Studio Hanson

A workshop where old meets new

DIY iPhone Case

So, you have the new iPhone 5, and like me, you were horrified to find out that the Apple Store doesn’t have any cases. Zip. Nothing. Nada. So, you wandered out to a kiosk in the mall and found someone selling cases you don’t really like. What do you do? Simple, you order your favorite case online. But what do you do with your precious iPhone in the mean time? You could just use that plastic protective coating that shipped with the phone, but that won’t protect the edges.

The Inspiration
It’s only going to be a few days before my new case arrives, and I am more worried about the back than the glass face. I have never been fond of screen protectors, but a scratch on the gorgeous, soft aluminum back from keys or carelessly setting it on a table would drive me nuts. Also, the beautiful chamfered edges are going to get dinged easily if I am not careful. I decided to take matters into my own hands and make a protector until my real case arrives. Being a stained glass artist, my first thought was to use copper foil. If you are familiar with Tiffany-style stained glass construction, you know that individual pieces of glass are rimmed with copper foil before assembly. I thought I could apply the same principle with my iPhone to protect the edges for a few days. The problem with copper foil is that the adhesive is gummy and strong, not to mention the metal could negatively affect the iPhone’s antennae.

Then, I recalled childhood art class. We had a project that involved covering an empty soup can with little torn bits of masking tape. Once covered, we would use shoe polish over the tape to make the project resemble leather. I realized that I could use masking tape in similar fashion instead of copper foil, lining my iPhone with faux leather. I would skip the shoe polish. Using painter’s tape would be even better since the adhesive will be easier to remove when my actual case arrives.

The Build
It started as a half-joke, but it worked so well, I decided others might benefit. So, I created a simple template to be used as an overlay to make the four pieces. It’s actually pretty easy because there are only a few cuts. The project should take about ten minutes, although I can do it now in about three. You will need:

Print out the PDF template first. You must ensure that it prints at 100% WITHOUT scaling. You can test your output by measuring each rectangular section of the template. They should be 2 inches wide.

Next, using your 2 inch masking tape, lay a piece down onto the clean cutting board, sticky side down. The board must be clean so as not to pickup any debris. You could use narrower tape, but you would need to do each side of the template in turn.

Now, line up the first rectangular section for the edge strips over the tape you have on the cutting board. You want to make sure the right and left edges are aligned with the sides of the masking tape underneath. Now, tape the template down over the strip you put down first. This will allow you to make your cuts without the template moving around.

Make your horizontal cuts first including each of the slits. The slits will help the tape around the corners of the iPhone.

Once all of your cuts are made (you can ignore the long outside edges since they already line up with the tape’s edges) it’s time to apply the three edge pieces. Peel your cut strips carefully off the cutting board using your knife if necessary to help lift the edges. Masking tape can stretch a little, so take care not to ruin the edges or corners.

Starting with Part B (the smallest strip), carefully apply the end without the slits onto the top of your iPhone next to the power/sleep button. Look down the face of the phone and see that the glass edge of the tape strip extends higher than the glass by about 1/16 inch. Run your finger over the flat edge of iPhone from the button across the top and around the top-left corner to the mute switch. The tape should sit about 1/16 inch from the button and from the switch, with the slits pointing toward the back.

Tape extends slightly higher than the glass face

Now, fold the front edge over the 45-degree chamfered edge of aluminum both front and back. Lay down the overlap onto the edge of the glass in front and over the aluminum in back. When you reach the slits, lay the long edge over first, then each slit in turn, each covering the corner of the previous. Carefully burnish everything straight and flat.

If you have done this correctly, you now have tape over the top-left corner just barely covering the glass, and extending about 1/8 inch over the back face.

Repeat the process above using Part A, starting at the “-” volume button and continuing around the bottom left corner. Make sure the slits are at the bottom back of the iPhone.

Finally, move on to Part C, the longest strip. This piece is the hardest because it has slits on both ends. Make sure they point to the back of the iPhone. Don’t worry about the slits at first. Focus on getting the strip aligned properly with the power button and 1/16 inch above the face. Keeping it straight, lay down the tape until it rounds the bottom right corner. Fold over the side first, then worry about the slits, doing one after the other as before.

The second section of the template is simply a notched rectangle. Use the cutting board technique as above to line up the template to make your cross cuts and notched corner.

When you apply the back pieces, it should overlap the edge strips all the way around, and over the bottom edge 1/16 inch. If you misaligned your edge pieces above, the 2 inch back strip may not be wide enough to cover all of the aluminum. Burnish the back piece flat and carefully flatten all of the edges. Pay special attention to the bottom edge where it overlaps the chamfer and extends toward the lightning connector.

Now that it’s done, it sorta looks and feels like leather. Right? Ok, it feels like tape, or as a friend said, it’s “Urban Redneck”. Still, I think it will work in a pinch. Keep in mind that this “case” isn’t designed to protect your iPhone from impacts. It’s merely a scratch-prevention technique that is only temporary. Sure, it may peel up, but hopefully by then you will have a real case to protect your investment.

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