Polymer clay is incredibly versatile and one of the reasons is because you can shape it and impress things into it, giving you an endless variety of ways to manipulate the clay. You can use textures to hide blemishes, to create a mood, make a pretty background, or even to construct interesting details on a sculpture. When you work with polymer clay, it becomes somewhat of a game and a challenge to find new, fun textures in all kinds of places. Borrowing from the scrapbooking world, polymer clayers have enjoyed using rubber (and silicone) stamps and sheets for quite some time. But that’s not the only kind of commercially available textures. Kor Tools is a company that makes interesting little rollers with designs on them. The rollers are then rolled over the surface of clay to create a texture. They’ve been on the market a couple of years now, but I only recently had a chance to get some of my own thanks to Poly-Tools. So here’s my review and impression (ha…get it!) of the Kor Rollers.
What Are KOR Rollers?
In the world of ceramic and earthenware clay, they use wooden tools to shape, texture, and stamp the raw clay body. And there’s a neat line of tools by a company called MKM Pottery Tools. They have some wonderful wooden “clay handrollers” that you’ll want to look at, and I’ve included them in this review as well. But a couple of years ago the company branched off to form another tool company called Kor Tools. Instead of being made from wood, Kor Tools are made from a black acrylic plastic and are specifically designed to be used as textures for polymer clay and precious metal clay. There are several types of Kor Tools; they make stamps, small rolling wheels, and the wildly popular Kor Rollers.
Kor Rollers are made from a fairly thin 10mm (just over 3/8″) diameter acrylic rod that’s been machine-cut with a high-precision design on the outside of the rod. The Kor Rollers come in two lengths, the KTR rollers are 5cm (2″) long and the newer KPcR rollers are 7.5cm (3″) long. There are no differences between the two types except the length of the roller. When I first saw the Kor Rollers, I was very surprised to find how small they are. But they pack a lot of design into a small space. In fact, the small roller means that the scale of the design is very appropriate for working with polymer clay. As you may have found, textures designed for other craft industries can sometimes be too large for the small projects that are more typical for polymer clayers.
The designs that are cut into the Kor rollers are continuous around the rod, so there is no stop or start point to the design. You just roll the roller onto a sheet of clay and the design continues until you run out of clay. A neat little feature is that the design number is cut into the end of the roller.
Because the designs are cut into the rollers with a special cutting machine, they’re very precise and crisp. The Kor rollers are more crisp than the wooden MKM rollers, but even so, the designs in both lines are deep, precise, and clear. They’re also beveled so that the resulting clay design has appropriately sloped sides on the motifs. The beveling is also necessary as it help keep the design from lifting and getting caught in the roller.
How to Use Texture Rollers
At their simplest, these texture rollers are just rolled onto a sheet of polymer clay like a rolling pin. Just roll it across the surface of the clay and you get a design. But while they’re simple in concept, there are still a few things to learn.
Please Release Me
Anytime you use a texture tool with polymer clay, you run the risk of the clay sticking to the tool. And that’s certainly the case for these MKM and Kor rollers. Make sure that you do use a mold release of some sort. The most commonly used releases are water, leather protectant spray (such as Armor-All), or cornstarch. I like to use water because it doesn’t add anything to the clay and interfere with future steps in the project. But water isn’t the best release to use for Fimo, Cernit, and Pardo because those clays absorb water and can get sticky. If you do use water as a release, blot gently with a Kleenex immediately afterward.
I always keep a small spray bottle of water on my workbench. To use water as a release, just spritz a sheet of clay with a fine mist of water.
Cleaning the Rollers
If you DO get clay stuck into the crevices of a Kor roller, you can usually get it back out by just using more clay (in the same way you use a wad of gum to get stuck gum off of something). But if that doesn’t work, try using a baby wipe. You can pick the bits out of the crevices with a needle tool if necessary. Do not use alcohol, hand sanitizer, or window cleaner. Try using the “juice” from a fresh baby wipe and a toothbrush to remove all bits of clay. Cleaning the wooden MKM rollers is just the same.
Making an Impression
First, make a sheet of polymer clay. If you want really deep impressions, use a thicker sheet. Thin sheets will not impress very deeply. Apply your favorite release. Now if you try to roll the Kor roller with your hand, it can be very difficult. You will notice that the roller immediately becomes bogged down in the clay and won’t roll well. Plus the hard edges of the roller hurts your hand, making it difficult to press hard enough. Is there another way?
Turns out, yes. Just get a large rubber stamp mounted on a wooden block. The one I use is 3″x5″ (75mm x 125mm). The wood gives a flat, stable surface that’s easy to grip and the rubber underneath acts as a non-skid surface that pushes and rolls the Kor roller along as it rolls down the clay sheet. You have to be careful to press evenly and to roll firmly but smoothly. It will likely take some practice to get the hang of it. It’s really easy to roll a sheet that’s deep on one side and shallow on the other. But keep trying. The great thing about polymer clay is that you can always wad it up and start over…and over. That’s another reason I like to use water as a mold release…it doesn’t affect the clay.
Examples of Kor Rollers on Polymer Clay
Once you create the textures with your Kor Rollers, you can use them in the same way you’d use any texture sheet of polymer clay. Here’s what it looks like when you add mica powder.
You can even texture the back of a your work with a Kor roller. Here’s the back of the earrings.
Last summer I took a class with Maggie Maggio and learned her wonderful colorwashing technique to create subtle texture in the colorwashed veneers, many of us used Kor rollers. You can see in this flattened bracelet how each one features a texture that has been flattened and stretched, creating a ghostly image in the clay. You’ll notice that the leaves in the blue and darker green pieces both use the same Kor roller that’s pictured at the top of this article and shown below in mica shift.
The Kor roller textures are particularly well suited for use with a faux ceramic technique because the designs are raised, allowing you to use chalk pastels to accentuate the high and low areas. See what I mean?
But you don’t have to be limited to flat objects. You can also use the Kor rollers to create texture that can be used in 3D as well. This set of beads from Angela Guertel uses Kor rollers (plus her own textures). I love the way she used thinned white clay to “backfill” over the designs. (Click the photo to be taken to Angela’s photostream on Flickr for another view.)
Kor Rollers vs Texture Stamps
Aside from the obvious difference in form, what are the difference between the Kor rollers and using stamps or texture sheets?
- The designs of Kor rollers are mostly “outies” that will give you a design that is raised above the flat sheet of your clay. This is perfect for mica shift (just shave the bumps off), faux ceramic, and using powders like Pearl-Ex and Pan Pastels.
- The designs are endless, and can go on as long as your sheet of clay is. While you’re limited in width to the length of the roller, you can make long strips of textures, such as for making borders on bowls or long bracelets. That’s not possible with rubber texture sheets.
- The designs are very clean and crisp, with much sharper textures than is possible with rubber or silicone stamps.
- Kor roller designs tend to be repeated patterns rather than one specific motif, perfect for making wallpaper-like backgrounds for your designs. They also make great backs for your pendants.
- Most of the Kor roller designs are fairly neutral in “flavor”. They don’t have an obvious stylistic feel as stamps so often do. If you’re not into “cute”, you’ll find the Kor designs refreshing.
- The scale of the designs is smaller and perfect for the smaller scale that clayers often work in.
Where Can you Buy Kor Rollers?
You can find Kor rollers from Poly Clay Play in the US, Happy Things in the EU, and 2Wards Polymer Clay in Australia. You can also order them directly from Kor Tools. For the wooden MKM Handrollers, you can order them from Clayraound or directly from MKM Pottery Tools.
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