Macbook Dye Project
There are some examples of previous projects here that inspired this work:
The project follows in the footsteps of the iBook RIT dye procedure, but with a sandpaper-based twist.
The MacBook’s polycarbonate lid, bottom case, clutch cover and fan vent cover are all sealed with a strong gloss layer. That means that unlike the iBook, the plastic will absorb dye slower, and will resist the color. The display bezel is made of a softer plastic, and will absorb the dye very quickly. The keys will also, as they aren’t sealed the same way. (The newer black Macbook Pro/Unibody line keys are sealed with a gloss layer.)
The only way to remove the gloss layer, is with sand paper. This can create a coarse surface, if done improperly. But, if properly wet-sanded and grit-stepped, can almost mirror the original finish. Personally, I chose to leave it coarse as I don’t like gloss, and prefer matte. To each their own. Note: You don’t NEED to remove the gloss layer to dye the plastic, but I’ve found that the color is absorbed more evenly (and quicker) when sanded.
Another caveat is that the because the display bezel is made of softer plastic, it is also more susceptible to heat. Get it’s temperature up too high and it’ll become deformed. Like a Shrinky Dink, no coming back from that.
Parts are very easy to crack or deform. Take time disassembling the computer. Let me be absolutely clear: You can remove EVERY part on this computer without major force. If you’re forcing something, it’s likely you’ve forgotten a screw. Adhesive is used on some parts, which require a slight bit of force to remove. The Apple logo, for example. You should use a heatgun to loosen the adhesive and pop it out. Don’t try and force it out. You WILL crack the lid. I speak from experience.
It’s important to remember that just because computers have the same model number and name does not mean they share parts. Core Duo Macbooks have a completely different motherboard mount and fan vent strut. Core 2 Duos were the advent of ZIF low rise sockets for a half of the connectors on the board. 2009 Core 2 Duos changed the optical drive connector, and who knows what else. Point is, they’re all different, damn it. Get parts specific to your Apple Order Number or Design Year. Mactracker is a wonderful resource for this. Couldn’t recommend it enough.
You will ruin pans, oven mitts, spoons and anything plastic within a 1 mile radius. (Okay, not that last one. But, hey, shoot for the stars.) Try to keep the destruction to a minimum so your Mom/Girlfriend/Boyfriend/Roommates don’t want to kill you. I also wouldn’t use anything you use for this again for food. RIT dye is toxic, and is meant for clothes/fabrics/things that don’t normally touch your mouth. So keep that in mind.
Unlike other previous models, my Apple logo was painted white, so in order to change the color, I needed to sand off that crappy paint. (Apple lid designers, if you’re reading this: Dude, come on. Changing the color of the logo was fun. Do you people hate fun or something? C’MON.)
You cannot remove the keyboard from the inner top case without a lot of work. You can take the keys off, but you need to split plastic mold in order to remove the keyboard. It’s possible, but I went with black accents instead of attempting that split. I’d recommend painting that part with the keys and trackpad removed, if possible. If you’re more adventurous than me, do it big. And, make sure to post a link in the comments here if you do. I would LIKE TO SEE.
On color consistency specifically, just because the dye says a color, doesn’t mean that’s what you’ll get. M3L picked out a “Teal” and got what I’d like to refer to as “Pine Green”. Still looks awesome, but not quite the expectation.
Just throwing this out there, I accept zero responsibility for your actions based on anything you read here. If you dye half your stove, your cat, your hands, and permanently ruin your computer, it rests on you. “With great power, comes great responsibility.” Also, the water is boiling hot. Do I need to show you my burn marks/scars? DO I? BE CAREFUL AND TAKE CARE. Do as I say, and not as I do.
3 Boxes of your favorite RIT Fabric Dye color (Powder, I haven’t tested the Liquid.)
A Deep Pan
A Cookie Pan Roughly The Size Of That Deep Pan
Running Water (I recommend a slop-sink or shop sink. Nice and roomy.)
Sandpaper (120, 200, 400, 1600 Grit for Grit Step or just 120 for Rough Mode)
Denatured Alcohol or cleaning solvent
Stove or sustained heat source
Lots of cookies (To eat in glorious celebration when you are finished!)
Well, first… Take apart your computer and separate the plastic parts from their metal counterparts. Take care not to leave any electronic parts in the dye pieces, or you’ll be replacing those parts. I’m not going to detail taking apart the computer here, I’ll leave that to the wizards at iFixit. Their take-apart guides are the absolute best on the web. Follow them to a T, and you’ll be butter.
All of the glossy plastic pieces need to be sanded down until the gloss layer is completely gone. The best way to tell, is they will no longer glimmer in the light. I used 120 Grit sandpaper for this. If you grit-step, 120, 200, 400, 1600 is the way to go. By the end, you should have a very smooth finish. I’m not patient enough for that, so I stuck with 120 all the way through.
Once the parts are sanded, they should be thoroughly cleaned. Denatured alcohol and a paper towel works well, and dries quickly.
Go get a pair of rubber gloves, and put them on. RIGHT NOW. I don’t care if you aren’t even contemplating this project, you should be wearing gloves.
Get a pan (An inch or so deep, if possible.), and fill it with water (4 cups of water per packet, 8 cups.) Add two boxes of RIT dye of the color of your choice into the water. Add 2 tbsp of table salt into the water and stir. Place pan onto your stove, and heat. (Make sure the pan is stove safe.) As the water starts to boil, place your dye part into the bath. (If you’re dyeing the display bezel, keep the flame as low as possible to avoid warping the bezel.) Add water as necessary, it will boil away quite quickly.
It took about 45 minutes for the lid and bottom case to become saturated with the orange. For darker colors (Navy Blue, Scarlet, Black, Pine Green) more time may be required. The display bezel took 10 minutes to become saturated, as did the clutch cover and display spacers. Check your parts as you go, and flip as necessary. The larger parts require a hotter and longer bath.
Adding too much dye to the bath will cause spotting, and inconsistent color distribution, so try to keep “free floating dye” to a minimum. Don’t forget to keep stirring your bath throughout the process.
Remove part from bath, clean excess dye with paper towel and cold water!
Check for even distribution of color. If it looks good, reassemble! If not, go ahead and throw it back in the bath. The small parts can warp, as I’ve said, but the large parts can take a lot of heat/beating/abuse. They’re like the Hercules of plastic or something.
YOU’RE DONE! (Well, okay, you still have put your computer back together. Don’t celebrate just yet.)
Is your computer back together? Does it look awesome? It’s time for those cookies I was talking about earlier.
Okay, with all that out of the way: Photos!
So, originally I had a white MacBook. (I used the white pieces for the lid and bottom case.) I decided that I like the way the black accented the orange, instead of doing full orange. The inside top case is also very difficult to dye, as the keyboard cannot be easily removed. I took a poor old liquid-spilled black Macbook I had and swapped some parts.