Introduction: Customize Your Skateboard Deck!
My daughter's been bugging me for a long board skateboard for years now. For her birthday this year she only asked for like three things, one of which was a Star Wars Storm Trooper longboard. "I really want a Yoda drop deck longboard," she says, "But I can't find one. This is the closest thing I could find." Ho ho! The Dad part of my brain started whirring to life, and I started researching.
What I found was that there isn't really what I would consider a good Yoda design drop deck skateboard out there. The only one I could find was a standard longoard with Yoda from the prequel trilogy, and India really likes Yoda from The Empire Strikes Back. Well then, I've got skills! I'm creative! I bet I can make a custom design that she'd like way better than that stupid Storm Trooper board!
Turns out, customizing your skateboard can be fairly simple and easy. The results speak for themselves! The example I show here is a Star Wars themed longboard, but you could use the techniques I employed to make any sort of design you can come up with.
Take a look at the video, with step-by-step instructions after!
Step 1: Materials
Unlike most of the things I've posted here, this isn't a particularly low cost project. Starting with the longboard deck itself, things get kinda pricey. I would estimate that for this project, including the cost of items I already owned (like spraypaint), I spent around $200, perhaps a bit more.
Still worth it! I build a lot of things, most of which range in appearance from, "that looks functional but sturdy" to, "that looks like it's falling apart". Rarely do I have a project end up looking as good as this one.
I procured a complete longboard from amazon. The design didn't matter, just the intersection of price vs. customer reviews. Mine was highly rated and reasonably priced. The main deciding factor on this one versus similarly priced boards with similar ratings ended up being the color of the wheels--they matched the color I pictured for the Star Wars logo.
You'll also need spray paint, both a primer and color(s) you like, and a clear gloss. For this design I only needed black for the background in addition to the primer and clear gloss. For this design I also needed black, blue, white, and red acrylic paint, you may need other colors if you go with a different design.
Beyond this you'll need some adhesive backed vinyl in the colors you like, painter's tape, a small amount of clear adhesive laminate, a hobby knife, a range of sand papers, various screw drivers and wrenches to disassemble the skateboard, paintbrushes, a sponge, and a toothbrush you don't plan on brushing your teeth with. I also found a vinyl vehicle decal of Yoda with "Do. Or do not. There is no try." around his face that I used on the top of the board.
Step 2: Plan Your Design
For this Yoda/Star Wars theme I pulled together a pretty wide variety of resources from across the internet. I decided on a space background with a design painted or otherwise applied across it. I wanted the main design to have cut outs that showed off the space background. I also decided I wanted to cut out a small portion of the grip tape on top of the board and have some sort of design there--I've seen some pretty awesome decks that use that technique.
First, for the space theme, I watched a whole bunch of "galaxy" painting tutorials on youtube. For example, this one and this one. The pedant in me wants to shout about how people usually mean "nebula" when they say galaxy, but I'll shut him up for now because these are pretty cool designs that are easy for a beginner such as myself to replicate (after some practice, more on that in a bit).
My first thought for the main design was spray paint. I've got a lot of experience with spray paint and using stencils. In fact, on the very first skateboard I ever customized I made a Dobbshead stencil and painted it on the underside. It wasn't pretty. I've never been good at getting spraypaint not to leech out under the edges of stencils and painters tape.
I decided instead I'd go with vinyl decals. I couldn't find much pre-cut, but the technique for custom decal making is very similar to that of old fashioned screen printing, which I did a whole bunch of back in high school. I found a sweet instructable about it, picked up some vinyl, and started carving!
Step 3: Prep the Deck
I'm sure there's somewhere you can buy a blank deck with no finish and all the hardware for a reasonable price, but I couldn't find it. I picked up a complete deck on Amazon instead and sanded off the design.
First, remove all the hardware, the trucks and wheels, and set them aside (in a box or bag so you don't lose any pieces). I didn't take a picture of it, but since I was going to paint the trucks I also put painter's tape over the threads and wheel seats so there wouldn't be any issues in reassembly.
Next, I strapped on some eye, ear, and breathing protection, and started sanding. That breathing protection is important, you're making really fine particles of who knows what and you probably don't want to breathe them in!
Starting with rough grit paper and moving to progressively finer grit, removing the design turned out to be surprisingly easy. The result was nice and clean and ready for a new design.
Finally, I used painter's tape all the way around the edge to keep the spray paint in its place. I did my best to keep the line even and smooth as I wanted this to look as professional as possible.
Step 4: Primer and Paint the Base Color
Oh man, I wish I'd realized years ago how important a primer coat is. Make sure you primer your deck!
I lightly went over the deck in gray primer three times, before adding three coats of flat black. Took most of a day to get it done, but after the last coat was dry it was ready to go!
At the same time I was doing this with the deck, I did the same thing to the trucks. I wanted to make sure everything matched up nicely.
Step 5: Carve Decals
Carving the decals is fairly simple. I started with google image search, looking for the exact designs I would need. First and foremost, I wanted the classic, iconic Star Wars logo. Easy enough. A little trickier was finding the right Yoda image. I eventually tracked down something close, and a little work in Paint.net resulted in the final image I wanted to use. I printed everything out at a size I liked, grabbed a piece of scrap wood and my tools, and went to work!
The first step is to secure the template image to the vinyl with scotch tape. I also cut a couple of holes in the image that I new would end up blank and taped through those. That way, it was secured to the vinyl in multiple locations, not just at the sides and corners.
As mentioned previously, I used this excellent instructable to help me get started. I recommend reading the whole thing, but the key is, using a very sharp hobby knife, cut through the template image, through the vinyl, and do your best not to cut through the paper backing. You won't succeed in completely avoiding that, which is why you want a cutting board or scrap wood to protect your workbench (or kitchen table, as the case may be).
Pay special attention to corners, those are easy to miss and have a tendency to rip later on when you remove the unused parts of the vinyl. In the template images, all the black parts are to be kept and everything else goes. Once you've completely carved the vinyl decals, carefully remove the template and use the hobby knife or a sharp pair of tweezers to gently take out all the bits of vinyl that aren't part of the final image.
Step 6: Finish the Decals
Once the decals are carved and negative space vinyl is removed, there are a couple more steps.
The backing of the adhesive vinyl is probably at this point pretty screwed up. Flip the decal over and use regular scotch tape across all the cuts. I'm not sure if this is 100% required, but I didn't want to start peeling and find a couple little chunks of paper I had to pick off the back side of the decal.
When done, flip it back over and grab your adhesive laminate. Cut a section large enough to completely cover the decal, apply it completely, and trim the whole thing down. This adhesive laminate, found at most hobby stores, is perfect for this job. It's a weak adhesive, not as sticky as the adhesive on the back of the vinyl, which means two things. First, when you peel off the paper backing off this laminate "sticker", the adhesive will stick to the top of the vinyl and pull it off the paper backing. Second, when you stick this to the final surface, the adhesive on the vinyl will hold strongly to the surface, but the laminate will come off easily and leave the vinyl stuck to the skateboard.
Step 7: Practice Painting!
I don't know about you, but I don't do a lot of freehand painting. If you're confident in your skills just go for it, but if not I recommend trying it out first!
As I mentioned I watched a lot of youtube videos (including this one and this one) about how to paint a galaxy. Before attempting the skateboard, I painted a piece of scrap wood black and tried out the technique.
Basically, you mix up three or four colors to use as swirly nebulae, and either use a paintbrush or sponge to apply them to the painting. In a few places, add large white stars, and mix them in with the surrounding color a bit to make a sort of halo effect. Finally, dip a toothbrush in white paint and flick it all over the painting however you like.
The result was pretty good, so I decided to move on to the board.
Step 8: Galaxy the Deck!
Just like in the last step but on a larger scale. Paint your swirly cloudy nebulae and add stars with halos. I added the trucks back on and painted around them, then flicked white stars onto everything, including the trucks. Turned out pretty good!
When I painted the test image I used sponges and some yellow/gold color. On the deck itself I used actual paintbrushes and no yellow. If I had it to do over again I think I'd have done the deck more like the test image, but it still looks good.
Step 9: Apply the Decals and Clear Coat
Carefully place your decals. You don't really get do-overs here, and text is especially important to align properly.
After the decals are stuck on, you can carefully pull off the laminate. If all has gone well, the vinyl sticks to the deck and the laminate just lifts right off!
The final thing to do is to clear coat the deck. This will protect your hard work from the day to day dings that always happen with skateboards.
Step 10: Add the Top Decal
I don't think I would do this with an actual skateboard someone is using for tricks (unless I had some clear grip tape). Since this is a longboard used mostly to skate to and from school, I figured a small section of the top without grip tape wouldn't be a problem. That said, if I was making something like this for a skateboard or wanted a less precise design, there are options. Colored grip tape is available, and I've seen very cool designs added to the top of skateboards.
For this, I put the yoda decal in the center of the deck and used a sharpie to draw around it. Then, using an exacto knife that I'd already broken the fine tip of, I cut a circle of grip tape out of the board and carefully removed it.
The actual painting process was basically the same as with the underside of the deck, but with more painter's tape. One thing I made sure to do was leave a little bit of bare wood between the painting and the grip tape, to kind of mirror the bare wood between the bottom of the deck and the grip tape. When dry, I added the "Do or Do Not" decal and it was done!
Step 11: Fix Your Mistakes
With a project of this magnitude and intricacy, and with fingers as clumsy as mine, it was inevitable that I'd make at least a couple of mistakes. Fortunately I was able to pretty easily fix them!
The first and most simple was just a little piece of the Yoda decal that started to peel up while the clear coat was drying. To fix it, it was fairly simple to use a toothpick to apply some crazy glue to the underside and stick it down.
The second was trickier. I started work on the top decal before the underside was dry (I'm a tad impatient). I also had a couple of beers and was rushing to get things done in time for India's birthday, and I forgot the bottom wasn't dry...I grabbed the edge of the skateboard and the softened paint squished out around my fingers!
I was VERY upset with myself, but I calmed myself down and didn't panic. Once it was dry, I painted more nebulae over the fingerprints, flicked new stars, and added a bit more clear coat. Unless you actually touch the spot, it's hard to even tell I messed it up!
Step 12: Remove All the Painter's Tape
Finally, it's time to carefully remove all the painter's tape. It's possible at this point for the thick paint to stick to the tape and start lifting off the board, but if you're careful all should go well. Your new skateboard is done and ready to go! Just reinstall the wheels and get ready for an excited recipient!
Step 13: Finished Product and Reception
Okay well I was pretty sure but I often doubt myself. Still, India loved and continues to love the crap out of her new longboard. In fact, she just bought some sweet light up wheels for it. I consider it a job well done.
Nobody tell her I put this here, but here's a gif of her progressively more and more insane reaction to the skateboard:
Step 14: Final Thoughts
Thanks as always for stopping by! I'd love it if you took a minute to share this with a friend, rate, favorite, and subscribe to me for all my future shenanigans!
I was really really happy with how this turned out. As I mentioned before, my projects don't usually look super great so it was pretty fantastic to see the results here.
If you should use my instructable as inspiration to make your own custom deck, post some pictures in the comments and I'll send you a digital patch and three month pro membership!
P.S.: Sweet "Star Jedi" font is by Boba Fonts and available 100% free from here!