Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Buying Guide: 12 Ways to Save Money on a BJD

Aside from Bratz and Barbies, I also collect BJDs. Left to Right:
Reza, Avram, Darcy, and Laurel. This is their first time on my blog, yay! :)
Ball-jointed dolls are never "cheap." They average between $300-600, and more for premium brands. Does lower cost mean lower quality, damaged goods, illegal activity, or the need for a special membership?

No. These are myths. BJD distributors mark-up retail prices to match consumer demand. Mark-ups have less to do with quality, and more to do with trends: today's hot doll is tomorrow's old news. Companies aim to sell dolls at maximum profit while people still want to buy them.

So it doesn't matter what you buy as much as how you buy it. DollyCare's "12 Ways to Save Money on a BJD" features tips I used to save $600+ on my collection. Read on to see all 12, and let me know what you think in the comment space :)!*

* Note: DollyCare does not endorse any company! Resin production is bad for the environment, so please reduce waste by buying "used" whenever possible.

1. Get "Unstrung": Learning to restring your BJD is important maintainence that pays off. Ask how much it costs to buy your dream doll unassembled (i.e. "unstrung," or as a "kit.") This dramatically reduces shipping and handling fees. Make sure the retailer includes the elastic string and s-hooks needed to string your doll--- they are part of the "kit" like any other bodypart.
Average money saved: $20-50.
"Angel of Dream" default face-up, $35.
2. Forget Face-Ups: The cost of a hand-painted face ("faceup") adds to a BJD's price. Companies charge a premium rate for this service, but the quality often doesn't justify the cost. Companies cycle through several artists in a short time, so your doll's face might not resemble sales images. Besides, company face-ups are often plain, generic, or low-quality! Many collectors eventually redo them anyway. Sometimes, an amateur face-up Blank dolls cost less and ship faster, so buy your doll blank--- and send the head off to an experienced, professional face-up artist. The face-up will last longer (and usually looks better).
Average money saved: $15-50
If you request "no box," your doll
will be shipped in a regular box.
3. Don't Buy the Box: Yes to the Certificate of Authenticity, no to the official box! Boxed dolls cost more to ship than deboxed ones. The box is only useful if you intend to resell the doll. If you request "no box," your doll will be shipped in a regular brown box, wrapped safely inside.
Average money saved: $10-40 (if you buy without the box. Always insist on the Certificate!)

4. Wait for Holiday Sales: Many doll companies hold sales over the Winter Holidays--- especially New Year's! Doll prices are reduced 15 to 70%, especially old stock. New dolls are also introduced, sometimes at special low rates.
Average money saved: $25-50+

5. Buy USED over the Holidays: Every holiday season, collectors rush to sell their "used" dolls to get money for new ones. The selling frenzy floods the "used market" with a great selection and the lowest prices year-round. This is a cyclical pattern that happens every year between November and January. Take advantage of it :)!
Average money saved: $50-100+

6. Make a Phonecall: Whenever possible, phone a doll shop or seller. Haggling works best over the phone, especially if you call early! Prepare your questions, haggling points, and "personal limits" in advance. Call in the morning hours, or the minute the store opens: this is when sales are slowest and the sellers are most attentive. Lunch break (noon) and closing time are the worst times to call.

7. Consider "Secret" Sales: Most doll retailers discretely sell imperfect stock at lower prices than regular stock. Serious factory flaws invalidate "mint condition," even when a doll is new. Manufacturers routinely throw flawed dolls away, but retailers get rid of them in "Secret Sales." These aren't usually advertised on a retailer's website, so politely ask about damaged dolls to see their selection. Contact shops and clearly express interest in buying a "lightly damaged" doll for less money. Common flaws include: rough seamlines, damaged face-up, air bubbles in the resin, dents, stains, discoloration, over-sanding, chips, scratches, yellowing, and over-dremmeled details. No matter what condition the doll is in, a seller must disclose all flaws to you before purchase!

8. Buy "Non-Limited": Limited Editions cost more. They are produced in smaller batches to drive up the demand (and price!). "Non-Limited" dolls are produced in unlimited quantities, and often cost hundreds of dollars less than "limited editions" do. For example, a non-limited "SD13" Volks doll costs around $750, while one of their latest Limited Editions cost $1,500+.
Average money saved: $100-750+

9. Know Jointing: Doll companies release many versions of a doll body, and older "single-jointed" ones usually cost less. Jointing systems dramatically impact poseability (and pricetag). Single-jointed dolls have an older style jointing system: they cannot bend their arms and/or legs past 90 degrees. The more single-joints there are, the lower the price. Many single-jointed bodies are outdated merchandise, so collectors rush to sell them whenever newer double-jointed bodies are released. If you aren't sure about a body's jointing, ask the seller to put it in writing. Think carefully how much poseability you expect in a doll, and buy accordingly.
Average money saved: $15-200 (if you buy a doll with single-joints)

10. Know Age: Always note which year a BJD was produced. Except for limited editions, older dolls cost less than newer versions. No matter how well a doll is preserved, resin oxidizes ("yellows") with time. Older dolls yellow faster than new ones, and a yellowed doll can lose as much as half its value (more if the yellowing is uneven.) Resin batches also vary from year to year, making it hard for older dolls to find matching parts. Each of these signifigantly decrease the value, and make excellent points for haggling.
Average money saved: $50-200 (if you buy a doll older than one year)

My 2005 CustomHouse Ramiel is
an "old" Korean BJD with light
seamlines down her leg.
11. Check Seamlines: Rough, pronounced seamlines along the arms/legs/torso can lower prices! Many collectors consider seamlines unattractive, so most companies either produce seamless dolls or provide "seam sanding" services at an additional charge. If a doll's seams are rough or very visible, it may be that the seller is selling an older model, did not pay for seam sanding, or is selling a doll that was not properly "finished." Note that some dolls inherently have more seamlines than others, such as tan dolls, Korean BJDs, older BJDs, and OOAK art dolls. Even so, obvious, rough, and very noticeable seamlines usually lower the price. Average money saved: $10 and up; varies depending on rarity and brand name.

12. Consider Buying Overseas: East Asian pawn shops and auction sites (i.e. Taobao) have many great deals--- if you are careful of currency conversion rates! Even with shipping included, East Asian BJDs usually cost less in their home regions than they do overseas. Some also cost less in Chinese "Yen" or Korean "Won" than in Euros or Dollars. East Asian pawn shops and auction sites feature especially great deals on Japanese BJDs. Many Japanese collectors do not buy stained dolls, which results in sharp mark-downs overseas. This also gives buyers an obvious advantage and haggling point.
Average money saved: Varies with currency conversion rates.

I hope these tips will save you money on these dolls, and possibly other high-end collector favorites! Take your time before buying one: patience will save you more money than any tip on this list. :)


  1. First off, let me say, awesome list. These are great things to keep in mind, and should be really helpful to people just getting into (and people who have been in for years) the bjd hobby!

    Also, back when I started collecting, the Chinese company dolls really WERE inferior... but they've come a long way to improve quality and posing! They still aren't my favorite, but... people who still try to claim they are inferior just aren't paying attention anymore!

    The only one I disagree with is #2.

    The average doll faceup from the company is around $35-40 dollars... and that's what it will cost you, at the low end, of having a faceup commissioned.

    The rates I've seen from professional faceup artists often range more in the $60-120 range... OR, they live in a foreign country, and shipping to and from them will add on at least another $40 to the faceup price tag.

    Also, while it's true that some companies have pretty lame faceups (bobobie, I'm lookin' at you), I absolutely wouldn't advise people against all companies.

    Fairyland and Latidoll, as examples, have absolutely beautiful default faceups that, in my experience, always look like the pictures they advertise... and their limited faceups are even more amazing. Totally worth the money, unless you have a very specific plan for your doll.

    Also, there is the issue of commissioned faceup artists flaking out, or taking weeks or months to be ready to do a faceup. The good, reliable artists usually have quite the waiting list, while the other, new or unheard of artists can be risky to send to... since you can't be sure they'll follow through and send your head back!

    Maybe a list of companies with awesome default faceup services vs. ones with really cruddy services would be really helpful?

    1. Heather,

      Thanks for the insightful comment :)! It made my day.

      I started a face-up article. The hard part about deciding who/what has "cruddy" face-ups is that many companies switch artists periodically, so it's hard to determine WHEN the face-ups are cruddy. To boot, what's cruddy to one person might be awesome to someone else: the super-pink-glossy Angel of Dream face-up I posted is acceptable for some people.

      All four of my 60cm SDs have custom face-ups. Two are actually waiting to return from their face-up artist as I write this :). My Bobobie and ResinSoul each have custom face-ups, which are a huge improvement over the default XD!

      The most I ever paid for a face-up was $65 (for a special request from a high-demand artist.) The average "basic face-up" prices are down to $30-50. I only commission experienced artists with 100% positive feedback. I spend $45-55 for each of my SDs, shipping included. I would never commission a facer-up artist outside of my country, and would advise people against that.

      In total, I've owned 4 Chinese and 2 Korean BJDs. I'm very fond of my Chinese dolls because they offer lots of "bang" for the buck, although my Koreans have nicer sculpting. Many lower-cost Chinese companies offer face-ups that are "so-so": either you get a wonderful average face-up, or something awful.

      Higher-end Korean companies like Fairyland and LatiDoll have amazing face-ups, but being high-end and not-Chinese doesn't necessarily mean "better face-ups." CustomHouse is Korean, but their face-ups are usually underwhelming. Iplehouse is a top-notch company, but it had face-up issues after (probably?) hiring some new artists. A few customers received damaged or poor-quality face-ups that needed to be redone (refunds may have been issued, but I'm not sure.)

      At some point, most face-ups have to be redone. Most face-up artists I've met were strict professionals, with many years of positive transactions and experience. These are unlikely to destroy their business (and reputation) by breaking the law. Few heads are that valuable :)! The only real issue for me is the waiting period, but I let artists take as long as they need to. The results are just better that way :), not rushed.

      Many face-up artists cannot afford to steal heads
      The individual attention to detail that a good independent face-up artist gives you is worth the price, and the durability pays off too. That's why I recommend them :)

    2. Oh, I'm not saying that they're all crooks... I'm just saying it can be riskier... especially since a lot of readers might not know who the good, reliable face up artists are... there's a blog post waiting to happen!

      I just thought it was misleading to advertise that face ups from companies are often plain or low quality, or that it is a money saving option, since usually it's going to cost about the same price.

      Especially since there are companies out there that do consistently beautiful face ups for around $35-40. Every doll I've ever bought with a company default, I bought it because I liked the way it looked in their advertisement, and I got a doll that looked pretty much exactly like what they had pictured. Not only that, but the face ups endured, for years (and are still enduring).

      Now, these are all the more expensive companies, not the cheaper ones... and I know Iplehouse had some issues, but from what I've seen, those have been resolved, and their face ups are beautiful and worth the price, if the options they give are what you're looking for (I have two Iplehouse dolls with absolutely gorgeous face ups that have lasted for years with no issues.)

      Lol, we'll probably never see eye to eye on the worth of a factory face up vs. non-factory... but I just thought it might be a nice post to make, in which you go through and offer a more in-depth look at which companies have great face ups (latidoll and fairyland, seriously! XD) and which ones just aren't worth the cost... and include in the article who the good, reliable, commissionable face up artists are! (It sounds like you're in the process of making this post, so I'm anxious to see who you list!)

    3. Your suggestions are spot-on :)! The article should be ready sometime this week. I'm not going to label any company's face-ups as cruddy, but give some background on what to expect. Some are definitely not worth the money, others might be (depending on personal tastes.)

      It used to be much riskier to buy a custom face-up than it currently is. Face-up artists used to be rare, and there were no networks that could warn people against scams. Thank God that's changed XD, or I'd never get a custom face-up.

      I never advertise anything on DollyCare: what I wrote was based on that most people redo a doll's face-up within a year of buying a new doll. Most people I asked did it because of fading/damage, color issues, or generic looks that did not resemble sales photos at all.

      Given that trend, paying for two face-ups in one year is more expensive than paying for one face-up from a quality artist.

      Probably the "1-year" rule and face-up issues are less common among buyers of the companies you listed. However, those companies are above-average, and not the norm (i.e. Fairyland is an industry standard-setter.) Not everyone buys from those companies, and not all doll companies offer face-ups of the quality you described. If only ;_;.

      I love Iplehouse's dolls, and hope to get one someday. However, some of their recent face-up issues annoy me enough to "go blank." Ashbet on Flickr got a doll with a noticeably botched lower lipline, and only got 10 points of store credit instead of a $70 refund. At that point, she'd been a repeat customer. Some companies don't give anything at all.

      Most companies hide behind disclaimers stating the face-up might not match the photo. Although no one expects a perfect match, this disclaimer is sometimes used excuse botch-jobs (like that lipline: not professional for a $70 face-up.)

      Most people put up with these problems because they are so common. Besides, many newer, less-expensive companies simply don't have resources to hire a quality face-up artist for long periods of time. If someone reads this article looking for a good deal on a BJD, chances are they might consider a lower-cost doll... and might not know that default face-ups vary a LOT in quality, throughout the industry.

      I didn't know when I got my first doll, and did not want others to have to pay twice for a face-up. :)

  2. Roxy - You are a fountain of Doll information. This post is incredible. Glad to see you're still happily blogging and gathering followers. :)

    1. Thank you so much :)!!! I hope it continues to grow, too.

  3. Great text, very helpful to me, who are searching for a bjd to by (my first)
    I found a doll at tabao with the price 91 dollars. The pictures look great but I am afraid it will be a bootleg. Do you think it's possible to get a good doll for less than 100 dollars?