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ThinkPad x301 Restoration Project: Paint-job

There are basically two options worth noting:

  1. Automotive spray paints
  2. Automotive vinyl wraps

Why Automotive products

Automotive products have to endure use, flex weather and extreme temperature conditions (think about parts close to the engine or winter cold), so they will endure much better the everyday life of a laptop. Also the risk of separation or flaking is lower and resistance to moisture is much better than with standard paints or vinyls that are not designed to endure such conditions.

Using paints

Using paint is the “basic” method of restoring any surface, basically it boils down to prep work and finding the right paints (color, texture, material compatibility etc.) but this process is very time consuming and very easy to mess up for beginners such as myself.

The pros of the paint are:

The cons of paint are:

One “paint” that some people use on old ThinkPads is PlastiDip, It is a rubber coating paint that goes on without preparation and can be peeled off. It has the best of both wolds, the ability to apply multiple coats while requiring no prep and being easily removable. Also, as seen in the video, the wear does not peel it like vinyl wrap, instead it “scrapes” off like paint which looks much better. Lastly I think that the texture and feeling is much closer to the original as with the vinyl.

Unfortunately PlastiDip is not sold in my country (Italy) but there are some alternatives, or even resellers that import the original from America. Either way I have to research more alternatives and choose the best one, maybe even try some.

Using vinyl wraps

Vinyl wrap films are thin, sticky, textured sheets of plastic which one can apply onto a surface, kinda like a very big sticker, in order to change it’s color. This is not news for cars and for laptops, vinyl “skins” are a convenient way to change the color of a surface, they are removable, easy to apply and can form to most surfaces.

Pros of vinyl wraps are:

Cons of Vinyl wraps are:

Two big cons of vinyl wraps are:

  1. Texture, since I would be using automotive wraps they are going to be as smooth as possible (I imagine); this is not good for a laptop since it will attract more fingerprints and in general make the whole thing feel worse to the touch, there is a reason why originally Lenovo went with a rubber finish.
  2. Damage is worse on vinyl; with paint if you scratch it at worst you reveal the material under it, in most cases you uncover the coat underneath. With vinyl wraps, since it is basically a big sticker, bumps and scratches risk peeling part of the wrap out, making it obvious it is not a real paint job.

Another consideration is thickness, my plan for vinyl is to apply it on the completely disassembled laptop, in order to wrap a bit on the parts that are “internal” to the assembly, basically squeezing it to prevent it coming off. With a sheet that is close to a millimeter thick there is just not enough tolerance to comfortably fit it in between seems.

Lastly, one thing peculiar about the x301 are the port icons on the up side, they wear out easily but I really want to recreate them if possible. This would require painting on the vinyl, which I don’t think can be done properly.

Vinyl wrap options:

  1. 3M brand, sets the standard for all things adhesive, widely used in the automotive space and in good quality laptop skins
    1. 1080 series films, cheaper and good enough for laptops
    2. 2080 series films, pricier but newer and more resistant

Colors

One part of a ThinkPad is it’s color, black is the most obvious way to go, but what shade? There are many many shades of black and many more finishes. Do you want matte or glossy, dark or light, texture or no texture, metallic shine or not; you get the idea. While making an all white ThinkPad is an interesting project I think the best way to go is to stick with the default black, at least for the interiors, the lid may see some touches later on.

Here are some shades that I really liked:

Dead matte black

Dead Matte Black skin on car

Removing The Paint Altogether

Another option, that would look good and also be cheaper is to remove all the paint and replace it with, well, nothing. There are many examples of people doing just this 1 and although some say that exposing the bare metal and plastic to the environment will deteriorate it but maybe covering it with a protective layer will help.