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Photography

Create a Vacuum Photo Copy Rig From a Computer Case

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Difficulty:IntermediateLength:MediumLanguages:
This post is part of a series called DIY Photography and Video: Gear, Tips and Tricks.
DIY: Creating Your Own Ring Lighting Setup
How to Make Your Own Desktop V-Card Video Lights
Final product image
What You'll Be Creating

Transferring photos and 2D art to the digital domain can be easily done by taking photos of the pieces with a camera. The tricky part is alignment and keeping the items flat. Sure, you could use a piece of glass and lay it over the items, but then you have all kinds of extra reflections to deal with. Wouldn't it be easier if you could just put the photos and art pieces on a device and have them sucked flat? In that case, you want a vacuum photo copy rig! In this tutorial you will learn how to build a vacuum photo copy rig for transferring your photos and 2D artwork to the digital domain.

The process is pretty simple, but you will need some supplies and basic tools. You also have to have a bit of that DIY/maker attitude! The parts and tools will depend on how large a rig you need and the strength of suction you want to create. In the video you will see how to build a vacuum photo copy rig out of a basic computer case, computer fan, AC-DC 12V 1A transformer, SPST switch, and a piece of 12”x12”x.125” perforated aluminum. 

If you want to follow along with the project exactly, here is what you will need:

Computer Case

A computer case is a great place to start with this project because they are rectangular, strong and rigid, have holes for fans, have sides that come off, and you can find them used for very little money! For this project I am using a Sony VAIO mini tower that used to be home to a Pentium 3 computer with Windows 98. The main part of the case is 12”x12”x6.625” and then there is a plastic trim piece on the front. I chose it because it was sitting in my basement collecting dust, but also because it is a nice medium size for this project. If you are searching for used cases you will probably find that most of the cases are going to be bigger than this, because normal folk would have thrown out or recycled this dinosaur a decade ago. Bigger will work just fine, but you may need to beef up the fan or use two fans to create enough suction. Check your local computer recyclers, they may even be glad to give you an old case from free!

Fan

I recommend you get a 120mm computer case fan that is designed for static pressure. Depending on the size of your case and the particular fan, you might need two. If you look in to computer fans in detail, you will find that some are designed for airflow and others are designed for static pressure. Try static pressure first, and if that dosen't work super well, then try airflow. Static pressure fans keep pushing air when they air is restricted, so I interpret that to mean it creates more of a good kind of suck. Is that what I did? No. I used a fan that I bought in 2006 that was in my computer parts box. That particular fan is an AeroCool XtremeTurbine which is rated for 89CFM (but that CFM rating is in a completely unrestricted environment). I would guess that this is an airflow type and it worked fine. Again, I used what I had laying around but if I had a static pressure fan, I would have probably used that instead. If you want to buy one new you might try this:

Of course, there are other ways to create adequate suction for this rig. You could simply attach a household vacuum, shopvac, or air intake of a leaf blower to the side of your case, but that is going to be noisy and probably overkill. As always, experimentation is encouraged. You might find that the old computer case you bought for this project has a couple fans that work!

Power Supply

You fan needs power. Thankfully, this pretty simple. You will need a 12V AC-DC transformer or other type of power supply that can supply your fan with more amperage than the fan will draw. In most cases a 1-1.5A (1000-1500mAh) 12V transformer will work just fine. Like everything else in this tutorial, these are very easy to come by. If you are an electronics hoarder, like me, you have a box with several (or 30) of these in your basement or closet of all shapes and sizes. If not, you can find them used for cheap or on Amazon:

Switch

A switch to turn the fan on and off is pretty handy. This is not 100% necessary, but if you already have one or want to go the extra mile, this is a good option:

If you want a non-LED version these will work too:

Wiring Notes

Wiring the fan is not complicated. DC power supplies have a positive and negative. The fan will have 2-4 wires but you only need 2. You can check Allpinouts.org for more information on how to use the motherboard (CPU) four pin fan connector pinout.

Wire up the positive to the positive and the negative to the negative. If you are using the larger switch with the LED, connect the negative from the power supply to the ground from the fan together on the ground pin. It's often easier to twist them together and solder them first so they don't come apart. Connect the 12V from the power supply on one pin and the 12V wire that goes to the fan on the other pin. These are the 2 pins that are switched. 

If you are using the smaller switch the wiring will be a little different. These small switches are actually on/off/on switches, so you only need to use two of the pins. For an on/off/on switch, connect 12V from the power supply to the one of the outer pins and connect the fan 12V wire to one of the middle pin. The negative from the power supply and the ground from the fan need to be connected together. Don't leave any exposed wires flopping around in the case. Tape the ends with electrical tape or use heat-shrink tubing.

Switch wiring diagram

Perforated Metal

A critical part of this project is the surface you lay your photos or art on. It has to have holes in it for air flow and it should be fairly strong so it doesn't flex. I went for a big hunk of aluminum:

This is 12”12”.125” and fit my case perfectly!

If you need a different size, check out this link:

1/8” (.125”) should be fine for small to medium projects. If you are going to scale this up a lot larger you might want to go a bit thicker. Any computer case will be fine with 1/8”!

Keep in mind that most of this stuff is “mill” finish and will have oil and probably some dirt on it. You will need to degrease it before you assemble your project. Aluminum is pretty easy. Warm water and dish detergent should work fine. If there are any sharp edges, and there might be, you may have to round them over with some sand paper or a fine metal file. 

Other Parts

As you will see in the video I used four small screws to attach the aluminum to the case. The screws don't have to be industrial grade or anything because they are just holding the aluminum to the case. It isn't going to be stressed a lot and as long as it is tight, you should be fine. I also used a few large sticks of hot glue, solder, and scrap cardboard. 

Tools

Tools are going to vary depending on how you build out your project. In the video, a soldering iron was used to connect up the wires, but you would also use wire butt crimp and crimp terminal connectors. You can find those at your local hardware, home improvement store, or online and you will need a crimp tool to do the actual crimping. Other tools that were used in the video included a drill, impact driver, wire strippers, hot glue gun, jig saw with metal blade, hammer (for pounding stuff flat), Phillips screw driver, scissors, solder, soldering iron, and eye and ear protection.

Happy DIY-ing!

Good luck with your project! If you have any suggestions, improvement, modifications, or you'd like to share your own rig, let us know in the comments.

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