View of purple computer monitor and keyboard
click photo to enlarge

Pink and purple, am I crazy?

This is a quick galley of one of my first case modifications (see others), and is all about paint. I made this for two little girls, hence the purple and pink color scheme. It was built very cheaply. But most of all I used this project to learn how to paint...correctly.(click on any picture for a close-up view)

The case was a very cheap ATX mid-tower which is mostly steel with plastic front molded pieces. The monitor was a very cheap 17 inch eMachines flat-Trinitron CRT. The keyboard and mouse were also just very cheap generic components, although I did go with an optical mouse (easier to keep clean for the girls).

Reflection in polished purple paint Another reflection in polished purple paint
click photos to enlarge

I made no changes to any structure or shape; it's all just paint, and quite a dramatic and personalized result. And look at the reflection in that side panel. I was able to get an almost mirror-like finish using just ordinary spray paint and a lot of hard work. These poor quality photographs just don't do it justice.

Painting the keyboard

Keeping in mind that the eventual owners of this system (5-10 years old), I wanted it to be a complete personalized system. That meant I needed to do something with an otherwise boring and quite adult-like keyboard. I purchased a very cheap keyboard with my only requirements being that it be rugged, was spill-proof, and looked easy to disassemble.

Closeup of painted keyboard
click photo to enlarge

I disassembled it by removing all the screws on the bottom. Two of the screws were much shorter in length than the others, so I carefully noted that. Then I separated the shell halves. Do this carefully in an open area, because its likely that lots of little rubber key-springs will fall out. The keys are affixed to an inner board, which is only clipped in and easily removed. You can pop the keys off one at a time (remember where each came from, or use another keyboard as a reference). The spacebar and return keys are a little trickier as they have a wire guide. The plastic circuit board inside is also easily removed with just a couple screws.

To prepare for painting I first masked off the inside of the case and anywhere I didn't want to paint. Then I lightly sanded both halves of the shell. I was not trying to get a mirror-finish on the keyboard so it doesn't have to be perfectly smooth. I then applied two coats of plastic primer paint, and a couple coats of the final color, allowing each to dry between applications.

I decided that I was only going to paint just the letters A-Z on the keyboard. This would have the benifit of highlighting just the letters from the dozens of other confusing keys, making it easier for the girls to learn how to type. Additionally since I was going to paint the keys, I'd have to reproduce the letter stenciling on each which would be very difficult for all the keys.

To paint the keys I first got a cardboard box and punched rows of holes in it with a screwdriver. These holes were just the right size to push the key-stems into. This would make painting much easier, since the box held all the keys upright and I wouldn't have to handle their painted surfaces. Then a light sanding, priming, and painting.

To reproduce the letters on the key faces I found some black vinyl precut stencils in an office supply store. They are a little thick and so have a tecture to them, but they should be very durable. They are also oversized compared to the original inking, and so again should make learning the keyboard that much easier. The vinyl letters had some self-adhesive on them, which allowed me to stick them down in position.

As a final step, I applied two coats of a clear enamel finish over all the painted surfaces. This very hard and durable coating will protect the rather soft paint from all those greasy hands rubbing on them over the years. Additionally it provides a much more durable bond for the vinyl lettering, which should prevent them from rubbing off or coming loose.

Ladybug mouse

The mouse couldn't be left out either, and I wanted something whimsical. I finally decided on an insect of some sort--a ladybug. Like the keyboard, preparationg and disassembly is the key. Just a couple small screws and a couple push tabs were all that were holding it together. After removing the electronics module and scroll wheel, I was left with just the shell. I didn't want the underside to be painted as the Teflon skid pads work better naked; so I taped off the underside.

Just like with the keyboard, I first applied plastic primer then my base color coat. The insect details was hand painted with acrylic paint with a small detailing paintbrush. Then two coats of clear enamel were applied over the whole thing.

I've since learned that you can now buy computer mice premade in a variety of kid-likable styles; including bumble-bees and ladybugs. But mine still has that hand-crafted personalized feel.

Can you really paint a monitor?

Okay, painting a monitor is perhaps a bit more dangerous than say a keyboard. There's heavy delicate glass components, and lots of things that you definitely don't want to paint. The hardest part of this is the preparation, all the masking.

CAUTION. Never attempt any of this with a monitor that is pluged in, even if turned off. And the internal electical components can be very fragile, especially the neck of the tube; never handle them or apply force to them.

The back shell casing came off pretty easily with just a few screws. The front portion is a different matter entirely. The heavy glass picture tube is bolted to it and all the circult boards likewise affixed. I decided that it would be easier not to completely remove the front shell.

The first step is to mask off the front of the tube. It is a specially coated glass, so you never want to use masking tape or anything else sticky or abrasive. I loosened the four bolts holding the tube. This allowed me to slide a sheet of masking paper over the front of the glass and under the edges of the plastic. Then I retightened the bolts making a good seal. This very effectively masked off the front glass. (Be sure to use masking paper or other very heavy/wax paper as you don't want any paint to seep through and onto the glass surface).

To protect all the exposed innards, I got a heavy-duty plastic trash bag and carefully wrapped the whole insides. Then I used a lot of tape to seal the edges down. It should be nearly air-tight, as you don't want any paint at all to find it's way inside.

The painting is pretty easy. Again, coats of primer, paint, and a final clear enamel. One thing to be cautious of is to make sure that your paint doesn't plug up any small ventilation holes in the case, as those are needed to insure cool operation.

A shiny mirrored-surface case

Painting the case was by far the most time consuming part of this project, but the result was well worth the effort. But the result was absolutely wonderful. The steel case was very shiny, so shiny that you could see yourself in it like a mirror.

For more detailed instructions on how to obtain this kind of mirror-like finish, read my How to Paint article.