving an ideal color while ensuring the structural integrity of the mix; too much pigment in the mix could create an unnatural finish while too little could cause a sickly hue.
While most high-end doll manufacturers use silicone or vinyl as a base in the process of casting dolls, the specific formula can be complex. Base pellets are melted with materials such as pigments and drying agents to create a mix that has a skin-like texture and color. 2 This is also where inefficiency may emerge, as it’s challenging to create a realistic skin tone and errors may lead to time, labor, and material waste. Technology that is capable of precisely measuring color can help manufacturers discover and recreate the nuances of skin pigmentation the first time.
Spectrophotometers are designed to measure color the way the eye sees it, but better. By distilling color information to objective data, you can ensure accurate and precise color analysis each and every time, replacing unreliable visual assessment and giving you greater levels of insight into your product at key points in the manufacturing process, including:
- Targeting skin colors before casting: Spectrophotometers can be used to essentially reverse engineer existing human skin pigments by breaking down the exact color components that make it up. By testing actual skin tones with a spectrophotometer, the lab can set a target tone for the product.
- Managing color during mixing: As pellets are melted and mixed with pigment, the manufacturer can monitor the hue through additional spectrophotometric testing to calibrate the formula needed to reach the ideal shade.
- Spot checking components after manufacturing: Many dolls are cast in parts and then assembled, meaning that any color variations between these components will be noticeable. Spectrophotometry can help detect and prevent color inconsistency.
As advanced color measurement technologies, spectrophotometers are ideal for assisting in creating realistic skin colors. For doll manufacturers, this means these instruments can help in eliminating expensive waste in the production process while enhancing overall product quality. Through spectrophotometric color analysis, manufacturers can establish formulas for a wide range of skin pigmentations, ensuring they’re able to provide a variety of dolls to meet the versatile demand of collectors.
HunterLab’s versatile instruments are ideal for color matching in virtually any material. Manufacturers hoping to create high-end dolls can rely on our top-of-the-line technologies to streamline production, increase efficiency, and create more aesthetically pleasing products. Contact us for more information on our sophisticated instruments, customizable software packages, and world-class customer support services.
Mr. Philips has spent the last 30 years in product development and management, technical sales, marketing, and business development in several industries. Today, he is the global market development manager for HunterLab, focused on understanding customer needs, providing appropriate solutions and education, and helping to solve customer color challenges across these industries and cultures.