Welcome to my case-making guide. In this guide, I will show you the basic steps of making the shell of a case, installing the controller, switches, screen, etc, painting it all, installing the electronics and closing up the case. Feel free to re-distribute any images that I use in this guide (that are made by me), I don't care! Also... please note that the pictures are only the ones I have taken throughout the process of making my current portables, so they will often change project. E.g. I will be marking the layout for a SNES portable and suddenly change to N64 buttons! The principles are all the same no matter what console you are making. Now then... let's begin!
Firstly, measure all the electronics that you will be installing into this case, measure the width, height and depth. If you are using a cartridge slot or disk drive, think about where that will go. What size screen will you use and where will it go. Where will all the buttons go? Are you using a fan... if so, where will that be mounted, etc. Basically, the first step is to make a plan for what your case will look like (the shape), the dimensions, (make sure everything will fit) leave a little extra room for manoeuvre and for all the wires, etc. It is always good to draw this all out on a piece of paper first and lay the electronics out exactly where everything will go. Once you have got your design, you are ready to move on...
Now you need to choose what the shell of your case will be made of. There are 4 choices. Whichever you choose will determine how detailed/personalised your case can be:
1 - Use the original console case:
2 - Use a pre-made plastic enclosure. A good site for this is OKW enclosures... they ship free samples of some of their cases and are a very good company!
3 - Use a case/box from a toy or game, etc. This may be something that has just been lying around collecting dust! Here are some examples:
4 - Vacuum form a case. This means that your case can be a specific shape and size. It will require you to build your own mould and possibly your own vacuum former though (unless you have access to another one). More about this method later...
- Methods 1-3 - Use the original console case or pre-made enclosure:
This can either turn out looking very nice, with a classic original look to it... or it can end up looking... well..... like this. Sorry SS ;) So like with any method, put a lot of effort into making your case to make sure it ends up looking nice!
So the first step... make sure you will have enough room inside your case for everything. Remember that the console is not the only part you will be putting in there. You will need to make sure the console mobo, screen mobo and LCD, batteries, controller, cartridge slot/disk drive and board, regulator, etc, will ALL fit inside the original case before you begin. Also make sure it will be nice and comfortable to hold afterwards, for example, using the GameCube case as a handheld would not be very appropriate for obvious reasons!
The first thing you should do is plan where everything will go in the case to avoid having problems later on. After this, you should be ready to start on modifying the case. The first thing I would do would be to dremel off all the bits sticking up inside the case to make sure that it is nice and hollow. If you are planning on using the original screws and screw-holes to hold the two halves together, DO NOT cut off the screw holes. Here is an example with a NES case:
After you have done this, the method is very similar to with any other type of case, skip down to the General case-making section to see what to do next.
- Method 4 - Vacuum form a case:
Firstly, you need a way to vacuum form a case. You could either use a proper vacuum forming machine... or you could make one like I did! This first part will cover making a simple, homemade vacuum former. This is what we are getting at:
The plastic sheets you will be using are called Plasticard or Styrene sheets (Styrene in the USA) and you will need 2mm thick sheets.
First off, you need to get some wood to make the box. This is what we want to end up with at the end:
I used wood that is about 1.5-2mm thick. I don't know too much about wood, however I do know that it needs to be fairly robust because we will be creating a small vacuum inside the box. Just a heads up, you usually get the correct type of plastic (plasticard) in sheets of sizes A4, A3, etc, so it might be a good idea to make it close to one of these sizes, mine is about A3 sized. PLEASE NOTE... YOU WILL BE MAKING A FRAME TO A SIMILAR SIZE WHICH WILL NEED TO FIT INTO YOUR OVEN! PLEASE CHECK THAT IS IS NOT TOO WIDE OR DEEP FIRST! Cut the pieces to the correct size and stick them all together accordingly. I used hot-glue and nails for reinforcement. Make sure that your box will be at least twice the size of the case you want to make, otherwise it may not work! Once you have your wooden box, you need to drill holes in the top to suck the air (and plastic) through and around your mould (more on the mould later). I cut my holes like this:
Once you have a box with holes in the top, you need to cut a hole in the side too! This will be where the nozzle of your vacuum cleaner will go into, make sure that it will be air-tight!!! You don't want any air to escape at all otherwise you will not have a vacuum and it won't work!
This brings me onto the next step, making the box air-tight... I used duck tape over ALL the edges where air could escape to make the box completely air-tight (except for the holes on the top obviously).
You also need to make sure that no air will escape from between the plastic sheet and the box, I used some simple (air-tight) thin packing foam to make sure that there are no gaps between the plastic and the box when it is pushed down onto it. Now you should have the finished box!
The next thing we need to make is the frame that the plastic attaches to. Make sure that the frame will fit onto the top of the box and the plastic sheet will fit onto it. THIS MUST BE SMALL ENOUGH TO FIT INTO YOUR OVEN! We will be using this to heat up the plasticard and push it over the mould. You should end up with something like this:
To attach the plasticard sheet to it, you need to use staples. Cut the sheet to the exact size of the frame and staple it onto one side of the frame. Use LOTS of staples to make sure it will not come loose when heated. Like so:
The final thing we need to make is the mould. This is what the plastic will form over to get the shape you want, so this needs to be PERFECT! Please bear in mind that any tiny imperfections on the mould will clearly show up on the case. Even putting tape onto the mould will show up in the plastic, that is how perfect it must be! Make it to the correct size and how deep you want that half of the case to be. You will need to make two of these, one for the front and one for the back (unless they are the same).
Now, I have an awesome announcement to make! Wooden moulds might be to your liking... but personally, I can't stand them! First you need to get a piece of the thickness you need... then you need to spend countless hours cutting it exactly to get the shape you need (easier if you have an electric saw I suppose...), and it needs to be exactly symmetrical for your 2 case halves to meet. So if you just want a simple, decent-looking case without all this hassle, GOOD NEWS! I have discovered that Polyethylene foam is perfect for the job! Here are some of it's features:
- Easy enough to cut because it's fairly soft
- Very slightly loses it's shape after usage, so can be used a few times before you need a new mould
- Soft edges which come out slightly rounded after vacuum forming (rather than at harsh 90 degree angles)
- Does NOT stick to the plastic and is extremely easy to remove after vacuum forming because it is flexible (trust me... wood can be a NIGHTMARE)
Polyethylene can be bought from Ebay (make sure you get the size and thickness you need) and it is fairly cheap stuff. I bought a block 285mm x 185mm x 75mm for £4.40. For this, you can get a couple of large moulds from it which can be used more than once... not bad in my opinion!
When it comes to vacuum forming over it, simply use it exactly as you would with any other mould (we'll go over this later), and when you are done it can easily be pulled straight out of the plastic, turned over to the other side, and used again for the other half of your case! Here are some pictures of it working it's magic!
Piece of cake to get out!
Slightly rounded edges:
If you use this foam, don't thank me... thank my Grandad! He was the one who originally gave me the foam in the first place. So thanks to him, vacuum forming has just become a whole lot easier! Hooray!!!
Now, after making sure that your mould is perfect, your box is airtight, your plasticard sheet is cut to size and stapled to one side of the frame... you are ready to start vacuum forming! Insert the nozzle of your vacuum cleaner into the hole on the side of your box. Make sure that it is airtight so no air will enter around the edges of the hole! Then you need to pre-heat your oven to 200 degrees Celsius (about 400 degrees Fahrenheit) and get ready to begin...
The process is fairly straightforward. Once your oven has heated up, carefully place the frame with the stapled plasticard into it. Be careful not to burn yourself! The plastic should be facing upwards, suspended by the frame. You should leave it in there for around 2-3 minutes... first the plasticard will go wavy, then saggy. Make sure that it has sagged a fair bit, but not too much! Not enough will cause the plasticard to be not flexible enough to bend around your mould and too much will cause it to be too flexible and thin afterwards! Once it has sagged enough, quickly (but carefully) take the frame out the oven, flip it over, place it perfectly onto your box (covering all the holes) and immediately turn on the vacuum cleaner. If done correctly, the plastic will be sucked around your mould perfectly. This is the shape I got after cutting both halves out and sanding them down:
Now you must remove the mould from your plastic case, this tends to be very difficult but try not to damage your case in the process. You can now cut out the case half from your plastic by CAREFULLY cutting the base of your plastic case with a sharp knife.
Finally you can sand down the bottom of the case half (where you cut it) to make it smooth and level, and you have successfully vacuum formed your case! (or half of it...)
Once you have vacuum formed both case-halves, cut them out and sanded them smooth and level, you will want to be able to connect the 2 halves together. The way that I do this, is by cutting small tabs of any spare plasticard I have lying around and gluing them to one half of the case using a special plastic glue called "Humbrol Liquid Poly". First cut out however many tabs you want to whatever sizes you want, but make sure that some of them are big enough for screws to fit through and that you have enough to go around all the edges! Them simply apply some liquid poly to one half of a tab, and push it fairly hard where you want it to go for about 30 seconds... Like so:
Eventually you will end up with a case half that looks something like this:
Once all your tabs are firmly glued in the right places, you will need to drill the pilot holes for your screws. This is pretty self explanatory... just drill holes slightly smaller than the thickness of your screws where you want them to go. These will hold the tabs to the other half of your case. First though, the 2 case halves need to be held in the correct places. To keep them from moving around whilst drilling, just push the 2 halves together and tape them together like this... make sure you can still tell where your screw holes will go!
Now that they are taped in position, you are ready to drill your holes and screw those suckers together! Just make sure that your holes aren't too big! You can always fix a hole that is too small, but you can never make a hole smaller again.
The screws should tap themselves into the plastic, just screw them as you would with a normal screw-hole.
If the plasticard is far too floppy, the chances are that you have left it in the oven for too long.
If the will not shape properly over your mould, like this...
...you have either not left it in the oven for long enough... or air is getting in somehow and the box is not airtight. In which case, test this to make sure that it is completely airtight before trying again.
Now we have decided on the type of case we will use, we need to turn it into a 5 star deluxe portable game console case! Firstly you must cut and drill all the sections and holes where your buttons, LEDs, charge jacks, etc will go on your case. The LED(s), on/off switch (if it is round) charge jacks, etc can all be simply drilled into your case. Make a neat job of these! Easy. Now we have to cut out all the sections where are buttons will go using a Dremel cutting tool. If you don't own one... buy one! (They are fantastically useful when it comes to case-making). (Please note that you can also do this for your screen, or you can just cut out the rectangle if you are confident that it will look good enough) You can use any buttons you wish for your portable... they don't need to be the original controller buttons, you are free to experiment! Before we start to cut though, we need to mark out where we want the buttons to go first. Like so:
Once you have marked where all the buttons will go (and screen if you wish), you need to use your trusty dremel to CAREFULLY cut out all the sets of buttons. These need to be fairly accurate, but not too accurate, like these:
Now place these onto your case exactly where you want them to go and accurately draw around them to mark exactly where you need to cut with a pencil. This doesn't need to be exactly the same size and shape as it... we will be filling the gap with epoxy resin later, so if anything make sure there is a small gap. This is what you should now have:
Next we need to CAREFULLY cut out where the pencil-mark is. Like I said, this does not need to be a tight squeeze and you need to leave AT LEAST about a 3mm gap for the epoxy resin.
Once you have done this for all your buttons (and possibly screen), you need to sand down the edges to get off any loose bits of plastic and make it relatively smooth around the edges. Now we are ready to stick them into our case... :D
Use some packing tape (preferably clear) to stick the parts in EXACTLY where you want them to go.
Now, take your epoxy resin and mix the glue and hardener together. Please note that these next steps will need to be done within the time it takes for the epoxy to harden. Basically now... just fill the gaps between the plastic parts for the buttons (and maybe screen) and the body of the case. Make sure that no epoxy seeps out and that the tape is stuck on tightly! After about 5-10 minutes, your epoxy resin should have fully hardened. I would recommend leaving it longer though... just in case some of the epoxy hasn't fully hardened.
After it has hardened, remove the tape from the front of the case and you should be left with something like this:
There will probably be many imperfections now that you need to tidy up. This is probably the longest, most tiring and hardest part of making a case! Oh joy! You will need to make your case smooth and clear of any imperfections before we paint because these WILL show up after painting otherwise. Fill any gaps with a flexible filler (I use polyfilla) and wait for it to dry. After it has completely dried, sand it down with sandpaper to get it as smooth as you can get, then add more filler and repeat the process with a finer sandpaper. Keep repeating this process until your case is super smooth and imperfectionless... if that is even a word. Anyway... now after a long days work, you should be left with a nice smooth, robust case!
Now we can finally paint the case! Hooray!!! There are two ways of painting the case. You can either use regular house paints and some varnish to stop the paint scratching off, or you can use spray-paints. I am in the UK and use a range called Plasti-Kote. I'm afraid I don't know the equivalent for other countries, however I'm sure there are similar types available. Feel free to ask other modders on one of the modding-forums which type they use if you are stuck.
For Plasti-Kote users, you will need to buy; one can of plastic primer, one can of the colour spray-paint you want to use and one can of Krystal Clear. This adds a protective finish to your case and helps prevent the paint from scratching off.
You will need to use about the following number of thin coats in this order... 2 coats of primer, 3-4 coats of paint, and finally 2 coats of Krystal clear. Please follow the instructions on the can when using these products.
Once the final layers have dried overnight, you should be left with a great looking case, painted to your chosen colour!
When it comes to mounting the buttons in your case, you can either use rubber-top tact switches like these, or you can use ordinary tact switches. I prefer the rubber membrane ones because they have the same feel as the original controller buttons. Once you have chosen which tact switches you will use, you need to mark out exactly where they need to go on either a piece of protoboard or a piece of tough, thin material like acrylic (not conductive like metal). With the material, you will need to drill small holes for the 2 pins of the tact switch to go through per switch. This is my example for a Sega Megadrive controller using protoboard:
Now you can mount these in the case (after putting the buttons in the corresponding holes that is). Make sure they are EXACTLY where they need to be for the button press to feel nice and then stick them in using spacers. These could be beads or screws or anything you have lying around that is the right size. I tend to hot-glue all this together, but different people use different methods. Some people use epoxy resin which would hold the buttons in a LOT stronger than hot glue... just make sure they are definitely in the right places if you are going to do this! Now... TA DA! Your controller is mounted in your case! Congratulations, you have successfully made your case (I assume), now you just need to put the electronics inside and you are finished! When wiring the buttons to the controller board, remember that you can connect all the buttons together and only use 1 wire for all the ground connections because all the controller buttons will use a common ground... like this:
If you are still unclear how to mount the buttons in the case, this is the basic layout:
If you are having problems or have any questions, don't hesitate to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I'll try to get back to you asap. Thank you for using my guide... I hope you found it useful!