Introduction: Make Your Own Tabletop Photobooth
DIY Photobooths are a great craze, and they're incredible fun. I made a photobooth initially for my own wedding reception, but since then I've used it a huge amount of times and it's always been a big hit.
I saw jchorng's instructable before I started, and it was very inspiring. The booth looks awesome, but unfortunately for me (and probably many of you), a full size booth is just too impractical.
I had a few goals with this project.
-Durability - the booth is going to be used a lot, so it has to stand up to repeated use. No PVC pipe here.
-Professionalism - this booth doesn't have to look as great as the professionally-built booths out there, but it has to look presentable enough to fit in a classy wedding. Nothing fancy.
-Portable/Small - the booth has to be transported easily (in a sedan), and be setup & torn-down very quickly by one person. Again, no PVC, no heavy wood or metal frames, no assembly-needed.
-Self-contained - I did not want to have to connect a ton of equipment together for each event. Ideally there's a minimum of cables leaving the box, and the rest is all setup and ready inside.
-High Quality - This was used in a professional setting, so I needed high quality input & output. So that means no webcams. Also, I used a few printers (see the next step for discussion).
So our mission: build a smaller, table-top sized mini-photobooth. And here are the results:
Step 1: Materials, Tools, Equipment
To build the booth, you'll need;
- 4x8 sheet of MDF or plywood.
- Primer and paint.
- Wood filler (optional).
- Wood screws.
- Hinges for the back door.
For tools, you'll probably need:
- A saw (table saw :) or circular saw :( ).
- Optional hand-saw or jig-saw for the camera opening.
For the electronics, you'll need:
- Webcam or digital camera**.
- 19" LCD screen.
- USB Button***.
- DIY photobooth software
DISCLAIMER: I made the SeeMonkey Photobooth software for this booth, and I now sell it. There are alternatives out there (David Cline's software for Mac OS X users, or Photoboof). And if you're hardcore, you can write your own.
* Printers - I originally started using a Canon ip4500 inkjet printer. That worked well, but it's slow (0:45), the prints fade after time if left in the sun, and you have to cut the prints. But quality was decent, and it's very cheap (using non OEM inks/papers). I then used a Canon Selphy CP780 dye-sublimation printer. Dye-sub is so much better for prints (more durable, fade resistant, water resistant). The printer is slow (1:10), a little more pricey ($0.28 per print), only holds 18 sheets at a time (!), and has little tabs to tear off the top and bottom of each print, before you cut them in half. But for a cheap workhorse, this worked well. My last printer is a monster, a Sony UP-CR10L. It's fast (0:19), holds 200+ prints at a time, has great output, and is reliable. It's also $1000 (O_o). I'd recommend the sony expensive dye-sub, then the little selphy dye-sub, then just about any inkjet, in that order. Pick your budget, buy accordingly.
** Only certain digital cameras can be controlled via USB. You probably wont have one that works, you'll need to find one. You can either 1) buy a compatible DSLR $$$, or 2) find one of the compatible old powershots on craigslist/ebay (cheap, but you *must* find the right model camera).
*** We use a Griffin Powermate. They were discontinued for a while, but miraculously they've started selling again. I've no idea if they're here to stay, so buy a couple while you can. We've also used USB Panic Button, but those seem discontinued too. Our next booth will use a custom-made USB button, stay tuned to future updates...
Step 2: Cutting the Wood
We're essentially making a wood box. The tricky parts are:
- The front has a big square hole that fits the LCD monitor.
- The front also has a smaller hole just above the monitor for the camera to peek through.
- The back has to open so you can get to the printer.
- The back has to have an opening so the printouts can leave the printer.
So think of a simple box with holes in the front, and a door in the back. Not too complicated.
First, get your measurements right. The footprint (width & depth) of the box will be determined by the monitor and printer. The 19" monitor determines the width, and the printer determines the depth. Make sure everything can fit. The monitor should be snug (no gaps), but the printer should have a bit of a gap so you can easily remove it, and also to route any wires & cables.
Remember: wood is thick. When you're calculating the dimensions, take into account the thickness of the wood walls. If your wood panel is 1/2" thick, and your printer is 16" wide, that means the outer dimensions will be 17" (16 + 1/2 + 1/2). Write *everything* down as inner & outer dimensions, and calculate both. Otherwise you will mess up. Like I did.
Step 3: Assemble the Panels
Now that you've cut your wood into panels, time to start assembling. I used a combination of wood glue and screws. You probably want both. Make sure to drill adequate pilot holes before screwing those screws in. Otherwise you wood will crack instantly, and the screw will be useless. MDF is extremely unforgiving of screws driven into the edge, so you'll have to be extra careful. Test it on a few screws first to make sure your pilot holes will work. Also, if you're counter sinking screws make sure the counter sinks are enough. Otherwise when you tighten the screw, it will force the panel to crack.
I did not have a jig to keep everything straight, so I laid one panel on the ground and put the other on top. Prop everything up with what ever's handy - in my case, tool boxes. Put a decorative yellow sponge thing on top while it dries. The corners came out surprisingly square for a eye-balled job.
Step 4: Install the Front-Bottom Panel
Now it's time to move onto the front of the box. You'll need two pieces: the bottom part, then there's the hole for the monitor, then the top part. The top part has a hole in it for the camera. The bottom part covers where the printer sits. If you did your measurements correctly, the monitor will fit snug vertically just between the two. If you didn't, you'll have to recut your bottom piece like I did and hope things still work.
Attached are pics of the bottom piece being installed with both glue & screws.
Step 5: Install the Front-Top Panel
Now it's time to make & install the front-top panel. The top panel needs an opening for your camera to stick through. It would be awesome to have a small hole that just the lens protrudes through, but we need the flash too. So instead we'll have a big ugly opening.
The least we can do is make the opening look nice. Measure the camera and leave enough room for both the lens & flash, then cut out the opening. You could use a jig saw for this, or in a pinch use a hand saw. Leave extra material on the inside corners if you want to round them later.
Use a dremel (or cheapo knock-off) to round the edges with a cutting blade or sanding attachment.
Remember: the camera is behind the opening, so you'll need a little extra room for the flash. Otherwise the wood will get in the way and you'll get shadows on your pictures.
Once the front-top panel is cut and shaped, you can install it. I used glue this time, no screws. It's not an essential part, so this should be fine. Probably.
Step 6: Optional: Wood Filler
Depending on how accurate you were with your cuts, you will probably have gaps between the wood panels. Once you paint, *everything* will show through. So you can add wood filler at this point to smooth things out.
In the pics, you'll see I used wood filler to smooth where the face meets the walls. A lot of filler. Way too much filler. If you have to use this amount, you've failed to align everything. Filler will help, but it'll still look a bit shody.
Also, I used MDF for this booth. The flat surfaces are pressed and very smooth, almost plastic or glass-like. The edges are very rough, and have a papery texture. You'll see this difference when you paint. You could use wood filler to try to "seal" these edges, but most likely you're stuck with it. MDF is annoying this way.
I used wood filler over the screw holes. This worked well. It helps when the screws are driven below the wood surface, since then you can cover them easily.
Use very thin layers of filler, otherwise it'll never dry. Once it's all dry, go back and sand everything smooth. If you have to sand through the filler, you can add more, dry, and repeat. Just work till you're satisfied with how smooth everything is.
Step 7: Paint
I used a very cheap gray latex primer & black latex topcoat from Home Depot, along with a cheap black foam roller. The latex never fully cured - it stayed very rubbery and soft for a long time. Bad paint. "Latex" paint comes in cheap (PVC binders) and pricey (acrylic binders) varieties. The Home Depot cheap stuff must be PVC, so it's very rubbery. Things tend to stick to it in hot weather, it picks up scuffs, it's bad.
I recently repainted the booth using a small air compressor, a small detail spray gun from Harbor Freight (the $15 one, the only one with reasonable air requirements), and Sherwin-Williams acrylic enamel paint (with some thinner/floetrol to make spraying easier). It's basically a "latex" paint with 100% acrylic binders instead of cheaper PVC, so it's more durable, better shine, less rubbery, and easier to paint. Also has a lot less smell, seems to dry quicker (could be wrong about that last one). It's just good. 1 quart should be more than enough. Spraying goes on very smooth, and exposes exactly what's underneath - it doesn't hide anything like the roller does, so if you've got rough woodwork I'd just roll on the paint. If you've got wood filler and everything sanded smooth, spray it down and it'll look impressive.
Remember to prime!
Make sure you paint the back door at the same time. It's easy to forget.
Step 8: Adding the Back Door
You'll need a back door to get to the printer, install the monitor, plug everything in, etc. This is a simple wood panel with hinges and a magnetic catch. Leave space in the bottom for 1) the printer to spit out prints, and 2) as a handle to open the door.
Make sure this piece gets painted along with the rest of the booth. Then go about aligning it and installing the hinges.
I used easy-install surface-mount concealed hinges from Home Depot. They allow the panel to fit flush *inside* the box, and still open out just past 90 degrees. Make sure you check the instructions - there's specific ways to mount them depending on whether the door panel is inside or outside the box. They're very nice and easy to install, highly recommended.
The magnetic catch is simple... just screw the metal tab onto the panel, then screw the magnet part onto the inner side wall of the box where ever it hits. Use a silver sharpie to mark drill points for later, since pencils/markers don't show on black paint.
NOTE: Make sure to drill pilot holes for all screws, or they'll crack. Make sure your pilot holes don't go through the wood. Make sure your *screws* don't go all the way through. The screws I used were too long, so I clipped off the ends with wire cutters. Some pilot holes weren't deep enough, so there's bulging/cracking on the other side.
Step 9: Make & Install a Custom Camera/LCD Mount
To install the camera, you'll need to fab your own camera mount. This sounds hard, but is relatively easy. You'll need a thin metal sheet and 1/4" screws for the camera. Then you'll need M8 metric screws to mount it to the LCD.
Bend the metal sheet at some point. Drill a hole for the camera mount. Put a 1/4" screw through the whole, and screw it into the camera. You'll probably need a 1/4" nut on the screw side (not the camera side) as a spacer, since you normally can't find 1/4" bolts short enough for this. Screw the camera firm, but do not break the threads. If the bolt is tight and the camera is loose or there's still space between the camera and the metal sheet, then your bolt is too long: get washers or nuts as more spacers. Don't break your camera.
Drill 4 holes on the other side, and bolt this to your LCD. The holes do not need to be exact, which is good because it's very hard to align these 4 holes exactly. They're probably 75mm apart (VESA mount). Or 100mm. I forget what 19" monitors use. Again, find the right length M8 metric screws. Use washers if needed.
Hint: if your camera moves too much, get some of that rubber matt non-slip grip mat that you usually lay in shelves/drawers, and cut a piece for under the camera. That'll grip the camera and prevent it from turning without having to tighten the camera mount bolt too much.
Step 10: Install Equipment, Turn It On
You're almost there! Your booth is assembled and painted, the hinges and doors work, and the camera is mounted precariously on top of your monitor. Assemble everything!
Install the monitor + camera assembly into the space in the front of the booth. Make sure the monitor sits behind the little corner tabs to ensure it does not fall out the front of the booth (onto whoever's using it at the time... very expensive prank). It should pressure-fit tightly and be snug. If there's any possibility that the monitor will fall backwards into the booth, you'll need to fit locking posts in there.
To make monitor-locking posts:
Mark where the monitor fits in the booth. Then drill holes just behind it in the side walls of the booth. Cut a wooden dowel about 1" long, roughly twice as long as the thickness of the walls. Paint the ends of the dowel black to blend in. Press the dowels into the holes, just enough to sit there but not protrude inside. I hereby name these "frankenstein-mounting bolts". That's what they look like when they're "out". When you have them "in" (ie. holding the monitor in place), they're flush with the sides.
Install the monitor. Now press the posts into the booth till they're flush with the outside. Now they support the monitor from falling or moving, and they're very hard to see from the outside. And you can still remove the monitor if needed. Neat.
Put the printer on the bottom with the paper tray facing toward the back opening (under the door).
Attach all cables & wires, install a power strip to hook everything up, and run the single power extension cable out the back (to the side of the printer), and to the wall. Tape it down so no one trips over it and kills themselves (again, expensive prank).
Turn everything on & connect it. You can hide the laptop inside on top of the printer. Now you have a self-contained mini-photoboooth on & running on your table top.
Step 11: Software Setup, Bring It to a Party
All the hardware is done. Now you have to setup the software.
You'll need the monitor to mirror the laptop's display. Usually you can do this through the Control Panel > Display > Settings > Advanced > (Video Card Manufacturer Control Panel) > Multiple Displays > Clone Displays. There might be a system-tray icon to do this too.
You'll need to setup your printer for vertical 4x6 borderless photos. Create a profile for this setup so you can easily go back to it later. Set this printer to be the default printer.
Install any camera drivers if needed. Some cameras don't need them (including recent Canon DSLRs).
Plug in your USB button. In this case we're using a Griffin Powermate, and they're awesome! They were discontinued for years, but for some reason they seem to be back in production again?? I bought a few, they're really great little buttons. They light up, they're small, they're metal & durable, and with for use with this booth you don't even need drivers or setup - just connect it, then press it.
Install your photobooth software. We're using SeeMonkey Photobooth software in this case, which works with this setup out of the box. So easy. You'll need some kind of automated photobooth software, which waits for a button press, then takes the pictures, and finally assembles them into a photostrip and prints it. SeeMonkey also has the added benefits of showing live previews (very important so people can see if they're even in the picture), and displaying images after they're taken so people can see what they just got. Also, the printouts are customizable, which is handy if you want to get creative with the layout.
You have your new mini-photobooth setup & ready. Now you need a table to put it on. You'll also need a bench or seat of some kind (we used an Ikea LACK Coffee Table as a bench - works perfectly!).
You'll also need a backdrop. You can use a plain white wall, if it's handy. Or you can put a tension bar in a doorway and use a set of cheap walmart curtains.
If you want to get fancy, you can get a set of photography backdrop stands and a backdrop cloth, and just put that behind the bench. Cheaper on ebay, usually includes stands & cloth in one kit.
If you want a DIY backdrop stand, checkout the DIY PVC pipe backdrop stands:
I tried to make a stand out of small strips of wood - it was miserable. Not recommended.
If you don't have to move it much, I've always wanted to try this amazingly colorful and great backdrop from photojojo (check out the 4th pic). It would look amazing in pictures.
Step 12: The End
Photobooths are just amazing. For weddings couples, they let you see how much fun your guests had while you were eating cake and talking to long-lost relatives. For guests, they get to do something fun, and even get to take a photostrip home for their fridge. They're great for just about anything - wedding receptions, proms, birthdays, or even just a backyard BBQ.
The booth I built is small enough to store everything in my little car and setup everything in about 20 minutes. It works almost completely automated, so I can even just leave it and let people take their own pictures.
So go make your booths, use them, and post your photos online! If you end up making your own booth (or if you just do a DIY photobooth at all), feel free to post pictures below or links to your galleries.
What's next: the not-so-mini booth.