Picking up a Raspberry Pi for the first time, you’ll notice one glaring fact: it has no case. This isn’t an omission, however. Rather, the Raspberry Pi is shipped in this form so you can add a case that’s just right for your project.
However, you can’t just drop your Raspberry Pi into the nearest cardboard box. There are certain things that you need to be aware of before you start constructing a case for your Pi.
Planning Your Pi Box
Before you start, get a pencil and some paper and place your new mini-computer upon it. Draw around to get an outline of the Pi, repeating for all sides. This will give you an idea of the various components that need to be accommodated and connectors that will need openings.
Pay attention too to the location of the Raspberry Pi’s SoC, which can overheat with prolonged use. Your case should include an opening for hot air to escape (note that while some heatsinks are available for the Raspberry Pi these will work in conjunction with an opening, not instead of).
With these outlines you should have enough to start planning your case, remembering to leave enough space for your cables and SD card to reach their destination. For instance, the HDMI connector will need enough space around the port for the rubber insulation.
Also, consider the needs of your project. There is a good chance that your Raspberry Pi will be hosting other hardware, anything from a Wi-Fi dongle to the webcam or even a display (various expansion accessories are available). Where do these need to be in relation to the Pi? Should your self-built Raspberry Pi case have additional dimensions in order to accommodate these?
Get It Right: Understand The Purpose
In most cases you will probably rely on one of the many mass-produced cases for the Raspberry Pi. These are great for using your Pi for multipurpose projects, but might not be entirely suitable for your mini space program or Raspberry Pi home security camera system.
You’ll need to spend some time establishing just what the project you’re working on is, and what special requirements you might need from the case you’re building.
If it’s a case for a special project, then you may need to consider ruggedizing techniques (although there are several suitable rugged cases available that you can buy or take ideas from). On the other hand, your Raspberry Pi case build might be purely for personal customization, perhaps inspired by a surfeit of Lego.
Decisions here will determine what materials you choose for the case.
Best Materials For A Self-Built Raspberry Pi Case
Various materials can be used for a Raspberry Pi case, from the very basic cardboard box (“The Punnet”, which you can find plans for on the Raspberry Pi website) to Lego, project boxes from your local electronics store, old hardware that you might have lying around and even two pieces of wood with a quartet of nuts and bolts holding it all together in each corner (arguably the lowest-cost option that can be produced for around $10).
Once again, the choice you make should be determined by the needs of the project, but you may also need to spend some time experimenting with what is available.
For instance, for projects that require the Raspberry Pi to be attached to a vehicle of some sort (whether it’s a weather balloon, remote control car or aircraft, etc.) then you should be looking at a case that combines impact resistance (or impact energy distribution) with lightness. You could find yourself making a payoff between the two.
When you’re considering weight, remember to factor in the impact of cables and any portable power supply you might be using.
Putting It All Together
So, Raspberry Pi case builders, what have we got?
Plan your case. Make provision for heat distribution, the size of your cables and any expansion boards or units you intend to connect.
Be clear of the project’s purpose, and ensure this informs the design of your case.
Choose suitable materials. Don’t submerge your Raspberry Pi under water in a case made of wood.
Have you built a custom case for your Raspberry Pi? How did you go about it? Tell us your experience or any other thoughts you have on the subject below.