PC case modding: a beginner's guide

3rd Oct 2010 | 11:00

PC case modding: a beginner's guide

Getting started on your first mod - painting, cutting and more

PC case modding: Colour

You asked for it and now you've got it: A beginner's guide to tricking out your rig. Follow our directions and we'll guide you through your first steps into adding a mod of two, we promise it won't hurt a bit.

First, we'll teach you how to strip your PC chassis and give it a semi-professional internal paintjob, and one that won't break the piggy bank.

In fact, good results can be achieved for less than the 40 quid powder coating will usually set you back and even less than the £30 for a litre of 2K top coat. Yep, we'll show how to do it for £20! But bear in mind that's before adding in the cost of primer and other consumables.

We'll then move on to adding extra ventilation to your chassis in preparation for your mad overclocking shenanigans with a guide to adding an ol' blow hole. The process may appear quite daunting, but it's fairly easy and straightforward to do even with basic tools.

We'll also show you how to add a 120mm radiator mounting point. Again, this is easier to do than you think, there are now plenty of websites that offer templates (for this guide we'll be using www.mnpctech.com) that will help you add rads up to 480mm.

This wouldn't be a mod guide of worth if it didn't include ways to bling-up up your system with a less than judicious amount of lights. Pimping up your PC case with lights is a pretty contentious issue among PC users.

Modding though is about showing off, whether that's showing off technical ability or the fact you've got no taste, and without some bling most punters won't get close enough to notice all the other cool tweaks you've made.

But now – It's time to mod.

Paint the dull steel interior at a reasonable cost and with the minimum of hassle

We're aiming for semi-pro Halfords paint job for this first attempt and this will cost you a mere £20. Not bad when, as we've already mentioned, powder coating will set you back between £40 to £60, while loading up a spray gun costs £30 for litre and that's before spending a further £10 in primer, £20 in lacquer and consumables.

Before transforming our £18 PC chassis from China there are a few things to take into consideration.

First, what type of paint should we use? There are a wide variety of compound bases, examples include Acrylic, Cellulose, Two Pack (or 2K) and water-based paint. For this job we've chosen an Acrylic-based gloss white paint for the topcoat (which we happened to get from Halfords).

After fighting our way through three-inch bolt-on exhaust pipes and 10,000W speakers we managed to grab the primer for the job as well. The colour of the primer should generally be matched according to the top coat.

For example, a white top coat requires a white primer. If you were to use a dark primer, such as a 'grey' this would discolour the gloss-white finish. Going against the 'general rule' if you painted it red, for instance, using a white primer would give the red a bright finish. If you used a grey, black, or red oxide primer you could expect to have a darker red finish, handy to know if you ever want a 'two-tone' paint scheme or just fancy experimenting with different colour shades.

Lacquer plays a very important part in finishing the paintwork correctly as it helps to seal the top coat and provide a shiny finish to the paintwork.

You'll need plenty of Wet 'n' Dry sandpaper, this comes in various grades from rough to fine, the number stamped on the back of the sandpaper designates its grade. The lower this value, the coarser the grade and thus the rougher the finish. Higher values represent finer grades, and therefore smoother finishes.

For this job I have a selection of sand paper ranging from 400 grit up to 1,200 grit. Anything under 400 grit papers for the work we have lined up will just be too harsh and we could end up creating more work than necessary by having to apply several coats of primer to cover the imperfections.

Consumables are often overlooked when buying the right kit, but while you're buying the sexier materials for you chassis you should also grab the following: masking tape, paint thinner and a Stanley knife. Also try and get some masking paper, as it tends to save a slap around the back of the head after you've painted half the garden path.

Check the weather report

Safety is more important than all of the above when undertaking any sort of painting. Always paint in a well-ventilated area or outside if you can, and always wear a face mask.

Weather conditions will also make a huge difference to results: Adverse humidity or heat ruins paintwork. Painting with cellulose in damp conditions and you'll create a 'blooming effect', where a milky white colour will start to appear across the panel. Spray-paint on a hot day and the paint can dry before it reaches the panel!

Check the wind conditions too, it should be very light or as still as possible, anymore than a gentle breeze and you'll lose spray paint into the atmosphere.

1. Deconstructing de chassis now

spray 1

Disassembly of the chassis or PC case is a fairly straightforward process. Personally, I like to take several photographs to enable swift reassembly. Most cases are riveted together using aluminium rivets. These tend to be soft and very easy to remove using a cordless drill and a 3mm drill bit.

2. Rubba-dub-dub, time for a wash and scrub down

spray 2

We're now looking at a pile of pressed steel panels and it's time to rub them down using a warm water mix with a dash of washing up liquid. This will help de-grease the steel panels while rubbing or flattening them down using 400 grit Wet n Dry sand paper. I've lightly rubbed down both sides of each panel and washed them off.

3. Shake-shake-shake Señora, shake your primer time

spray 3

After you have made sure that the chassis panels are 100 per cent dry and make sure you inspect these for any dirt you may have missed. Shake the primer well for at least three to five minutes. Lay each panel down and from approximately six to eight inches away apply a 'dust' or very light coat of primer.

4. Jump in de line, coat your primer in time

spray 4

Gently build up the coats of primer allowing 10 to 20 minutes before applying the next coat. This is the secret of getting a good result when spray painting: lots of light coats built up over a period of time. Hitting the panel hard with the spray paint from the first coat will cause a reaction, run or worse.

5. Prep-prep-prep da primer and sand it down

spray 5

Once the primer coat has been completed and given at least 24 hours of drying time, you'll need to flattening off the primer coat to reduce any imperfections. This is a must in my book as preparation is key to obtaining a good or well finished panel. I've used 800 grit Wet 'n' Dry sand paper for this stage.

6. Left and right is da tempo (and up and down)

spray 6

Again, make sure the panels are 100 per cent dry. Shake the spray tin well for three to five minutes we can apply the first layer of the chosen top coat. Using an up-down, side-to-side movement with the spray can lightly cover each panel inside and out waiting that all important 10 to 20 minutes before further coats.

7. Topping the top coat with more top coat

spray 7

Now check the top coat is satisfactory after 24 hours of drying. For example, look for anything that may have fallen onto the panel, such as bugs and flies or dust in the air. At this point you still have the option to flatten the panel back again for a further top coat or carry on if everything looks fine 'n' dandy.

8. Don't be a slacker, apply some of dat lacquer

spray 8

Some may regard lacquering as unnecessary but unless I've chosen a matt or satin finish paint, I always lacquer. Apply the lacquer in a few fine dust coats, leaving it five to 10 minutes before continuing. (N.B Lacquering doesn't actually turn your panel black, but black does show off the effect better than white).

9. Lacquer needs more lacquer – okay, I believe you!

spray 9

I like the deep shiny finish to gloss paint. It's like looking through a piece of glass before seeing the paint underneath, so with this in mind the option to apply a thicker coat of lacquer presents itself. Another couple of fine dust coats then and I've applied quite a heavy coat, which gives the panel an almost wet look.

10. Wait-wait-wait Señora wait until it's dry

spray 10

Give the lacquer a good 24 to 48 hours drying time before touching it, a good way of testing whether the paint has gone off properly is to press your finger nail into an unseen area. If an indentation is present, leave it alone and dry for longer, if all is okay then polishing the panel is next on the agenda.

11. I tell you my friends adore her with her deep shine

spray 11

Please note: polishing is only worth considering if you have 'dry' areas of 'runs' in the paintwork. If I were painting the side panel this process would be carried out to obtain the deep shiny look. Thankfully my spray painting skills have paid off on the chassis panels and only minor polishing is required.

12. Rivet-rivet-rivet! Build your rig all da time

spray 12

The reassembly of the chassis or PC case is a little harder as you don't want to scratch the panels in any way possible. The case has been re-riveted using black coloured rivets to match of tie in with the paint colour scheme. Once the chassis is back on its feet, our entry level case looks a whole lot better than when it arrived.

PC case modding: Blow holes 'n' rad holes

Learn how to add extra airflow with a 120mm blow hole and radiator mounting point

Don't be put off by the scale of this job, it's fairly easy and straightforward using a limited amount of tools. There are plenty of websites that offer templates for 120mm holes right up to 480mm radiator templates.

I have found that the Mnpctech website offers a download of pretty much all fan size cutting templates. We're going to cut a 120mm hole into the base of the chassis for a corresponding fan or radiator mounting holes.

An entry level water cooling system is going to be fitted into the chassis, but whether you decide to water-cool or stay with air cooling, an extra blow hole is a good addition to any PC chassis for extra air flow.

The tools required are an array of different-sized drill bits, a cordless or corded drill, several files, a hacksaw blade, masking tape and a pencil.

Again, I can't stress enough the importance of self preservation when drilling and cutting metal. Eye protection must be worn when cutting metals of any kind. Fast spinning drills have a habit of ejecting small shards of metal filings sometime not visible to the naked eye.

I can tell you from experience it's far better to wear goggles for three minutes rather than spending three hours in your local A&E department.

One other consideration is the tools used to complete the cutting of the blow hole. The main part of the hole can either be cut with large hole cutters found in most DIY stores or a Dremel of some kind. I'm going to be using a series of different-sized drill bits and hacksaw to cut my 120mm blow hole.

1. Day O, day-ay-ay O, daylight come and me wan' drill a hole

Blow 1

Draw a centre line to work from on the panel you've chosen for the 120mm blow hole. Using the template you've downloaded from www.mnpctech.com stick it to the panel and align accordingly. Getting this part 100 per cent correct is pretty much paramount to the next stage of the operation .

2. Day, me say drill, me say drill, me say drill

Blow 2

Once the template is securely fixed to the panel, we're now ready to mark the position of the four screw holes and centre hole with either a centre punch or by using the drill and 3mm drill bit. The hole centres are important to get right so take your time in getting this placed on the panel correctly.

3. Daylight come and me wan' drill no more

Blow 3

Five holes now drilled, I've opted to bolt a 120mm fan to the panel and draw around the internal section of the fan body. This allows me to be confident that the hole I'm about to hack out of the panel is a good fit against the fan itself. I don't want to leave any unwanted gaps between fan body and the panel.

4. Come Mister Tally man, tally me a nice cut hole

Blow 4

I've carefully drilled a couple of large holes first starting with a 3mm drill moving up to a 13mm drill bit. This allows me to pass the hacksaw blade through the hole easily and start cutting away. The hacksaw blade has just enough flexibility to cut around the radius of the marked out 120mm hole.

5. Come Mister Tally man, tally me a tidy hole

Blow 5

After the cutting is completed I've gone onto use a half-moon shaped file and spent some time to tidy up the edges all around the 120mm hole. If required remove the masking tape from the panel and bolt the fan back in place to check whether more of the panel material needs to be removed or not.

6. Daylight come, filed 'n' sanded now me wan' go home

Blow 6

Once you're happy that the hole has been maximised without leaving any unwanted steel in situ, position the fan body. Run around the hole to remove any sharp edges of filing marks with something like 320 grit sand paper. You should now end up with something that looks like the image above.

PC case modding: Bling that box

Light up your PC chassis by adding a variety of different lighting effects

Lighting up your PC case is a contentious subject among PC users, for the case modder this is an essential part of the modding process and with some trial and error it can yield some striking effects and add to the overall look of a mod project.

There are so many different illumination products to experiment with now and picking a colour scheme for your rig generally helps when considering what kind of lighting to use.

Cathodes come in so many colours and sizes, for example ultraviolet (UV), red, green, white, purple, blue and more! I loves a bit of lighting me! Sizes vary from 10cm up to 30cms in length and generally speaking most lights are supplied with a mounting kit nowadays.

LEDs have come on leaps and bounds in the last few years and are now being used on most new cars for brake and indicator lamps. For the biggest range of LEDs eBay has become the place to go, at least for research.

Follow the links back to the Asian manufacturers websites, and the array of LEDs available is just mind boggling. Most can be purchased pre-wired for 12v or if you are bit handy with a soldering iron, buying loose LEDs and the resistors is far cheaper. Some LEDs that I have purchased lately are so bright they can almost be compared to looking straight at the sun [Ed – this may be a slight exaggeration].

Flash lights

LED fans are another great way to create a cool lighting mood within your chassis. As previously mentioned, cathodes are available in loads of LED colours and fan body types now.

When purchasing fans of any kind, check the Dba noise level, some fans may look really cool and pretty until you plug them up in your rig and experience what it would be like if the Royal Air Force decided to build an air base in your living room!

Shop around and find a fan that has a corresponding colour choice to match your case's paintwork as this tends not wind up the anti-LED brigade as much.

1. [deep breath] DAY-O, day-ay-ay-o

Light 1

Fitting a set of Cathodes is a quick, easy way to add a very cost effective lighting effect to your rig. Most sets available now come with a fitting kit and instructions for installation. One point of note when fitting these is the positioning of the Cathode, try not to make this visible looking square-on against the window.

2. Daylight come and me wan' bling me box

Light 2

Ultraviolet lighting is another great way of showing off the UV reactive parts within a case mod – as the picture shows two 30cm UV Cathodes placed below the bottom window line of the side panel. Adding some live edge Acrylic really turns on the 'bling' and creates an amazing effect for your rig.

3. Day, me say LED? me say LED? me say day!

Light 3

LEDs are another wonderful way of lighting a case mod. They are so versatile in terms of colour size and shape, and changing the hard disk activity and power LED's to match the chosen lighting scheme of the case mod is a nice touch and easy to do, using only a soldering iron and heat shrink.

4. Me say day, me say fan-AN-AN-o!

Light 4

LED fans: some people love them and some, well, don't. Personally if I'm not taking the ultraviolet approach to lighting the inside of my own rig, I usually go for LED fans instead. LEDs coming in a wide range of body colours and you can always find a suitable LED fan to match in with the overall case mod scheme.

5. Daylight come and me WAN' GO HOME!

Light 5

Further uses for LEDs include mounting them in small stainless steel holders (from 3mm, 5mm, 8mm and 10mm). These can be strategically place around the inside of the case in strips or as singles. These offer a bright alternative to project light through a panel, where there's not enough room for a 10cm Cathode.


First published in PC Format Issue 244

Liked this? Then check out Cover your eyes! 10 ugliest PC mods ever

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