Introduction: DIY Collapsible Photobooth
My fiancee and I decided that we would really like to have a photobooth at our wedding, but when we looked into rentals we decided the costs (~$800) weren't in our budget, and I told her I could build one for less (fortunately my time has no value).
My best man and I worked together to design and build the booth. Our goals were to create a booth that would fit into my car (mainly for future transport if we decided to start renting it out), make use of my existing old laptop, and require only a single button press from the user.
The overall design consisted of:
-a bench for users to sit on, with a folding lid
-a PVC frame to support a curtain (photobooths are more fun if they're private!)
-two large boxes for the 'works', each consisting of a front panel with two folding sides, and a back which screwed onto the sides
-an old laptop with the screen separated, mounted inside the upper front panel
-a photo printer
-a web cam
Step 1: Design
The driving factor for the design of the individual pieces was that they needed to fit through the back door of my Corolla. That limited the height of each piece to 44" and the width to 48". We chose to maximize the width to fit as many guests as possible inside the booth.
The bench was sized to fit on the back seat while providing a seating surface at the appropriate height (39"), as well as a mounting point for the PVC frame and storage for the frame and curtains. To make the uprights as stable as possible while still modular, the pipes slid over a dowel, positioned to wedge them inside a corner of the back and side panels, while the lid folded down from the front to pinch them in a notch. The bench was built of heavy plywood (1/2") with 2x2 supports as uprights to make sure it would hold up to the weight of several guests.
The panels making up "the box" were made of thinner plywood (9/32") for easier handling; if I were to do this again, I would make them thicker as they flex more than I would like while being handled. Because the panels were so thin, we used furring strip to provide a mounting surface for hinges and equipment. The strip was inset from the edge so that the side panels would be flush when opened. 2x2 pieces were mounted at the rear edge of the side panels; this matched the thickness of the furring strip so when collapsed, the side panels would sit parallel to the front, as well as being large enough to hold a T-nut for the rear panel.
The PVC frame was the simplest element to design. We used standard available connectors, and chose lengths that would fit into the bench when disassembled.
Step 2: Materials
We acquired the majority of the material in one $180 Home Depot blitz. We had previously measured out all the plywood pieces and arranged them on sheets, so when we picked out the material, we were able to give the helpful staff a list of sizes to cut (though they don't do cross cuts). They had to make about 15 cuts for us, which may have been stretching the hospitality a bit. Then I went over to the plumbing aisle and cut three stock lengths of PVC using their ratcheting hand cutter, while Chris hung out in the molding aisle cutting the furring strip to size. Afterwards, we took all the rough-cut pieces to my work and made the cross cuts (and trimmed some parts due to an on-the-fly adjustment where we had messed up in our design).
Electrical / Electronics:
-Decent-quality webcam - after a last-minute failure of our cheapo webcam, we bought a Logitech XXXXX (knowing that we had room left in our budget); it's fantastic and worked without having to install any additional drivers (which was nice since the laptop's CD drive was no longer accessible by that point).
-Printer - we chose an Epson PM225 PictureMate, a dedicated 4x6 printer; it's compact and we don't have to worry about the paper tray being properly set for the right size or anything like that. It uses dye sublimation rather than inkjet or some other technology, which produces great quality photos. It takes a single dye cartridge, which is sold in a pack with a matched quantity of paper, making it easy to keep the booth stocked.
-Powerstrip and extension cord
-External monitor (optional) - I picked up a cheap 15" LCD from Craigslist to display a slideshow outside the booth.
-Partybooth - cheap, Adobe Air-based (so you could run a Linux system, were you so inclined), and has the options to set up the user interface and photo output exactly the way I wanted. However, it only works with webcams, not DSLRs.
-FastStone image viewer - free, and has the ability to run a slideshow which dynamically adds new photos from a watched folder into its rotation.
Step 3: Building the Bench
First, screw the 2x2 uprights to the end pieces, making sure that they are flush to the top, bottom, and outside edges. The side panels are inset to provide a corner to lock the PVC into, so a line was drawn on the front and back panels to locate it. Then the front and back panels are screwed on, again making sure the bottom edge is flush.
The bottom panel is screwed up into the corner uprights. Then the PVC support dowels are screwed in; I slid them into a short scrap of PVC, used a scrap piece of dowel to keep them pressed against the bottom, and screwed in from underneath. I later added a second screw to prevent rotation, as the PVC fits tightly on the support and needs to be twisted while being assembled and disassembled.
The lid is attached with a 36" piano hinge. The hinge was screwed onto the bottom of the lid first, then the lid was clamped to the box and the hinge screwed to the front panel.
Finally, the notches were cut for the PVC uprights. To mark the location, I stuck a hole saw just larger than the PVC pipe in the corner and pushed it up into the lid to get the center. Then, put it in the drill, cut the hole, and use a jigsaw to break out the back edge.
To finish out the box, we painted it black, then added carry handles on either side and some lightweight chain to hold the lid up in the open position.
Step 4: Building the Box
The more complicated section of the build is the folding boxes. This step is followed twice - once for the lower box and once for the upper. They are different heights but built the same way.
The first step to building the box was to cut my 48" piano hinge into 8x6" pieces (to be installed at the four corners of each front panel), easily done by cutting between segments with a hacksaw (then filing the sharp edges and peening one end so the pin doesn't drop out)
Next, I joined the structural strips. I clamped the two pieces together where I wanted them to sit and screwed in hinges a few inches from the top and bottom. Then I screwed the strips flush with the edge of the side panels, positioned the whole assembly flush with the edge of the front panel, and screwed it all together. It turned out to be surprisingly simple to get everything to line up correctly so that the side panels lined up with the edge of the front panel when open. The last step here was to install the 2x2 along the rear edge of each side panel.
With the front panel all assembled and in the open position, I clamped the rear panel to the 2x2s and drilled 9/32 holes through both parts. After removing the panel, I opened up the hole in the 2x2 to 11/32 to a depth of XX and hammered in my T-nuts. The difficult part of this is to install the nuts without damaging the side panel or stressing the hinges. I recommend hanging the 2x2 over the side of a workbench if you can, so that it's taking all the force of the hammer.
Step 5: Installing the Computer
This step will be highly dependent on the particular computer you use. Start by disassembling the display from the keyboard/base (unless your laptop screen folds back 180deg - that makes things much easier) and measure where all the components will sit relative to one another. Then plan out the size of the display opening and the keyboard access panel (unless you plan to rely on an external keyboard and mouse for setup and maintenance). Don't forget to consider the power button. My PC's power button is above the keyboard, so I created a "stealth" power switch by drilling a tiny hole above the power switch; I turn the PC on by poking my smallest Allen wrench through.
You'll also need a button for your guests to push. You can get a USB powered button from various online sources (some of the commercial photobooth software even includes one), but due to a lack of available USB ports, we decided to go low-tech and make a button that would poke through and hit the spacebar. It's made from the 'plug' from one of the holes we cut out, Dremeled down to give it a rounded edge and kludged together with a spring from a clicky pen and a couple of 'guide rods' (screws with a cut-up plastic straw wrapped around them to make them slide smoothly).
Step 6: Joining the Boxes
To join the two boxes, we screwed strips to all four sides of the lower box, sticking up enough for the upper box to nest over them. The strips on the front and back were centered on the width of the box. Due to the warpable nature of the plywood, it helped to add an additional small strip on each side, to force the two boxes into alignment.
A threaded insert was added on each of the side strips, to lock the two halves together.
To hold the printer, power strip, and other bits and pieces, a shelf was added which sat above the strips. Small strips of wood were glued on so that we could position the printer consistently, and a larger piece (2x2) was set behind the access panel to hold the printer in a convenient position for swapping out cartridges.
Step 7: Finishing Touches
To catch the photos, we built a ramp to sit underneath the printer. We screwed in perpendicular 'wings' to mate with 'r'-shaped slots on the side panel. We cut a square hole in the side panel and used a sanding drum on the Dremel to add a thumb slot, then installed the r-slots on either side with a vertical stop underneath. This way, the panels fold flat, but when open the ramp can be slid into place below the shelf.
While the printer we chose is great for 4x6s, the downfall is that the paper tray holds a fairly limited supply, so we needed easy access to refill it. We cut an access hatch in the rear panel big enough to get the paper in there; we can also get two hands into the enclosure and pick up the printer and bring it over to swap out the ink cartridge. The door is supported by the smallest hinges they had at the hardware store, and an eyehook from my tool box serves as a handle.
The same system that supports the PVC on the bench is used to join it to the box. Two more support dowels are screwed inside the the upper rear panel, with holes in the front panel for the PVC to pass through. Running the PVC all the way through the box makes the system a little more stable. Find the position for the holes by assembling the PVC facing the wrong way, then push the bench all the way up against the box to trace around it.
We also cut a notch in the bottom of the lower rear panel for power cord exit. It was sufficiently large to allow for an extension cord coming in, and power and video for the external monitor going out.
Step 8: Software and Configuration
To drive the photobooth, I use Party Booth (www.partyboothapp.com). It has tons of settings to configure the user interface any way you like, and with various options for the output. (We chose the 1x4 duplicate strip , and cut our 4x6 photo paper in half with a perforating blade on a paper cutter so our guests could keep a copy and leave one in a guestbook. Since the individual photos are all saved, and then combined into the duplicate strip image, it does take a decent amount of processing power which can be a bit rough if you're using a laptop as old as mine.
One additional feature that we didn't have time to implement before the wedding was an external monitor with a slideshow of previous photo strips. I had the setup all worked out but didn't get the monitor mounted outside the booth. FastStone Image Viewer has a slideshow which will continuously watch the assigned folder and add new images to the show (unlike the default Windows slide show or any other I came across, which all generate the list of images when they start, and don't update it). I set PartyBooth to save the individual images to a separate folder, and FastStone pulls the show from there.
Both programs are set to start when Windows boots; when I turn the booth on, I just have to move FastStone onto the second monitor and start the slide show, then set the printer (has to be done each time you run Party Booth) and I'm good to go. The laptop does work pretty hard to do all the image processing, and it's living in an enclosed space, so it's important to keep it from overheating and shutting off; we had to take the lid off the top of the booth and open up the access panel to provide airflow. In the future I'll add a fan inside the box to aid with circulation, and maybe cut vents in the lid for a blower to suck air out.
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