Painting Eyes

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Painting eyes can be a frustrating moment in painting your figure. It doesn't always have to be, though it will take a little patience and a steady hand.


Tools Needed

  • Small paintbrush, toothpick or pin
  • Paints


Painting eyes is like painting any other part of a figure - only smaller. All the same techniques and tips apply, and it is not a complicated procedure. It does however take alot of patience, practice and concentration to get the best results.

There are two main ways of painting an eye - starting with the eye first, or painting it after the skin tone has been applied. Each has its own advantages and drawbacks, depending on your own painting style. First however, it is important to know what type of eye you are painting, and what effect you are going for.

Anatomy of an Eye

There are three distinct styles of eye represented in GI Joe figures - first is the ARAH 'line with a dot' look - the simpler, cartoonish style. Second is the new sculpt three colour - the most realistic. Third is the newsculpt two colour where only the sclera and pupil or iris are painted, but not the iris. In all these cases the upper eyelash is also painted.

What style to use is a matter of personal taste, and overall figure style. One thing that is constant is the need for the eye to look right. If one of the eyes is not centred or is larger than the other, even by a small amount it can give a figure a seemingly unexplainable feeling of 'oddness'. Another common fault in many production figures is the 'so very sleepy' look - the eyes seemingly rolling back into the head of the figure or looking up all the time.

This is a result of the pupil and/or the iris not being painted in low or large enough. The coloured part of an eye should take up almost all the middle third of the sclera. The iris does not necessarily reach the lower eylid however (particularly in sunlight), but if it does it often gives a more serious look. See the attached picture for more on what an eye should look like (or look in a mirror).

Getting Ready

First you will nead the head in question. It is best to mount it to something easier to get a grip on - an old torso or blu-tacked to a paint bottle for example. You may want to use a magnifier of some sort as well. An extremely fine brush is not necessary - a brush with a very fine tip is though.

Some people use the end of a pin or tooth pick, but the tip of a good brush should be just as fine and has a more ergonomic handle for finer control and less strain. But whatever works for you is best obviously. Good lighting is also important for seeign what you are doing. Many of the afore mentioned magnifiers come with built in lights so you won't block out your own lighting. The following methods are assuming at least an undercoat has been applied.

Method 1 - Eye First

This method is most useful for painting eyes where the sclera is being represented. It is basically painting the eye from the inside out.

After the undercoat has dried, put a small dot of black paint in the centre of each eye. Sounds easy, but is infact quite tricky. As mentioned above it is important to get the eye centred - in practice this can happen a few ways:

  • Don't totally overpaint the existing eyes and use them as a guide.
  • Put a faint pencil dot to check that can be easily painted over.
  • Years of practice and alot of luck.

At this stage it is important to remember half a millimetre difference can mean the difference between an unflinching gaze and a lazy eye, so don't be too disenheartened if the first go doesn't go perfectly.

If you put too much paint down, don't worry, you're about to paint over it. First paint the upper eyelashes on as well (black is the colour for most Joes, but see later for more ideas). The next step is optional: Painting the iris. Take your chosen colour and run a 3/4 circle around the pupil, leaving the top 'open'. If you paint rather large stripes, start further away, it doesn't matter too much if it is too big (though being as accurate as possible is always best). The iris should go above the pupil, but at 1:18 scale it won't be noticable if you miss it out. Finally, carefully fill in the sclera, cutting back any overfilled iris or eyelash. When painting the flesh tone you can clean up the upper part of the eyelash line.

The pros and cons of this system include:

  • The first step is centring the pupils, so it can bee seen right away and fixed easily.
  • It is often easier to paint up to a point than within an small area.
  • Most errors are fairly easy to correct and won't ruin the rest of your paintjob.
  • Large areas of overpaint may still show through white paint, requiring several accurate coats.

Method 2 - Eye Last

This method works with all types of eye, and can infact be easier than method 1 in the right circumstances.

This method is done once the base fleshtone has been painted on - so concentration is paramount to avoid the chance of ruining any hard work already applied. First the sclera needs to be painted (if being represented). Many new sculpt figures have details such as the eyelids sculpted on, resulting in a depression that can be easily filled in. Some new sculpt and most ARAH do not, but often still have a small mark.

Once the white has dried the iris is put in (if to be shown) - it should not be a perfect circle, but slightly flat at the top as it is concealed by the upper eyelid. A perfectly round iris will give a suprised or startled look. Start from the inside out, marking the centre first. If it is silghtly off, take note of which way and paint more towards the other - ie the marker is too far right, paint more to the left.

Finally the pupil is put in in the centre of the iris. Being slightly smaller it should be wholly visible, leaving a small part of the iris showing between it and the upper eyelid. Finally paint a thin line along the upper eyelid to represent the eyelashes.

ARAH style eyes only have an eyelash line and pupil painted on - they tend to be thicker and darker than those of later figures, complimenting the bolder colour schemes. However the above information still applies, the pupil should be about as large as the iris and have the depressed top.


Whether RAH, New Sculpt, or Modern Era designed figures, all have a thin line of paint above the eye to keep it from looking wide-eyed. Use a small brush with very little paint on it. You'll need a super steady hand for this and it is better to try to get it in one stroke if you can.

The line for the eye lashes painted over the white of the eyes.


The iris added.



Just as important as the eyes, eyebrows show a lot of the figures expression and emotion. To paint the eyebrow it is best to start inside out, as the eyebrows are generally thicker towards the centre of the face.

Special Techniques

There are a few ways to add some extra character to your figure through their eyes.


By far the easiest, shaping the eyes and eyebrows can help show almost every emotion imaginable when combined with a certain face shape or turn of the mouth. Painting an expression other than 'neutral' in combination with the overall design and colour scheme can give a good idea of their personality without reading their background.


Using a colour other than black for the eyelashes (and pupil for ARAH) can give a sublter look to your figure. For instance Topside uses yellow, resulting in a very pale appearance, while Airwave uses a chesnut brown giving him an older, weathered look as his features blend more with his face. Most applicable to female figures is using a colour for the eyelashes such as blue or green to simulate eyeliner/shadow.

Ink Washes

A very carefully applied ink wash can replace the need for painting the eyelashes on entirely.


To bring your robot character to life, paint the blank eye silver and then go over it with a transparent color like red or green. If you don't have access to transparent paint, then a little bright neon green in the center will also give it a sense of glowing.

Its Alive!



Practice practice practice - and have fun.

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