Introduction: IPad Document Camera Stand

This is a simple design for an iPad document camera stand. It is quick to build and the materials are only $5. It requires the use of a laser cutter, which are becoming more accessible to makers these days. I made this one at TechShop in San Francisco. As an alternative, you can probably work with an on-demand production service like Ponoko to have this cut for you.

This is my first Instructable, so let me know how I can make it better.

What is a Document Camera?
A document camera allows teachers and other presenters to project a physical document or other 3D object onto a screen for a classroom or other audience. In its most rudimentary form, a document camera is a glorified web cam connected (usually via computer) to an LCD projector. Document cameras are widely available and range in price from less than $100 to more than $1,000 for a complete system including projector.

Enter the iPad
So a document camera can be an incredibly useful teaching and presentation aide, but it's a bit of a one trick pony. With the advent of the iPad and its growing presence in the classroom, teachers have found myriad ways to use the device. With an onboard HD camera and the ability to mirror the display to another device (via AirPlay or cable), many teachers have found that the iPad actually makes a serviceable document camera.

A Little Support
To be useful as a document camera, the iPad needs to be held stationary at a height that gives the camera a reasonable view of the document or object being displayed. This design positions the iPad at 12" above the working surface, which gives a viewable area of about 9" x 13" (on the iPad 2 and later). There are a few commercially available iPad stands that could work in this context, but they're upwards of $40. There are also several tutorials online that describe other approaches to creating a DIY iPad document camera stand (see links at the end).

I think this design has a number of advantages:

  • It is very inexpensive. The total materials cost is $5 per stand.
  • It is lightweight (less than a pound) and can be easily disassembled for transportation.
  • It is fairly sturdy and has an integrated strap to prevent accidental iPad droppage.
  • It has a large working area that allows for larger materials to be displayed.
  • Also, it looks a little bit like it came from outer space.

And to be honest, this design also has a couple of drawbacks:
  • It requires that you have access to a laser cutter to cut the parts.
  • It has a fairly large footprint. If you need something with the smallest possible footprint, there are better designs out there.

What You Need to Complete This Project
  • 1/4" plywood, 12" x 24" piece (I used 5-ply Baltic Birch from Sloan's Woodshop for $4.70)
  • 1/8" shock cord, 18" piece (I got mine at REI for $.25 per foot)
  • 180 grit sandpaper, quarter sheet (optional)

  • laser cutter (I used a 60W Epliog Helix at TechShop SF)
  • small orbital sander or sanding block (optional)
  • lighter (optional)

Other Equipment to Complete an iPad Document Camera System
  • Apple iPad 2 or later
  • LCD Projector
  • Apple TV (3rd gen or later) OR iPad AV Adapter

Step 1: Prep the Materials and Drawing

Let's get started. The parts have been laid out in the attached drawing to fit on a 12" x 24" piece of material. I used 1/4" Baltic Birch plywood from Sloan's Woodshop. This made for a lightweight, but sturdy stand, and kept the cost very low. You can use another material, like acrylic, or another thickness if you want something more rigid. Keep in mind that if you use another material, you may need to modify the width of the slots on the three legs and the platform to ensure you get a tight fit once assembled. The current drawing provides for a very tight fit, which can be "adjusted" with a bit of sanding if you desire.

Before making the cuts, I did some light sanding on both sides of the board to give it a smoother, more consistent finish. Be careful not to remove too much material, or you'll end up with a loose fit in the slots once assembled. If you plan to disassemble and transport the stand on a regular basis, a slightly looser fit might be a good idea.

I included the original layered drawing from Adobe Illustrator. I'm a novice drafter, so if you have any suggestions on how I could have organized this better, let me know in the comments.

Layers in the Drawing
This is what you have in each layer of the Adobe Illustrator file:

  • iPad Layer: this is scale outline of an iPad 2, including the camera position, just for reference
  • Platform Layer: this includes the main platform, with holes for the shock cord and slots for the backstops
  • Legs Layer: this includes three legs and the path for a school name (or other) on the leg
  • Backstops Layer: this includes two backstops which fit into the platform and help position the iPad
  • Spare Parts Layer: this includes a handful of spare drawings, including slot-less legs and platform
  • Materials Test Layer: this includes a simple vector cut and text raster to test your settings before committing to the full job
If you want to stick with my design, you're ready to go. Turn off the iPad, Spare Parts and Materials Test layers and make your cuts. All strokes have been set to .001, which translates to a vector cut on the Epilog Helix. But if your needs are different or you're using other materials, there are a handful of modifications you might consider.

Possible Modifications
  1. If you want to etch a school name or something else on one leg, update that text on the Legs > School Name layer. Or turn off that layer if you don't want it.
  2. If you're using a different material, you may need to adjust the width of the slots. I measured my material with calipers in several places and it actually averaged out to .25". I took a couple hundreds off that to land at .23", which ensures a tight fit.
  3. If you aren't working with a 12" x 24" piece of material, you may need to move things around to fit on your workpiece or with your cutter.
  4. If your iPad is enclosed in a case, you may need to reposition the shock cord holes to account for the additional width.
  5. If you use another type of shock cord, you may need to adjust the diameter of the holes.

Step 2: Cut and Assemble

If you aren't making any modifications, the drawing is ready to go. It's a good idea to do a quick materials test to ensure you have your power and speed dialed in just right to get clean cuts. There is room in the top-left corner of the drawing to do a materials test without interfering with the rest of the cuts (just turn off all other layers first). Once you have your settings dialed in, double check which layers you have turned on/off and output the drawing to your cutter. This job took about 12 minutes with the settings I used. When your cuts are done, give all the edges a wipe down with a damp rag to remove any chardust (I made that word up).

Snap the backstops into the top of the platform. The fit should be tight.

All three legs are identical, so it doesn't matter where you start. Insert each leg into the platform. Make sure the slots are fully seated against each other for a secure fit - you should have about 2" of overlap. The slots should fit somewhere between pretty snug and really tight. If the fit is too tight, do some additional sanding along the faces of the platform and legs where the slots engage. Don't try to sand inside the slots - it will be an exercise in frustration.

Cut your shock cord into the 8.5" lengths. You may want to singe the ends with a lighter to prevent unravelling. Tie a simple knot at one end of each piece. Thread the shock cord up through one hole and then stretch it across and back down through the hole on the opposite side. Tie another simple knot on the other end to secure the shock cord to the board. Repeat for the second piece.

That's it. The stand is ready to go.

Step 3: Set Up Your System

iPads beginning with the second generation and iPhones beginning with the 4S support display mirroring to an Apple TV via the AirPlay feature. This includes mirroring when you're in the Camera application, which is how this whole thing comes together. Alternatively, the display can be output via physical AV cables from the dock connector. Apple has several tutorials on their Support site that describe the process to set it up. It's actually very simple. This article is a good place to start.

Here are a few additional things to keep in mind. Once you're in the Camera application, you can use the pinch gesture to zoom in, if you want to show more detail. Also since the iPad sits flat, the orientation may rotate on you. To prevent this, you can configure the mute switch to be an orientation lock (this can be found in the Settings menu). Remember, the iPad camera is off center (to the right, as it faces down). If this causes problems for you because your material is large or interferes with the right leg of the stand, you can rotate the orientation by 90 or 180 degree and then lock it. Play around with it to see what options you have. If the legs continue to interfere, check out this design that employs a minimal footprint.

That's all. I hope you find this helpful. If you have any comments or suggestions, please let me know. Thanks.