History of Dolling


To understand dolling, you have to know how it started. It was an artsy hobby, that allowed for creative expression without any training or rules. This article goes into the history of dolling.

In the Beginning

Dolls are unique art forms, in that they are not exclusively part of any other form of pixel/digital art. Some would argue that dolls are not art at all, but the reality is that the variety of dollers is so great that some are little works of art. The dolling community is as varied as the dolls it produces, with young pre-teens drawing simple dolls, to serious art students creating dolls for fun, to mothers who simply want to do something creative from time to time.

The History of Dolling

Dolls from The Doll Palace websiteDolls started out as pixeled images, used as avatars in a visual chat room at The Palace. Most of these dolls, also know as sk8terz or dollz, were built up from props that users could collect and use in their avatar. The props were often created in the graphics software of The Palace itself. Later people started to collect the props in order to offer them on sites outside The Palace in dollmakers. From these simple, limited palette images dolls grew into a class of their own.

When people started making their own props outside the chat program, many discovered they had a lot of tools at their disposal in their advanced graphics programs. This may well have been influenced by people making so-called ”skins” for the PC game ”The Sims”. Instead of using the mouse to purely pixel a doll, some experimented with drawing dolls with tools such as burn or dodge, to shade and highlight dolls more realistically. The use of the smudge tool also became more common. Instead of having clearly defined pixel edged blocks of colour, lines between different shades could now be blurred and mixed. The outline of the doll still remained a clear pixel line, in order to show the doll with a transparent background.

At roughly the same time, kisekae was making headway on the internet, coming from Japan. From the wikipedia entry: “Kisekae Set System (commonly known as KiSS) is a blending of art with computers originally designed to allow creation of virtual “paper dolls”. Kisekae is short for “kisekae ningyou”; a Japanese term meaning “dress-up dolls”. Unlike “computer art” which creates or displays traditional art via a computer, KiSS uses the computer as the medium, allowing the art to be not only animated, but also interactive.”

Since this had a lot of overlap with online dress up dollmakers, some dollmakers went on to make KiSS sets as well, and some KiSS makers influenced the way dollmakers and items were made.

Handdrawn Dolls


Dolls moved away from dollmaker dress up pages. Instead many dollers opted to create a one-off unique doll, drawing straight on the base, and presenting it as a complete product. Though still a collaborative work, with a base body drawn by one doller and the outfit and hairstyle by another, dolls became more unique in style and technique. Certain styles were very much tied in with a specific doller or dollers. Dolls became as recognisable as a signature or handwriting. And because both a pixeled and a tooled doll were still considered dolls, dolls themselves became a form separate from pixel art and digital painting.

Some dolls are pixel art, some dolls are closer to digital paintings, but because they are still dolls, it is hard to get them accepted in those genres or art forms as part of either pixel art or digital painting. Dolls are becoming an art form in their own right.

Doll by Daenelia, based on Microman bases.

The Future of Dolls and Dollers

Looking back where dolls started from and where the form is at now, it is hard to say how it will evolve further. Maybe in the future dolls will split over the pixel/tool debate and be taken in by either pixel or digital art. Maybe something new is going to happen that sets dolls even further apart from other forms. For now, making dolls is a pleasant hobby for a lot of people, with the added benefit of meeting new people all the time in a strong and diverse community.

Thanks to Glam! Members: MeganClare, strawberry1, LadyHazy, mokia-sinhall, freezerpop

Some terms:


  • ¬†Dolling is the creation of a pixel art or digital art human(oid) figure, for the specific purpose of showing them on the internet.
  • Someone who makes dolls is not a ”dollmaker” but a doller or in some circles a ”dollier”.
  • A dollmaker refers to an internet page that allows for a drag and drop or click and drag dress up game


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