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  Project:     Case Modding 101: Shatterstar's Painting Guide  
  Author:     Shatterstar
  Date:     January 21st, 2005


Warning: Patience and time or it will bleed and die.

For many people, modifying a computer is the art of changing that beige box into something unique and personal. I've always found that painting was one of the easiest and if not simplest ways to achieve this. With the myriads of colors and types of paints on the market today, finding a unique theme can be quite easy. This guide is to help you understand the concepts of painting; personally I donít think there is just one way to paint a case. I will discuss how to achieve a mirror finish using Dupli-colorís Metalcast; the principles can also be used with virtually any paints. As the warning above implies, you will need lots of patience and put in lots of time in order to get a case that your friends will drool over. Before we begin I would like to thank the following MTB members for their direct and indirect help on different painting ideas and thoughts; Jollyeskimo, Wylie-C, AsylumJoe, Drewpy, Skaal-Tel, Hastur, Hi-TEK and many others. The following article will be a how to convert this into this:

MTB Case Modding 101 Shatterstar's Paint Guide
Click image for larger view
MTB Case Modding 101 Shatterstar's Paint Guide
Click image for larger view

Tools List:

  • 2-3 cans of primer and paint (matching brand preferable)
  • 1-2 cans of clear coat
  • 320-400, 600, 800, 1000, and 1500 (2000 can also be used as final step) wet/dry sandpaper
  • Sanding block
  • Shallow dish and dish soap for sanding
  • Rubbing compound, polish/wax
  • Buffing and waxing rags (cheesecloth can also be used)
  • Various tools to dismantle the computer
Basic Steps:
  • Sand with 320-400 grit sandpaper
  • Clean and let dry (sand again if needed and repeat)
  • Apply first coat of primer
  • Sand 400-600 (clean then dry)
  • Apply second coat of primer
  • Sand with 600-800 grit (clean and dry) (repeat above if 3 or more coats needed)
  • Apply first coat of colour
  • Sand with 1000 (clean then dry)
  • Apply second coat of colour
  • Sand with 1000 then 1500 (clean then dry)
  • Apply 3rd coat of colour
  • Apply rubbing compound. (clean then dry)
  • Buff, polish then wax or apply clear coat
Section 1: Planning and Sanding

Step 1: Planning:

When starting a new project, preparation and planning is usually the biggest factors in your projects success. Depending on how complex the project is, will determine how much of a plan you'll need. For example using a single solid colour wouldn't require more than finding out what colour you wanted and which panel will be painted.

TIP: If going with a complex design or idea, grab your #2B pencil and draw your diagram on the case, since you will be sanding it will all be erased. This way you will see how it ends up or what problems may arise.

MTB Case Modding 101 Shatterstar's Paint Guide
Click image for larger view

Step 2: Preparation

In order to start your sanding you will need the following:

  1. Wet/dry sanding paper (400 grit - 1500 grit)
  2. Sanding block
  3. Rubbing compound
  4. Large dish filled with water and a few drops of dish soap
  5. Work bench or work area where water splashing around wonít be an issue
  6. Masking tape
Most of these items can be found at your local hardware store. My favorite choice is Canadian Tire as they have all the components I need for completing this project. For sandpaper I usually buy a mixed pack and one or two specialized grits, such as 1000 or 1500 grit. I recommend using wet-dry sandpaper; the reason is that this will keep the dust to a minimum. I have used regular sandpaper before but the dust got everywhere, and was a real pain to clean up. Hereís a picture of the sanding block and the wet-dry from Imperial.

MTB Case Modding 101 Shatterstar's Paint Guide
Click image for larger view
MTB Case Modding 101 Shatterstar's Paint Guide
Click image for larger view

Then first step is to take the case apart and pull off all the panels. I also had to drill out the rivet holding the top panel, to do this I used a drill with a (6/32) drill bit. For the front bezel I also removed the chromed plastic decorations, LED and switches so as to keep from painting them over.

TIP: Use a marker to indicate where all switches, wires and LEDís are located on the inside of the front panel, this will help with the re-assembling.

Step 3: Sanding (Total Time: ~20-25min)

The panel itself already has a layer of powder coating; this consists of paint and a bonding agent that are applied electrically to the panel. If you run your hand along the panel, you will feel all kinds of bumps, this is what we want to get rid of when sanding. You donít want to get rid of the power coating as it will serve as the base for your painting. The goal is to get the power coating as smooth as humanly possible; the smoother it is the better the finish.

First things first, fill your dish with water and add 1-2 drops of dish soap. Next grab that 320/400 grit sandpaper, and put it on your sanding block. Dip it into your dish, and splash a bit of water on the panel itself. This is where having a work area that will survive a bit of water is important. Now youíre ready to sand and as you can see thereís my "plan" on the panel, designs like that will easily sand off. When sanding you donít need to use much pressure on the sanding block, just lightly sand the panel. What youíre trying to do is smooth out the powder coating and not remove it. What are you waiting for? Start sanding!

NOTE: Sometimes the sanding block will "stick" to the panel; this usually indicates that there is not enough water. Donít worry youíll understand what I mean when you start sanding. Just dip your sanding block back in your dish and splash a bit more water on the panel. After a bit of sanding you should have results like this:

MTB Case Modding 101 Shatterstar's Paint Guide
Click image for larger view
MTB Case Modding 101 Shatterstar's Paint Guide
Click image for larger view
NOTE: When sanding, dip your sanding block in your dish often to clean it off. This will extend the life of your sandpaper. Soon your dish will look like this (you can see the cleaned sandpaper beside it). I usually run my hand on the panel as Iím sanding to test the smoothness of the surface area. The smoother you can get the powder coating the better your end result will be. As you sand you will get spots where the metal will start to show, this is because of imperfections in the panel, just apply less pressure and donít worry as the primer will cover it up.
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