Roller Printing is a simple and quick way to add texture to your work. The process is fairly simple: all one needs is a Rolling Mill, a piece of annealed metal and a Die.
Step 1: Choosing a Die (some Samples of My Favorite Dies)
A "Die" is what makes the imprint. This could be any number of things: Papers, Fabrics, Organic Materials.... I am always on the lookout for new Dies; often I am surprised by what will and what won't work - so make some samples (just remember that the Die is destroyed in the process - so don't use Grandma's best Lace).
Step 2: Anneal the Metal
It is important the metal is annealed; a soft piece of metal will take the imprint best. Once the metal is annealed, the next step depends on what the metal will become. For example if more soldering is required there is no point in removing Firescale; since soldering will only bring up more (you'll have to live with the Firescale). If assembling with cold connections, remove the Firescale before Roller Printing.
To learn about annealing sterling silver turn to page 46 in the July, 2012 issue of Creating Linus Jewellery. CLJ is a free online magazine packed full of tutorials, articles and interviews with jewellery artists.
Step 3: Setting the Rollers
Before beginning always make sure the rollers are clean; any debris on the rollers will imprint to the metal. Always clean with a dry cloth, or in cases of hard to get off debris a micro sanding pad (6000 grit or higher) with a bit of oil on it (remove oil from rollers with a dry cloth). Never use water, the rollers will rust.
Raise the Rollers high enough that the metal can easily slide between the two rollers. Do not have the Die on the metal at this point.; use just the metal to set the Rollers
Bring the rollers down until the metal is tightly secured; you should not be able to move the metal with your fingers.
Using pencil, draw registration lines on the center gear and one of the outer gears. Raise the rollers just high enough to remove the metal, then lower them back down until the registration lines match up once more. Now the rollers are set to the same thickness as the metal; this is always the starting point.
A nice new Rolling Mill will have dials on the gears with numbers that can spin. This will allow you to easily set the tension. But my old purchased used Rolling Mill is missing them; so I use the pencil method. If your Rolling Mill still has the Dials; instead of marking with pencil, tighten the metal between the two rollers and move either the dial on the left or right to zero; do not adjust this once set. Open the rollers enough to remove the metal, then close the rollers until back to zero.
Step 4: Setting the Tension
Why do you need to set the tension? Roller Printing uses the Rolling Mill like an embossing tool; the rollers "squeeze" the Die into the Metal. With most Dies you only have one chance to get the roll right. Setting the Tension is the most important part of the Roller Printing process; set it too tight and the metal will get stuck in the press or the image will be seriously distorted; but set it too loose and the imprint will be too light. The more Roller Printing you do the better at judging the tension you will become. I recommend keeping a samples book with notes on how much tension used, sample of die and the resulting metal sample.
Depending what the die is the rollers may need to stay at the starting point, or might need to be tightened or loosened. When trying a new die I always do a quick sample in copper. Generally speaking not much tension is needed on most dies; just tighten the rollers a bit. A little experimenting will be required.
Step 5: Doing the Roll
Always Roller Print your "stock" first, then cut out the shape; the shape will get distorted through the Roller Printing process. Place the die on top of the metal; for the purpose of this tutorial I am using a bit of binding wire. Position the metal in the middle of the flat rollers. Grab the handle and start rolling. A little muscle should be required but if you are using all of your strength, the tension is set too tight, stop and reset the tension. Role the handle backwards and remove the metal before resetting the tension. If you continually set the tension too tight and force the handle, there is a great possibility of damaging the Rolling Mill.
If you start rolling and find the metal won't go in, sometimes pushing hard on the metal while cranking the handle will help get it started. The rule of too much tension still applies; if the handle is too difficult to move, the tension will need to be loosened.
Now that you have your texture treat the metal with care; any scratch or mark you make will be impossible to get out without removing your texture.
Step 6: Some Advice on Purchasing a Rolling Mill With the Intent to Roller Print
The Rolling Mill was originally used to make flat sheet and wire; but at some point in time a clever person discovered it could also be used to imprint or emboss on Metals. The important thing to consider when purchasing a Rolling Mill is how wide the flat rollers should be; the metal you Roller Print will be limited to this. Be sure it has a Reduction Gear; if it does not you will have to put a lot more muscle into it and the imprint might not be as deep.
Rolling mills come in various roller styles the two most common are: Combination (wire and sheet) and sheet (no wire).
The rollers will be available in various lengths; for example: 90 mm or 110 mm. If you have no intention of making wire, going with a flat only mill can be advantageous; since flat only mills offer wider rollers, larger pieces of metal can be roller printed with them.
The two most popular Rolling Mills are Durston and Pepe. I've used them both and liked them equally. There are economy Rolling Mills available but I feel this is one item where spending a little more now will pay off in the long run. For $200 - $500 more you can get a pretty good Rolling mill that will last a life time.
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