Introduction: Design Rollers -- for Painting

Picture of Design Rollers -- for Painting

Texture gives life to painting surfaces and design rollers are a quick way to put it down.  These rollers use PVC pipe for the basic roller sleeves and are like rolling printing blocks.  You charge them with paint, instead of printing ink, and roll the design patterns down on your painting.  I use them with acrylic paints. 

Spread a thin layer of paint out on your palette with a palette knife, charge the roller with paint and go for it!

Step 1: Techniques for Making the Roller Designs

Picture of Techniques for Making the Roller Designs

There are several techniques for making the rollers.  You can carve into the plastic sleeve itself with a Dremel tool.  You can also glue things to the surface. 

I sometimes use acrylic gel, or modeling paste, for sticking things like string to the surface of the PVC sleeves.  Clear PVC cement works well for sticking down shapes cut from Nagahyde upholstery vinyl.  For precise gluing with the PVC cement I sometimes use a hypodermic syringe without the needle.  The solvent in the cement eventually damages the syringe, but it is good for a while. 

Check out the pictures for ideas as to what is possible. 

Step 2: Beginner's Roller Handle

Picture of Beginner's Roller Handle

Most of my rollers use large diameter sleeves and special handles I made.  Since making the handles is a little complicated, using PVC heat forming techniques and molding, the easiest way to start right in is to use a standard paint roller handle. 

Sections of 1 1/4" PVC pipe fit on the standard paint roller handles.  In this step, you see how I made a quick dremel-carved sleeve.   After penciling the design on the sleeve, I held it in a vise while carving. 

Step 3: Advanced Roller Handles

Picture of Advanced Roller Handles

I make special handles for any size roller, from 1" diameter wheels, to 4" diameter pipe sleeves.  The PVC pipe is cut and heat formed to make two springy arms that hold the roller sleeves.  The arms spring apart to place and remove rollers.  Bolts acting as axles for the roller are attached to each arm and protrude into a center hole on either side of the roller. 

Inside the sleeve, there are two molded end pieces with the holes for the axle bolts, and a split ring spacer sleeve to keep them the right distance apart.  These units slide into the pipe sections that are the roller sleeves. 

I made the male part of the molds for the end pieces out of plywood.  The female outer part of the mold was a section of the same PVC pipe meant to be used as the roller sleeves.  I may have wrapped that section with wire to keep it from expanding as it was in use with heated material and might absorb heat and soften during the molding process.   It was many years ago, and I threw out the molds. 

For tips on working with PVC, see my other instructable:

Step 4: Paintings Done With Rollers

Picture of Paintings Done With Rollers

These are some paintings I did many years ago on water color paper with acrylic paints.  For the most part, I put down abstract backgrounds with the rollers and then did something more realistic over it with brush work.   A couple of the paintings were done only with rollers and paper stencils -- no brush work. 


wishfulthinking47 (author)2014-10-30

Wow! . Thanks so much for this instructable. Just what I needed.

Love your beautiful paintings. Congratulations. You are a very talented person.


Thanks. Good luck with your paintings.

neologik (author)2011-01-17

this is amazing

very beutifull paintings.

nice work

gemtree (author)2011-01-03

Hm, I was rereading this and a thought occurred. Squeeze out silicone on a sanded pvc tube for stick toitiveness. Wrap it in saran wrap then roll the soft silicon across a real tree bark. Hang to dry so it won't get flattened. Most likely take forever to dry tho. However, it may not be firm enough to make the impressions in the cement.

Thinkenstein (author)gemtree2011-01-04

Yes, unable to breathe through the PVC pipe core or the saran wrap outside it probably would take forever to dry. Also, the saran wrap would interfere with getting a good impression from the bark.

To get a silicone impression of tree bark, you could just smear some silicone onto the bark and then apply a layer of cloth (to prevent excessive stretching and tearing) with more silicone. When dry, peel it off the bark and clean out whatever bark flakes are sticking to the silicone.

You might be able to make a roller out of the material by sticking it to a PVC sleeve with more silicone. Or, you might be able to just press the flat material into cement and forget the roller idea. Beats me. It would take some experimenting.

kirnex (author)2011-01-02

Good God, this is BRILLIANT, Thinkenstein! I am in awe.

I wish you'd make a whole thread of all the awesome ideas you've come up with for using PVC. I'm serious, man--I think you obviously are an "out-of-box"er, and I bet you could write a book with all the stuff you've come up with to "re-purpose" ordinary items. I'm convinced--and a new fan.

Thinkenstein (author)kirnex2011-01-02

Thanks, Kirnex. A book could happen someday, but the collection of instructables I've done says it already.

You should start playing around with the material, if you haven't already. Shouldn't let that enthusiasm go to waste.

rimar2000 (author)2010-11-09

You are an artist!

I can not draw decently a glass...

Thinkenstein (author)rimar20002010-11-10

Thanks. I've been at it since third grade.

Glass is not easy to draw.

I guess art is not for everybody. I enjoyed it, so I stuck with it. I think everyone has the potential, though. It's a combination of thinking and feeling and a lot of practice.

gemtree (author)Thinkenstein2010-11-11

I recently learned that real artists tend to be a totally different type of person. I am a full time healer and have been told for years I had a personality problem by other nonartsy healers. Seems that when I started going weekly to an art market and talking with other artists... I find we all have similar traits that apparently drive non arty type people to distraction and irritate them. Then they tell us we are screwed up when in actuality we think outside of THEIR boxes and that irritates and confuses them when we act the way we do.

It is a normal state of being for a true artist personality type. I know this because I met about twenty or more different artists at that art market and they all acted and thought similar ways. Like I did when I was accused of ...being flighty, ungrounded, unproductive, lazy, unmotivated, having personality problems and issues. The more I was around these people, the more I realized I was NOT BROKEN. I was NOT SCREWED UP. I was NOT FLIGHTY, etc. I was a normal artist type, doing normal artist behaviour, acting just like we always do.

We need to be careful what we accept from other people. Don't listen if someone tells you you have an issue if you are happy doing what you are doing. They just do not have knowledge of our personalities or how our minds work. They might have an issue with US is all and they will often be critical of us because we do not fit their mold. It can make them feel threatened.

ccrewe (author)gemtree2010-12-19

Hello gemtree, I am a full time artist, I make and sell paintings full time, for a living. I must warn you that thinking in terms of "artistic people" and "non artistic people" the whole "us and them" type of thinking is a very dangerous trap to fall into. Artist or not, personality traits such as the ones you attribute to artistic people ( flighty, ungrounded, unproductive, lazy, unmotivated) are character flaws and will hold a person back in life.
An artist should always be growing evolving and becomming better than before. Now that you have recognized your personality flaws, it is your job to better yourself by challenging and overcomming them. This is the true struggle of the artist.

gemtree (author)ccrewe2010-12-20

ccrewe, unfortunately you totally missed what I was trying to say. I was accused of being those things. I was not any of those things. I did things DIFFERENTLY from those inconsiderate, judgmental people who tried to make me feel bad by belittling me. Just because I woke and slept at different times, I did not keep my house the ways they did nor arranged my life the way they did, THEY decided that I had a problem.

I did not but unfortunately I was convinced for many years that I was broken, screwed up and worthless. When I finally realized they were judging me unfairly and did things my normal way and refused to allow them to put me down (by disassociating myself from them)... well, suddenly, I started making money, becoming popular and had many more friends. I have not evolved so much as accepted I am different and stopped being a sheeple and following THEIR leads and trying to fit myself into THEIR molds.

I have never ever said that artists are any of those things.

porcupinemamma (author)gemtree2010-12-14

"Normal...who wants to be normal? sounds very boring!

rimar2000 (author)gemtree2010-11-11

I think you're right. Even I have come to think that some artists, especially musicians, have a special nervous system, which allows them to do things a human being "normal" is unable to do, but practice years and years. You can find many examples, here goes one: min. 5:37+ specially. Other:

Thinkenstein (author)rimar20002010-11-12

Thanks for the links Rimar. Pretty amazing violin playing. It's a great instrument. I tinkered with violin years ago, with no training, and just got background music for cat fights! Anyway, it is incredible what the human body and mind can do.

rimar2000 (author)Thinkenstein2010-11-12

Years ago, a friend gave me a violin, I had it about a month and all I could play was "rusty hinge" and "the nail sliding on the blackboard"!!

Thinkenstein (author)rimar20002010-11-12

People kept asking me to play "Far, Far Away" but my repertoire was limited.

gemtree (author)Thinkenstein2010-11-12

Uhhhh, you sure they were asking you to play that song and not just move on?

Thinkenstein (author)gemtree2010-11-12


gemtree (author)Thinkenstein2010-11-13

*lol* I am just joking...

gemtree (author)rimar20002010-11-12

Amazing! Thanks for sharing!

8bit (author)2010-12-01

You're a lifesaver!

gemtree (author)2010-11-11

Oh, is the end insert made from a large piece of pvc pipe? I need to make another trip to the hardware store.

Thinkenstein (author)gemtree2010-11-11

To make 4" end pieces: The diameter of a circle is pi D, so I just cut some 4" pipe in half lengthwise and cut it long enough to give me square pieces. I heated those up to soften them, pressed them in the mold and then cut off the flashing excess.

As I mentioned in my other reply, though, you would possibly save a lot of grief by just making wood end pieces. It's always good to learn how to mold PVC, though. You never know when that trick will come in handy.

gemtree (author)Thinkenstein2010-11-12

Yeah, well I do like the idea of the molded pvc. I am in a hurry tho to get the pillars made for bird baths. Faux bois tree trunks. Pedestal with a platform top for my bird baths and wide root/feet. Of course, with the styrofoam center to make it light enough for people to move around without hiring someone to do it. Sturdy is a must. Needless to say, you have stimulated my creativity with yours.

Thinkenstein (author)gemtree2010-11-12

Try a sample piece with the grass cuttings, and maybe other similar debris, pressed into the surface of wet cement first, to see if you get an acceptable texture. By leaving it in until the cement hardens, you would avoid the stickiness problem with the rollers. You might get an acceptable texture that way, that would fool most non-tree experts.

I still don't understand the commercial sleeve idea that prevents sticking.

Although almost nothing, when dry, sticks well to silicone I suspect that wet cement would. You can stick two pieces of glass together with water, for example, whereas they don't stick together dry. Air has to get in for the water to let go, or a vacuum is formed. Form a vacuum and the cement would be pulled upward as the roller passes on, I imagine.

By the way, to smooth out some surface defects, a soft paint brush and a little water works well.

gemtree (author)Thinkenstein2010-11-13


gemtree (author)2010-11-11

I don't really understand these parts:

"Inside the sleeve, there are two molded end pieces with the holes for the axle bolts, and a split ring spacer sleeve to keep them the right distance apart."

Is the split ring spacer between the two molded end inserts and it is just barely smaller than the roller sleeve minus the end sizes so the ends don't move into the sleeve too far? Is the spacer made from a smaller size pvc, split then heated to open more and fit snug? What do you use to make the end caps?

"I made the male part of the molds for the end pieces out of plywood. The female outer part of the mold was a section of the same PVC pipe meant to be used as the roller sleeves. I may have wrapped that section with wire to keep it from expanding as it was in use with heated material and might absorb heat and soften during the molding process."

Does this mean you made a hole in plywood and melted/heated the material to force into a hole that would tightly fit inside the roller sleeve? Or does it mean that you used a circular wood blank that you forced the end material (that looks like it is pvc) after heating the material up? And forced it into a reinforced pvc pipe for the outer dimension? I was wondering if we could use a piece of cement to hold the female part in it's original dimension? Thanks for helping.

Thinkenstein (author)gemtree2010-11-11

Good points. I should clarify them more in the body of the instructable.

Let's say I am using 4" diameter pipe as the roller sleeves. Some rollers might be 2 inches wide and some might be 6 inches wide. You would need a different handle for each size, because of the different widths.

The molded end pieces could be used for either handle, because they are both for 4" pipe. You would need two different split ring separators, though.

Let's say the molded end pieces take up 1/2" on either side of the width, for a total of 1". You would need a 1" length of end separator for the 2" rollers and a 5" separator for the 6" rollers.

The separators would be sections of 4" diameter pipe with two cuts down the side to remove a narrow strip. The removal of the strip allows it to be compressed more tightly and fit inside the roller sleeve. PVC is springy, so it springs outward once inside the roller sleeve. Because of the separators, the end pieces can not now be pushed inward by pressure from the handle's arms.

Let's say the 4" pipe wall is 1/8" thick. You want the outside of the end pieces to be a tight fit to the inside diameter of 4" pipe, so the diameter of the (let's say 3/4" thick) round plywood male part of the mold would be the inside diameter of the pipe, less 1/4".

The female part of the mold might be a section of 4" pipe about 5/8" long. You have to allow a little over 1/2" to allow for cutting off the excess material after the molding process, if you want your end pieces to measure 1/2" when finished. That is not critical, though, because the spacer length can adjust as needed.

I have used cement before to keep PVC rings from expanding in female molds before. That would probably be more precise than using wire.

You could probably simplify the whole process, especially if you have a drill press with a circle cutter, to just cut plywood rounds for the end pieces and use the same split ring separator idea between them. That would eliminate the molding part of the project and save you a lot of time if it worked. I was just enamored with molding the plastic in those days and made a bunch of similar pieces for end caps for pipe, too.

gemtree (author)Thinkenstein2010-11-12

Thanks for the clarification. I may just use the plywood ends. That would keep me from scorching my floor or table! LOL! I swear, I play with a torch and get all crazy.

l8nite (author)2010-11-11

where were you with this "ible" 6weeks ago ?? My daughter wanted tire tracks around the, soon to be born, babys room, 3 different attempts at stencils failed miserably and I ended up drawing and painting the "tracks" by hand. An idea like this would have worked fantastically with a larger dia pvc.. oh well, its in my head now so who knows, maybe even some backgrounds on my own artwork in the future. Thanks for the "ible" and the endless possibilities of ideas

gemtree (author)2010-11-10

You have just saved me hundreds of dollars and given me something I can really 'obsess' over for some time to come! <3 Thanks! Faux bois... here I come! (cement trees)

Thinkenstein (author)gemtree2010-11-10

Hm..m..m. You plan on using textured rollers to make the bark on cement trees?

I have a suspicion that won't work well, because of the stickiness of the cement. Disneyland had a cement Swiss Family Robinson tree house, which was pretty convincing, but I don't know how they did the texture. I think I read somewhere that Disney artists used crumpled aluminum foil to stipple the texture on their fake rocks. They impressed the heck out of me.

Just a thought. You might press grass cuttings into the tinted wet cement and leave them there until the cement hardens. Then you could blast them out with a pressure sprayer, or wait until they rotted out. That could give you a possibly bark-like texture.

gemtree (author)Thinkenstein2010-11-10
Check it out. Like I said, you saved me hundreds of dollars.

Thinkenstein (author)gemtree2010-11-11

Needless to say, I am impressed. I would still like to see the rollers in action, to make sure that stickiness to the roller is not a problem.

A thought that came to me is that maybe silicone rubber might be a good material to use for the texture surface. I don't know exactly how you would do this, but you might spread some silicone over real tree bark, for example and let it harden. Then peel it off and wrap it around a PVC roller core with some more silicone to make it stick. The silicone is very flexible.

The seam where the ends join would need some touch-up by hand, but it would be minimal. That would be a quick and easy way to copy textures.

Please keep me informed as to your progress with this idea; and I imagine it would make a great instructable for you.

It's an idea I might be tempted to play with someday myself, but I would prefer for you to get there first.

gemtree (author)Thinkenstein2010-11-11

Hehe, I appreciate you allowing me to go first but if you KNEW what a huge procrastinator I am... you would haul butt on the instructable yourself. Feel free. I actually did think about putting caulk lines on the roller but you are so right about the stickiness and silicone. I think the silicone should be a coating. I later browsed that link I sent you. The third window I found says this: All rollers are 9 1/2" x 3 1/2" and fit a regular size paint roller handle (handle not included). With Each roller comes a *water retaining sleeve that fits over the roller.* This water retaining sleeve is used instead of using mineral spirits or other chemicals, just place the sleeve over the roller, dip the roller in water and *it becomes non-stick without losing the texture created from the roller.*

So you really definitely know your concrete, Thinkenstein. Or psychic... or both, lol! Now, maybe a texture made with whatever with a silicone sleeve? Plastic wrap? Plastic wrap the concrete then roll? I may have to buy one of there rollers to research deeper. Thanks for the stickiness tip. Go right ahead on testing any ideas. If you want to share the idea here, please do so. *grin* I have been stalking subscribed to you since I read your fabulous concrete ideas.

aeray (author)2010-11-09

Go go Gauguin! Good work!
What is the scale of the paintings?
Are you still painting?

Thinkenstein (author)aeray2010-11-09


The paintings were all 18 X 24 inches. I bought paper by the ream in those days. Cheaper in bulk.

I haven't painted anything in years. I think about it sometimes, but don't seem to get inspired. I wish I had more models, but wishing doesn't seem to have done much good.

nickodemus (author)2010-11-08

Never thought of carving pvc before - There is so much more to be explored with new mediums!

Jayefuu (author)2010-11-08

The stuff you do with PVC astounds me thinkenstein. :)

Thinkenstein (author)Jayefuu2010-11-08

Thanks, Jayefuu. As you can see, it has potential for a lot more than plumbing. We had wood shop and metal shop in school when I was a kid. There should be a PVC shop now.

About This Instructable




Bio: I'm a refugee from Los Angeles, living in backwoods Puerto Rico for about 35 years now and loving it. I built my own home ... More »
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