Paper Doll Project Using Photoshop

UPDATE: Two years later I have actually created a website where you can purchase these dolls--either ready-made or in file form to cut out yourself. Check it out at: Look for an updated post at:

I thought today I'd write about a project I've been working on for a while. My sister-in-law requested that I make some paperdoll sets for her 4-year old's birthday party in December. Although I knew the project would take a lot of time, I accepted the challenge for several reasons:
1. I miss drawing a lot and it's been a long time since I had an excuse to do it!
2. I knew I could speed up the process considerably using a computer and Photoshop

Here's a bit of backstory. I've been making paper dolls ever since I can remember. In my lifetime I've probably made over 15 different sets, starting around the age eight or so. Unfortunately, whenever I tired of a set and wanted to make a new one, I would give it away. So I don't have my old sets anymore, which is too bad. I would LOVE to see them, now! I currently have three different sets,though I haven't worked on them in ages--not since I had children. But yes, even as an adult I still really like the hobby. I've always enjoyed drawing, and to me, it's "art with a purpose." It can do more than just sit in a portfolio or on the wall. It can be used and enjoyed. And it's a fun way to design clothing, which is my favorite part. And now that I have three little girls, I really ought to get working on a new set for them so it will be ready when they get older! I have one set right now that has twelve female dolls, twelve male dolls, and over 200 outfits! I started it in 1998, and just keep remaking the dolls, throwing away clothes that are ripped or out of style, and making new ones!

Anyway, in the past I have always hand-drawn everything. But when I remade the dolls for the above mentioned set a few years ago, I realized I could use Photoshop to make things a lot easier. And so now with this set I'm making for the party, I am doing it again. This is the process I wanted to share on this post.

Step 1: Draw the doll body

Of course, I still hand draw the doll. I use my AWESOME Prismacolor colored pencil set. I don't claim to be the most amazing artist in the world--my style is VERY Disney due to my obsession with The Little Mermaid at the age of 12. In the past, I would draw one doll and then trace it multiple times using a window to get more copies for other dolls. Now, I just scan it in and reprint. I like this process because the dolls are EXACTLY the same size now, if I mess up it's easier to just print another one, and I can resize the dolls from how I originally drew it. I also print a "dummy" doll on cardstock, which I use for tracing to draw and design the clothes, so that the made up carboard dolls are not used for this purpose.

Step 2: Use Photoshop to perfect it

Here is my doll as it was first scanned in. Actually, that's not true. After I scanned it in, I didn't like the feet very well, so I erased the feet, printed it, then re-drew them. Then I scanned it in again. That's what this image is. Kind of a cool way to make an easy change!

After that, I used some features of Photoshop to perfect my image. I made sure that I didn't have any erase lines. I used CTRL+M to darken the lines and make them show up better. I erased any stray lines that didn't need to be there, and used the magic wand to get rid of the background. Then I made three copies on one page so I could print several and start coloring it in and also start drawing heads.

Step 3: Coloring it in

Next I drew some heads, then colored them with my pencils. One thing that's fun is that I created five different skin tones. And because I'm using a computer, I can create lots of different heads to put on the bodies. That way I limit how much I do the time-consuming drawing, while still creating a lot of variety. I actually colored the bodies on one page, and the heads on another, knowing that later I could scan it in and attach them. If I didn't like how a head turned out, I didn't have to redraw the whole body again--just create another head!

Here are a couple of the heads that I drew. I planned for ten dolls total. I like to do a variety of hair, eye, and skin tones because the clothing looks better on some dolls than others.

Step 4: Puting it Together & Perfecting in Photoshop

The next step was to scan in both, then use Photoshop to put the heads on the bodies, but also to improve the drawing and make it more clear. I used Photoshop to do things like making the whites of the eyes completely white, or evening out the skin tone so it doesn't look drawn. I used that AWESOME surface blur tool for that. (Filter>Blur>Surface Blur). On some of them I would choose the best eye and then copy and paste it, then flip it, so that both eyes are exactly the same. Here are the comparisons from when I first drew it, to after I used Photoshop. Oh, and I also used Photoshop to color the underclothes. Mostly I used gradients and pattern overlays.

Step 5: Make the Dolls

This is my least favorite part of making paper dolls--the actual MAKING THE DOLLS. It's so boring and time consuming, and though over the years I've improved how I do it, you still can't get away from the basics. And this is one time where the computer and Photoshop just can't help me! I've struggled for years with getting it right--a doll that is thick enough to not tear easily, but also not too stiff, so the clothes will stay on better. Also, gluing layer after layer on the back of a doll is a challenge because if the glue gets loose, you get a flap of paper coming off the back. That's why now instead of glue, I use my old Xyron machine. This machine puts "sticky" on the back of whatever you run through it, so I send the dolls through several times, once for each layer.

First, I print the doll in black and white on cardstock, then back it on another layer of cardstock. Then I cut it out, using an exacto knife for the tricky areas. Next, I back it AGAIN with cardstock, in the color I want. when I cut it out, I do a wide triangle bottom. This way the doll is more sturdy and I can make a stand for it if I want. Run it through they Xyron again, and this time back it with chipboard or some other really thick art paper. Cutting this one out is the toughest of all--the paper is REALLY thick. I use an exacto knife for a lot of it. Last, I print the doll again on glossy photo paper and cut it out, then run it through the Xyron machine. Then I carefully place it over the top of the black and white copy. I do this so that any knicks I might have made cutting the doll out multiple times are now covered by a brand new picture on top. Yes, thsi takes forever. I could certainly do it faster with less layers. But that's just not my style.

Step 6: Making Clothing

And now the funnest part! I love designing the clothes.  First I design and draw the clothes on regular art paper. Then I color them, and I usually spray them with a gloss to make them look bright and pretty and so they won't smudge. If I'm using the originals, I then glue some tabs on using cardstock. The tabs are hardier if you do that, and they last longer. For the computer, I scan the outfit in, and use Photoshop to make it png file. I don't generally improve it much with Photoshop except maybe adding a surface blur if it needs it. I add some tabs to it by creating a new layer, using the lasso tool to draw the tab then coloring it with the paint bucket. Then I merge the tabs with the outfit, and done!

The challenge with doing it on the computer is make sure the dress is the same size as the doll. I just pull the dress into the same photoshop file I've saved the doll to and resize it right there. Then I print it on cardstock, cut it out and done!   For this project I am actually going to keep the orginals. Then when my girls are older I can make some new dolls and I will already have some clothes for them!

Here are some of the clothes that I made!

Step 7: The Box
My paperdoll set wouldn't be complete without matching boxes to put it all in! My big set at home is actually in a photo album behind covers--mainly because they are more for looking at than playing with. Other sets I just put in a shoe box. But because these are for a birthday party, I created a new pattern for a much larger box--pretty much the biggest box you can possibly make from an 8 1/2 x 11 page. I wanted the box to be particularly sturdy, so I got white poster board and cut it into 8 1/2x11 size pages. In Photoshop I had to go to printer settings and change it so it was manually fed, and it was for Extra Heavy paper--otherwise, the poster board is too think and won't go through the machine. 

I created the pattern for it based on my Box with seperate lid pattern, then designed a box for each girl on Photoshop. Print, cut, glue, and done! They turned out super cute, I must say!

Step 8: The Stand

So then I decided to make some cute stands for them. They were quite easy--but of course I did WAY more than I had to, and chose to make them in Photoshop and print them on poster board, rather than just cut them out plain. I know--I get so hyperfocused on a project sometimes that I waste SO MUCH TIME. It's kind of embarassing. But they turned out cute! I just made a strip that folds into fourths, with a little tail end. Then I fold it, tape it together, and then cut slits in each side. They can lay flat, too, so it's easy to store them in the box.
And here are all the finished dolls on their stands--first clothed, and then in a few of the outfits I've made. Pretty cute, huh? I've spent WAY more time than I needed to on this project--originally I planned only five dolls and 20 outfits that I would recolor in Photoshop for each doll--meaning I'd only have to make 20 outfits. But...I like making paper dolls! I miss it! I am somehow managing to squeeze it in to my ridiculously busy schedule and it feels GOOD to do something I enjoy so much. So I'm doing 10 dolls and 100 outfits--10 for each doll. A bit much? Maybe. But I just don't care.


  1. Megan, can I say how awesome these are? When I was a kid I had a faze of cutting out people pictures from the sears catalog. I would also cut out clothes and accessories, and basically they didn't ever work.You are so talented, I know the girls will love them!

  2. Wow.... Truly amazing and stunning! Thanks so much for sharing your talent