Reasons for Eye Swapping
Collectors may want unique eye color and face mold combinations that have not been done by or are no longer available by American Girl, or were not available before the release of the Create Your Own line.
Several eye colors are not widely available and have only been on one or two dolls. For example, only a few modern dolls (#26, #62, and #76) have a unique brown-amber shade, only Caroline had aquamarine eyes, only Saige had dark turquoise, and Ruthie was the last doll available with grey eyes before the launch of the Create Your Own line.
If a doll has silver eye and is sent into the AG Hospital, it is possible that the entire head will be swapped out for another head; this can disturb a collector who has a Pre-Mattel doll. Even if the head is not swapped, the eyes will no longer have the soft matching lashes and come back with plastic black lashes.
If eyes are rusted or damaged, an eye swap can replace or repair the affected eye without having to swap the entire head through the hospital.
It is also possible to fully dismantle an eye and paint the inner chips any unique color, though this takes more effort.
The size of the American Girl eyes are uniquely sized; other available sizes of sleep eyes can appear too large or small in the head and may not function properly. Originally, the only way to obtain properly sized new eyes was to take them from another American Girl doll.
Currently, the only company that sells American Girl sized eyes is Beautifully Custom.
How to Eye Swap
The original eyes must be removed from both the donor head (and the recipient if needed). This is generally done by softening the vinyl around the eyes and head with a heat source; the preferred method is pouring hot water into the head cavity and, once the vinyl is soft enough, push firmly but gently on the eye socket from inside and behind until the eye is removed. Once the eyes are out, the new ones can be placed in and adjusted. It is important to put the eyes in properly weighted so that the eyes will still close properly and display accurately. There is a risk in damaging either the eyes or the head in any eye swap.
If eyes are being swapped from a doll with a darker or lighter skin tone, the skin tone on the "eyelid" may need to be painted to create a close match.
Doll repair locations or customizers may perform an eye swap for a fee. For example, the TLC Doll Hospital will swap eyes, but two heads must be sent in as they will not place eyes into an empty head. Beautifully Custom will also swap eyes, but eyes must be included or purchased from them.
WellieWishers may also be eye swapped; however, the inability to easily remove their heads means that they must have their eyes swapped without head removal first. This can be done by wrapping the head in a plastic bag to protect the hair and holding the head in heated water until the vinyl is soft. The eye is then removed via pressure on the front of the face, and eyes are replaced with flatter backed eyes.
Eye Swaps and the American Girl Hospital
A doll without the marked original eyes that were placed by them will not be repaired by American Girl.