Powerbook Sapphire


I suppose you could argue that "customizing" computers is actually as old as personal computers themselves, since most early computers actually had to be built by hand -- it was only later that they started to be mass-produced. Of course, there are still many people who enjoy building computers out of individual hardware components. This is for the most part not an option with the Macintosh, and most Mac users would probaby not want to deal with the kind of headaches that this entails (finding and fixing hardware conflicts and so forth). However, there do seem to be many Mac users who enjoy customizing their machines in other ways.

I would venture to say that few computer users feel more attached to their computers than Powerbook/iBook users. Macintosh users in general often become quite attached to their computers, and for some reason Powerbooks seem even more personal than the average Mac. Most Mac users have their computers' desktops and software heavily customized (so much so that using someone else's computer can seem quite strange) so I guess it is only natural that people should want the outside of their computers to be as individual as their contents.

I was first introduced to computer customization by Japanese sites such as SoBeRay, Mobile-dog and Palm de COOL! and it seems that the pioneers of this kind of work are mostly Japanese. Given the stereotype that Japanese people like to work in groups and lack individuality, one might find this strange. I have lived in Japan for several years, and while I can testify that this stereotype is false, it is certainly true that Japanese society encourages conformity. It is my opinion that many Japanese people use this kind of activity as a means to express their own individuality. I suppose that's what I'm doing as well.

I had never actually done any of these things myself, since I felt I lacked the expertise and the tools to do a decent job. The thought of botching the job, and ending up with a scarred or (heaven forbid) broken computer, gave me pause. Recently, however, I began to feel the urge to finally do something myself. I had owned a Lombard Powerbook for nearly two years, and then a Pismo, and while I think they are some of the most beautifully designed computers ever, I was getting a little tired of the "basic black" look. When I saw that www.digitalhipps.com (a Japanese website) was going to start selling colored replacement keyboards for the Powerbook G3 and iBook, I decided that this would be a good time to start. Just remember that this kind of modification can be dangerous, and almost certainly voids your warranty. So if you break your computer, your wife leaves you, and your dog dies don't blame me Wink

I started looking around on the web again for ideas, and I found inspiration in a few other web pages such as Peter Liethen's PowerBook Mod Zone -- check out his Firebook Duo Mana conversion.

Having decided that I wanted to do something, I had to then decide what exactly it was that I wanted to do. I wanted my mod to be centered around my new colored keyboard, so my choice of colors was limited to the colors of the keyboards available. Digitalhipps has 4 translucent colors -- grey, black, red and light blue. Black didn't seem distinctive enough to me, so that was out from the beginning. I thought that the possibilties were: silver accents with a grey keyboard, red accents with a red keyboard, or blue accents with a blue keyboard. I also entertained the idea of perhaps mixing silver and blue, but in the end I decided that keeping one color scheme might be best. I was attracted by the red keyboard, since it was a very deep color, while the blue was much more subtle. However, I much prefer blue as a color. I had some thinking to do.

The first thing I did was to take some stock photos of the Pismo and use photoshop to color them in various ways (select the part you want to color, and on a separate layer fill in the selection with the desired color. Then change the transparency of the colored layer to around 50% and you can get a good approximation of what it might look like in real life). It was actually the Powerbook's apple logo itself that made the decision for me. I had seen the Red Delicious page detailing how one person had changed his apple logo to red, and I knew that whatever color I chose, I would want to hack the logo too. Blue seemed like it might be better for this, and in any case someone had already done red Wink I decided to try changing the apple logo first, since it seemed less intimidating than painting the whole case. The details of how to go about this can be read here. On this page Jay Kuri has given us a good guide as to how to change the color of the Apple logo, and I agree with most of his observations, although I found that it wasn't necessary to slide the colored plastic under the styrofoam -- I just scotch taped it over the foam. Check the page to see what I am talking about.


I cut a piece of blue plastic from a photo album cover and opened up my powerbook's case according to Jay's instructions. It was really pretty easy. The logo looked quite cool, and I was encouraged by this to go ahead with the next phase of my plan -- altering the case of the powerbook itself.


Here is the logo when the screen is on. It was hard to get a good photo of this -- the color looks better in person. And yes, it is glowing blue.

I had originally thought that I might try to use polymer vinyl (a kind of self-adhesive plastic covering) that others had used on their powerbooks. (See here and here for examples of this) However, I found it a little difficult to locate this material, and I wasn't sure I like the idea of just putting what was essentially a big sticker on my powerbook. Of course the one big advantage of this approach is that it is reversible, but I was willing to commit to a permenant change.

I decided to go with the same approach as was outlined by Peter Liethen (see above). I would paint the powerbook's case. The design of the powerbook lends itself to a partially painted look -- the rubberized portion with the apple logo in the center of the lid would be left unpainted, and the plastic areas around it would be painted. I went to a hobby shop and was able to find the paint that Peter recommended -- Pactra Racing Finish. This paint is used for miniature racing cars, and once it is dry it bonds very strongly to plastic. I wouldn't recommend using other types of spray paint, since I have a feeling that they would come off much too easily. I went with Metallic Blue, although they have many different colors available.

I'm afraid that I don't have pictures of the painting process, since it was my first time, and I wasn't really sure it would turn out. The painting process entails masking off the areas that you don't want painted with masking tape. This is obviously a very important step, since you want to be able to control where the paint goes, and you also want to have clean lines between the painted areas and the non-painted ones. This step takes a while, but I would suggest that you don't rush it. I actually practiced on an old junk laptop I had lying around, to test how the paint would look, how long it might take to dry, and to see what the masking process was like. I also tested the paint on the "weight saving module" that came with the powerbook, to see how it would work on the color of plastic that is used on the powerbook.


After that, I painted the powerbook, lid first. I wasn't sure if I wanted to do the bottom as well (it is much more complicated to mask off). The curves of the powerbook make masking somewhat difficult -- I had to use many small pieces of tape to follow the curves on the lid. I made sure that the lid was free of any dust or debris, and then did the painting (outside of course!). I found that you should let it sit for two or three hours before removing the masking tape, and then you should let it sit without touching it for another day or so to let it dry completely.


I was quite impressed by how the first stage turned out. After a day or two I liked the effect enough to go ahead and paint the bottom of the case, to complete the job. As I mentioned above, this was much more complicated than the top, since there are quite a few exposed screws, rubber feet, a couple of labels, plus an open vent on the bottom. I removed the feet, because I knew that I could just stick them back on later. I cut small circles of masking tape to go over the screws in the holes, and carefully masked the labels on the bottom. The vent turned out to be the hardest part. You definitely don't want any paint going into the innards of your computer. Maybe removing the entire bottom panel and then painting it would have been the safest from this point of view, but I wasn't up to that. I eventually decided to slide some pieces of soft packing foam into the holes to prevent the paint from getting inside, and this worked quite well. You just have to make sure that you can get them out afterwards...

outside_corner_small outside_side_small inside_front_small outside_vent_2_small

Once I got the masking done (which probably took a couple of hours all together -- maybe twice as long as the lid) I did the painting. It worked great. Now that I have done this once, I can probably do a better job, but it turned out very well, and I wouldn't be surprised if the average person would be able to tell that the computer wasn't originally made that way.

outside_power_small outside_ir_small

The last stage was adding the keyboard. I ordered the "galaxy blue" version, I didn't like the typeface that the digitalhipps people used, and I emailed them to ask if they could make a keyboard without any markings at all -- after all, I can touch type, and a blank keyboard would actually look very cool. They said that this was possible, and they added the option for a "ghost type keyboard" (one with no markings) to their web site. The keyboard makes it more distinctive, and also keeps non-touch typists from using my computer... (Note that they have now announced that they will be adding a "normal" typeface to their lineup, hopefully to ship some time in July). The color is kind of hard to describe -- it's sort of a grey-blue, but it changes with the ambient light. It's a little too bad that they didn't have a darker blue that might have matched the paint better, but it looks pretty good. I also decided to paint the trackpad button, since it seemed a little out of place.

outside_keyborg_small outside_button_small

Thanks to all of you who made it this far. I would be happy to answer any questions you might have, and I would also like to see any mods you may have done. Feel free to post below.


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Very nice!

That's impressive. Kudos! I recently aquired a Wallstreet from a client, and got it OS X-able. After seeing some of the silver mods, I decided that I might have to try my hand at doing this myself!

The one problem I'll run into is this: I don't have a very steady hand, and thusly tend to run into problems when painting. But by taping *everything* off to perfection, I'd imagine I'd be just fine. Smile

Thanks for the detailed step-by-step!

And one more question- Where did you find that keyboard?

g3head's picture

The Keyboard and painting

The Keyboard came from DigitalHipps (theres a dead link in the writeup), but they have been out of business for a while now. Macimports.com used to have a limited stock but are probaly out now. If you really want a clear keyboard ask around the forums about duos and epoxy resin remolding.

As for Masking, it makes all the difference. I painted an older powerbook with a grid pattern and because I rushed though masking it the first time I had to strip three layers of paint and start over. (here's that project)

did you disassemble the body panels?

just out of curiousity, from the comments you made, it doesn't sound like you disassembled the case before painting (your comments about filling in the fan slots made me think you didn't) is this true? what did you use for masking, just regular masking tape?


westieg3's picture

just one more thing

it's time to make that boring sleep light blue, is it not?

westieg3's picture

ijust wondering...

what does the connection for the drive in the pismo look like? i just want to know because i want to use a lombard drive in my wallstreet for easier upgradability of the drive to a better one. i just want to know.

I just wish digitalhipps was

I just wish digitalhipps was still online Crying



Absolutely love it!
I looks strong too~ Where did you get it?
I bought my case at www.macbook-case.com but this ones rock too!