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An early "prep" style doll

Dollz, cartoon dolls, or pixel dolls are small pixelated digital images, generally consisting of illustrations of people with clothes and accessories. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, they were widely spread on the Internet and were considered an internet fad or meme, used in avatars and signatures. They later progressed to be taken more seriously as an art form, mainly through channels such as Deviantart, forums, and personal web pages.

Dollz are generally created by taking a base body (a drawing of a bald and naked body created for this purpose), and then drawing hair, clothes and accessories onto it. They also usually have a hard edge and transparent background so that they can be easily displayed on the web.[1] People who create dollz are known as Dollers or Dollists. They are, in great majority, women,[2] although a few male dollers exist. These dollers usually take on dolling as a personal hobby.


Origins on Palace Chat[edit]

The roots of this phenomenon are in paper dolls, which are paper figures with a base body to which clothes, hairstyles and accessories can be attached. The first digital version of the paper doll concept is accepted to be the Japanese Kisekae Set System, invented in 1991.[citation needed]

Dollz were first created to be used as avatars on The Palace Chat Program in 1995. The invention of dollz is attributed[3] to Melicia Greenwood (also known as artgrrl, or shatteredInnocents), mainly because of her detailed web publishing on the history of dollz. Her new avatars were freely distributed on the main Palace server, the "Mansion". Within weeks thousands of creatively modified dollz were redistributed around the many Palace servers, replacing the default smiley face avatars that were previously used.[4] Many teenagers adopted dollz avatars as a sign of rebellion against older Palace users.[2] This led to a period where anyone wearing a dollz avatar could be kicked or banned from certain Palace servers, where it was assumed such an avatar implied an ill-intentioned teen user.

Because of Palace avatar restrictions, the original dolls were no more than 132 pixels tall. They had their base bodies made out of three vertically-aligned 44 x 44 pixel squares (called "props" in The Palace Chat), and were dressed by creating clothes, hair and accessories in the remaining six props.[4] They used the 256 web-safe colors, and allowed for animation.

Although the first doll was inspired by Barbie,[4] many different styles of dolls soon emerged and were circulating amongst Palace users. Amongst these were Preps, Sk8ers, Tinyz/Tinies, Wonderkinz, Silents, Thugs, Uniques, Minis, Flavas and Ravers[citation needed].

Progression to Doll Websites[edit]

Starting in 1997,[5] doll websites started to emerge, showcasing dollz edits (modifications) of Palace avatars dollz. These websites started to allow "adoptions", that is, the displaying of another person's dollz on a website with a credit and link back. Other websites showcased "dollmakers" which were webpages that had a drag-and-drop javascript code; this allowed users to dress up base bodies with clothes found on the Palace.

In the early 2000s, dollers began to experiment with different base body types and techniques. No longer bound by the restrictions of the Palace Chat, dollz eventually became more elaborate and larger in size. New types of dolling websites started to appear, such as Dolling e-zines, which included articles, and interviews with dollers. Some notable ones are The Doller Express and Pixel Post Magazine. Dollers also began to organize pageants, which are multi-round contests, usually following the model of beauty pageants.[1]

Dolling as an art form[edit]

By the mid 2000s, Dollers started to think of their work more seriously and began exploiting the dollz for their full artistic purpose. They started to spell "dolls" with an "S" in order to distinguish them from the earlier Palace-era internet fad.[5] On August 3, 2007 a separate Dollz category was added to, which further contributed to the establishment of Dolling as a legitimate internet art form.[6]

Dolling Technique[edit]

Dollz are created in a graphics program such as Microsoft Paint, Adobe Photoshop, Paint Shop Pro, or GIMP. The doll may be made on a base, or the doll may be baseless. Usually using a base, clothing, adornments and decorations are drawn in layers onto the base to create the doll. Baseless dolls are drawn freehand, with an effect often akin to Oekaki. Dollers created and distributed tutorials explaining how to create dolls, further spreading the phenomenon.


Bases are the templates upon which dolls can be drawn. They generally consist of a bald, naked human body. Bases may be provided with or without drawn faces; with props or accessories; are provided in multiple skin tones; or they can depict a partial or full body view. Bases and dollz need not be realistic; they can be exaggerated caricatures, and some may be found in the anime super deformed style.

Typically, bases are arranged in a set, where all the bases in the set are created in the same size, style and proportions with different poses, skin tones and facial expressions. The creators of these base sets generally give them names to identify and distinguish them. Some base sets may have nearly 100 individual poses. Dollz base creators sometimes leave a tiny signature consisting of a few pixels on each base and doll.

Some Dollers ask that no editing of the base template occur other than the layering on of features, while other Dollers allow any and all edits to a base. The Dollz community is self-policing when it comes to matters of copyright and plagiarism.

Internet Dollmakers[edit]

Dollmakers are the web equivalent of paper dolls. The first dollmakers consisted of The Palace dollz bases and props, and later expanded to original content. One notable example is e-Louai's[7] dollmaker collection.

Within an internet dollmaker, one selects a body base and then has thousands of clothes, accessories, backgrounds and decorations to choose from, including animated layers. In the Dollar community (those who created or edited dollz pixel by pixel) `dollmaker-created dollz became mixed in with original creations, leading to confusion about the source of such dollz unless credited. Because of their ease of use, internet dollmakers opened up Dolling to countless users; those who did not want to create a digital doll from scratch utilized these drag-n-drop or clickable dollmakers to create their avatars. The original doll makers were simple drag and drop versions that contained props found around The Palace Chat but over time evolved into feature-rich programs and started to feature original props by the dollmaker's creators.

The Dolling subculture[edit]

Dollers exist as a subculture of the larger graphic art and digital art communities. The Dolling community also attracts those who only collect dollz and other pixel art. The focus of activities in online Dolling communities - whether interactive websites or forums - usually includes sharing artwork; posting of tutorials and advice; hosting of themed events and competitions; and presenting categories of dollz in encyclopedic form. Dollers sometimes collaborate on artwork and link to each others' sites as "sibling sites" or "sister sites." Dollz web rings were used to join together larger communities of Dollers. Some Dollers were even successful at presenting dollz websites with paid advertising.

Copyright and intellectual property within the Dolling community[edit]

As with the larger community of artists, designers and creators, the Dolling community often erupts in waves of contention centering around plagiarism.

Members of the Dolling community, as with DeviantArt and other digital art communities, have dealt with plagiarism and copyright issues since the first days of dollz appearing on The Palace in 1995. Whether such abuses arise from willful ignorance of Title 17[8] of United States copyright law, the DMCA, or from malicious theft of intellectual property, no Doller suffers actual losses except when their website or Palace is advertising-driven and they sustain verifiable financial losses due to losing viewers.

Some Dollers have tried to establish dollz netiquette[9] which generally refers to standard copyright law or terms of use Dollers attempt to impose for the use and distribution of their artwork.

Basic copyright violation may be claimed when someone saves the image of a doll another has created and places it on their website, or uses it as an avatar or signature without permission or attribution, and/or claims that they created the doll when the specific doll creator has not provided for such terms of use. Within the Dolling community, this is incorrectly yet strongly regarded as theft, and differs from doll "adoption," where the user who places the artwork on his or her site gives credit to the original creators within their individual terms of use.

Plagiarism is sometimes an issue when only the doll base has been copied without attribution. Additionally, when one takes a part of a doll (for example, the hair or clothing) and places it on another doll, it may also be seen as plagiarism. Due to the pieced-together appearance of such dollz, this is generally referred to as "Frankendolling" within the Dolling communities.

Direct-linking, a.k.a. inline-linking or hot-linking, has been another common problem in Dolling communities, where one uses the bandwidth of another for the purposes of displaying an image.

In 2003 there was a move by "Heli" of[10] to create "Standard Doll Site Terms" (SDST). The SDST an attempt to create a standard license for doll site authors.[11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Fiona Marchbank (2009-02-03). "Welcome to Digital Dolls dA". DeviantArt. Retrieved 2011-11-25. 
  2. ^ a b Borgeson, Mitch. "Playing with dollz". Retrieved 2010-03-29. 
  3. ^ "left of center". 2003-10-01. Archived from the original on 2003-10-01. Retrieved 2013-06-22. 
  4. ^ a b c Greenwood, Melicia (2005-12-14). "The Originz of Dollz". Archived from the original on 2006-12-09. Retrieved 2010-03-29. 
  5. ^ a b "The History of Dollz @ Girl-Doll Fashion Gossip". 2006-11-12. Retrieved 2011-11-25. 
  6. ^ "News: Doll Category Now Open!". Retrieved 2010-03-29. 
  7. ^ "eLouai's Candybar Doll Maker 3". Retrieved 2013-06-22. 
  8. ^ Wikisource link to Title 17 of the United States Code. Wikisource.
  9. ^ "Doll Netiquette". 2004-06-04. Archived from the original on 2009-10-25. Retrieved 2013-06-29. 
  10. ^ "". 2007-06-26. Archived from the original on 0000-00-00. Retrieved 2013-06-22. 
  11. ^

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