Roller painting your van

Roller painting

In my hub on building a camper van Here. I talked about roller painting it to some extent. This hub describes the painting in a bit more detail with specifics around paint types and techniques.

So why roller paint? Well once your van gets to a certain age it becomes less viable to pay for a respray, particularly for the size of the vehicle. Another reason is you don't need any special equipment and you don't need a garage to do it in.

When you can completely refresh and repaint that old van for under £50 ($75) then it really makes sense to roller. The paint finish can be as good as a respray if you take care with the process but even for a first attempt, a really good acceptable finish can be achieved.


Preparation is always the key to a good paint finish regardless of what method you use.  Once the paint goes on all the blemishes will be highlighted and can spoil what would be an otherwise smart van.

Fill all the little holes and rust spots.  Sand down smooth to around a 600 grade finish. You don't need to sand the whole van but I would recommend it as it gives the paint something to key to. Finally, wash everything down to remove dust and grease.  This final part is the most important.

Masking up

Next step in the preparation is to mask everything you don't want the paint on.  Sounds obvious but what you will find is that because you have so much control over where the paint goes, there may be a lot less masking than you think.

For example, there is no need to completely cover the windows.  You don't get overspray with a roller so you only need to mask the edges of the windows.  The same applies to lights or any other edges to large areas.

I would recommend tricky areas like door handles are completely masked, but these are small areas so its not such a big deal.  Later on when I applied some of the last coats, I didn't use any masking at all. 

The paint

Now here comes the important bit.  Essentially you can use this technique with any paint type but obviously your not going to get a high gloss finish using emulsion.  I would also not recommend household gloss paint either although it is possible.

The paint type I used is a product called Rustoleum.  This paint has several advantages.  It doesn't need an undercoat. It has rust inhibiting qualities, it dries slowly and has some self levelling propoerties.  An added advantage is that it can be thinned down using ordinary white spirits.

There are several other paints with similar qualities on the market but essentially a good quality paint that is designed to be applied without an undercoat and suitable for metal should be the type that you look for.

Painting equipment

in addition to the masking tape, there are a few other pieces of equipment you will need.

A decantering tub, preferably a plastic one.

A roller tray

A roller handle

Lots of gloss foam rollers.

Bottle of white spirits, or whatever thinning agent your paint requires.

The gloss foam rollers are they key to getting a great finish.  These are close cell foam and can be bought in packs of about 16 for a few pounds.  Buy plenty as you will find they disintegrate or come off their roller tubes quite a lot.  On average, I used about 10 rollers per coat.

Thinning the paint.

To achieve the best possible finish you need to thin the paint.  This allows you to build several coats up but also prevents bubbles usually associated with rollering.

During the whole painint process, the aim is to keep the bubbles to a minimum.  Bubbles will create a variety of blemishes to your final finish. At best it will be an orange peel finish similar to a cheap spray can, at worst it will be little volcanoes.

Pour some paint into the decanter tub and then add some thinners.  Take care not to introduce bubbles when pouring.  The amount of thinners will depend on the paint type, the temparature and a number of other factors, but the consistency should be something resembling a slightly thick milk.

Constanltly stir the thinners to ensure a reall good consistent mix.  Fold it rather than whisk it and do it by hand, not with a drill or anything.  Remember no bubbles.

Take care not to over thin or the paint will lose its coverage, test on some spare metal to ensure that it still has good coverage.  Once your happy, pour the mixed paint into the roller tray.

Applying the paint

OK, we're ready to start painting. With the paint in the roller tray, soak the roller in the paint.  Just allow the roller to fill naturally and soak up the paint into the foam.  Don't squeeze it as that will form bubbles.  Evenly coat the roller and then start to roll off the excess in the tray.

Now for the moment of truth. Gently apply the roller to the panel of the van.  Use only the weight of the roller on the panel and roll smoothly.  Roll in one direction, ie up and down, overlapping each roll.  Gradually spread the paint along the panel. Then roll the same paint that has been applied the opposite direction.  For example, if you have worked across the panel up and down, now roll the panel left and right.  What we are trying to achieve is an even spread of the paint.

You may get some runs but just roll them out.  Keep a light pressure at all times and remember the paint will go a long way.  Work over any bubbles that appear and keep the roller moving.

After a few minutes you will find the technique and the rest of the job will become quite easy.  Don't rush  and roll out any lines that appear.  The less pressure you use the less lines and bubbles you will get.

Working your way round the van

I would recommend doing a panel at a time using the natural panel lines as a start and stopping point.  This way you can plan your attack and have convenient rest points to mix more paint or change rollers.

Vertical panels are fairly easy, horizontal ones like bonnets require a little more care that your sleeves etc don't brush the paint.  I left the roof until last, in fact I painted it a couple of days later and treated it as a separate job.  Speaking of the roof, I was quite lucky as my van has ladders attached to the rear doors and a substantial roof rack to stand on.

If your not as luck as me, some innovation may be required to paint the roof, but most panel vans will allow you to stand on them.  Just make sure you start at the front and make your way backwards or you may paint yourself into a corner.

Ridges and other small areas can still be got to with the small rollers but any really awkward places may need a paintbrush to finish off.  These spots may be better done with neat un thinned paint to prevent runs and ensure a good thick coat.


This is the hard part now.  Rustoleum is touch dry and usuable after a couple of days.  It is not truly hard though for about 2 weeks.  What you will find is that the paint will level out and look better and beeter each day until it is fully cured.  I have found with experience that the longer it takes to dry, the better the final finish.

Once the first coat has fully hardened, rub down using 800 grade paper with plenty of water and a drop of detergent.  This prevents the paint from burning and gives a smoother finish.  Concentrate on any blemishes and don't worry if you rub through in places to get the smoothness you need. When you have rubbed down the whole van you are ready for the second coat.

The second coat is applied exactly the same as the first as is the third or any additional coats.  Rub down between coats to ensure a good finish.  It is possible to achieve a completely glass like finish better than a spray job if a little care is applied.

Alternatively, you can achieve a very acceptable result with just a single coat and have the whole job done in a day.  Adding additional coats and rubbing down spreads the job over several weeks but is worth it in the end.

Final notes

Using the technique, a 2.5l tin of paint, thinned down will give a good 3 coats on a Transit LWB van.  With the rollers and tubs etc the total cost of a repaint is well under £50.  Many people who have seen my van are amazed at the quality of the finish and simply couldn't believe it was rollered.

Have the confidence that you can do it, it is very easy and buy quality paint.  Added to your preparation you could actually add value to your van and of course you can have it any colour you like.

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Comments 31 comments

Dino the dub 4 weeks ago

It looks great and it sounds so easy however.... I'm not a very skilled or patient person. I have watched numerous videos on YouTube of rustoleum paint jobs and really want to have a go.

I've just been quoted £2k cash for fill and spray plus materials but I just can't stretch to that. although I know it will look great I just haven't got the funds. My bus is not a show piece and never will be. A good spray job does increase the value but will it make it worth that much more? when the van is original but has had work already the real vw fans want an original unwelded bus... I really want to keep the original colour so i can't use rustoleum as fast as I'm aware. Unless anyone can give me some pointers?


Sam 5 months ago

Great article! Have been trying this on my van. Can't seem to stop those dreaded bubbles though! Any tips?

vinnie 5 months ago

Trying this on my car at the moment im a decorator by trade so have a little understanding of paints! Hope it loos as good as the van

andy d 6 months ago

I googled how to roller paint a van, up this popped, and given that I have just bought a scabrous Transit self-converted (and now completely stripped internally) BLUE van....this was obviously fated to be. So clear, and so helpful, and so encouraging. So thank you from one blue transit camper to another...

Craig 23 months ago

hey absolutely awesome post, and vry helpful all i would ask is how did you make sure it was away from any rain or wind when it was being painted/drying?


Lucy 2 years ago

Hi, great explanation of how to paint a van.

Any ideas on painting the interior of a camper van?

Mine's ok, but would be good to personalise and

need to know what paint to use. Thanks

Hugh 2 years ago

Hi - great article!

There is quite a lot of products on the Rustoleum direct site and I want to make sure I get the right one... What type of Rustoleum did you use?

gunge 3 years ago

wow geezer

Transit Camper 5 years ago Author

thats one hell of a distraction lol, too right though...use the van that's what you did it for.

jax 5 years ago

hi were in the process of roller painting ours put on first coat ha got distracted went to france it was ace ,2nd coat is still to be applied no rush looks great with one,we are gunna do sometime in the near future ,too busy yet enjoying our van

Transit Camper 5 years ago Author

Hi Albert... I would but...

I now actually own a garage and we do proper spray painting now. Give it a go, it really is as easy as it sounds and will save you a fortune with fairly good results.

Albert 5 years ago


you dont fancy doing my renault trafic camper

do you

What a great job you have done

Transit Camper 5 years ago Author

Good stuff Nick, best of luck with the project. It is quite theraputic once you get started.

Nick 5 years ago

Hi Transit Camper, first off, your van looks really good nice job. Ive been given a D series Ford camper that needs a new coat of paint, I will be putting this into practice. TBH I was dreading the cost of a respray, but now quite looking forward to the work. Likewise I will post a picture of the finished project.

Transit Camper 5 years ago Author

Sorry for the delay Mark, not sure to be honest, I would test a bit first to make sure there is no reaction with the Masonary paint. Masonary paint tends to be water based and Rustoleum is oil based, When you use white spirits to thin it, it may strip the masonary paint off. I suppose it depends on how long the masonary paint has been on there - test to find out

mark 5 years ago

Hi there ive just roller painted my merc sprinter in mat blcak.. Witchis masonry paint look really good but kind of like the gloss finish would i be able to paint straight over the paint or will i have to take it all off thanks..mark

Transit Camper 5 years ago Author

Malc  5 years ago

Really helpful info we are doing a self build have you an address for paint you used thanks happy camping malc and sue

Transit Camper 5 years ago Author

Cheers Vee, glad it helped. Your right it can be quite enjoyable

Vee Dubber 5 years ago

Great guide, just finnished the 1st coat on mine. This was really useful. Pretty enjoyable once you get into the swing of it!

Transit Camper 5 years ago Author

Hi Matt, I simply rollered them too. If the paint is thinned to the right consistency it shouldn't make any difference. They don't come up as shiny but that is due to the texture of the plastic.

All I would add is make sure you give them a good wash before painting so there is no grease or anything. A final wipe with some of the white spirit will help here.

Matt 5 years ago

About to try this on my red royal mail ldv pilot, changing the colour to silver. How did you do your plastic bumpers? I have bought 2 aerosol cans of rustoleum in addition to a 2.5l tin for rollering to do the bumpers, Thought it would give them a better finish with it bieng plastic and having a number of creases. Your advice/experience would be much appreciated!

Transit Camper 6 years ago Author

this was my first attempt at rollering anything, never even roller painted the walls inside my house lol.

Instant-Immersion profile image

Instant-Immersion 6 years ago from Saint Louis, MO

I would have never dreamed you could do this with a roller. I have a van that I would like to have repainted, but somehow tackling the project of a van intimidates me (it's a big van).

Was your van the first vehicle you had done this with, or did you have experience with another, smaller vehicle first?

Transit Camper 6 years ago Author

Thanks Dennis, hope it helps other people to solve any paint problems in the current economic climate

Dennis Vernier 6 years ago

What a great job! I know you can get terrific results even with the painting when done like this. I'm always

impressed by people that find a way around the high cost of things and still manage to do a first rate job!

All the best to you.

Transit Camper 6 years ago Author

Thanks John, look forward to seeing the results

John North West UK 6 years ago

Came across your post and I have to say it's impressive so I printed it off and will be putting it into practice. Will let you know how it goes in the coming weeks. All the best.

Transit Camper 6 years ago Author

Thanks Shannon.

Transit Camper 6 years ago Author

Thanks Owen, best of luck. It is actually easier to do than describe.

Owen Strong 6 years ago

What a great guide.Will be trying this soon on my VW T25.I know of people who have tried this but wasn't sure what paint and/or techniques to follow. Great.

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