Customizing Action Figures

Over the last couple of years, action figures have been getting better and better.  But as the Rolling Stones said “you can’t always get what you want.”  So when there is a toy that you want, that isn’t available, you may just have to make it yourself.

Now there may be many reasons that you want something different from what is on the toy shelf.  It may be a different colour scheme to the figure.  Or it could be a modern update to a classic character.  Or… you just want to make something different for the sake of making something different.

Miles Mayhem custom figure - by Ed Campbell
My M.A.S.K. Miles Mayhem custom figure. Matt Stryker came out as a G.I. Joe figure. I wanted a villain for Stryker.

I started customizing G.I. Joe figures years ago.  One of my first customs was changing the arms and legs on my very first Recondo figure.  Years later I had a bunch of broken figures.  It only seemed logical to use those pieces to create new, original figures for my collection.

If you have been thinking about making a custom action figure (or if you are an old pro), I have a couple of tips for you.  First off there are no rights or wrongs when it comes to customizing toys.  You will find a technique that will work with your skills.  And trial and error is the best way to learn how to make your figures.

Bulletproof custom figure by Ed Campbell
My custom of C.O.P.S. Bulletproof Vess. It was another great toyline from the 80’s that I would like to see updated in the modern era.

Base – To make a custom figure, you have to start with the base, the figure itself (sometimes called a “buck”).  Sometimes you will be customizing one figure, or possibly using pieces from several figures to make your custom.  In 2007 G.I. Joe figures changed drastically.  This was to coincide with the 25th anniversary of the toyline.  Earlier figures were made of rigid plastic, with minimal parts that were easily disassembled with screws.  The 25th figures had more articulation, and more pieces.  These figures were more difficult to take apart.  The torsos were glued together and the arms are a “peg and socket” design.

With greater detail on the pieces, you can make a nicer figure using multiple “bucks”.  It takes some skill to disassemble the figure.  The torso’s can be split by using a utility knife under the arm pit.  The lower arms can be removed from the upper arms using a technique called “boil and pop” (run under hot water until the plastic gets soft and simply pull apart).

Chuck Norris custom figure by Ed Campbell
My custom of Chuck Norris. It is a “LBC” custom, or “Lazy Boy Custom”. This figure was made with a simple head swap. In my collection he is a “special trainer” for the G.I. Joe team.

Paint – If you ask different customizers, you will get a different answer every time on what paint to use.  Personally I like to use Testors paint.  It is easy to find.  The quality of the paint is usually consistent, and you can change the paint by using different amounts of paint thinner.  That paint reacts differently to various plastics.  There have been times I have used that paint and it has never dried.  For example I have a figure that I painted with a silver paint.  Now almost 4 years later, that paint is still tacky and it has never properly cured.  So again, it is trial and error on what will work for you.

Character – If you are making a “known” figure, this doesn’t apply.  But if you are making an original figure, my favourite step is developing the character’s personality.  I like to have the character’s personality in mind before I start.  The personality will determine what the character will look like, or what accessories will work with them.  What set G.I. Joe apart from other action figures when they first come out was the filecards.  Many times when I am making a custom, I will write up a filecard for the character and it will help me design the character because I have an emotional attachment to the figure.

Budget Bins – Discount bins, clearance sales and garage sales are your secret weapons when it comes to making custom action figures.  Customizing can be expensive.  If you only need one piece for a figure, it hurts having to pay full price for a figure when you only need one tiny piece (for example an arm or a leg).  If you can pick up the original figure on clearance, it makes the final product cheaper.

My Galactus figure that I am going to do a custom paint job on to look like the classic comic design.
My Galactus figure that I am going to do a custom paint job on to look like the classic comic design.

One of my best finds in the clearance bins was the Marvel Universe Galactus figure.  Originally the Galactus figure was a SDCC exclusive figure.  When it was released at retail, they used the same mould, but the colour scheme was changed from the original familiar colour scheme, in favour of the Ultimate colouring.  I really want a comic original figure but they are difficult to find.  I was at a Toys R Us and I found Galactus sitting in the clearance bin.  The original retail price on the figure was $89.99.  It’s original clearance price was $42.  But this was on a sub-clearance table, without a listed price.  I took it to the customer service desk, and when the clerk checked it out, she figured she could give it to me for a better price than the original clearance price.  When she checked her terminal she told me I could have the figure for $25.  I didn’t know Toys R Us was able to make an offer on a price for a clearance toy.  I gladly accepted that price and I plan on making an original comic version of Galactus.  Stay tuned to CBD for progress on my figure.

Customizing action figures is fun.  Sometimes toys are made with the wrong pieces.  Sure that is how it is originally designed, but with a small tweak or change you can take a sub-par figure and make it amazing.  Also there are some characters, no matter how cool they are, there will never be an action figure made of that character.  In those cases you will have to take the initiative and make it yourself.

Check out my profile at to see a full list of the figures I have made for my collection.

Ed Campbell
Ed Campbell

Ed Campbell is a collector of comics and action figures, primarily G.I. Joe. He is also a Cosplayer with Thor and Captain America as just a few of the characters in his arsenal. When not fulfilling his Comic Book Daily duties, he's "working for a living", volunteering his time for his local Fall Fair, and spending as much time with his family as possible. Use the links below to get in contact with him.

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larry glenn
larry glenn
11 years ago

how do i costumize an action figure

Scott VanderPloeg
11 years ago
Reply to  Ed Campbell

Perhaps you could devote one of your weekly columns to the basics of customization.