Comfy, Colour-Coded Camera Controls

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Introduction: Comfy, Colour-Coded Camera Controls

About: I'm a Product Design Engineer, currently living in the UK. I have been fortunate to have lived, studied and worked in Hong Kong, Norway and California. I believe physical models help people to communicate,...

If you've ever used a DSLR, you know that it can sometime be fiddly to press the feature buttons. It might also be difficult if in low-light or if it's very cold and your fingers have limited dexterity. The addition of Sugru might help with such problems: Sugru is a mouldable glue, which comes in many colours, and after 24 hours sets to a soft, but durable rubber.

However, the original impetus for this design was as an interim prototype for James Dunn, who was passionate about photography, but struggled to use a professional camera, because of his condition, Epidermolysis Bullosa (EB), which made his skin especially delicate, to the point where small, shallow and hard buttons are very painful to press, or impossible altogether.

This process was shown as part of a BBC documentary, called the Big Life Fix. This prototype helped inform a more complex and specialist prototype to be made, called Zocus (a wireless-powered system to control your Zoom and Focus on your DSLR, via an App on your smartphone/tablet computer).

Either way, whether you know someone who struggles to press buttons, perhaps suffering from osteoarthritis, or you personally are just irritated by the fiddlyness of the buttons in general, then this guide will show you how to master using Sugru - to enhance, modify or colour coordinate any button you wish.

Step 1: What You'll Need...

Essential Kit:

Sugru (on Amazon) - you can probably do all of this with 1x 5g Mini Pack, but for colours, you'd need the R/Y/B Pack, which can be mixed.

Scalpel - I use a Swann & Morton #3 Handle and #10A Blade, but a craft knife is also fine. X-Acto are fine, but arguably a thicker 'craft blade', not a precision scalpel.

Cocktail Sticks and Lollipop Sticks (I use Tongue Depressors, which are like big lollipop sticks).

Pen (Ideally Permanent).

Optional:

Curved Scalpel Blade - A Straight Edge blade is OK, but ideally also have a second 'Claw Edge' if possible. (Swann & Morton #12 or #12D. For the Knife Geeks - I've made a guide here.

Masking Tape - useful to protect areas from Sugruy fingerprints, and over-spills. Just like decorating. (3M).

IPA (Cleaning Alcohol) and Swabs - or Computer Wipes work fine too.

Notes:

Camera features is a Canon EOS 600D.

H&S - Be safe around sharp tools; dispose of blades safely; IPA is flammable; Sugru can be worked by hands in its uncured state, but if you have very sensitive skin, consider using gloves. Sugru SDS.

Disclosure - I worked as Head of Sugru R&D. I did this project in my spare time. Advice given in good faith and no responsibility can be taken for any consequence of following this Instructable, views expressed here are my own and do not represent that of the company I worked for.

Step 2: Spring Clean Your Camera [Switch OFF!]

Sugru will stick better to your buttons if it's not covered in dirt and grease from your fingers. Besides, you beloved camera could probably do with a nice clean! I only moistened the swab with a little IPA. Try not to 'flood' your camera buttons! I also suggest turning your Camera OFF - just in case.

Notes

IPA is better than using water, as it evaporates at room temperature. Do not use more aggressive solvents (like Di-Clo or Lighter Fluid), as these may damage your camera's plastic, rubber or screen. IPA is flammable - use with care.

Step 3: Masking-Out [Optional, But a Good Skill to Learn]

Truth be told, I didn't do this for the first time, when I made this for the TV project. It was one of this spur-of-the-moment things. However, with the benefit of hindsight, I can say that doing this gives a neater job. So unless you've clocked up a freakish number of hours working with Sugru or other modelling putties, I suggest doing this step. I learned this from working with the model makers at Dyson, so it's a nice trick for spray painting as well!

  1. Apply Masking Tape
  2. Press firmly
  3. Dig your nail in around the buttons (this is when good quality masking tape flexes a little, and cheap does less so).
  4. Add 'patches' as you go, rather than trying to everything in one. Don't allow tape to overlap on a button, as you'll have to cut through two layers later!
  5. Use straight or claw scalpel to carefully cut around the buttons. This requires almost *no force* so avoid pressing hard and slicing into the buttons. A good trick is to sit the camera on its lens (with cap on and in MF mode) and move the camera (rather than your hand) as you cut.
  6. Tease-out and remove the sections.
  7. Use cocktail stick to press back the masking tape for a tight fit.
  8. Cover the LCD screen (or flip it in).
  9. Consider labelling up the buttons with what colours you'll apply where. Sounds obvious, but it's easy to forget one!
  10. Ready for Sugru-ing!

Step 4: Make Simple Buttons First

  1. Sugru comes in primary colours and you can mix them (although premixed colours are available too).
  2. Open the pack like this with a scalpel....
  3. ...this allows you to remove a piece and fold the flap back. (Sugru has a 'work-time' of around 30mins when exposed to air, so covering it up makes it remain workable for a little longer).
  4. Roll into a small ball and press on to an 'easy' button like this, so you can get a feel for it. If you are not happy with a button, remove it, knead it and re-apply.
  5. Try a more advanced shape by pressing from different sides. If you want to smooth it out, lightly rub it with your finger.

TIP: I've suggested that you work in a specific colour sequence, from experience it works well.
RED >> ORANGE >> YELLOW >> GREEN >> PURPLE
You can of course just wipe your fingers with a tissue/kleenex if you're getting messy.

Step 5: More Advanced Buttons

You may have just 'pinched-off' a chunk of Sugru for the previous two examples. However, this is less reliable for repeat applications. The best way to ensure that certain buttons are equal is to do the following:

  1. Roll a thin sausage. (I suggest using a clean sheet of paper to roll on).
  2. Slice up into equal pieces. (Discard the ends - and re-use these later, keeping them in the pack).
  3. Apply one at a time. Do a combination of flattening and pinching the shape (as shown), this 'works' the Sugru thoroughly onto the button surface for good adhesion.
  4. Use cocktail stick to adjust any corners.
  5. Use a scalpel to trim any excess carefully. (Masking tape really helps now!)
  6. Use the side of a wooden stick (with flat end) to 'roll around the contour' of the button.

Step 6: Making Your Own Tools

By carving your lollipop stick / tongue depressor, you can make a variety of custom tools/edges to help you. Experiment with this and see how you get on.

The tool shown allowed me to 'claw-out' excess Sugru from tight spaces, and also to 'level-off' the buttons.

In many ways, there is no 'prefect tool' to work with Sugru, I've shown cheap/common tools here, but if you wanted to get more serious, the best two purchases I've found are: Spudgers & Wax Modelling Tools.


BLF NOTES: These buttons were especially fiddly for James, as they are 'flush' with the rest of the housing. This gave him the chance to navigate the options as well as checking the focus after a photo. Although Sugru buttons were not the 'end goal', this was an invaluable prototype which informed the hierarchy of choices of what features were most relevant to James.

Step 7: Aligning Buttons [On-Off Switch & Mode Select]

This is a good example of working on two shapes which need to 'pass by' each other (the mode-select passes the on/off control). The best solution is to make each of them at different angles, then gently align them to check interference - adjusting as needed. Note: Leave to dry/cure not touching each other (just in case).


BLF NOTES: These buttons were an essential fix for James - allowing him to power-up the camera for the first time himself in years. Even though they look 'pointy', Sugru is still quite soft to the touch when used like this.

Step 8: Colour Mixing Tips

Sugru is a bit like paint - you can mix colours. No-brainer, right? Well, sometimes it's more tricky than that. If you wanted an Orange it won't be 50% Red + 50% Yellow (you'd get a orangy-red).

The best thing is to start with the lightest colour and knead-in some of the darker colour until it's getting close to what you want. Adding a little white can lighten things, but use black very sparingly!

Sugru Colour Mixing Guide here. And some colours are pre-mixed (Orange, Pink, Brown, Green, Grey).

Step 9: Super Sugru Sculpting Tip

So taking it to the next skill-level. This is how to trim Sugru - as if you were a Milling Machine!

  1. Apply Sugru as before. Allow a little excess to overflow the button edges.
  2. Dragging the cocktail stick will work ok, but will also distort the Sugru...there is a better way...
  3. Hold the cocktail stick perpendicular to the piece and while dragging across the button face simultaneously rotate the cocktail stick. If travelling from right to left (as shown), rotate anticlockwise.
  4. Picture of Milling action, if it helps...
  5. You will see the Sugru being 'cut' (or 'Milled') away from the edge.
    Nip off the excess with the point of the cocktail stick.
  6. Correct any small details.
  7. Smooth out. Done.

Step 10: Pre-Shaping

About the final useful tip I can think of, is pretty obvious in hindsight - try to pre-shape the profile you need before sticking it onto the button. With that said, this is arguably the trickiest to do, as like working with ceramics, it takes time to become familiar with handling uncured Sugru. Tools are still very useful to tidy up.

And with Yellow done, now would be a great time to mix Green (for the 'action' buttons). I also made a Purple after this, from the left-over Red. Of course, nobody said you have to blend colours homogeneously - you can create a marbled effect by partially mixing the colours too!

If you still have some Sugru left over, it will become very difficult to work with, in say 2 hours time... but you can often knead it back into a good workable consistency - so have a quick look at Sugru.com to see what things you can make! Also here's a special feature on using left-over bits.

Step 11: Clean-Up

Tissue/Kleenex or Kitchen Paper work well to clean any Sugru residue off your fingers and camera. It's easier than doing it when it's dry, as even this residue is essentially a 'glue', is tackle it now, before it cures! (If you do miss a bit - it still rubs off, but you may need for effort / fingernails / toothbrush / etc.).

You may also wish to add different grips and handles on your camera. You can even add surface textures. A popular hack is to add a personalised grip on the handle. (I don't do this, as I shoot both left and right handed, but loads of people swear by it).

Step 12: First Phase Done! [Wait to Cure Overnight]

Sugru officially takes 24 hours to cure for a 3mm thick sample at room temperature/humidity. Your buttons are most likely thinner than this, so it'll probably be dry overnight, but give it the full time if you can, as the next steps require a good adhesion of the buttons...


SUGRU TECH SPECS: While you are waiting for this, you might be curious what other stuff Sugru does/doesn't stick to - check out their Technical Data Sheet.


KILLING TIME: You might also want to check out other projects where I've tried to take Sugru to the limits:

More from Hey Jude

https://www.instructables.com/member/Hey+Jude/

Casting Molten Pewter in Sugru Moulds

https://www.instructables.com/id/Casting-Objects-in...

Enhance Your Ceramics With Sugru

https://www.instructables.com/id/Enhance-Your-Ceram...

Sugru Skinning and Ergo Mouse

https://www.instructables.com/id/How-to-make-an-Erg...

Step 13: Adjusting Button Shape (Cured Sugru)

With the Sugru set/cured, you can make adjust buttons to your liking.

  1. Carefully cut any excess Sugru away.
  2. Use the 'recess' of the buttons to help guide the blade to the right profile.
  3. The Masking Tape reduces small scratches, but if you are struggling to see the button edge, remove it.
  4. The Masking Tape also prevents smudges of Sugru getting all over the camera.
  5. If Sugru has become wedged in between the button and the housing, it can be worked out by gently running a cocktail stick back-and-forth to free it.
  6. Some buttons may also benefit from adding chamfers/slopes to the edge, such as the navigation arrows.
  7. This can allow the central 'Set' button to be more prominent.
  8. Clean off any debris by blowing or with a small paint-brush. Ready for the next step.

Note - if you do cut off too much, you can always add new Sugru to cured Sugru.

Step 14: Creating the In-Filled Icons

  1. Mark-out Icons with a pen, or pencil if you are less confident (can be rubbed out).
  2. Carefully cut out Icons with scalpel.
    TIPS:
    - Cut from the 'outside' to the 'inside' of a line (to avoid slipping too far beyond the extent of the shape).
    - Rotate the Camera, rather than moving your hand/scalpel in different direction. This is especially true with curved/circular cuts.
    - Try to cut "V" shapes when working. (They need not be 'U" shaped).
    - Straight edged blades work fine, but claw shaped are arguably easier.
  3. Trim a wooden stick into a spatula-shape, and knead some White Sugru (or contrasting colour) before application.
  4. Press the pre-kneaded Sugru into the 'pocket' of the Icon.
  5. Scrape any excess off with the sharp edge of the stick.
  6. Continue with other buttons.
  7. Wipe off any excess with your fingers and smooth out any roughness in the finish.
  8. Leave to dry overnight (to be sure, though it'll be ready to use in a couple hours).
  9. Done!

Step 15: Finished Model

WORKING WITH SUGRU

I hope this has been useful. Having worked with Sugru for some years, it's all too easy to over-simplify a process in one of two steps, when to a new user it really needs to be broken-down into more granular steps. Instructables is all about trial and error - but when you're sticking stuff to a camera worth a fair bit of cash, I felt compelled to ensure that this guide was detailed enough to get good results. Let me know how you get on!

WORKING WITH JAMES DUNN

It was odd that I started this journey as a means to an end - to attempt to make these buttons more accessible for James - a young photographer with Epidermolysis Bullosa (EB), who would not be able to press buttons easily. In the end this became a intermediary step (prototype) for a more robust solution (INSET LINK), but I couldn't help noticing that these buttons were just nice to use for anyone who picked up the camera - in many ways this is what 'Inclusive Design' is all about, realising that solving a 'special need' can just lead to a better or interesting alternative solution for anyone.

Arguably the colours are a bit 'bright', but they get the job done, and there is some method in the colour choices. I'd be interested to see how other people interpret this opportunity to create more customised buttons / interfaces to suit their (or other people's needs). Please do post below if you make it, improve this process - or use it on an entirely different application.

AUTOMATED ZOOM & FOCUS (THE "ZOCUS" RIG)

And finally, if you do want to take a look at how to make the 'Zocus' prototype, as featured on the BBC, all instructions are here too! (LINK).

Cheers,

Jude

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    8 Discussions

    These buttons add color to everything :)

    1 reply

    Yeah - I think one could do them a little more 'designer' - but it was about function for this initial version!

    If you decide later you don't like it, how hard is it to remove? How likely is it to fall off in casual use?

    1 more answer

    It's pretty sticky stuff. I've had mine on for ages - and even on the 'on/off' button, which is regularly used, it's still attached after many uses. The tick is to ensure the buttons are really clean - any oil/dirt from your fingers will make it less good. Hope that helps!