A ball-jointed doll (often shortened to BJD) is any doll that is articulated with ball and socket joints and strung together. They are also usually designed to be easily customizable by the doll owner.
In contemporary usage when referring to modern dolls, and particularly when using the acronyms BJD or ABJD (Asian Ball-Jointed Doll), it usually refers to modern ball-jointed dolls. These are most often cast in polyurethane resin (a hard, dense plastic), and the parts strung together with corded elastic. The dolls were predominantly manufactured in asian countries (Japan and South Korea in particular, later joined by China), but in the current-day market there is a large variety of dolls being produced by companies and individual doll artists alike from all over the world.
While these dolls come in a variety of sizes and shapes, the most common sizes available on the market are:
- 60cm (~2ft)
- 40cm (~16in)
- 25cm (~10in)
- 15cm (~6in)
A majority of BJDs are designed specifically to be easily customized by whoever owns them; eyes and wigs can be swapped out and dolls are often sold blank so the customer can either paint the doll themselves or commission a faceup artist to paint the doll for them. Due to the way these design and sales choices, the BJD community is very open and accepting of owners modifying their dolls (even including limited releases) and sharing the results.
Super Dollfie is often used as generic blanket term to refer to all BJDs regardless of manufacturer (and within the community it is most used to refer to dolls that are in the 55-65cm height range). However, Super Dollfie is a registered trademark of Volks (it is the name of one of their doll lines), and Dollfie is the trademarked name of their line of Barbie sized 1/6 scale vinyl dolls, which are not considered ball-jointed dolls.
The history of ball-jointed dolls is many centuries old, with European and Egyptian articulated dolls made of wood and other materials dating back hundreds of years. The modern era ball-jointed doll history began in Western Europe, particularly France and Germany, in the late 1800s.
From the late 1800s and to the early 1900s, French and German manufacturers made ball-jointed dolls with bisque heads and strung bodies made of a mix of pulp, sawdust, glue and similar materials. These dolls were sized between about 20-40 inches, and they are now collectible antiques.
During the 1930s the German artist Hans Bellmer created dolls with ball-joints and used them in photography and other surrealistic artwork. Bellmer introduced the idea of artful doll photography, which continues today with Japanese doll artists, as well as the BJD fandom. Bellmer’s dolls were the inspiration for Ghost in the Shell: Innocence.
Influenced by Bellmer and the rich Japanese doll tradition, Japanese artists began creating strung ball-jointed dolls. These are commonly made entirely of bisque and often very tall, sometimes as tall as 4 feet. These dolls are art, and not intended for play or even the hobby level of collecting usually associated with dolls. They cost several thousand dollar, up to several hundred thousand dollar for older collectible dolls from famous artists. The art doll community is still very active in Japan, and doll artists regularly release artbooks with photographs of their dolls.
The history of commercially produced asian resin BJD began in 1999 when the Japanese company Volks created their Super Dollfie line of dolls. The first Super Dollfie were 57cm tall, strung with elastic, ball-jointed, and made of polyurethane resin; similar to garage kits, which was Volks’s main product at the time. Super Dollfie were made to be highly customizable, to create a female market for garage kits.
Around 2003, South Korean companies started creating and producing BJDs. Dolls made by Custom House and Cerberus Project were among the first Korean-made BJDs to be marketed internationally. In 2005-2006, beginning with DollZone, Chinese BJD companies started creating BJDs and selling them on the international market. Since then, doll companies and independent creators have cropped up all over the world.
Modern Ball-Jointed Dolls
Modern BJDs are fully articulated and highly posable. Most have ball and socket joints in the neck, shoulders, elbows, wrists, hips, knees, and ankles. Some are double jointed, with two joints at elbows and knees for example, and some also have one or two joints in the torso, and more rarely even in individual fingers. Body elements are held together with one or more thick elastic cords that attach to hands, feet and head, creating tension and friction between the parts.
BJDs have comparatively large feet, contrasted with fashion dolls like Barbie, and a lot of BJDs are capable of standing on their own, without a stand or other support. The designs are diverse and range from highly anime-inspired to hyper-realistic.
Most of these dolls are readily customizable. Wigs and eyes are easy to remove and replace, as well as heads, hands, and feet. A doll may even be a hybrid of parts from different companies. Some BJD owners or customizers even re-shape existing parts by sanding/drilling/carving them or applying epoxy putty to them.
BJD face paint is usually referred to as a faceup, to note that it's not just make-up, but all the facial features that are painted and customized, including eyebrows, lips and blushing to enhance features. Some BJD are delivered without a faceup, leaving it entirely up to the owner or a customizer to paint the doll. Faceups, even from large companies, are always painted by hand, and it takes considerable skill to do professional level faceups.
The dolls are sold as anything from complete fullsets to kits. Most Korean companies sell BJDs assembled but it is up to the buyer if they want the company to apply a faceup before delivery. Fullset BJDs are often, but not always, limited and come fully assembled, painted, and with clothes.
A few companies sell BJDs as kits, which are just the bare parts, similar to a garage kit. Sometimes a wig or eyes are included, but neither is attached to the doll, which have to be strung together, painted and dressed to complete it. BJDs can also be bought in parts. Some companies sell heads and bodies or other parts separately, and separate heads and bodies are often available on the secondhand market. A few doll creators sell just heads, in size and skin color to fit with doll bodies from other companies.
Some dolls can be considered collectible (such as limited editions, or skillfully customized dolls), and can fetch prices much higher than the original in the secondhand market, sometimes as much as USD $5000.
However, the customization and personalization aspects of these dolls are usually more emphasized in the BJD hobby. Even collectible limited-edition BJDs are played with and used as props in photoshoots, and even dolls that are no longer in mint condition can command high prices in the secondhand market if they’re highly sought after sculpts.
BJDs are usually named by their owner, and sometimes assigned individual characteristics and personality traits. The dolls are often used as subjects of artistic work, such as photography or drawing. Some may also use their dolls’ characters for roleplaying and writing in general.
There is a sizeable international online community dedicated to BJDs. The largest English BJD forum (Den of Angels) has over 58,000 members as of December 2019. Drawings, photos and photo stories are shared in online spaces (such as forums, Facebook groups, Instagram, YouTube, and more).
BJD hobbyists also organize offline meetups and conventions.
BJDs have been produced in many different types and sizes as the market has expanded. There are roughly three main size categories for BJDs, full SD size, mini and tiny.
- Large - Large size dolls, sometimes referred to as SD from the Super Dollfie size range, are around 50cm or taller. Roughly 1/3 scale, they usually represent fully grown teenagers or adult body types. Large dolls generally begin at USD $500+.
- Mini - Mini size dolls, sometimes referred to as MSD from the Mini Super Dollfie size range, are about 40-49cm tall. Minis are often around USD $300+. Minis are most often referred to as 1/4 scale, but accurately there are two major categories of minis: those that are roughly in the same 1/3 scale as large dolls and are meant to look like children in scale to them, and the mature minis which are meant to represent fully grown adults and are closer to the 1/4 scale.
- Tiny - Any BJD under roughly 39cm tall is referred to as a tiny. These are available in many different types and scales. Tinies are usually in the area between USD $100-300. Some tiny BJD are made look like toddlers or babies next to full size dolls, these are about 25cm (10in) tall.
- Fashion - Fashion doll-sized BJDs are generally similar in size and style to Barbie. They run about 12 inches tall. There are also larger fashion dolls that are about 16 inches tall.
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