Introduction: Paint Your Laptop - Project: Big Red

Picture of Paint Your Laptop - Project: Big Red

Have a new or old laptop? Tired of the way it looks? Wish you could do something to fix those yucky keys and scratches? Look no further!

In this fun-filled instructable, Gnaw will help ease those worries and uncertainties that you may face when expressing your inner-geek. You will unleash your creative and artistic skills as you learn and follow along with Gnaw and his new project, code-named: BIG RED

So, what you waiting for? Take the plunge, let’s get started!

*** Just wanted to squeeze in here a BIG thank you to westfw for sending me a spare key so I could complete my project. THANKS WESTFW! ***

Step 1: Background Story

Picture of Background Story

Grandma gave her ungrateful grandchild (me) $25.00 for his birthday. I didn’t want to waste it on something stupid so I scoured eBay, craigslist etc. for a cheap/used laptop for a Linux box that I've been itching to build.

Behold! An IBM ThinkPad 385ED with a blazing-fast Intel Pentium MMX 166 MHz processor, 80MB RAM (upgraded), 12.1 inch 256 color LCD, 8X CD-ROM and a massive 2.1GB HD! The seller also threw in the bag, a mouse, modem, and Ethernet card for only $25.00!

Alright! Enough bragging, on with the show!

Step 2: The Materials

Picture of The Materials

A great place to find all the materials you need is at any home-depo, building center, or hobby shop.

Here's a list of the materials I used. Depending on what you have in mind, your own list may vary. Just make sure the spray paint can be used on plastics.

Materials List/Tools
Small Screw-Driver set $varies
Exacto knife $varies
Super-Glue >$1
Old Newspaper >$.50
3M sandpaper 360 grade (see picture) >$1
Painting Tape (or masking tape, painting tape is better, no sticky residue) >$2.00
Model Master Spray-Paint (Primer, color, and gloss finish) around $6.00 each
Trim Sheet: Black (high gloss black surface, adhesive sticker used for model planes) $4.50
SuperCal 5 1/2" x 8 1/2" (Printable Water-Slide Decals) $20.00 expensive!

When I was about to pay for all this at the cash I made a joke about how much cheaper everything would be if I had a sponsor. The man at the cash looked at me and asked what I was doing. So I told him about my project and mentioned I was going to make this instructable on it. To my delight, he offered me a discount in exchange for an honorable mention of where I purchased my supplies

I love hobby shops. Just walking around and seeing everything displayed can be quiet inspirational. Most have everything from models to R/C Air-planes/cars, robotic kits, tools and lots building materials. At this particular store, the staff helped me find the proper kind of paint to use on the laptop and made helpful suggestions on the materials I should use for the other things I had in-mind. So thanks to the staff at Great Hobbies.

Step 3: The Real Fun Begins!

Picture of The Real Fun Begins!

Alright! So you have everything you need. Now we start to have some real fun...

The next step is to disassemble your laptop!

*** If you have a newer laptop you may not want to void your warranty by dismantling it! ***
(Especially those of you who bought the 'extened warranty' **chuckle**)

Helpful Tips
- Get the service manual for your laptop model from the manufacturers’ website
- Keep small pieces together with tape and labels (see image 3)
- GENTLY unscrew items (stripping a screw SUCKS! you don’t want to drill it out)
- Use an anti-static strap and proper anti-static techniques when handling electrical components!

Step 4: Mr. Sandman

Picture of Mr. Sandman

Ok! You are now ready to prepare the pieces you wish to paint.

Gently sand the surfaces of the parts you wish to paint as best you can. When you finish sanding take a wet paper towel to clean off the dust and then wipe dry. If you look at the picture of the base of my laptop you'll notice I have removed the rubber feet. It's not a good idea to paint over the rubber or stickers/labels. Don’t worry, when you’re finished you can use a small amount of super-glue to stick them back on. Any labels (such as thermal-foil labels) you do not wish to peal-off or pieces of metal (battery leads) should be taped over using your masking or painters' tape.

Step 5: Primed and Ready

Picture of Primed and Ready

*** If you have no experience using spray-paint, read the label on the back of the spray-can. ***

*** Wearing a hat is a great way to prevent hair from falling on the painted surface. ***

*** It's better to paint in large open areas or even outside. If the fumes are strong you should wear a mask to help prevent inhalation of the fumes ***

So after you have sanded and wiped away any dust you are ready to start priming/painting. Don’t try to cover all the areas with paint the first time; it will only make a mess. Instead, paint the pieces with multiple light coats; each time from a different angle. This will ensure a smooth paint job as opposed to a runny one. After each coat, inspect the dried piece carefully taking note of any small areas you may have missed so you may eliminate them when you apply the next coat. Most of my pieces needed only two coats. For small pieces, you may want to stick them to your painting surface with some painter's tape (see second image).

Step 6: Adding Some Color

Picture of Adding Some Color

Alright great start!

*** Depending on what you had in mind and the type of paint you may have at your disposal, the following steps may differ from what you require. ***

*** Use the same painting techniques you've mastered in the last step. ***

*** Bright colors may require a primer with a lighter shade in order to make it more vibrant ***

The color I used to paint my laptop is called Italian Red (Duh). I ended up buying another two cans because I found some pieces needed 3-4 coats for what I had in mind.

Step 7: Final Coat: Ultra Gloss

Picture of Final Coat: Ultra Gloss

Whew, that's a lot of work. You’re almost done!

*** You may want to use something stronger to protect your masterful paint-job. Maybe something a littler heavier like a laqor or varnish? ***

*** Depending on what you had in mind and the type of paint you may have at your disposal, the following steps may differ from what you require. ***

*** Use the same painting techniques you've mastered in the last step. ***

This glossy semi-protective paint will need a longer period of time to dry before your ready to apply another coat. I waited four hours between each coat, applying three coats in total.

Step 8: Water Slide Decals

Picture of Water Slide Decals

Alright, you’re ready to tackle those key! With any luck you've managed not to loose any of them (unlike me). The instructions to use the SUPER CAL sheets of paper is pretty simple. Just read the instructions on the back. Quite simply, you print on the decal paper with your printer. Then you seal the paper with the SUPER CAL spray(I used the ultra gloss stuff and it worked just fine) After they have dried, you soak them in water for 10-40 seconds. After that they should be able to slide off easily from the paper. Once you have applied the wet decal to the key/object let it dry, then give it another quick spray with the ultra-gloss so it doesn’t wear after use.

*** Some Important Tips ***
- When you print them, set your printer to its highest quality and if you can select photo glossy paper.
- After you have printed them, spray them. Do not cut them out before-hand otherwise they will not slide off the sheet properly because they are stuck and you will tear them!
- If you soak them for too long the ink on the paper fade a little, you should make some practice pieces before you attempt to try it with your good ones.

I actually made mine in MS word, I've added the document here for you to use for a template if you like.

Step 9: Time to Reassemble

Picture of Time to Reassemble

Sure taking it completely apart was fun, but now you have to put it all back together! This is where that service manual really begins to shine! If you have some 'extra pieces' (screws and other things) don’t worry! The way I see it, you've probably built it more efficiently than the manufacturer and if someone wants to be a smart-ass tell them it was necessary to increase performance. (Like those Dodge Viper racing stripes you see on those hatchbacks with the spoiler that's almost two feet high!)

*** You should thoroughly test your laptop to ensure everything is functioning correctly. It makes no sense to continue stylizing your beast! ***

Step 10: Make Your Own Sticker!

Picture of Make Your Own Sticker!

Alright time to put that high-gloss adhesive sticker to good use.
First I created the image and letter I wanted to make in MS word. Then I printed them out and made sure I cut them as best I could.

The easiest way I found to trace them onto sticker sheet was to lay the cut pieces underneath it inverted and then shade the whole area quickly with a pencil. You should get an outline of the image that should be good enough to follow and cut.

When you’re finished, stick'em on your laptop anywhere you'd like! There you have it, you are now one styling geek!


The_Black_Hole (author)2009-02-24

wouldnt it have been easier to just put the stickers on first, primer, paint, remove the stickers, and put the gloss coat on?????

Dr Qui (author)The_Black_Hole2010-09-13

Its not so easy to use vinal decals as stencils, its best to use paper with a very low tac spray mount adhesive. The glue on vinal sticks to the surface to good.

When you use a stencil you want to remove it before the paint is totally dry so the edge of the paint rolls back before it sets rock hard, if you leave it until its totally dry you get a very jagged and visible edge to your stencil.  Its also better to completely paint a surface and then stencil your graphic.

Gnaw (author)The_Black_Hole2009-02-27

I think I understand your suggestion. Because the stickers were black, as was the original surface of the laptop, it would have been better to use them as a stencil, paint red, remove the template-sticker and then gloss coat? If that were the case, you would be absolutely correct! That would have been an excellent alternative-method. However, now that I've given it some thought; obviously this would only work for anything black. Seeing as how the majority of these stickers were of that shade it might have been worthwhile. However, there could also be potential draw-backs as well. The paint could seep under the template and as a result distort the intended shape. Also, removing the template might prove to be difficult as well, such that I may peal-off a section of paint if I wasn't careful. Thanks for your comment. An excellent, yet simple idea which I honestly never considered.

Dr Qui (author)2010-09-13

Nice job, I remember when these where cutting edge technology, one of the most horrid pieces of technology i ever had the displeasure of working on. One of the customers who had one of these referred to the red mouse button thingy as a clitoris ie "I know where it is, but I'm dammed if i can make it to work properly"

I love the groovy keyboard with the pacman keyboard.

I'm a big fan of uglification of tech, as opportunist scumbags don't tend to steal stuff that is so unique that it cant be sold on. 

My laptop started out with just the Clutch sticker to cover the Toshiba logo, then i just got carried away.

zeon (author)2010-06-18

ARGH!!! you killed it! :P

albhednomad (author)2010-02-06

that's pretty cool. I don't mean to post necro.

I had that exact same laptop. in fact, it was my first laptop. I ran a windows '98 SE. then it died on me.

weasel999 (author)2009-08-27

i got a powerbook g3 for $20 on ebay when i looked it up its worth $100

Gnaw (author)2009-01-08

Your welcome and thank you.

French t0ast (author)2009-01-07

Hi, I really like this project, looks great. I do have 1 question on this step. So the order you do it in is: Print on the special paper Spray they with a clear coat ( any kind or is it special?) Wet them Cut and place on keys Is that correct?

Gnaw (author)French t0ast2009-01-08

That is correct.

red-king (author)2009-01-06

this would probbly void the waranty (what use is it anyway?)so im going to paint a big sticker and stick it on my alptop.

mptech (author)2008-12-11

Your work really inspired me. I have been looking for a way to customize the look of my laptop other than skins and stickers and I found your method to be the most creative. I am going to paint mine too. I'm gonna make mine with a super mario theme. Woohoo!

Gnaw (author)mptech2008-12-11

Thanks for the comment. A Mario-theme would be neat because there is so much material out there you could work with. Some advice, take your time... when things start to come together and take shape you are bound to get very excited and might rush things. Paint does not like to be rushed! Take pictures and post them when your finished! I look forward to seeing what you've envisioned.

namit (author)2008-04-02

Just painted my laptop but the paint is kind of coming off how do i stop this is there any way to seal in the paint to stop scratches and the like? Thanks

Gnaw (author)namit2008-05-25

I've heard of people using turtle wax

Awesome Possum (author)namit2008-05-24

Try clear coat. You should be able to buy it from a hardware store.

thingstealer (author)2007-07-24

hey, i love your template but when i save it, it reverts to times new roman... im assuming i dont have the font you used. what font is it?

Gnaw (author)thingstealer2007-07-28

Sorry, I was away for a few days. The font is called, 'Deanna'... I can't seem to remember if it came with ms office or if I downloaded it?

Awesome Possum (author)Gnaw2008-05-24

It must be downloaded; I just checked and I don't have it.

FreshPineSent (author)2008-05-18

No offense, but that PC kind of sucks. What are you going to use it for?

Gnaw (author)FreshPineSent2008-05-21

- Currently being used to control my CNC machine.

Cracknel (author)2008-05-19

Why use stickers when you could paint the letters :)

Kitoru (author)2008-05-18

It might be preferable to use a small amount of Epoxy, or alternate adhesive on this step. Super Glue has a tenancy to dry hard, and not respond well to the bending of rubber. Although it should work well in the beginning, it might be overly brittle and resist wear poorly in the longer term.

tony stark (author)2008-05-13

whats primer, dude.

1true3 (author)2008-04-07

You could also do: primer, color #1, apply stickers, different color (#2), after drying remove stickers carefully with X-acto knife then apply clear finishing gloss.

skech123 (author)2008-03-16

this tutorial is pretty freaking sweet man! Great job!

Gnaw (author)skech1232008-03-18

Thanks, let me know if have any questions about it.

DrthTater (author)2007-10-23

I probably would have gone with a more simplistic red/black theme, but kudos to you. I'll have to try this.

ffelix (author)2007-07-07

Lots of folks looking for used laptops... Most reasonably sized towns have a college or university of some kind. Also larger companies. These places generally have a regular replacement schedule for computer hardware. Check in with their "surplus" dept. or network admin. dept. to find out about when & how to buy their used stuff.

hck1 (author)2007-04-25

Kooool! Is the paint job OK even after a few months now? (I'ld like to do my notebook in gold, but the paint job must be rugged enough.) I had my Enter-Key painted with nail varnish and the top coat tured green and wore off after a time.

TheMadScientist (author)hck12007-06-26

you could use high-durability latex base paint. but I dont know how hard it'd be to remove in small areas in case of a clogd vent or something like that.

Gnaw (author)hck12007-04-26

Well the paint has a few chips in areas where the laptop usually bumps into things but it seems to be holding up well. If you really wanted to protect your paint-job maybe try to find a spray-varnish or somthing you can coat in layers. Also, watch the areas that you paint, some of them may bind and rub against one-another. After some traveling time, if there are too many layers of paint these areas will chip or will be stripped of paint. Someone once mentioned somthing to me about vinyl dye, I haven't tried it yet, but it is susposed to stain the plastic within, instead of just the surface (paint). G'luck on yor project, let me know if you need help with anything.

Alexdc (author)2007-06-22

will the paint affect the heat dissapation characteristics of the laptop case?

Gnaw (author)Alexdc2007-06-23

To tell you the truth this thing runs just as warm as when I bought it. While I was painting I carefully made sure that I did not clog/plug and vents within the plastic case. I have run this mammoth for three days straight and the temperature of the laptop/case was what I expected. It did not melt, liquefy or bubble the paint in anyway. You have given be a great idea though... what if you painted it using some engine enamel? Some of that stuff has a heat rating of 400 -1800 degrees! ...and they come in HOT muscle car colours...

Thunderexpress (author)2007-04-14

I might be buying a ibook g3 for under a hundred. The thing doesn't have a battery or a charger.

That's nice to know. Really.

master-of-chaos (author)2007-05-23


bilox (author)2007-04-27

Hey dude, i like this JOB. i want my laptop painted too.
BUT i'm in France, and i have this laptop:

and i dont like this no-bright black.

i want it being bright. but i dont know who can do this here in France. help please!

robodud3 (author)2007-02-22

ok like i have looked 4ever 4 an old ibm laptop to put lunix on cuz evey1 knows how fun writing code is but my piont is WHERE DID U IND IT????? i reely want one and i think ill do this to it whene i get it but i cant find one so if you could help me in my quest that would be appreciated veary much

Gnaw (author)robodud32007-02-25

Also, forgot to mention this site: Labx I've seen some IBM thinkpads on there for less than $130..

robodud3 (author)Gnaw2007-02-27

yea on ebay yes ebay i found a think pad 20 buck but the funny thing is the shipping is 25 bucks its got n os perfect cuz im just gonna instal linux and an amzing 334mhz intel centrinio proceser it looks like crap so im gona paint it b&w; with cool stickers and my symbol

Gnaw (author)robodud32007-02-22

I understand your frustration; I spent about two weeks browsing around the net in my spare time until I found one.

I have a few suggestions that may help you. You could try Ebay, yes I said it, although you chances of beating the betting bots in the last 5 minutes of your auction is pretty slim; you COULD try to bid on a wholesale-lot of "unknown-condition" and then piece your laptop together. If that doesn't sound appealing, you could try the route I chose and use craigslist. This is just my own opinion, but I can honestly say I love this site. I've used craigslist to find/purchase clothes, books, electronics, computers, even my car! (91' mazda 323 116,000K $200, sorry had to gloat) You may not find what you are looking for on your first visit, but as I mentioned before, check back every few days and you might find that treasure you've been searching for! GL robodud!

robodud3 (author)Gnaw2007-02-23

thanx for the help yah i think craigs list is my best bet but all i ever finde is chargers 4 the labtops u no wat i mean

Mr. Smart Kid (author)2007-01-25

i almost have (had) the same thing, thinner but i tore it apart, it's hard to tear thoes things apret

ViciousVOdka (author)2007-01-18

I am thinking about painting up my computer. However, my laptop is newer and I am debating on whether I should spraypaint/clearcoat it, or use a vinyl dye. I was wondering how yours is wearing? I have heard that spray paint tends to peel, chip, and do other ugly things of the sort.

Gnaw (author)ViciousVOdka2007-01-19

Well I cant say your wrong, yes the spray does chip. But if you put a heavy varnish or something on it, I think it should be fine.

Mine had a few chips in areas where the pieces sit on top of, or rub against. If you decide to paint your newer laptop, I suggest you find a way to minimize the amount of paint you put in areas where there is susposed to be a tight seal Eg. Lid/keyboard surface.

Vinyl dye sounds interesting and much easier. I recently just bought a $400 laptop as well ... I feel another instructable coming ...

Ptr_V_2 (author)2007-01-14

I wanted to do something like this for a while. I'm curious though, I want to add some color the trackpad, but not sure how a trackpad functions. Does anyone have a reccomendation on how to color the trackpad, or on how they function?

peterrus (author)2007-01-03

Yay \o/ I have almost the same thinkpad (380ED), They are massive and indestructable (: Good job, looks good! btw, you said: enter the world of the command line, why is that? I mean, you can just use fluxbox, which comes as default with DSL. nice work!

Gnaw (author)peterrus2007-01-03

Hey thanks. Massive… absolutely, indestructible, damn nearly. If I where to throw this thing at some poor-soul, someone would charge me attempted murder and assault with a deadly weapon. That’s why this giant piece of plastic is named BIG RED. All I meant from the ‘command-line’ statement was that your chances of running any kind of desktop environment (other than windows 3.1 or a very slow win95) on this thing is pretty slim. Yea, you might be able to get away with running an ultra light desktop manager such as fluxbox (I personally have never used it. From what I read it’s similar to blackbox). In the end, it just comes down to personal preference, command-line is just too much fun! Old school is the new school.

peterrus (author)Gnaw2007-01-09

Hmm, well you should try out fluxbox, for sure, if you haven't. In my opinion you can even throw away Gnome or KDE, though i still use Gnome, But fluxbox: It runs fast as hell. and for some things you might still need X, but you are right, Old school stuff will never break

About This Instructable




Bio: I love building things. I dabble in all areas, electronics, computers, programminga ll that geeky stuff.
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