By Evelyn Stanbury, D.A.G. Instructor (Retired), GMDM

Cutting out doll eyes can be categorized into two main groups--MODERN REPRODUCTION and ANTIQUE REPRODUCTION.  These two groups are further reduced into sub-categories by the type of eye used:  round, oval, paperweight, glass, plastic, etc.  (Even if you create your own original dolls, only the very first doll is original, all others after that are reproductions and fall into the first category.)

The major reason for differences in cutting out eyes between modern and antique reproduction dolls lies in the way the MASTER MOLD for the reproduction doll is made.

The mold for the modern artist doll is made DIRECTLY from a head sculpted by the artist, whether it be from the original sculpture or a head made from the original sculpture, the mold is made from parts MADE BY THE ORIGINAL ARTIST.  

The Mold for the reproduction of an antique doll is made from a head cast from the mold off the original sculpture.  You are one step away from the ORIGINAL mold; therefore, any mistakes made by the artist making the head from which the mold was cast are included in the master for your mold.  Nowadays, a lot of mold companies try to correct these mistakes when making their new master mold.  It is still prudent to observe pictures of the actual antique when cutting your own doll's eyes.  It is best to familiarize yourself with several examples of a particular type of doll.  When the mold company is making adjustments to the mold, it is possible that they may remove a peculiarity in the eye cut which is observable in ALL examples of the original antique dolls.  This would then be a peculiarity that belongs to the doll, and should not be removed as if it were an error.  

In quick generalities, there are three compounds from which commercially available eyes are most commonly made--glass, hard plastic and acrylic.  There are also eyes made from porcelain and from a soft type of acrylic.  These are more specialty eyes and will not be covered here.  All eyes are further sub-categorized into round, oval and paperweight eyes.  These categories are then further defined as to "French Paperweight" and "German Paperweight".  All eyes vary as to the amount of bulge appearing on the face of the eye.  That is why it is imperative that you know the type of eye you are going to use in your doll BEFORE you start to cut out the eyes.  Even the simplest round eyes vary from one manufacturer to another.  The size of the iris would have to be considered if you had a doll with a very small or semi-closed eye opening as compared to a doll with a very wide eye opening, for example.

ALWAYS CUT THE EYES OUT BEFORE DOING ANY OTHER WORK ON THE HEAD.  It is most frustrating to spend ages getting a head perfectly cleaned, only to ruin it when cutting the eyes.



1.    It is preferable to cut an opening in the center of the eyes when in the leather hard stage.  This is done by simply inserting the scalpel into the center of the eyehole and drilling a hole in the center of the eye.  You would then angle the scalpel slightly and cut corners into the hole towards the direction of the corners of the outer eye area, opening an oval shape in the eye, but leaving a good margin around the outside edge.  If your greenware is purchased and has not been soft fired, you can use the same method to cut a starter hole in the center of the eye, except, use a finger saw to start the corners of the center oval.  Soft-fired greenware can be started in the same fashion, but be sure to wet your soft-fired ware before starting to drill and cut.

2.  When cutting the opening for the eyes, be sure to cut straight into the head.  The edge should be flat when you look into the eye, not angled downward.  


4.    It is easier to work on a piece if it has been soft-fired to CONE 019.  

5.   ALWAYS make sure that the tools you are using when wet cleaning are WET.  Even your scalpel should be wet before cutting the eyes out.

6.   Soak the head for about 5 - 10 minutes in lukewarm water.  Do not dry the head with towels, etc., rather, allow it to air dry until there is no more water evident on the outside or the inside of the head.  You want to work on a damp-dry head to eliminate any excess chunks of porcelain from sticking to your beveling tool when beveling the eyes.

7.  When obtaining the measurements for your pencil markings and making the pencil line around the eye rim, calculations and adjustments may be required on the antique doll.  It is less likely to be required on the modern doll as the master mold is usually adjusted to make sure the eye cut is exact on these dolls.  In both cases, make sure that your pencil line is very dark and definite.  Also, make sure the pencil line is on the surface of the eye area that you will be cutting away, not on the “skin” surface.

 8.  Always use a NEW, very SHARP feather knife (Scalpel) when cutting eyes.  Start a new feather knife with EACH DOLL.  When working on the soft-fired ware, the knife will become dull very quickly.

9.  DO NOT CUT INTO THE EYE OPENING ON AN ANGLE.  It is important that you have a GOOD margin to work with your beveller.  If you cut too narrow an eye rim, you will probably cause chips as you start cleaning.

10.  Always start with your SMALLEST beveller and work up to your LARGEST beveller.  When trying to determine what size of beveller to start with, imagine that you are looking at the “iris” of the eye.  The beveller chosen should fit like an iris would fit in the eye opening.

12.  Use a smooth cutting motion and start from the center of the eye and work towards the corner, turning the head as necessary to keep your angles and points of the eyes.

13.  NEVER turn the corner of the eyes with the blade of the feather knife resting against the greenware.  Go to the corner, stop, and then pull the blade back away from the corner before resting the blade on the greenware again and scraping toward the corner once more.  

14.  Make sure you have cleaned all the excess scrapings out of the inside of the head before you start working with the bevellers.  If you have to rinse the head to do this, remember to allow it to dry off again before you return to beveling.

15.  Always soak your bevellers in water before you start to work with them.  Always clean them thoroughly after you are finished working with them.  You will not be able to remove all of the porcelain from the stone, so if you soak them before starting, you will soften up the porcelain that remains. 


¨      Calipers  (preferably ones with a wheel mechanism)

¨      Mechanical Pencil

¨      Eye Saw (Lady finger saws-preferably medium or large)

¨      Sharp Scalpel

¨      Clear Plastic Ruler

¨      Stone Eye Bevellers

¨      Soft Brush



1.  With a mechanical pencil, place a dot in each corner of the eyes--a total of FOUR dots.

2.   Using a clear plastic ruler, align the dots along the straight edge of the ruler.  The dots will not necessarily be in a totally straight line, but the two outside dots should be aligned, and the two inside dots should be aligned.  Some dolls are meant to have a droop to the eyes, but the way they droop will always match.  The A. MARQUE doll, for example, has a distinctive droop that is an integral part of the doll's character.  This should be maintained.  You should carefully study the photograph of the antique doll to determine whether or not the droop, if any, appears to be intentional, or if it is simply a misalignment caused by sloppy cleaning of the original doll.  Errors may be corrected:  character droops should not be changed.


 3.  Should the original dots you have made not line up, simply erase the offending dot and place another dot in the correct location.  Erase dots very gently so as not to disturb the outline of the eye.  Once you are satisfied with the alignment, take a pair of calipers and measure the space between the dots on both eyes to insure that the openings are exactly the same width and also the right size for the eye you are trying to fit.  Again, make any necessary adjustments and re-measure, if required.

4.  Make a pair of dots or short lines on each eye opening at the top and bottom of the inner eye outline.  Measure these marks with the calipers to ensure that each eye is the same from top to bottom.

5.  The measurements taken at this time will produce your finished eye size, so be very careful that they are exact.  There is usually a degree of adjustment needed at this point because of the fill placed around the doll's eye when the master mold is lifted.  Some mold companies will adjust their master mold after it has been lifted to make both eyes even.  Always check these measurements too, just to be sure that YOUR pour is exact.

6.  Once you are satisfied with your measurements and alignments, draw a line extending outwards from each of the four dots.  Use a feather-light touch when doing this, as you do not want to cut into the greenware.  If you press too heavily, it is very difficult to remove the marks.  These lines will insure that you do not lose track of your corners and alignment while you are cutting out the opening.  

7.  Now carefully outline the inside margin of the eye.  This will be the finished shape of your eye, so be most precise as to the shape you are creating.  First draw LIGHTLY, from dot to dot, and then when you are satisfied with the outline, go over it again to make it darker and thicker.  ALWAYS BE SURE TO STAY ON THE INSIDE EDGE OF THE EYE LID, unless you are making a deliberate adjustment to the shape of the eye.

This will be the final shape of your doll's eye, and the pencil line will act as your protective margin to aid in preventing chipping the edges of the eye opening.  Check with the calipers one more time to insure that you have maintained your measurements.

If the starter opening in the eye is cut quite small, or is just a small circle, widen the opening just a bit, using your scalpel.  Then, using your eye saw, saw carefully into each corner of the eye.  

8.  Using your SHARP scalpel, start cutting into the corners and opening up the eyehole.  It is best to lightly flake away at the corner in order to obtain as flat a work surface as possible and to prevent the scalpel from binding.  You will have to rotate the head and work on the top and bottom equally in order to have an evenly cut eye. 

NOTE:  It is a good thing to work alternately at each step on one eye and then the other.  If you keep constantly shifting back and forth, doing the same thing on each eye alternately, you will not skip a step, and your eyes should come out exactly the same.

 9.  Continue to cut the eye opening larger, turning the head as required, until you are at your pencil marks.  Remember to cut STRAIGHT into the head, and not to angle downwards in the inside.  Check your corners frequently to make sure that you do not get a pile up of porcelain at each corner.  If you do, carefully "feather" at it with your scalpel--DO NOT TRY TO CUT A LARGE CHUNK AWAY AT ONE TIME.  This could cause severe chipping or a crack in the head during the Cone 6 firing.

10.  Take care to remove the excess shavings from the inside of the head before starting to bevel.


First, you must remember that you are working on clay, with a stone sizer.  This means you must be EXTREMELY CAREFUL not to hit the inside of the head with the sizer.  You must also be very careful not to look away when you are beveling with the stone inside the head.  Wet the seizers.

For purposes of example, we will assume that we are cutting an opening to fit a size 20mm eyeball.  Regardless of the type of eye being fit, you will require a finished size eye beveller that is one size larger than the eye you are fitting because porcelain will shrink approximately 15% during the Cone 6 firing.  Therefore, for a 20mm eye, you will require a 22mm eye sizer to get an exact fit.  Because of the manner in which porcelain shrinks, you will also require a sizer TWO sizes larger to remove the "corners" of the outside edges to stop them from closing in on the eye opening and preventing a perfect fit.  In order to follow the curve of the eye and not put too much pressure on the outside edges of the eye, we will also use smaller sizers.

To cut out the 20mm eye, we would start with a 10 to 14mm sizer in the center of the eye opening.  The exact size would depend on the width of the eye opening from top to bottom.  You want the sizer to fit so that it is removing porcelain from both top and bottom at the same time and not going through the opening.

You would then proceed with the beveling, using one size larger sizer until you are using the 22mm sizer for the final fit.  By starting with the smaller sizer, you are not risking breaking or chipping the eye at the later stages of sizing. 

Once you are satisfied that the 22mm sizer is a perfect fit and you have allowed for the bulge if you are fitting a paperweight eye, you can take a few turns of the 26mm sizer to clean off the outside edges of the inner curve of the eye hole.

As each doll has a different shape to its eye, it is impossible to give a definite formula for exactly which sizers to use.  You must learn to judge from the shape of the eye you are working on.

As you are beveling, keep rinsing the bevellers after each few turns.  If the edge of the eye looks like it might chip, clean the edges up either with a smooth, soft brush or with your scalpel.  If you start to hear a grinding noise, rinse your sizer, or possibly even your doll's head.  If you have to rinse the head, remember to wait until it is fairly dry before starting again.

It is MOST IMPORTANT at this time to insure that you keep the edge of the opening as smooth as possible.  Rough edges will cause chipping; too much porcelain "sludge" on the sizers will cause chipping; too much pressure on the sizer will cause chipping; not rinsing your sizers often enough will cause chipping; excess porcelain bits loose in the head can cause chipping, etc.  When you are reaching the final stages, you must be extremely cautious to prevent ruining the head.

Holding your hand over the back of the head opening, carefully check the outline of the eye opening.  Using the calipers, CAREFULLY measure the eye opening from side to side and from top to bottom to make sure that each opening is the same and staying to the correct measurements.  Make any adjustments required with VERY TINY strokes of the scalpel.  If there are any nicks or droops in the edge, use your scalpel to remove the porcelain around the nick.  Do not put the scalpel INTO a nick, but work on each side of it.  If it is a droop, work from the center of the droop out, on both sides.  Make teeny, tiny adjustments at any time, even a couple of grains of porcelain can make a major adjustment in the eye at this point.  Keep making tiny adjustments with the scalpel, brush and eye sizers until you are satisfied that the edges are perfectly smooth and that the eye opening is cut to the correct size for your eye.  The rest is up to the kiln.


Basically the steps for modern and reproduction dolls are the same.  The major difference, as discussed before, is in the correction of errors (or lack of same in modern dolls) in alignment and shape of the eyes.  It is also wise, with modern dolls, to re-incise the upper eyelid area BEFORE cutting out the eye as the removal of the greenware in the eye area weakens the structure of the head.  With the modern doll, you are allowing the sculpting of the eye to show you the proper places to cut and shape the eye.  Therefore, it is not necessary to go through the same exacting routine in matching up the eyes.  Some of the modern dolls have unusual slants to the eyes, which do not allow you to cut the eyes exactly the same.  All of these things must be taken into account when lining up the cut of the modern doll eyes.

You must still outline the eye in pencil, and it is still a good idea to mark the corners of the eye with dots before starting.  You should also check with the calipers to make sure that the eye openings are the same size.

With some of the modern dolls, the tear duct in the inside corner of the eye is also emphasized.  This should be detailed prior to cutting the eye opening as well.  These dolls do not have sharp corners in both edges of the eye.  

 When cutting the eye opening of a modern doll, you should also take into account the shading of the lower edge of the eye rim.  If you do not cut the eye to a sharp edge, but leave a small “ledge” between where the eye surface will lie and the outside “skin” surface of your doll, you can paint this area pink and make it look like the rim of the eye actually looks on a real person.  This helps create a more natural look to your doll.  Of course, the sculpting of some modern dolls will not allow this “natural” look.  It is up to the individual doll maker to determine which method will work best on any given doll.

Cutting the eyehole and the beveling procedure are the same for modern dolls as for the reproduction antique doll, with the exception of taking care not to make the inside corner of the eye sharp if the doll has a defined tear duct. 


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  This page last edited on September 19th, 2014.



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