Whether you want to build a PC from the ground up or are overhauling your trusty old rig, a strong theme can help guide you and pull your design together. Customization is all about having fun and making something uniquely yours, so once you have the case picked out, the best place to start is with something you love.
When they asked me to build my new work computer here at NZXT I jumped at the opportunity to put my favorite iconic racing scheme on my desk. I loved the lines and overlapping panels of the Noctis 450 case that I got to pick out as it reminded me of a racecar or supercar. I instantly knew that I wanted to paint it with a Gulf Racing livery.
You may have a particular video game that you like, a supercar that you’ve always lusted after, a favorite sports team, or maybe you just really like cosplay dogs dressed as Umbreon. Whatever you’re into, it’s usually pretty easy to pull a theme together around it. Just keep in mind the style of your case and what you plan to do with your build, as simple cases will provide more flexibility on the style of theme you can use, but more aggressive cases will work better with certain types of automotive and jet fighter themes.
Want to build a PC with a theme and don’t know where to start? Don’t worry. I’m here to help!
Find reference material
I’m a visual guy with the memory of a housefly, so tools like Pinterest are a real life saver. It’s super easy to find what you’re looking for and keep it all organized.
For my work build, I pinned pictures of Gulf Racing Porsche 917s that I liked from websites and other users on Pinterest. Once I found a few good pictures, Pinterest made it very easy to find other source material. Of course you could also use Google’s image search, books or magazines (just don’t cut out pictures from your library’s copies – don’t ask me how I know that they really don’t appreciate that), toys, or any other number of ways. The key is to find something that gives you a good reference for the colors and graphics that you’ll want to pull from.
Design the outside of the case
Once you have your reference material, you will need to decide how you want to incorporate that into your build. Depending on how intricate your design is, you may want sketch your design over a picture of your case to make sure it works with the lines and surfaces of your case. Of course, if you’re going with a single color or just using the case as-is, you can skip this step.
If you are trying to match colors to something that is real, you may want to search for the actual color codes used. I was able to find PPG color codes on a GT40 forum listing the main colors as Power Blue – PPG 12163, Topaz – PPG 60812, and Royal Blue – PPG 13126. You may also want to search scale model modeling forums to see what hobbyists have used to paint similar things in the past.
With PPG codes in hand, I headed to a local auto paint store to buy my paint. One drawback to period specific paint codes is that they aren’t always cheap. In my case I couldn’t afford $170 for a quart of the Powder Blue, so in came Plan B: spray paint.
I took printouts and pictures on my phone to a half dozen stores before finding some colors that would be close. There are some great resources for spray paint online, if you have the time and aren’t too concerned by not seeing the actual paint color in person (just on screen) before you buy. After getting the paint sorted out, I popped over to eBay to find some decals and pinstriping to complete my scheme. If you have the talent or the money to pay someone, air brushing can take a custom paint job to a completely different level.
For hardcore modders, the sky is the limit with how far you can take a theme. If you have access to a laser cutter, water jet, CNC, or are incredibly handy with a jigsaw you can do some amazing things with acrylic and sheet metal. Acrylic can be formed, cut, stacked, and painted to make intricate three dimensional designs. Automotive bondo can be formed and painted to add 3D elements to your case. You can also integrate elements directly from your reference material by epoxying them onto your case.
Design the inside of the case
Never lose sight of your theme or how you will use your computer.
The inside of your computer is just as important as the outside, so don’t lose sight of your components. For those who don’t paint their cases, this is the key focus area for your scheme, so pay attention to the details. I didn’t have a choice on the components for my work build, but it would have been hard to find a motherboard and memory sticks in blue and orange anyway.
If you have a scheme that is black, red, white, blue, or yellow, you should be able to find something that will work for you. Sites like PCPartPicker and e-tailers even have search filters that will allow you to search for components by color. I’ll admit that it seems a bit superficial to search for electronics by color, but you can usually find similar specs and price hardware in a variety of colors if you take the time to look around.
You can also paint or Plasti Dip your components to match your scheme, but this requires more advanced build abilities as you could damage your parts if you aren’t careful. Paint is permanent, so if you’re considering selling your components later or changing your scheme, you may want to look to Plasti Dip or other similar products. These are a colored spray-on rubber coating that can be easily removed later. Just remember that rubber is an insulator, so it may make your components run hotter when heatsinks are coated. Also, paint can change the balance of fan blades, so be very careful if you go down that road. Otherwise you could get a lot of vibration in your fan that causes noise.
Organize the inside of the case
Cable management is key to any good build and it’s much nicer to match your cables to your paint scheme rather than having wires of all different colors snaking through your computer. You can buy sleeved extensions for your power supply cables in a variety of colors or you can do them yourself for even greater customization. You can even get a few different colors of connectors for your cables to match your scheme.
If you’re going the custom route, once again, YouTube is your friend. I learned a great deal from Lutro0’s excellent tutorials and despite how tedious custom cabling can be, I’m actually looking forward to the next four builds that I’m just about ready to begin that will all have custom cables..
SATA cables can also be found in different colors and/or sleeved to match your scheme. Black certainly looks clean and would be fine for many applications, but matching cabling really helps unify the scheme.
Custom water cooling doesn’t just let you go crazy on overclocking your hardware, it’s also a great opportunity to make a big statement with your design. Coolant and additives come in many great colors that can be made to pop with the right lighting – ultraviolet (UV) in particular.
Be aware, though, that if you go with hard line tubing this will require you to custom bend each piece of acrylic tube, which isn’t for the casual builder. For example, this piece that fellow NZXT employee Eric Henry recently built took almost a week to complete. And this wasn’t Eric’s first rodeo.
Show off the build
When you finally have everything exactly how you want it, it’s time to show it off with some lighting. There are a ton of lighting options out there, from sleeved lighting kits to fully controlled RGB LED controllers that can reproduce millions of colors and many different patterns.
Cold cathode lights provide a nice even distributed light and come in lots of crazy colors, including UV which will do some amazing things to the color of coolant and sleeving in your case. Fans are offered with many different LED lighting options as well. It really depends on your imagination, what you want it to look like when it’s done, and how much time and money you are willing to spend. If it matches with your scheme, though, it should look great when you are done.
I tend to prefer a clean look on my desk, but there’s no rule against extending your theme to your keyboard, mouse, mousepad, and other peripherals. I’ve seen some really great ‘battlestations’ where all of the peripherals were painted to match the case.
It’s all about the details
So there you have it. A good design starts with a solid theme and its execution requires paying attention to the details. No matter how simple or extensive your build or mod is, the more you stick to a central theme, the more impressive the final product will be. Feel free to share your awesome builds with us over on our Facebook page and ask for any pointers.