Computers & Mobile Science
How-To: Dye computer parts
blue keyboard.jpg

If you even remotely care about the aesthetics of your computer, you’ve probably wished at some point that one or more of your components were a different color. For instance, I prefer my computers to be basic black all over, but more than once have been driven to install a beige part because it was what I needed at the right price.

red CDR.jpg

Up until this weekend, I didn’t think there was really anything to be done, short of making a mold of the offending part and recasting it in a different color plastic or resin, which is way too much work for such a small annoyance. There’s spraypaint, of course, but it’s tacky, IMHO; I can almost always identify a spray-painted surface, and although there are good spray paints for plastics on the market today, any kind of finish that leaves a coating on the surface can affect critical dimensional tolerances and impede fit or performance. And it may eventually wear off.

vinyl dyes.jpg

Turns out, however, that there are dyes for plastics, which is counter-intuitive for me because I think of a dye as requiring a porous substrate, and I don’t generally think of plastics as porous. To find these products, the googlon is “vinyl dye,” and the conventional market is folks restoring automobile interiors. These dyes, although they come in spray cans, are not paints. Their colorants actually adsorb onto absorb into the polymer itself and do not leave any kind of coating behind. To do so, they must soften the plastic surface with a solvent, so they can negatively affect its glossiness, but most of the plastic I’d want to dye isn’t high-sheen, anyway. Here’s a nice tutorial from

20 thoughts on “How-To: Dye computer parts

  1. Thanks for this term.

    I knew dying wasn’t a porosity thing (it’s a chemical bonding thing) but I didn’t know you could dye plastics. Great idea.

  2. I thought this was just a FAQ on dye, but then realized that the link goes to the last page of the tutorial. It’s kind of crowded, but if you look right above the underlined “Vinyl Dye FAQ” you will see the tabs for the other pages.

    THANKS! This is some real useful stuff. I have used the dye in the past, but treating it like paint…now I know.

  3. Googlon…even wikipedia doesn’t have an entry.

    Meaning? (search query term on Google?)

    Sounds like a perfectly cromulent word, however…:)

  4. WHo would have thought you could dye plastic. I am going to dye my keyboard tomorrow. Hopefully it isn’t too expensive.

  5. Plastics are just long chain molecules tangled together like spaghetti/worms, to use P.-G. DeGennes’ analogy.

    You can also dye plastics with Rit dyes, but you need to soak it in a near-boiling water mixture. This raises the most plastics to their glass transition temperatures — the plastic is softened and the chains are more mobile. This allows the dye molecules to diffuse into the plastic object.

  6. I think you mean absorbed, not adsorbed! Adsorption is an accumulation of molecules on a surface, not when something soaks in (like a sponge).

  7. I painted a computer case with vinyl dye before.  Looks beautiful if you do it right. Be patient, don’t rush.  And use a clear coat!

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I am descended from 5,000 generations of tool-using primates. Also, I went to college and stuff. I am a long-time contributor to MAKE magazine and My work has also appeared in ReadyMade, c't – Magazin für Computertechnik, and The Wall Street Journal.

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