After 15+ years, I closed down SportsLizard on 10/25/2019 because Amazon revoked our API access. I wrote a post with more details. One of the fascinating niches that SportsLizard helped flourish for many years was the Custom McFarlane Sports Pick community. Below is the how-to guide, which I think is a fitting final destination for SportsLizard.com traffic.
Like many other collectors of McFarlane Sports Picks, I wish that I could have a seat at the table when they decide what players are made, what poses they have, and what uniforms they are in. This is where custom figures come in. Maybe I can’t have a say in McFarlane’s decisions, but I can create a custom figure of anyone I want!
Simply stated, custom figures involve taking an existing figure apart, making modifications to it, painting it, and putting it back together. There are many different ways to make a custom. What I included in these directions is a combination of my personal experiences and of those of other customizers.
Making a custom for the first time is not cheap. The good news is that once you get these things you probably won’t need to replace most of them for a while. In parenthesis I put approximate prices so you get an idea about the costs associated with making a custom. The best place to get most of this stuff is at an art store like Michael’s. You can also get a lot of this stuff online. Most can be found with a quick Amazon search.
- Brushes. Get one or two as small as 10/0 and 5/0 for details as well as some wider brushes for larger areas ($10).
- Acrylic craft paint value pack (usually contain around 32 1/6 oz. colors). This is great for colors that you just need a little of ($15).
- 2 oz. acrylic paints for colors used more frequently, such as jersey colors ($1 ea). To match these colors I usually take something with team colors on it (card, hat, photo, etc) to the paint store with me and try to match it right there. I usually buy a few different variations. When I first get home I squirt a dime-size of each onto a piece of paper and see which one dries closest to the true color.
- Testors Primer ($6).
- Microscale decal solutions: Micro Sol, Micro Set, and Liquid Decal Film ($10.)
- Testors Gloss Clear Acryli and Flat Clear Acrylic ($6 each).
- Decal paper ($1 per sheet, usually sold in quantities of at least 20).
- Scissors, masking tape, crazy glue, brush cleaner, Xacto knife, sand paper, clay, and anything else you think you may need ($40).
- McFarlane Figure ($10 and up)
- Decide who you want to make and find as many photos of them as you can. Google Images and eBay searches are great ways to find pictures, as are old magazines, sports cards, and posters.
- Decide which McFarlane figure that you want to paint. A good place to look at pictures of all the figures is on the McFarlane site. Try to match special features like the style of helmet they wear, wrist bands, shoe styles, and anything else that might cause you excess work to add or remove.
- Purchase the figure. Amazon and eBay both have huge selections.
- Open the figure and clean it with a mild soap and water.
- Decide what you are going to need to disassemble to be able to paint the figure. This varies from figure to figure. You want to make sure that you will be able to easily paint every visible part of the figure. Sometimes this requires a lot of disassembly (head, helmet, facemask, hands, etc on a football figure) and sometimes there is almost no disassembly at all (some basketball figures).
- Soak the figure in very hot water to soften the rubber and take off any parts that need to be removed. An Xacto knife can also come in handy here to assist in the removal of parts.
- Add to the sculpting (if necessary). If you want to add longer sleeves or a leg brace, for example, there are several good options: you could use Apoxie Sculpt, a paper mache technique with tissues (here’s a tutorial from Jomo’s site), or Magic Sculpt.
- Prime the figure with a few thin coats of white or gray primer. Remember to tape off any parts that you aren’t going to paint over.
- Paint the figure from light to dark, leaving a white patch in any area that will need a decal. You usually need to do about three coats of paint to get it to look good. If you need more, do more. A lot of it depends on the color of your primer and the color you are painting.
- Find numbers and logos for decals. The best place to locate numbers to work with is the Logos and More section on Jomo’s Customs. They have templates for all NFL teams and many teams from other sports. If they have the team you are looking for then you are all set. A quick Google search can find pre-made decals for many players. Fonts to make your own decals are also available with some searching. If you’re interested in making a Pat Tillman custom like the one above, you can download my decals.
- Create decals. Use a photo editing software like Adobe Photoshop to size the images and change colors if necessary. If you don’t have access to Photoshop, Paint.net and GIMP are two free alternatives. Be sure to print once in black and white on regular paper to make sure they are the proper size before using the decal paper.
- Coat the decals with Liquid Decal Film. Make sure to do two or three coats to ensure that the colors won’t run when the decal gets wet.
- Cut the decals out, leaving as little room as possible around the image.
- Apply the decals. Coat the area on the figure with Micro Set before applying. Wet the back of the decal paper (either with a brush or by dipping in water) and slide the decal into place. Coat the decal with Micro Sol to soften it and carefully push the decal into any folds or irregular surfaces.
- Paint around the decals to blend them in.
- Put the figure back together. Use an Xacto knife to trim the joints to help them fit together better. Use the crazy glue when necessary.
- Add dirt or grass stains to your figure if you want. The best method is to brush it with "dry paint." This can be done by letting paint dry on your brush and then brushing the dry paint on to the figure. Make sure to use an old brush when doing this.
- Apply a few light coats of the Flat Clear Acrylic to all surfaces except decals and helmets.
- Apply the Gloss Clear Acrylic to the decals and helmets. You can spray this on with a spray bottle or gently brush it on.
- Make a stand. You can modify the original stand, mount it on a piece of wood (drill holes the same size as the pegs on the figures), or create your own stand. Some people also like to make custom packaging for their figures.
- For more information… check out the Guides and Tips section of Jomo’s Customs for information about creating inserts, packaging, photoing your figures, and more.
Below is my favorite custom. I made two of these – one for myself and one for a soldier who contacted me after seeing the original on SportsLizard.