Paint Your Laptop - Project: Big Red




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

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! ***

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Step 1: 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

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!

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

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

*** 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

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

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

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

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!

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!

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    57 Discussions


    10 years ago on Step 10

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

    2 replies
    Dr QuiThe_Black_Hole

    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    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.


    Reply 10 years ago on Step 10

    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

    9 years ago on Introduction

    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.


    9 years ago on Step 3

    ARGH!!! you killed it! :P


    9 years ago on Introduction

    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.


    10 years ago on Step 1

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

    French t0ast

    10 years ago on Step 8

    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?

    1 reply

    10 years ago on Introduction

    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.


    11 years ago on Introduction

    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!

    1 reply

    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    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.


    11 years ago on Introduction

    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

    2 replies

    12 years ago on Step 8

    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?

    2 replies

    Reply 12 years ago on Step 8

    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?


    11 years ago on Introduction

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