My name is Max and I am an eye whore. I confess. My obsession is how to get the most realistic eyes possible for my little resin monsters. I have posted information about this obsession all over the show and felt, for the sake of extending my nerdiness, I should collect it all in one place. And that place is here, you lucky, lucky people.
My emphasis here is on realistic eyes for adult dolls, so the focus will be on small, photorealistic irises. There are many other sorts of eyes available that meet the needs of those who prefer a stylised, youthful or fantasy look. This is not my field and I won't be touching on that sort of stuff here. There is enough in this thing not to mess with that.
I am always keen to gather more eye-related information, particularly on the eye types I have least experience of, such as urethane and resin, so post thoughts, ideas and recommendations and, if it excites or informs, I will add it to this thing here.
Iris: The coloured part of the eye (you didn't really need me to tell you that, did you?).
Sclera: The white of the eye.
Cornea: The clear covering over the iris of the eye.
Paperweight: A dome of glass (or other clear material) covering the iris of the eye, where the cornea would be. My understanding is that this can increase the depth of the colour and, as the pupil can then float slightly above the iris, give you a "following about the room" effect. The disadvantage is that this bulge can make the eyes difficult to fit and move about in narrow eye openings.
Full round/Flat back: Two shapes of glass eye. Pretty self-explanatory. Hand blown glass eyes (the best type, in terms of overall quality) tend to be full round.
Threading: The pattern of lines that can be drawn into a glass eye. It is based on traditional, antique doll eyes and, whilst it does give the iris some texture, it is not realistic.
Plug: The stem of glass that comes out of the back of a full round, blown glass eye.
I am a sad bastard and trust no one, so I ignored all the information available on how large an iris should be and went off and measured a shedload of photographs of eyes. The results.
For an adult, the size of eye opening, measured from the outside edge of tear duct to the outside corner of eye is 2.3 times the size of the iris. It is 9 times the length of an averagely dilated pupil.
So, in terms of finding the right proportioned eye (bare with me. It's maths, but it is not as scary as it looks),
Length of eye opening = A
Size of adult iris = A / 2.3
Size of pupil = A / 9
Eye size = A + 1 or 2mm (to allow for tucking behind the edges of the eye opening and a bit of give for turning the eyes sideways. If the tear duct is large, you will need less additional white).
So, a 12mm eye opening should have a 5.6mm iris and a 1.4mm pupil.
Now, the only caveat with this formula is that many dolls have slightly stylised eyes, even the apparently realistic ones. This generally means that the eye is rounder than a real, human eye. As the important feature is now much iris is showing between the top and bottom lids, using this formula can result in too small an iris, leading to an apparent expression of terror on your doll's face. Therefore, use this as a rule of thumb and increase iris size slightly if your doll has rounder eyes than does a real, human bod.
Advantages: Cheap; readily available; good choice of fantasy and realistic colours; don't damage easily; great for trying out sizes and colours without breaking your bank account; option for printing or painting your own irises using eye blanks (available from shops such as Pupapa Paradise).
Disadvantages: Not generally good for close up photography because of the visible pixels in the printing; colour is flat; some acrylic eyes have strangely-shaped corneas (for example, Glib corneas are almost conical. Looks damned weird); iris tend to be too large to be realistic.
Advantages: Can be cheap . There are currently some decent, flat, oval glass eyes floating around on eBay. They are largely from China; crisp, glossy finish; the sclera stays pure white; can get the "eyes following you around the room" effect if you buy eyes with floating pupils (not usually available for cheaper eyes but can come with the paper weighted glass eyes); good eyes have great clarity and depth of colour; custom sizes are available, for a price; there is just something about the beauty of a hand blown glass eye as an object that seems to suit a BJD.
Disadvantages: Good quality and realistic glass eyes can be expensive; not many realistic iris patterns available. Traditional "realistic" irises have threaded irises which break up the colour but aren't in any way realistic; cheap eyes can be poorly-shaped, in terms of size of iris between a pair of eyes and in not having the iris as a perfect circle and having a "jammy" finish to them, with the cornea being uneven and blobby; being rigid, they can be difficult to fit odd-shaped eye wells and can gape at the sides if the curvature of the eye doesn't perfectly match that of the eye well; full round blown eyes can have a long "plug" at the back which can be too long to fit inside a head cap, what with the S-hook and everything; "reborn" glass eyes tend to have a large iris, as befits being put into a baby doll.
Cheap and cheerful Chinese flat glass oval eyes
Schoepfer flat, glass oval with human iris
Advantages: Generally the most realistic irises, they tend to have a larger sclera for the size of iris which is useful if you are aiming for a realistic, small-eyed look; flexible so good for uneven eye wells; good range of realistic iris patterns; custom colours and sizes are sometimes available, for a price.
Disadvantages: More expensive than acrylic and the cheaper glass eyes; scleras can yellow over time; they collect dust like nobody's business. This might not seem like a biggy, but once you have captured that beautifully-lit portrait of your favourite doll and zoom in to edit it in Photoshop to see that those languorous eyes are speckled with carpet fluff, sick can come up in your mouth a little bit. It can easily be rinsed off with water, though. The fluff, not the sick; some eyes lack clarity and have a dull finish; they can be damaged quite easily by abrasion (pastel dust, for example. Don't rub it off with your thumb when you are doing a faceup. The voice of bitter experience there). Also any silicone-based product, such as wig spray or silicone ear plugs used as eye putty, has the potential to bond with the eye and damage it; there can be quality assurance issues with some silicone eye manufacturers; although most silicone eyes have a metallic sheen, they are not nearly as reflective as urethanes or good glass eyes, but then neither are human eyes.
Advantages: Glossy finish and good depth of colour; highly reflective; good range of colours.
Disadvantages: Fiendishly expensive; they don't meet my criteria for realism. The closet I've seen are some of the Dollshe ones but, whilst the irises have a light-catching texture, they are a single colour and real eyes, like real vampires, just don't sparkle.
Resin and polymer eyes:
Advantages: These are handmade eyes with printed irises, so they come in an almost unlimited range of colours; custom sizes of iris and pupil are usually available.
Disadvantages: being handmade, there might be not be perfectly symmetrical or smooth in shape; being printed, colours tend to lack depth, although most makers will add a metallic shimmer to perk them up and increase reflectivity; they tend to be flatter than other eyes, which are domed to simulate the spherical shape of real eyes. This can look odd from the side.
My favourite eye shop? Safrin Doll. No contest. She has a good range of acrylic and silicone, including Eyeco, and she takes her own in-doll photos of all the eyes, the only way to see what they might look like in use. There are also iris measurements for many of the styles, which is perfect if you are a scale freak, like me.
Eyeco do a good range of colours in their acrylic eyes, but sizes start at 16mm, so no good to me. They are called "polyglass" eyes by them, which can be a little confusing. This is not my area, so any further input is most welcome.
Schoepfer (USA). Their hand blown crystal eyes have a moderately realistic iris and can be custom-sized www.schoepferseyes.com/product…. They also offer some pretty convincing flat oval eyes which have the most realistic irises in terms of colours and shading, but this is at the cost of them being printed, so somewhat lacking in depth. Also, irises tend to be large www.schoepferseyes.com/product….
Kanis-Augen (Germany). They offer large, small or medium iris and pupil sizes in their Superior Designer Eyes category. The state that iris size is 50-55% of the diatmeter so, for a 12mm eye, between 6-6.6mm. What they don't state is how that applies to their three option iris sizes. When I contacted them, they said that you can state which iris size you want and they will attempt to find something that matches from their stock. Now, some have said that ordering "normal" size can lead to marked variation in pupil and iris. This is probably inevitable from an individually handmade product. So, my suggestion would be to do just what they suggest. Give them your ideal iris and pupil sizes and let them try and match it as far as possible. They also offer a choice of short or standard plug. The irises in these are not photorealistic, but not bad.
Hand Craft Eyes (UK). They have more traditional eyes with variations on the theme of threading. These means they are less realistic than some of the others. D400 eyes are the most promising, with a good range of colours. They are available in flat back and full round and D400s have the option of high or low profile paperweights, which can matter if you have a dreaming-eyed doll. A high paperweight will just get in the way of the eyelids. They look to have floating pupils Iris sizes are decent (6.5mm for a 12mm eye) and I believe they offer custom sizing, if you ask them nicely. They are at the high end of the price range, with 12mm eues costing £30 ($45). Safrin Doll can order them in for slightly less (eg $33 for 12mm full round D400s).
Thomas Baez (Germany). This is a completely untested site, so no assurances from me that they are even still in business. However, their figure eyes look very promising and go right down to 8mm. Apart from their reborn eyes, iris size is approximately 50% of eye diameter, so not at all bad for adult realism. They also do custom sizes, on request. Postage is massive, as seems to be the case from Germany, so worth setting up a group order if you don;t buy your eyes in bulk. However, eye price is fair, at 13 euros (c $17) for up 16mm figure eyes.
Thomas Eichhorn-Nelson (Germany). Another untested site, but with very pretty eyes. The figure eyes are very impressive and go as small as 3mm. Prices are good, with 12mm realistic full round at 9 euros.
Eyeco (USA). A good range of colours and some of the most realistic iris colours and patterns out there and, being mid-priced, damned good value for the money. They vary in terms of depth and clarity, some eye surfaces being rather cloudy and dull. This seems to vary randomly. The range of silicone eyes includes Platinum, which is their bog-standard range, Ultra, which is their premium range, being handmade and appearing to be crisper and more reflective (I will get a pair and report back) and Fantasy, with brighter colours and a more metallic finish. They have amongst the smallest irises and give you an extra millimetre of sclera, giving you the option to go down a size for the sake of a realistic look (so, a 13mm sclera, what you would order for a 12mm eye, has a 6.2mm iris). The site itself is not designed for ease of ordering and I always go via Safrin Doll for mine. It is also cheaper there. Platinums are at the bottom end of the mid-range, with 12mm at $15.40 on the Eyeco site ($13.99 on Safrin Doll). Ultras are at the upper end of the range, at $36 on the site and $25.49 on Safrin Doll. These are my default eyes.
Masterpiece (USA). Excellent range of colours and iris styles (home of the iconic Afghans) and they can be very reflective. Irises are marginally larger than Eyecos, but still smaller than most. They can also produce custom colours and sizes. Send them a photo or description of what you want and they will make it for you. However, these eyes are expensive and generally take a loooooong time to produce, even if buying off-the-peg. There have also been a large number of quality assurance issues. They can arrive with mismatched irises and air bubbles, the paper iris can crack or lift from the eye and various other horrors that render them useless. They are very good at replacing, even if the glitch took a year to appear, but who wants to replace eyes every year? These used to be my favourites but I now won't go anywhere near them. They are at the upper end of the price range, with off-the-peg 12/13mms at $32, with an additional $3-15 for custom iris colours, metallic finish and paperweights.
Dreaming Trees Studios make hand cast resin eyes. They offer custom just about everything and go right down to 2mm. They are at the bottom end of the price range, with 12mm standard eyes at $5.50 to full metallic eyes at $12.
Fairyality make handmade polymer resin eyes. There is a good range of imaginative fantasy options. Standard eyes start at 14mm, but she will take custom requests. Price is at the lower end of the range, wth 14-24mm at $11.99.