Getting Started With Customs

What are "Customs"?  

"Customs" are unique fan-made toys; action figures, dolls, beasts, vehicles or ships created by non-professionals. Customs can be made from either parts of existing toys or created from scratch. As no two fans are alike, no two interpretations of the same character is the same and therefore no two customs are exactly alike. 

Certainly not limited to Star Wars, toy customs are made by thousands of movie, television and comic fans from all over the world. And you don't need to be an artist to customize...all skill levels and a wide range of ages are represented in this popular hobby.

Why would I want to customize?

Well, why not? There are many reasons why Star Wars fans want to create their own piece of the Galaxy far, far away:

  • I want to create a toy from the movies that Hasbro / Kenner hasn't made
  • I want to improve on a figure or toy that Hasbro / Kenner has already made
  • I want to make a character that is from the Star Wars Expanded Universe
  • I want to make a character from my own imagination
  • I want to relieve stress, be creative, share my hobby and meet other talented artists
  • I just want to! Okay?
Whatever your personal reason, once you begin you'll find the art of customizing as a rewarding yet obsessive, wonderful but frustrating, time-consuming yet relaxing,  skilllful but sometimes dangerous hobby.....  

What do I need to start?

First, the desire to create. Second, the knowledge that you are doing this to please yourself....don't come into the hobby with the thought of making money....customs of copyrighted material cannot be sold legally. Do this for fun, not profit! Now that that's straight, here's a list of supplies and tools to get you going:

If you plan on making customs from existing toys, you first need something to cut up! I'll use the 3 3/4" figure line as examples. Finding cheap figures is a good place to start. Check out the bargain bins at the local stores, clearance sales and garage sales. They don't even need to be Star Wars figures; as long as they are the same scale, other lines of action figures will give your customs variety. You may also find cheap vintage figures that are in very poor condition. These are great to restore and improve upon.
Paints and Glue
The first mistake beginners make is getting the wrong paint. Because of the type of plastic that is used on most action figures, you cannot use regular enamel model paint as it will never dry completely. Be sure to get "acrylic enamels" found at most craft or hobby shops. Brands such as Testors and Apple Barrel are very common. You don't have to begin with every color in the spectrum either....start with flat colors: black, white, and the primaries (yellow, blue and red) to mix your own shades. You'll save money and your bottles of paint won't dry out before you use them. Next you'll want to invest in gold and silver and gloss black for gloves, boots and belts. Testors also makes a good model glue that holds well and can be painted over with acrylic paint.
Natural hair brushes 
Get a few very small brushes (you can even cut down one for extra fine work), making sure they have natural hair, such as sable hair. You'll end up with smoother paint jobs with these than you would with man-made fiber brushes.
Acrylic paints wash out with soap and water, so it's easy to keep those brushes clean! Make sure you store your brushes either flat or with the hair end up to keep the bristles straight.
The CAREFUL use of an exacto knife and sandpaper will get you started in carving off details such as holsters. Always, always, cut away from your body with any knife and practice on some cheap figures first to get the feel of cutting plastic safely. Only use knives if you are an adult....if not, stick to simple "swapping parts" or repaints on your customs. Many a customizer has slipped and needed stitches to their hands and legs!  You'll also want some pliers for pulling apart torsos and to retrieve your figures safely after curing in hot water.
Once you are sure customizing is for you, invest in a Dremel or other hand-held rotary tool. You'll find hollowing out helmets and sanding down figures are a breeze with it. Models without a cord seem to be preferred and are easier to hold. As well, try to purchase a model with variable speeds. And remember the basic safety measures such as using eye protection when working with these type of tools.
Sculpting material
Once you have done some simple repaints or swapped parts customs, you may want to try your hand at sculpting. The material most widely used is Sculpey, Fimo or Premo clays. Found at hobby shops, this is great to work with and easy to cure by just boiling water! 
How do I get help?

Email me! If I can't answer your question, I'll point you in the right direction for help. Spend some time looking at our huge list of custom figure web sites. You can also search the Internet for sites showcasing customs by using the term "custom figures" or "custom toys". There are numerous pages that will give you tips and tricks. I'll review only the basics to get you started here. For Star Wars customs, a great site full of information for the beginner or experienced customizer can be found at: