A ball-jointed doll is any doll that is articulated with ball and socket joints. In contemporary usage when referring to modern dolls, and particularly when using the acronyms BJD or ABJD, it usually refers to modern Asian ball-jointed dolls. These are cast in polyurethane resin, a hard, dense plastic, and the parts strung together with a thick elastic. They are predominantly produced in Japan, South Korea and China. The BJD style has been described as both realistic and influenced by anime. They commonly range in size from about 60 centimetres (24 in) for the larger dolls, 40 cm (16 in) for the mini dolls, and all the way down to 10 cm (4 in) or so for the tiniest of the tiny BJDs. BJDs are made to be easy to customize, by painting, changing the eyes and wig, and so forth.
European and Egyptian articulated dolls made of wood and other materials date back hundreds of years. The modern era ball-jointed doll history began in Western Europe in the late 1800s. From the late 1800s through the early 1900s French and German manufacturers made ball-jointed dolls with bisque heads and strung bodies made of composition: a mix of pulp, sawdust, glue and similar materials. These dolls were between 50 and 100 cm (20 and 40 inches) and are now collectible antiques.
During the 1930s the German artist Hans Bellmer created dolls with ball-joints and used them in photography and other surrealistic artwork. Bellmer introduced the idea of artful doll photography, which continues today with Japanese doll artists, as well as BJD hobbyists.
Influenced by Bellmer and the rich Japanese doll tradition, Japanese artists began creating strung ball-jointed art dolls. These are commonly made entirely of bisque and often very tall, sometimes as tall as 120 cm (4 feet). These dolls are purely intended as art, and not for play or even the hobby level of collecting usually associated with dolls. They cost several thousand dollars, up to several hundred thousand dollars for older collectible dolls from famous artists. The art doll community is still active in Japan and artists regularly release artbooks with photographs of their dolls.
The history of commercially produced Asian resin BJDs began in 1999 when the Japanese company Volks created the Super Dollfie line of dolls. The first Super Dollfie were 57 cm tall, strung with elastic, ball-jointed, and made of polyurethane resin; similar to garage kits, which were Volks main product at the time. Super Dollfie were made to be highly customizable and to create a female market for Volks products. See further: Super Dollfie History.
The earliest Asian BJDs were influenced by the anime aesthetic. The early, prominent BJD companies Volks, Cerberus Project with the Delf line, as well as the Japanese artist Gentaro Araki with the U-noa line, all have backgrounds in anime-style resin figure kits.
Around 20022003, South Korean companies started creating and producing BJDs. Customhouse and Cerberus Project were among the first Korean BJDs companies, and since then the Korean market has expanded with many more.
The earliest Chinese produced BJDs were knockoffs. Some were direct recasts, while others were slight modifications of Super Dollfie or Korean BJDs. These knockoffs were made of plaster, low quality resin or polystone a mix of resin and a filler material like sand. They were low in price, but not very durable.
The first Chinese company to release original BJD sculpts in high quality polyurethane resin was Dollzone in 2005. Their dolls hit the market in late 2005/early 2006. Since then, several other Chinese companies followed suit, putting their own BJD creations on the international market.
The first American company to produce a BJD with more of an American aesthetic influence was Goodreau Doll in 2007
Modern Asian BJDs are intended for adult collectors and customizers and range in price from US$100 to over US$1000. Their body elements are cast in polyurethane resin and held together by thick elastic cords, making them fully articulated and highly poseable. BJDs tend to follow a distinctly Asian view in their aesthetics, but the designs are diverse and range from highly anime-inspired to hyper-realistic. Most are anatomically correct and have proportionally large heads, big eyes and comparatively large feet, contrasted with fashion dolls like Barbie, and are capable of standing on their own, without a stand or other support.