You know the animal print cakes made from fondant...You know how the "print" part is raised a little cause you have to attach it to the cake? What would happen if you attached all the pieces to the fondant BEFORE you laid it on the cake, and gently rolled it so it was flush with the bottom fondant? Does that make sense? So it was more imprinted in the fondant rather then raised on the fondant. Have any of you tried that? What happens?
I have seen some of the pros put the pieces on the fondant before and run it through a sheeter before they put it on the cake, which is kind of like what you are talking about. I think it would definitely work - the only thing that has kept me from doing it is a lot of the leftover parts would go to waste instead of being able to re-knead it and reuse it on another part of that cake, or on another cake, etc.
Oh yeah... I see your point. I guess if you have no budget it wouldn't be a problem.
Hand rolling is going to push and warp the pattern and there won't be any do overs if you are not happy with how it looks. Try rolling the stripe pert thinner before cutting. The thinner the better.
Have you thought about painting the pattern on? You can paint on zebra print, leopard print and even giraffe print. I haven't tried anything else yet.