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How To Make Custom Silicone Ear Molds for Your In-Ear Monitors

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There’s little worse than an amazing set of in-ear monitors that constantly fall out, and without that seal they’re not doing their job right. With some silicone putty, however, you can get a fit that seals right and locks tight.

If you’re buying a really high-end set of in-ear monitors, like Shures or Westones, then odds are you can afford the $200 custom silicone molds. The process is long and involved, including an appointment with an audiologist. Now, I’m sure that if you’re dropping that kind of money on a custom fit, they’ll be great, but what about the rest of us? If you’re a do-it-yourselfer, then luckily making your own isn’t too difficult.

There’s a lot of information on the web about this, some of it conflicting and some of it unanimous. This was more of a trial run for me; I wanted to do this on a cheap pair of headphones instead of my expensive Shures just in case something went wrong. In the guide, I’ll give the technique which yielded the better results. In the Results section, I’ll point out what I did differently so you get an idea of what (not) to do. If you’re familiar with the process and want to see those points, feel free to skip to that section. If you’re considering doing this yourself, though, be sure to read everything more than once.

Materials

materials front

  • DIY ear plug kit. I used the Radian brand .
  • In-ear headphones
  • A hobby knife
  • Clean ears and hands

Silicone putty is great and it’s easy to get a hold of. Obviously we’ll want the body/food-safe kind, and luckily for us, there are plenty of DIY ear plug kits around. After some searching, I decided on the Radian brand, because it was cheaply found on eBay ($14) and got good reviews from a ton of places. Because I wasn’t sure how the process would go, I also bought a cheap pair of Skullcandy headphones so in case there were problems I wouldn’t ruin my Shures.

Disclaimer: In this project, you’re sticking something in your ear. You’re also using sharp tools. As long as you’re very careful and use some common sense, you’ll be fine. All the same, there are hazards to be wary of so you’re assuming responsibility if anything goes wrong down the line. Again, it’s highly unlikely, but there are risks, so read all of the instructions several times before you do it yourself.

How To Mold

Get your earphones ready by taking off the sleeves.

remove sleeve 1

These Skullcandys look different from my Shures, and the little valley will ensure that the plugs don’t come off of the headphones.

remove sleeve 3

Open up the ear plug package and take a look at the contents.

package 2

Read the instructions. Even though you’re following this guide, it’s important to read what they gave you as well, especially if your kit is a different brand.

instuctions 1

Here are the separated putties. The putty comes in two separated gobs. When you knead the two parts together, that’ll cause the reaction which will allow it to set. If your ears are small enough, you might be able to use half for both ears, so you can create a backup set.

putty 2

Once you knead the two together, it will set whether you use it or not, so approximate as best you can and whatever you don’t use, keep as separate and store away.

knead 2

It’ll start off striated, but as you knead, it’ll blend into one solid color. It’ll also warm up to body temperature, which will make it more comfortable when you insert it.

knead 5

Now we’re ready to go. Find something you can put between your teeth so that you can keep your mouth open. I used a mouthwash cap.

Pull up and away on the top part of your ear. This will make it easy for the air to escape when you put the putty in.

pinch ear

Slowly and carefully put the putty in your ear, pressing lightly but firmly. Fold in the excess so that it it creates a good fit.

left ear 1

If there’s too much, take some of it off. A little less is good; remember, you sill have to put the headphones in.

left ear 4

After you created a good fit, insert your headphones, again slowly but firmly. Press the putty in all around so that you get a good seal.

left ear 5

left ear 8

After about 10 minutes, the silicone will have set enough so that you can remove the molds. DO THIS VERY SLOWLY. You’ll want to get a grip and very slowly twist them out of your ear. If you remove them too quickly, you run the risk of popping your eardrum. This is not only damaging and painful, but you can run the risk of an infection, so please, do take your time and do this carefully.

remove left 2

Let them sit for a few hours so that they fully set.

taken out 2

taken out 4

Weird hunh? The two projections in the above picture will actually lock into the outside ear folds so that they don’t slip out.

Tweaking the Molds

Now that they’ve set, we want to make holes so that the sound comes through. Very carefully take out your headphones if you can.

cut 1

Use a sharp hobby knife and cut into the mold. Try to make a circular hole so that the sound can come out.

cut 3

cut 8

You can also try it from the outside.

cut 9

Here’s what the finished hole will look like.

cut 18

Put them in and try to see if you can hear well. If not, you may need to cut off a bit more, like so:

cut 6

Results

For the sake of experimentation, I molded both of my ears differently. For my left ear, I stuck the putty in and kept my mouth closed. For my right ear, I stuck the putty in and kept my mouse open. The professional custom mold packages tell your audiologist to keep your mouth open while they let the foam they use set. I wanted to see if there was any practical benefit to this firsthand, and there was. It makes sense, as your ear canal changes shape depending on your jaw’s position, and to me, there was a much better seal on my right ear than my left. Definitely take the molds with your mouth open.

I was initially worried that putty would stick too tightly to the plastic on the earphones, which is why I didn’t try this with my Shures. They have a long tube and I didn’t want to get it stuck inside. The silicone mold doesn’t actually stick to the plastic, but there’s definitely a tight fit. When I do my Shures, I’ll be sure to carefully plug the tubes before I put them in the putty. The little ridge/valley in the Skullcandies make it so that they won’t separate easily from the finished mold, which can be good or bad depending on your preference.

All in all, they seal well, are really comfortable and sound great.

If this isn’t the type of project for you, take a look at How To Make Disposable Sleeves for Your In-Ear Monitors.

Yatri Trivedi is a monk-like geek. When he's not overdosing on meditation and geek news of all kinds, he's hacking and tweaking something, often while mumbling in 4 or 5 other languages.

  • Published 03/31/11

Comments (31)

  1. horix

    your thumb’s nail => fail :D
    but the tip’s awsome :P
    Cheers bro ;)

  2. Groff

    I think the earrings make up for it though.

  3. Myl

    I saw it rite? it costs 2 houndred bucks?

  4. Jeff C.

    Do the ear buds have trouble with falling off of the putty? My buds don’t have that ridge on them and I wonder if it needs something like that to keep them sticking to the putty…

  5. Chris Hunter

    This is very cool and I’m going to try it. I play drums at my church and I’ve been looking for a solution like this for a while. I like the Skullcandy earphones and use them as is, but I think making a mold like this will help even more.

    Since you removed the earphones from the mold to make the hole so that the sound would go into the ear, how well do the earphones stay in the mold when you put them back in? That’s my main concern.

    Thanks!

    Chris

  6. Chris Hunter

    Yeah, I have the same question as Jeff C. Do we need to glue the buds in?

  7. Santo

    This is something unique, that I had ever come across. I had tried different types of ear phones all of them fall out very easily as they do not fit firmly to my ears. I even stopped using ear phones. After reading this article I have two options either to visit an audiologist or create a mold by myself.

  8. gmcpcs

    I have a pair of Jaybird wireless jogging headphones, that go over the ears. I think this would be something to try to see if I could isolate the sound a little better, and get a better ear fit. Of course, jogging…you don’t want total sound isolation unless you are away from traffic.

    Thanks for the info.]

  9. Yatri Trivedi

    @Myl: Yup, professionally done custom molds often start at two hundred dollars. They go up from there.

    @Jeff C, @Chris Hunter: You can take some of the excess putty and put it on the outside of the earbud, effectively embedding it into the silicone. This will make sure it doesn’t come out. Instead of making the hole with the earbud out, you can cut away at the in-ear part very slowly until the speaker is exposed. Use the method in the pic directly above the “Results section.” The earbud does stay in though, it only comes out when i actually twist out the mold itself. You can use a little hot glue if you want, too. :-)

    @horix: Yeah, my thumbnail is naturally like that; the nail sort of grows like a T with a little stem. I was born with it that way, and it’s painless, but yeah, it definitely looks weird. ^_^

  10. Ben

    how did your shures come out? I have a shure too. hmmm not glue gun to secure headphone sounds like a good idea maybe… I’m just going to use a dremel tool to poke a hole for the sound.

  11. Nick

    Hey I have some SE530s and am looking at this, let me know how your Shures turn out!

  12. Vaidya Datta

    I think applying a little oil inside the ear and to the plug would make it easy to remove. It could also be ideal to insert a cotton ball of appropriate size, before pushing in the silocon.

  13. Yngvar

    “For my right ear, I stuck the putty in and kept my mouse open.”

    How?

  14. Dr. Dan

    This material is similiar to impression materials that most dentists use. .You folks should ask your dentist for impression materials to use. We tend to try new things constantly as a profession and I can guarantee that there are impression materials in the office that are not being used or are close to an expiration date that your dentist would give you in a couple of ziploc bags just for asking. FYI

  15. Dave

    Felt the need to reply – as I got excited about this & instantly ordered some of the exact same material to recreate this amazing sounding hack…

    I went a bit overboard & got the stuff really lodged in my ears… My left ear is still currently bleeding – don’t get too carried away. I shall be seeking help in the morning!

  16. Sam

    You could do the same trick using Sugru…Or mix equal parts 100% clear silicone (the kind that smells like vinegar in the tube – $2-$3 at Wal Mart) with cornstarch. It creates a moldable silicone putty. I have never had any trouble with this and it is useful for molding all kinds of silicone shapes.

  17. KTMitch

    Just did this with my V-Moda Vibes. Turned out quite well. They stay in way better when I exercise with them and offer a much better seal for noise blocking when I use them under a helmet on a motorcycle. I may have to do this to my ER4s as well.

    The only suggestion I’d give is to make sure the driver cover is protected with tape or something. The Vibes have a grill on the front that picked up some of the molding material and was quite difficult to remove.

  18. zerodb

    I actually did this with my Shures and Sugru and published an Instructable on it a few months back:

    http://www.instructables.com/id/Custom-full-ear-silicone-earpieces-via-the-magic-o/

    I only call attention to it in case someone (including the author) has Shures or other similar-style IEM’s and would like to compare procedures. Mine came out a bit ugly and I didn’t like the way the cords were running; this article prompted me to order some of the Radians material to try this approach. I think the 2-part Radians material may prove to be more durable than Sugru in the long run, but I was actually quite happy with the Sugru aside from cosmetics and having one of my cords at a funny angle!

  19. zerodb

    For anyone considering this, I made mine last night with the Radians material and it seems much more compliant than the Sugru after fully setting. I think they’re significantly more comfortable and seal better (at least right now – no telling how quickly they’ll wear out) which translates to significantly better bass response in my Shure E4s.

  20. Billy

    Why would you put gum in your ears?

  21. DbLess

    I did a similar thing but instead of taking the rubber inserts off, I left them on. They were triple-flanged. I put some of the putty on the “head side) of the in-ear piece and then put it in my ear with the cable pointed up , securing it in place with my glasses earpiece. Putting the rest of the putty on, I shaped it and then “outlined” it with an orange stick ( like used in pedicures) and let it dry. When I pulled it out, the earbud had prevented any putty from going into the ear canal. This gave a great seal, protected the speaker hole, and was very comfortable and easy to remove. You can cut off the end flange of the triple flange piece to make it more comfortable yet.

  22. Wee Geordie

    I have read up on other projects like this over the last few months, but haven’t tried it yet.
    A couple of recommendations I’ve heard of are:-

    a) Tie some cotton thread to a small cotton ball and insert as deeply as possible into the ear canal. This will prevent putty from possibly going too far and damaging your eardrum

    b) Before attaching your phones, use some modeling resin to make a “master mold” of each ear so that you can make as many monitors as you like without having to ram the putty in your ears again. You’ll also then be able to try different materials to make your monitors with.

  23. JY_P

    Hi! I WILL try that for sure! Waiting for the past. Do you have an idea of the noise insulation factor? Can you estimate it by comparing how good is the insulation in comparison with the original noise insulation factor on your Shure and you Skull candy?
    Thanks!!!

  24. Ivydapple

    I’d say, “Yay for my ear buds, which have silicone tips!”, except that they finally died after three days of suffering. Darn.

  25. ruben

    More easy is to go to an Audicien and let him make a mold. And just buy the mold. It kost you a couple of bucks (€25,-), but when you try to make a mold of your own ears there are a lot of things that can go wrong. Take the mold an create with a dremel tool a little hole in it, so you can put your in ear phone inside of de mold. Also you can make the hole just at the right place, so the sound can go directly in your ears at the right place. (canule) I`ve made it myself that way. And I use a Shure SE310

    Good luck

  26. John

    I’ve been a firearms instructor for over 25 years and started using the molded earplugs over 10 years ago, I love them and have saved my hearing as a result. I had my first pair made sitting beside Steven Tyler as he got his concert earphones made, I immediately got a pair made for my CD player (10 Years ago). I just ordered some putty to try and make my own, they’re great.

  27. Ms.bfv

    I could stick it with my ear glue……..:)

  28. judy

    Thanks so much – very good tutorial. I tried to do this last night before I came across your site and they turned out alright but I’m going to make another set now that you’ve fine-tuned it. I did need to glue the buds into the silicone mold. I used Cabela’s customs mold kit that you’d buy for the range. $14.00. Used half the mix to make plugs for sleeping (snorer) worked great. Then smaller ones for the Apple earbuds. I have at least 6 pair of the Apple buds that are the worst at staying in your ear – so, I had plenty to experiment with. Thanks.

  29. jedics

    I just spent $800 on a pair of JH7’s before I found out about this DIY.

    I am still going to try it as I am not remotely happy with the sound of these stupidly over priced IEM’s and while they sound alright its the custom fit and seal of them that is the main reason they sound better than other cheaper products.

    doing my own will allow me to try a huge range of ear buds so I kind find the right sound for me, I actually remember having a cheap pair of ear buds by creative which sounded amazingly good but of course always fell out.

    wish Id learned about this before I got consentially robbed by JH :)

    are there any tutorials for using normal earbuds as they have a larger speaker which will help with bass response?

  30. Djassi

    I’m having trouble creating my monitors. The instructions say 10 minutes to set, but mine are not setting, even after 20 minutes. I take them out and they are still soft that they they don’t maintain the shape. What gives? Could it be that I’m in really humid weather and it takes longer still to set?

  31. Will

    Dont be stupid go to westone.com and get the real ones those r ugly

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