So you’ve built yourself a powerful gaming PC, and even gotten a case with a side panel window so you can see all your glorious work. The only problem? It looks a little…drab. Maybe the colors don’t match, maybe it’s too dark, or maybe your build is just a little messy. Here are some tips to take your custom PC from boring to badass–without spending a fortune.

For some, building a gaming PC isn’t just a science–it’s an art. Of course, modding your PC is an intensely personal project, and not everyone will have the same style. Some like lots of bright LED lights and a case that looks like an alien spaceship, while others prefer a clean build without a ton of color. These tips should come in handy no matter what your style is–it’s all about making things clean so your PC is worthy of putting on display.

Before we dig in, it’s worth mentioning: there’s no limit to the amount of modding you can do. We’ll talk about some more involved mods in this guide, but most of this will be focused on small, inexpensive things that anyone can do–no power tools, extensive DIY knowledge, or muscle required. Our goal is to provide tips that you can use with the PC you already have, rather building an entirely new one.

Show Off Your Build with Good Lighting

Lighting doesn’t have to mean bright, colorful LEDs blinking and shining all over the place (although it can). The fact of the matter is, if you want to show off your handiwork, a little extra light in the case can go a long way.

You have two main choices here, illustrated in the examples below. You could go with colored lighting, like the build on the left, which intensely covers your build with one color, or neutral white lights, like the build on the right, which highlights the colors of the actual components instead.

Colored lights will look decent in just about any build, since it’ll drown out the color of your parts. If your build has a bunch of different colors that look awful together–a blue motherboard, red RAM, and a yellow graphics card–bathing the entire thing in blue light (for example) can make it look a little less clown-like. However, colored light is darker than plain white light, which means you won’t see your build in quite as much detail.

Alternatively, white lights show off the build as it is. You’ll see a lot more detail on the motherboard and in other areas, and some people find the look less tacky. However, if your build doesn’t look good without lights, white lights will just emphasize those flaws. Thankfully, the above-right build has a clear color scheme and clean cable management, so white lights work well. (More on those two topics later.)

You can get this light from a few different places. LED fans obviously provide a little light, but not a ton–the light is more localized to the fan itself. The best way to get light throughout your case is an LED lighting strip like BitFenix’s Alchemy line (shown above). If you’re willing to spend a bit more, the NZXT hue is another option that offers multiple colors in one strip, as well as the ability to dim or turn off the lights as you see fit (for when they just get too darn bright).

These strips attach to the inside of your case via magnets or 3M tape, and shine light all throughout your system. Be careful, though–you don’t want to see the LED strip itself (talk about a blinding light), just the light it puts out. I recommend attaching your strips to the top or bottom of the case, behind the ridges where the side panel attaches, as shown here:

That way, when you view the case from a normal angle, the inside of your case will be lit up, but you won’t see the lights themselves:

You can also attach them to your side panel facing in, as show in this video.

Start small and don’t go crazy. A little lighting can go a long way.

Add (or Change) Color with Plasti-Dip

A well-thought out build doesn’t have to be colorful. Monochromatic builds can look fantastic. Case in point, this build from Reddit user Anotic:

However, if color is more your style, you definitely need to make sure things don’t clash. Take the below build from Reddit user Scott Quentin Stedman. He carefully thought out his color scheme, only buying black and red parts, like these Corsair fans with colored rings, so everything matched. And he did it all without colored LEDs. (If you’re interested in his colored power supply cables, we’ll talk about those in the next section.)

Unfortunately, most of us aren’t so lucky. Not every part is available in every color, so if you prioritize functionality over aesthetics when you buy–which, frankly, is probably a good thing–you might end up with parts of all different colors. But if you want to make things look a little better, you don’t have to go buy all new parts to make them match. You can just give them a little paint job.

WARNING: This is a bit of a riskier mod. We’re using Plasti Dip, not spray paint, which is non-conductive and can withstand high heat. But as with any invasive mod like this, you’re putting your system at a small risk if something goes awry. Never mod something you aren’t prepared to replace!

The other beauty of Plasti Dip is that it can be peeled off if you aren’t happy with the color, or if you need to send a part in for RMA service.

Before you start, pick a color scheme for your build. In general, it’s best to go with just one main color, along with a neutral base. So, you could go with a black base with red accents, like the build above, or a white base with blue accents. The more colors you add, the harder it is to make things look sharp and clean, so stick to as few as possible.

In my case, I had a build that was mostly black and grey, and I wanted to add a little more blue to it. This is bending the rules just a little, but since black and grey are both neutral tones, it ended up okay. Here’s what my motherboard, CPU, and RAM looked like before painting:

…and here’s what they looked like afterward:

The process was remarkably easy, though your mileage may vary depending on the parts you have. In my case, I only painted the motherboard heatsink shrouds and RAM heat spreaders, since they’re easy to paint and not super important in terms of heat dissipation. Your video card may have a shroud that’s good for painting, too (as long as you don’t paint the metal heatsink). I wouldn’t recommend doing this with a CPU cooler.

First, detach the parts you want to paint. Motherboard heatsinks are usually attached with a few screws, as shown below. Video card shrouds may take a bit more unscrewing, so just be careful and remember where everything goes.

Use masking tape to cover anything you don’t want to paint. If you’re painting your RAM heat spreaders, you can either mask off the actual chips, or take the heat spreaders off the RAM entirely. The latter is a bit safer, but more work. If you go that route, be sure to replace the thermal pads with pads of equal thickness. (I opted to mask off the PCB and it worked just fine.)

One or all of your motherboard heatsinks may also have thermal pads or thermal paste in between them and the board. If it has thermal paste, clean it up with some isopropyl alcohol and toilet paper or cotton swabs. If it has thermal pads, be sure to save them or cover them with masking tape so they don’t fall off.

Find a well-ventilated area and lay out your parts. Make sure they’re clean and free of gunk or excess dust–a quick wipe down with a microfiber cloth and/or isopropyl alcohol would be a good idea before you start.

Shake your can of Plasti Dip for a good minute or so, like you would any spray paint, and start painting. Don’t worry too much about getting Plasti Dip on the floor of your garage or anything, as it comes right off (unlike spray paint).

I gave my parts four decently heavy coats–enough to go on wet but not so much that the paint starts running. Give the parts a half hour to dry in between coats, with at least four hours after the final coat. If you need to flip any parts over–like your RAM–give them a good four hours to dry before doing so, so the Plasti Dip doesn’t run or smudge.

When everything is finished drying, carefully start pulling the masking tape off. Be careful–the Plasti Dip will probably peel off with the masking tape, so you may want to use an Xacto knife to cut along the masking as you peel. A plastic razor blade may work as a substitute if you’re afraid of scratching your parts with the Xacto knife. (I definitely scratched mine up a bit–oops!)

If you have any logos or other parts you want exposed, you can cut the Plasti Dip away from those areas with your knife or plastic blade too.

As long as you go slowly and carefully, you should end up with something that looks like it was made that way.

Reinstall all your parts–don’t forget the thermal paste or thermal pads!–and test them out. With everything in place, my build certainly looks a lot better:

Clean Up Your Cable Management (and Sleeving)

In order to make your build look clean and sharp, the most important thing you can do is get rid of those cables. Seriously, get them as out of sight as possible. Most cases have those rubber grommets for a reason: the more cables you can route through the back of the case, the cleaner your build will look. It doesn’t really matter what the back looks like, though a few zip ties can help immensely.

Cable management could be its own blog post entirely, so I’ll leave it to the folks at Logical Increments to cover that in more detail, if you’re interested. For this guide, we’re going to talk a bit more about sleeving.

Sadly, even cleanly-routed cables can be kind of ugly. Most power supplies come with rainbow cables sleeved in black, but not very well. You’ll probably still see a lot of those rainbow and yellow cables peeking out where you plug them in.

Plenty of builds–like the ones we’ve shown in this article thus far–opt for individually sleeved cables, which you can buy online from someone like CableMod or sleeve manually yourself. But that can get costly and tiresome, and the cables need to be specific to your brand of power supply (PSU). So I recommend cheating a bit: just get some universal extension cables, which are cheap and work with any PSU.

Some companies, like Silverstone and Thermaltake, sell extension cables so you can keep the PSU you have, but hide the ugly cables behind the case, showing only the individually sleeved, clean-looking extensions. You only really need a couple: one for your 24-pin motherboard cable, and one for the 6- or 8-pin PCI cable connected to your video card. You could also get one for your 8-pin CPU cable, though depending on your case, you may not even be able to see that one through your side panel window.

Again, using my build as an example, check out the change in cables below–the ugly rainbow cables now look sleek and clean.

You could, alternatively, Plasti Dip your cables like Paul’s Hardware does in this video. But sleeved extensions look much better in our opinion, and will probably only cost you about $10 more than a can of Plasti Dip will.

Combined with a little cable management, your cables will no longer be an eyesore–in fact, they can be one of the cooler looking parts of your machine.

Lastly: Consider the Rest of Your Setup

You’ve probably put a lot of thought into the inside of your case, but don’t forget the rest of your setup–all this trouble won’t be worth it if your case isn’t on display in your glorious battlestation.

This probably goes without saying, but make sure your computer is in a place where you can actually see the side panel window, instead of putting it against a wall or something. In addition, get your computer up off the floorand onto your desk so it’s at eye level. If you don’t have a big enough desk, do what I did and find something like this IKEA desk leg to put it on top of. (Bonus: you’ll get a little extra storage out of it, too!)

Lastly, consider the cable management of your entire workspace, not just the inside of your computer. Wrapping your cables and hiding them behind your desk–whether it’s with the IKEA Signum rack or a simple rain gutter–can go a long way into making the whole thing look clean.

To Infinity, and Beyond

Of course, these are just a few small things that can turn a boring PC into a nice, clean-looking build. But this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to PC modding. We’ve seen people do all kinds of crazy things, including:

…and anything else you can think of. If you still need inspiration, browse YouTube PC building channels, check out Reddit’s /r/buildapc, /r/gamingpc, and /r/DIY, or just start googling. You’re sure to find something that sparks some ideas.

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Whitson Gordon is How-To Geek's former Editor in Chief and was Lifehacker's Editor in Chief before that. He has written for The New York Times, Popular Science, Wired, iFixit, The Daily Beast, PCMag, Macworld, IGN, Medium's OneZero, The Inventory, and Engadget.
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