Introduction: NES-Themed Laptop Paint

About: I'm an electrical engineering grad from Colorado who loves to hack my stuff and make it better. I also enjoy building things from scratch! Interested in electronics, microcontrollers and video game-themed crea…

Welcome to my first Instructable! I decided to give my laptop a paint job inspired by the colors of the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), and have documented this process here. Since every laptop is different, and you may have different ideas for your paint theme, the purpose of this guide is more to provide inspiration and go over common pitfalls and things to look out for, rather than detailed step-by-step.

BEFORE YOU START: I recommend only doing this on a laptop you don't care too much about, in case the paint doesn't turn out well or you end up damaging something in the (dis)assembly process. This will also void the warranty. I also recommend taking it apart before you go buy any materials, to evaluate if you find it feasible. Unfortunately, laptops can be fairly difficult to disassemble compared to desktops.

Step 1: Getting Materials

Materials and Tools

  1. Laptop (obviously)
  2. Paint (black, white, optional gray)*
  3. Paint brushes, including fine point**
  4. Clear coat
  5. Fine sandpaper
  6. Clear sticker paper (optional)
  7. Screwdriver set
  8. Butter knife or prying tool (varies)
  9. Goo Gone or other adhesive removal
  10. Super glue

*I mixed black/white with gray because I wasn't thinking it through when I bought the paint :) However, since we're ultimately just making grays, I would imagine you can do this with only black and white paint.

**Brushes assuming you don't use spray paint or an airbrush, both of which I'd recommend against unless you can fully remove the plastic from the electronic components.

All paint and coatings should have a matte finish if you want it to be more true to the NES. If you want to go above and beyond, I believe the true colors have a tinge of yellow (for the light gray) and red (for the dark gray), but I didn't go that far. You also may need primer depending on the type of paint, but check the paint's recommended surfaces before purchasing. I used multi-surface satin acrylic paint without primer and it seemed to turn out fine.

Step 2: Disassembling and Cleaning the Laptop

Disassembling the laptop is a key step, though I suppose you could paint it without taking anything apart, if you're feeling bold. I found the disassembly to be the most difficult part, but it makes the painting process a lot easier in the long run. I don't go over the process in great detail since every laptop is a little bit different.

2a. Remove the panel

In my experience, for most laptops you start by removing screws on the bottom panel, or panels--fortunately my current one just has one large panel for the entire bottom. Oh, and make sure you DISCONNECT THE POWER CORD AND THE BATTERY before you start any of this. You may need to unscrew the battery first before it can slide out.

2b. Remove Motherboard and Internals

I found the easiest way to remove the laptop internals was taking everything out together as much as possible. Basically I removed all the major screws and disconnected any cables as necessary until I could remove the whole motherboard assembly. You'll see in the photos how many components are still connected.

2c. Detach and Separate Screen

Next I detached the screen by the hinges screwed on to the motherboard area. After the screen was detached I had to carefully pry it open. I used a flathead screwdriver but this resulted in a lot of small chips and scrapes to the plastic, you may be better off trying a butter knife or something with a wider angle. You may also have screws that need to be removed and could be hidden under the rubber stops.

BE CAREFUL when removing the screen. I have seen in other guides that laptop screens may have sensitive components that should not be touched or placed directly on surfaces. Mine had no such warnings, but look out for them as you're handling the screen, especially if it is an older laptop.

2d. Detach Keyboard and Touchpad

You might be able to do this step earlier, or not at all. With my laptop, the keyboard and touchpad were attached by rivets, so I was not able to remove them.

2e. Remove Stickers and Rubber Feet

If you haven't done so already, remove all stickers (write down your model #, etc. if inclined), and any rubber feet or rubber screen stops. The sticker residue can be removed by scrubbing with a wet napkin or paper towel and the Goo Gone (or similar).

With everything removed, I was left with four main pieces to paint: The bottom panel, the keyboard/touchpad piece, the front screen cover and back screen cover.


I highly recommend keeping track of any screws and other small objects removed during assembly. If you have a clear plastic tackle/toolbox or bead container, it works great for keeping the different types separate. I also wrote down where each type of screw goes so I wouldn't forget later on.

Step 3: Prepare Surfaces for Painting

There isn't much to the paint preparation. I sanded all of the surfaces with 320 grit sandpaper, then wiped clean with a damp cloth. The piece with the keyboard/touchpad required the most preparation. As you can see in the picture, I put tape around the keyboard and most of the touchpad. With the keyboard, I wrapped the edge of the tape slightly around the edges of the keys, and this seemed to work out well. I didn't bother with taping small/rounded sections, since it seemed easier to just paint around those.

Step 4: Get Painting!

I painted the bottom two pieces dark gray and the top two in light gray. I took some creative license and simplified it a bit without the black "stripe" or ridges going across the top. I figured the keyboard, CD drive, battery and touchpad would leave me with more than enough black.

Remember that this will probably need multiple coats (unless your laptop is a light color), so you want to try to get the color consistent. If you can mix and store a lot of paint at once, great, but I just mixed it with each coat. If you do that, it's better to err on the side of too light, since you can always darken it up with the final coat.

When painting around areas you didn't cover with tape, it's better to use a small brush. When painting over the vents, do it when there isn't much left on the brush so it doesn't drip in between. A toothpick works well for cleaning these if any paint does drip through.

Ultimately it took me two coats of the dark gray and three for the lighter gray, then a clear coat. I sanded between the first and second coats. Follow the instructions on your paint for dry times between coats.

Step 5: Put It Back Together

After you've got everything painted to your satisfaction and it's fully dried, put the laptop back together. As long as you know where the screws go, it's not too much trouble, since it's essentially the disassembly in reverse.

Make sure everything is in working order before you proceed to the next step (if you choose to do so). When I put mine back together it seems I either broke the webcam or forgot to reconnect something, but it wasn't a big deal since I don't use it.

Step 6: (Optional) Add Stickers!

I added a few stickers that I custom-printed on clear sticker-paper. I put this step as optional because, as you can see, some didn't turn out great. Despite using clear paper, it still leaves a visible area of the sticker, but you may achieve better results with a different type. I recommend buying online, because the stuff I found in stores was in way larger quantities than I need. This is the one I ended up getting.

I've attached a zip of all the images I used, which includes a sheet I compiled so everything would be on one printout. However, not everything on this sheet turned out well, so I ended up discarding the Power, A, B, Start and Select button labels. You also might need to re-size images to meet your needs.

For printing, you want to make sure that the background is transparent so it doesn't print white space onto the transparent paper. While I think you can use a basic program like MS Paint for this, I used GIMP (which supports the xcf files in the zip) to be safe. Paint is not a great choice regardless because the white canvas can hide near-white pixels in the image.

Step 7: Conclusion and Final Thoughts

Ultimately, I was satisfied with the final product, but there is definitely room for improvement. I would probably try a different type of stickers next time. There are some visible texture lines from the paint brushes that I find undesirable, but it looks okay from afar and in photos. I originally thought of changing LEDs to red to match the NES, but didn't do this since it uses small SMD LEDS that can be tricky to work with.

If you make your own version, please post and comment so I can see where you went with it! Thanks for reading!