Making doll eyes: Cost vs savings

There’s a popular graphic floating around on social media sites that says “Why buy it for $7 when you can make it yourself with $92 of craft supplies?”

Anyone interested and do it yourself route already knows that DIY isn’t always the way to save money, especially when you’re making a limited number of things. If you’re good, you might get a return on your investment by turning to options like Etsy, but don’t count on it.

Working with my dolls, I encounter this scenario frequently. Do I buy it, or do I use my pre-existing skills to make it myself? I have the advantage of having a large collection of crafting tools already, so if I can get the materials cheap, it’s almost always in my best interest to do it myself. For one, I’m on a tight budget, which means anything that can save me pennies is something worth looking into. And then sometimes I bite off more than I can chew.

When shopping for doll eyes after the arrival of my two newest, I had two options: Buy pre-made eyes from a company I was already familiar with, or learn to make my own. I had two other dolls waiting for proper eyes, so assuming I was happy with one pair each and bought from said familiar company, I was looking at a total of $100 plus international shipping. But what if I wasn’t happy with the eyes I got? What if the color didn’t look like the photos? And what if I got more dolls later?

Without as much consideration as I probably should have given it, I decided to take the route of making my own. I figured it would save me money in the long run. After all, how hard could it be?

Turns out it’s not always easy to make stuff, especially when that means learning new skills. I needed a variety of materials and new tools. And a lot of them were things I’d never worked with before.

The concept wasn’t too tough: I’d need to sculpt bases, make a mold of them, cast bases in resin, paint them, and top them off with clear resin. The problem was I didn’t have the kind of paints I’d want. Or any of the rest of the stuff, for that matter. So first came a materials list. Here’s the breakdown of what I used.

• Moldable plastic and round beads for making sphere molds – $0 (Already on hand)
• Polymer clay and filler putty for sculpting bases – $0 (Already on hand)
• Sandpaper and files – $0 (Already on hand)
• Plasticine clay – $0 (Already on hand)
• Glitter and gemstones – $0 (Already on hand)
• 2-part mold putty – $0 (Already on hand)
• White resin – $14 with coupon (Reg. price $22)
• Clear resin – $14 with coupon (Reg. price $22)• Magic Glos UV resin – $7 with coupon (Reg. price $11)
• UV lamp – $22 with coupon (Reg. price $36)
• Plastic transfer pipettes – $5
• 2-part pourable silicone – $30 (Ordered enough other things to qualify for free shipping)
• Additional paints – $20
• Flatback pearls – $4

So before I even began, even with the large amount of stuff I already had handy, I ended up spending $116–before Tennessee’s hefty 9.25% sales tax. When all was said and done, it was closer to $130, and I hadn’t even invested the time yet.

And what a lot of time it took.

At this point, I probably have close to 20 hours invested in my eye project, and I still only have one pair I’m completely happy with. The rest are lacking, and I’ve encountered more than my fair share of issues with the materials, largely because of the particularly humid climate I live in. Fewer than half the eyes I’ve made have turned out, either because of bubbles in the resin or the resins failing to adhere to each other properly, both symptoms of the local weather.

Assuming I pay myself my standard commission fee for art/crafts related projects, which is $10/hour, I’ve invested $330 worth of time and resources into the eye making project and I still only have one pair. At the end of the day, I might still just buy eyes from a reputable company, instead of continuing to struggle and/or wait for the perfect weather to come along.

But I am learning new skills out of it, so take that for what you will. I didn’t save any money, and I’m a long way off from getting what I was aiming for to begin with, but experiences count for a lot.

I documented my work, as well, while making note of a few pitfalls I discovered along the way. Then I compiled it all into one video, sharing what I learned–minus mention of the costs.

Curious to see how it went? You can watch the whole process here:

Happy crafting!

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