Introduction: Sharpie Phone Backplate (Nexus 5)

About: I like multimedia stories and pockets.

Our phones are with us every day - they live in our pockets and connect us to the world, day in and day out. We probably hold our phones more often than we hold hands. We choose our phones based on tech-specs, build quality, and quite often "because everybody else has one". If "everybody else has one" isn't really your style, pull out the sharpies and give your phone a splash of unique personality.

Try a colorful pattern, or go monochromatic! You could also utilize lyrics and quotations, or put your own spin on a famous painting. The possibilities are infinite! You will need:

  • Your phone
  • An extra backplate (for those who can remove their phone's backplate)
  • Sharpies
  • Pencil
  • Sealer
  • Clear plastic sheet (smudge protection while you're working)
  • Paper
  • Pry-bar (or something similar, for removing the backplate)

DISCLAIMER: This project works with any phone, but it works much better with phones that have removable backplates. Most phones will need to be sealed after being sharpied. If you can't remove your backplate, you'll want to cover everything up with painters tape and be very careful about where you paint/spray. You could get lucky and not need to seal your phone, but I wouldn't count on that.

Step 1: Make a Template (optional)

Of course this is the one step I forgot to photograph (there's always one). Trace your phone on a piece of paper and draw on the camera, logos, etc. It doesn't have to be perfect. Go over your tracing with something dark and cut the template out to get a feel for how it will look on a phone-shaped-thing. Then sketch out a rough design with a lighter hand (so that you can erase if necessary).

Feel free to draw everything in pencil that you'll be drawing in sharpie, or just a rough sketch like I did. You can also opt out of a template entirely.

Step 2: Pencil Outline (optional)

Penciling on things that aren't paper is a bit of a wild card. The soft-touch back of the white Nexus 5 is great, but the pencil can be erased just with your finger (and will be, if you accidentally cover it with your hand while you're working). For phones with surfaces like the Nexus 5's, it's a good idea to use a sheet of clear plastic under your hand while you're working. This sheet can come from anything, so long as it's not abrasive. Paper also works, but the clear plastic makes it easier to see what you're doing.

Phones with glossy surfaces may not take on the pencil at all. This has it's ups and it's downs - sharpie might stick better, but you can't pencil on an outline.

By the way, I also forgot to take pictures of the penciled outline before I began to add pen. Sorry about that!

Step 3: Sharpie on Design

Sharpies are even more of a wild card than pencils - once upon a time, they used to stick to stuff, but I haven't seen them do that permanently since I was about seven years old. These days, they start out sticking to some things and then secretly come off all over your pockets, or the ink wipes away at the slightest touch, disappearing as you draw. They have some interesting properties because of this: on the Nexus 5, they erase just like pencil, but once again, you'll need to stick a clear plastic sheet under your hand while you work. Expect to retouch a lot of things both before and after you seal your art. Also, once the sharpie has dried, which takes about 5-15 seconds, if you happen to go over it again, the felt tip may work just like an eraser.

If your phone has a glossy back, the sharpie will probably stick, but it might also smudge, so use that plastic sheet. Alternately, if you have a phone with a canvas-type (converse shoe style) back, be prepared for the sharpies to bleed.

If you're concerned about how your phone will react to the sharpie, feel free to message me with a picture of your phone and the model number. I know a fair amount about phones, and a fair amount about sharpies, so I might be able to come up with some helpful advice.

Extra tips:

  • Sharpies smudge together when drawn on top of a separate color - they sort of "pull" the other color of ink along. You can blur the colors together, or even make new colors with this technique. This works a little differently on every surface.
  • If you mix sharpie colors and you're using a color that's not extremely dark, clean the sharpie by drawing on a scrap paper, or any other surface.
  • Like I said, sharpies erase from some things. Try using the eraser from a 2B pencil! Also, if you want to erase pencil but not sharpie, try a kneaded eraser (lightly).

Step 4: Seal

When deciding what sealer to use, the kind of backplate your phone has - yet again - matters a lot. You'll have to choose one for yourself. Follow these tips:

  • If your phone backplate is not removable, you might try something that dries into a hard shell, for protection purposes. Keep in mind that polyurethane turns things slightly golden, especially when it's old. Clear nail polish might work, but I haven't tried it. [You could use tinted transparent nail polish on a monochrome design to create a cool look].
  • If your backplate is removable, like the back of the Nexus 5, try something that will be able to flex when it's dry, to prevent possible cracking issues when you remove the backplate in the future.
  • Acrylic sealers do not work.

I tried using an acrylic sealer, but it has a weird texture, tends to peel off, and, as you can see, drips from the particular brand that I used messed up parts of the drawing. Since they could flake off, they were fixable, but still - don't use this stuff, at least not on a Nexus 5. If you have any suggestions for better sealers, let me know!

After you seal your art, touch up all the places where the sharpie has smudged or rubbed off.

Step 5: Remove and Replace Backplate (Nexus 5 Specific)

The Nexus 5 has some important technology implanted in the backplate, but it can still be removed. To remove the back of your Nexus 5, gently wedge a pry-bar (or something similar) in between the backplate and the body of the phone, starting at the audio jack. Do not use a pry tool small enough to slip into the audio jack, as that will destroy the jack. Work your way down to the bottom of the phone, using your thumb and the pry-bar. Be aware that there are some latches in the middle of the backplate. Once you get to the bottom, gently pull up while pushing on the inside of the backplate with your thumb. The backplate should pop off. It's a little tricky, and the first time is the hardest.

Do this at your own risk! My original backplate has been slightly loose ever since I removed it, and I did manage to break my audiojack (I have bluetooth headphones though). This process is not without risk in some phones.

If you ordered an extra backplate for your phone, like I did, it may not come with a camera flash cover. I made one by layering clear boxing tape until it was the same thickness as the backplate, cutting that thick multi layered piece of tape into a circle the size of the flash cover hole, shoving it in there, and then taping it on from the inside.

To put the backplate back on the phone, lay the plate on top of the phone and carefully push the plate into place, making sure to get all the latches. Gently push on the upper middle of the phone to make sure the inner latches connect.

(By the way, you're supposed to turn your phone off before you begin this process and I highly recommend that you do, but if you for some reason during this process the phone accidentally comes back on, the screen shines in from the back of the phone and it looks really, really cool. Try it if you dare.)

Rainbow Contest

Participated in the
Rainbow Contest