How To Make Custom Made Action Figures?

How To Customize An Action Figure

One of the fastest growing niches within the action figure market is the hobby of customizing your figures, this is particularly popular amongst the McFarlane Sports Picks collectors.

What is Customizing?

This is the art of changing an action figure from its original form to something different.

This often involves cutting and splicing parts from other figures to create your own unique figure.

This is particularly popular with sports collectors as there are many sports stars that have yet to be realized as an action figure, especially amongst the university and college teams therefore custom made figure have become very popular and there are many customizers who will create custom made figures “to order” and make quite a good living from these commissions.

What Tools Will You Require?

  • Lots of acrylic paint
  • 200 Grit Sandpaper
  • Brass rod and drill with, preferably, a 3/16 bit
  • Knead tight (or similar) 2-part epoxy ribbon
  • Several brushes of differing sizes and types
  • Bell-Decal Sheets
  • Super Glue
  • A two arm clamp
  • Modelers knife or cutter
  • Primer Spray- Krylon or Testor’s is highly recommended.
  • Sculpy Putty, Green Stuff or similar
  • Decal Setting Solution
  • A good cleaner, white wall tire cleaner is good, to remove any mold or oils on the surface of the figure.
  • Clear coat, again Krylon or Testor’s is recommended.
  • Masking Tape
  • Decal Paper
  • Scissors

And of course the most important is lots of spare parts.

For this I would recommend you check out any local flea markets, car boot sales and local classifieds for old second hand figures or you could always check out eBay for any listings.

How To Customize Your Figure

  • First, decide who you want to make and how you want the finished product to look. Then collect as many GOOD and CLEAR pictures as you can.
  • Use these pictures and photos to decide what base figure to use, try to find one that closely matches the size, weight, proportions and pose or look you want.
  • Cut off the parts you will require from your collection of action figures. Trim any joints or sockets.
  • Thoroughly clean your figure and parts to remove any surface mold or oils. Do this by soaking your figure in VERY hot water.
  • Brake cleaner is best to use to clean the mold release off your action figure and parts as well as any surface oils.

    Then use normal household dish wash detergent to clean off the brake cleaner residue.

    N.B. If you have a helmeted figure that needs removing use a modeler’s knife or cutter to pry or cut off the chin strap, face mask and the face shield.

    Once removed place the head in a shallow cup of water and microwave it on high for approx. 2 mins.

    You should then be able to easily peel the head out of the helmet.

    If the helmet becomes misshapen microwave it again to soften the plastic then reshape it.

  • Next you need to decide whether you will us superglue to re-assemble your action figure or pinning.
  • Using super glue is cheap, easy, and effective BUT to get the best results and have more flexibility in choosing poses pinning is the best option.

    However, pinning needs time, patience and a steady hand.

    You will need two dry wall screws for each “join”, the smaller the better, about ¾ an inch long by 1/8 inch thick.

    You will also need brass tubing; usually 1/16 or 3/32 is the best. The thicker tubing obviously makes for a sturdier and stronger joint but the size you use will often be determined by the size of the joint you are making.

    Cut any arms or legs that you are going to use or wish to adjust at their logical “hinge” point.

    Drill out a hole, slightly smaller than the screws or tubing for a tight fit, in each part where the “bone” would be.

    Insert your dry wall screws or brass tubing into one of the holes and piece them back together with super glue, use the super glue sparingly though as it has a tendency sometimes to “melt” the plastic.

    Leave a space where you have cut some of the action figure away, this can be filled in and sculpted to look like the missing piece with green stuff or modelers’ putty.

  • Mask of any parts of the figure you DO NOT want to repaint.
  • Lightly spray Primer over ALL parts to be painted. Let it dry then repeat until there is a nice coat of it.
  • Start painting from the base up working from light to dark colors. Make sure you PLAN this part before you start in order to do it in the right order.
  • Use normal acrylic paints from any local Wal-Mart craft section or local hobby store, PLAID are a great brand to use and much cheaper than your standard “modelers” paints, e.g. Citadel.

    If you do a lot of painting or modeling then I would recommend you buy a paint rack, this way you will always have plenty on hand and should get a much better price.

    OH, and NEVER mix your paints as it’s almost impossible to make the same color twice, so I ALWAYS use pure colors.

  • Carefully put the figure back together, trimming the sockets and joints as required in order to be able to easily re-assemble them.
  • Apply any new decals, logos or insignia as required. Set the area with micro-set and slide your decals in place.
  • Brush the decals with Micro-Sol especially any uneven or irregular areas. The Micro-Sol softens the decals so you will NOT be able to move or reposition them after it’s dried. Use a soft brush, tissue; make up sponge or cotton buds to gently press the decals into any folds or creases.

  • Spray the figure with either Testor Flat/Dull (for a Matt effect) or Testor Gloss (for a shiny effect, such as helmets, guns, knives, etc)
  • Add any “extra effects” you make want such as bullet holes, dirt, scars etc (see tips below for an extensive list of “effects”).
  • General Tips and Techniques


    Don’t EVER leave brushes standing in water or thinner and ALWAYS clean immediately after use.

    Clean each time you use or are going to use a new color.

    Use the paint sparingly, DON’T use big globules on your brush, this will only make your brush messy and you won’t be able to apply the paint properly.

    To clean your brushes rinse them in water and gently use a paper towel or similar to dry them off. DO NOT twist the bristles.

    After use, use a brush soap to clean them thoroughly. Once you have finished cleaning your brushes store them in a brush stand, bristle way up.

    Painting Stripes

    I find the best method to use when painting stripes is to use an “overlapping” technique from light to dark.

    This means that you start with the lightest color and apply it to the area where you require the stripe making it slightly wider than needed. The apply the next color on top of this again making it slightly wider than necessary and continue this for as many colors as you need to create the stripe effect you want.

    Ankle Wrappings / Bandaged Wounds

    The best material to use for apply ankle or arm wrappings on your sports action figure or a bandaged wound on a soldier or other type of figure is Teflon tape that is used to wrap pipe threads. This is flexible, thin and self adhesive and looks perfect!

    Bullet Wounds or Holes

    Bullet wounds or holes can be achieved by used the hot end of a matchstick. This will give it a unique look and will give it a scorched look.

    Creating A Soiled or Dirtied Look

    To achieved a “soiled” or “dirtied” look for your action figure dry brush earth color paint on your action figure.

    Dry brushing refers to the technique of using a brush that has very little paint applied to it so that it is virtually “dry” or free of color.

    This results in a very thin, almost transparent, and uneven “layer” of paint over the top of the applied area.

    Dripping Saliva, Blood, Vomit or…?

    To get an excellent look of a “dripping” liquid apply a small globule of super glue to the area, e.g. the mouth or fangs, and allow it to slowly “drip”. The super glue will harden in “mid-drip” and can then be painted or left transparent.


    If you have any “Tips and Techniques” to share please add them to this section using the form below and it will be added to this page. Please include a photo if you can also.

    section as time goes so if you have any to share please add them by using the form below.

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