We Roller Painted Our Van!!! – Van Conversion

We never wanted white, we wanted a dark colour van, but when researching vans to buy, black or dark vans were very rare. So, we always had the idea to change the colour, but it was only after we got the van that roller painting occurred to us and it was such a relief to have that flexibility.

Written By Freedom Strider

On May 23, 2020

We'd had enough of our silver, slightly splotchy van, so we pulled out the rollers and sandpaper, and decided to roller paint our entire van by hand! We have never done anything like this before, but that is part of the fun, and we must admit, the van turned out AMAZING!

So we didn’t want our van to stay grey. But we also didn’t want to pay £3,000-£6,000 to get it repainted or wrapped (actually, we didn’t even want to pay £1,000 as it is just looks, doesn’t really matter in the long run). 

So we were quite relieved when we found that roller painting vehicles is actually a thing. We love the idea of having our house completely styled to our taste. We love the idea of the paint having quirks in it. We love the idea of it not being so perfect that you are afraid to touch or change it later on. Also, as this is going to be very much a travelling van, it’s going to be going down tiny narrow lanes filled with bushes, rocks and whatnot. We didn;t really want to have the stress of OMG a rock hit our £4,000 paintjob, what do we do??!

So yeah, roller painting it is. It only cost us around £150 for everything, bargain!

1

Squeaky clean

After realising the next 4 days are going to be sunny 🌞 we jumped on the opportunity and decided now was the best time to repaint our van, and we already had the paint sitting in the garage.

Since we were painting it outside in our driveway, we had to get the van as clean as possible so half of day 1 was spent cleaning the van with soap and water, making sure to clean every surface (including the roof and above the windscreen). 

diy roller painting van conversion

2

I hope you like having no fingerprints

In order to get the paint to stick to the van without sanding the van’s paintwork down to bare metal, we still had to scuff the clear coat surface on the entire van.

We used a mixture of fine sandpapers to achieve this (1200, 1500, 2000), although if we were to do it again, we probably would be braver and used something like 600-800 Grit to give a solid surface for paint to bond to. Also, having a power sander with adjustable speeds would be highly beneficial, since we sanded the whole van by hand. Ouch! 👎

Since the van had vinyl lettering on in its past life, the reminisce of the logo adhesive remained, but sandpaper and acetone (nail varnish remover) removed it no problem.

This took an entire day!

diy roller painting van conversion

3

Final Preparations

In order to protect the plastics, windows, wing mirrors, number plate and more from being painted we used a combination of masking tape, painters plastic and christmas wrapping paper (cause why not) to cover anything we wanted to stay the colour it was.

We also gave the van one last wipedown with acetone and white spirit to ensure the surface was as clean as can be. ✨

diy roller painting van conversion

4

First coat

Since Sam went to work, Polly was incharge of applying coat #1.

After spending an hour figuring out the ratio of paint:thinner by mixing and testing the coverage on the metal from the fan cutout – 3:1 seemed good for the base coat since it needed to be thin.

It was time.

It was going well, until about 30 minutes in… when the foam roller started disintegrating into tiny fluffy pieces, all over our new paintwork!! 🤬 (this was an ongoing problem)

Took a while to figure out how the paint behaved and work with it before it turned sticky and started to dry.

First coat was complete by sunset 🌇

It was not even, and the silver was still coming through, but that is what the first coat is meant to look like.

Everywhere was painted, including the roof, forehead and backdoors, all single handedly…7 hours of pure painting. 🕖

diy roller painting van conversion
diy roller painting van conversion
diy roller painting van conversion

TOP TIP

We used Military Vehicle Paint, which doesn’t require any primer beforehand or clear coat after. It is good for roller painting and is UV, frost and water resistant since it is used on vehicles. Regular house paint, or any other non-automotive paint will not stand the test of time. The paint company we bought it from has a lot of colour options to choose from – we chose RAF Blue Grey.

5

Sand and coat #2

Sam spent the next morning sanding the van and picking out all the fluff, bugs and bird poop from the paint, whilst Polly closely followed with a roller filled with paint, applying coat 2.

We used a 4:1 ratio this time, and Sam had to learn how to paint but otherwise, all was well, and it only took half a day. The paint was looking much better after coat #2 but the imperfections from coat #1 were still showing through. 👌

diy roller painting van conversion

6

Even MORE sanding + coat #3

After letting the paint dry (the tin said 4 hours), we cracked on with more aggressive sanding to smooth out the surface and started on coat #3.

The rollers were getting worse and worse, there was an ever-increasing roller graveyard laying to rest in cut up plastic bottles filled with white spirit. Since now we were approaching our finishing coats, it would be best for the paint to be a bit smoother and we needed to figure out a solution quickly. Might need to order more…

And this is when we ran out of paint, ¾ the way through coat #3 (only the back doors and roof needed a 3rd coat).

At this point, we were both bruised and felt like someone had been kicking us in the ribs so the paint running out was a welcome chance to take a break for a while and order more.

diy roller painting van conversion
diy roller painting van conversion

7

21,600 minutes later…

Due to COVID-19, the paint shop was closed and it took us around 2 weeks to get more paint delivered, but luckily the weather stayed unnaturally good for Britain in March. ☀️

Since 2 weeks of pollen and dust had built up, we gave the van a quick clean and instead of remasking the whole van (the wind and weather had taken its toll), we just unbolted most of the plastics and just tapped off the windows and anything we couldn’t remove.

Probably should have done that to begin with.

diy roller painting van conversion

TOP TIP

Our paint was meant to be thinned with special Military Paint Thinner, but the paint was white spirit based.

So for the second tin of paint, we just used cheap white spirit to thin the paint, instead of buying the more expensive thinner (which was probably just white spirit and a few additives in a fancy can with a high markup).

8

Poof go the rollers

We quickly completed coat #3, and sanded down the van.

Sam left me again for work (how rude), so coat #4 was a solo mission. 🙎

Almost immediately, the new foam rollers disintegrated…oh joy.

We ditched the foam rollers and ended up using hair rollers, which were so much better at manipulating the paint and gave a better finish without all the fluff and drips were much easier to manage since the hair rollers did not absorb as much paint. Lesson learnt.

By sundown, coat #4 was finished, and the van was looking nearly done, probably needs one more coat…

diy roller painting van conversion
diy roller painting van conversion

9

Muscle pain 😩

Coat #5 was a joint effort, and this was the one that was going to be visible so needed to look as balanced as we could make it.

Sam sanded the van down one last time and we both carefully rollered on the final coat, taking special care to keep the streaks going in the same direction as the paint has some gloss to it, which means changes in direction actually reflect light differently.

Turns out painting your van 5 times is enough of a workout to turn your muscles to jelly, the last push was painful! And in all honesty, we were quite nauseous from muscle pain the following days after the painting was done. 😴

But on the other hand, we were burning so many calories we were eating cake and ice cream like there was no tomorrow! 🍰

diy roller painting van conversion
diy roller painting van conversion

10

Reassemble

Since we have a tendency to spray paint grey things black, we spray painted our side trims from dull dark grey to jet black, and popped them back on the van, along with our front plastic grill and a few other small pieces. It will wear off eventually but looks cool.

We unmasked the van, being careful not to rip it off quickly and destroy the paint around it. 

We bolted everything back on, drove to a remote car park and had a photoshoot in the sun.

diy roller painting van conversion

quick look

Quick Steps Overview:

 

  1. Clean and mask van
  2. Mix paint and paint coat #1
  3. Sand and repeat (coat #2)
  4. Sand and repeat (coat #3)
  5. Wait for more paint
  6. Destroy new rollers so used hair rollers instead (coat #4)
  7. Sand and repeat with hair rollers (coat #5)
  8. Spray paint plastics and reassemble

NEXT VAN BUILD STEP

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