Introduction: The Incredible Paper Calculator Mod (Oh My!)

Picture of The Incredible Paper Calculator Mod (Oh My!)

In this howto of howtos, I will demonstrate how to take an ordinary, boring $3 calculator and turn it into a piece of art and give it the potential of limitless self expression.

The final product is more proof-of-concept than practical, but with each version it has gotten more usable.

I was inspired to make this one day in Earth Science a couple of years ago when i took a piece of cardboard and drew a calculator on it and thought, cool.

Sometime in May I decided that I would go right to my room (then sans computer) and get to work on something productive. Instead, I made v1.

Step 1: Materials

Picture of Materials

1. One appropriately thin, cheap calculator (solar is best)

2. Thin pieces of cardboard. I used the material from the back cover of an old spiral notebook and some other bits of thin cardboard I found lying around my basement.

3. One "faceplate". I followed a 3x5 theme so I used a piece of lined 3x5 notecard with numbers written write on it. You can use whatever you like.

4. Foil for the contacts. I'm thinking about getting some aluminum tape, but is fine.


1. Glue

2. Hobby knife

3. Clean, non-smudgy hands

Step 2: Strip Down Your Calculator

Picture of Strip Down Your Calculator

Not much to say here, just be careful about wires. My calculator was incredibly easy to take apart, I only had to peel back some material and undo 6 screws on the board.

Step 3: Cut Out Your Cardboard

Picture of Cut Out Your Cardboard

As I wanted my calculator to be 3"x5", I just traced a notecard and cut out the pattern. As I've said, you can do whatever size you like. You will need three pieces of cardboard, and one paper-thin faceplate.

The last picture shows the ideal thickness of the cardboard. You'll see why that matters more in a later step.

Step 4: Make Room for the Circuit Board.

Picture of Make Room for the Circuit Board.

This step is important for maintaining the flat profile of your finished product.

Trace out the parts of your calculator's circuit board, screen, and solar panel onto a piece of cardboard (first picture).

Don't worry if the screen or the panel stick up a bit, you can take care of those with the next layer, but if the circuit board is too tall, you'll have to repeat this step with another piece of card.

Step 5: Cut Out the Next Layer.

Picture of Cut Out the Next Layer.

In my first design, there was no seperation between the foil contacts and the buttons. The calculator would still work, but it could get frustrating. With this new layer I solve that problem.

Cut out a grid in this layer on top of the spaces for the buttons. Make the holes as wide as possible.

Also cut out spaces for the screen and panel.

Use the grid as a template for the spacing on your faceplate.

Step 6: Customize Your Faceplate.

Picture of Customize Your Faceplate.

This step is up to you, just make sure you get the spacing right.

Step 7: Add the Foil Contacts

Picture of Add the Foil Contacts

Because we cut out the grid in step 5, all you have to do is paste a rectangle of foil onto the back of your faceplate. When you press a button, it will touch the corresponding button on the circuit board. The grid keeps the buttons nice and separated.

Step 8: Glue Everything Together

Picture of Glue Everything Together

First the backing, then the first cut-out piece, then the circuit, then the grid, then the faceplate.

Step 9: Impress Your Math Teacher.

Picture of Impress Your Math Teacher.

and post your pictures in the comment thread!


darman12 (author)2010-02-20

 This is so awesome! I do nerdy things like this all the time and my parents just laugh and shake their head! lol

jick (author)2007-03-31

has anyone seen these:

you can just draw a calculator on a plain piece of paper and it works. it's like a computer in a calculator.... i'm assuming i'm just late to post this seeing as how obvious it is...

ConcorX (author)jick2008-06-11

i want one. They look so cool!

BlueX273 (author)ConcorX2009-07-21

They look awesome offcorse, but over time you'll realize that it's pretty much next to useless. Trust me, I own both the original and the Fly Fusion, both of which I haven't touched for a year or two. So it's best not to get one, just so you'd know.

dombeef (author)jick2008-07-24

i have one! :-)

Ds HaKa (author)jick2007-12-14

its called a fly pentop computer but u need special paper

casey321b (author)2008-06-18

i did the same thing but with a keyboard. just take out the guts and shove it all together. I'll get a pic up or an instructable

CerealKiller (author)2007-10-15

Um I'm gonna go out on a limb here and ask why make a paper calculator when you already have a working one that you bought???

ConcorX (author)CerealKiller2008-06-10

ya its way cooler

crabezoid (author)CerealKiller2007-10-15

um because it's fun

Darkshot (author)2007-09-09

so....let me get this take apart a calculator...and put it into a non waterproof non-living wrapper that can die within seconds if you drop it or enything rite? sorry if im being to critical =/ maybe if you um......used somethin else that would be cool :] OHHHH COOL IDEA I COULD PUT A CALCULATOR INTO A ALTOIDS CAN!! brb :]

XaiofDren (author)Darkshot2007-12-29

...That would be awesome. I'll work on it... Possibly.

Darkshot (author)XaiofDren2007-12-30

hey man if you make an instructable on it i want credit XD

XaiofDren (author)Darkshot2008-01-01

Okays. I will.

BurningApple (author)Darkshot2007-09-24

"...that can die within seconds if you drop it or enything rite.." I've dropped mine tons of times and it works great...

Darkshot (author)BurningApple2007-09-24

k cool :)

temp (author)2007-12-10

embrace your inner geek!!!=)

Kuhan (author)2007-10-30

hmm... I'm going to try this with duct tape

R. Buckminster F_cker (author)2006-09-23

I feel somewhat critical of this project. It simply converts an inexpensive and highly utilitarian wonder of the modern world into a less reliable version of same. Case mods are superfluous and absurd because they sacrifice potential performance (for example, the money one could've spent on more RAM) in favor of neon-and-acrylic bourgeois aesthetics. We've been making this sort of mistake in America for a long time and we never learn. Anybody familiar with the "streamlined" aesthetic of yore? Well it had nothing to do with actual aerodynamics - objects with streamlined designs merely looked aerodynamic. So when they "updated" the trains in this country with new "streamlined" designs, they did absolutely nothing to improve the performance of the trains in any way. They merely stuck the same old trains inside of new "streamlined" case mods. Not even the trains' drag coefficients were significantly affected! Asinine, utterly. How much time, money and energy was wasted on such tripe? I don't know, but no intelligence was wasted, that's for sure. But this project goes a step beyond usual case mods because it actually DETRACTS from the calculator's utility and reliability! It's like giving your computer a shiny copper case and then bashing the case with a ball peen hammer for that lovely hand-hammered copper finish. Or giving your trains that "battleship gun-bombarded" look. But I guess everybody takes apart a digital calculator at some point, just to see what's inside, and that at least is a good thing. And anybody who does this project will at least walk away with some understanding of how the buttons on their calculator work. (Now you know as much as some low-skill assembly workers!) Conceivably, this project could be a repair job for a calculator with a broken plastic case - that would be commendable, if relatively unlikely.

You could have said that in a lot fewer words, you know.

Waste of time and money twards a hobby, for pure entertainment, i dont think calling america's hobby life a mistake would such a good idea, this guy obvously likes taking things apart, and customizing them, to look cooler, something i think a few of us here, desiging the case, having fun, thats why its a hobby, not a way of life, i dont know why you gotta bash the guy out of his hobby, i doubt people attack your dixie cup creations, i mean, he drew the freakin buttons, that would look killer in my notebook, and ill go to the store and improve upon the design, because thats my hobby.

i bet you're a single 60 year old guy who has nothing to do but criticize others

And your dixie cup creations keep the world spinning.

I take mere Dixie Cups and make something better than a bunch of Dixie Cups. This project takes a functioning calculator and makes something less of it. One time I made a calculator out of Dixie Cups. It did square roots and long division very, very well. It was most impressive. I called it the numberslut math-whorebot6000. We dated for a little while.

:) Speaking of wasting time and energy.

:) I didn't waste my time and energy - I was thinking, and arguing a point. so nyaaa!!

mmzdaniel (author)2007-07-13

its cool but a bit pointless... but still nice job!

MichaelS (author)2006-12-29

I made one, but it is sort of, oh whats the word... A piece of shit.

Thorgo1 (author)MichaelS2007-04-05

thats funny rite ther michaelS

samando (author)2007-03-13

nice idea sorry bit if i did that to my calculator my mum would OWN me and why not try with one of those scientific calculatrs

i make shooting things (author)2006-12-22

i made this a few months ago and its ausome know one could figure out how i made it out of "card board and paper" thanks the Thexas Instruments Ti503 sv (cheep 10 bucks works realy good) is the easyist one to mod

Neodudeman (author)2006-09-08

That's freakin sweet. Freakin MacGyver Sweet.

no, thats not MacGyver sweet, thats taking apart something and making it less useful, the bic pen crossbow is macgyver sweet...

now all i need is some seditive darts, and i can go terrorist hunting.

crabezoid (author)Neodudeman2006-09-08

I'm honored

slyfox117 (author)2006-11-23

Wow, nice i liked it. Simple yet strangely cool. To all the haters, he states that "The final product is more proof-of-concept than practical" Its not practical. Thats not the point. Its fun. You can make your own calculator truly yours.

brazilian (author)2006-11-01

Good idea to be different!

k_arquette (author)2006-10-25

Nifty. All my nieces wanted one. Thanks!

Detonator (author)2006-10-24, I think the original cover looks more decent.

Unforgiven_God (author)2006-10-10

hey this is cool....can anybody here possibly come up with a way to turn a old school gameboy into a calculator? that would be cool. if none of u come up with one soon i will post on how to do it

stupidkid2000 (author)2006-09-28

This is one impressive heap of bullshit who wants their calc to look like that yet again it is kind of neat as a project if ur really getting bored

Bad Donut (author)2006-09-14

In MAKE Volume 07, they explain how to stuff a Palm Piolet into a book. This is just like that. I love the whole stealthyness of it. I would put it in your math notebooks for easy access ;)

Proteus (author)2006-09-09

And this is what a cleptomaniac engineer student did to his sister's calculator while she wasn't looking =] (inspired by this instructable)

(crapy webcam shot)

crabezoid (author)Proteus2006-09-09


Von Klaus (author)2006-09-09

42 you know what i'm talking about

zachninme (author)2006-09-08

Well, this is so seeminly easy, so I would figure you could always re-do it. Too bad we need graphing calculators for school... I'm bringing it in anyway to impress any teacher it should. (Math, Tech. Ed, Computers... Art?)

Octosaurus (author)2006-09-08

We meet again Crabezoid, ill always be one step behind you but this calculatoris quite impressive i must regroup with triangator and calculate my options!

crabezoid (author)Octosaurus2006-09-08


mechanisma22 (author)2006-09-07

That's awsome dude. Thats totally something I would do. This is what creative engineers do when they have too much time on their hands.

crabezoid (author)mechanisma222006-09-08

This is what bored high-school students do when they decide not to do their homework. AP English? pffft!

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