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"Dark Matter" featuring one off 3D printed parts

Calen Saddler

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Who Am I?

A bit about me; a few years ago I suffered a traumatic brain injury that caused my brain to hemorrhage. After spending a long time in intensive care I kept thinking about case modding. Before long, its all I could think about. After recovering from my injury I was left with epilepsy and brain that no longer functioned like before.

I started to look at things differently. Inspiration for mods began to pop up in the oddest places. I eventually became overthrown with modding ideas and designs. Soon I decided it was time to start. Theres nothing quite like being in the grocery store and yelling, “thats it, 45 degree angles†and then running out of the store like a mad man. No matter what I was doing, it all kept coming back to case modding. Today case modding is my life and it allows me to be truly happy. For some case modding is a hobby but, for me its a lifestyle.

And So It Begins:


I decided to do this scratch build, “Dark Matter†for several reasons. I was tired of limiting my mods to the confines of a typical sized case. There are a ton of great cases out there but, I wanted to do something my style from the ground up. The design phase began once I started getting close to completing the StarCraft Day Zero case. However, a lot of the main features for this build have been floating around my head over the last year.

During the scratch build I will be using new modding techniques as well as using materials that aren't always associated with case modding. I will also implement 3D printing and some new tech in that feild. If you like seeing original creations and have a love for the truest form of modding; you're in the right place.

Design Screen Shots:





• Quad vertical PCI-e slots added

• Modded the stock 80mm rear fan into a 120mm

• Tons of custom metal fabrication found throughout the build

• Almost every piece is hand fabricated (freestyle modding)

• Aluminum triple SSD rack

• Custom built PSU mount w/acrylic center plate (backlit)

• Hand made aluminum grill (top of the case)

• Modded an Xbox 360 power ring to fit the front of the case and added individually addressable LEDs

• Hand built acrylic dual voltmeter mount

• 12mm thick acrylic honeycomb floor

• Acrylic 240 fan grill (custom made)

• Cable shroud door mounted next to the motherboard

• Hand built aluminum brackets for Lexan water-path & EK 480 radiator


• 90 degree brackets for the frame of the case

• Snap in color matched rings for the 120mm PureWings 2 PWM fans

• Designed and printed a front switch panel

• Gskill logo badge with backlit letters

• EK logo with plate on the top grill insert

• Extensive cable management setup and cable combs

• Case for Arduino Mega and mini TFT touch screen for the animated case badge

• Hinges for all side panels

• Mounts for the aluminum grill (top of the case)

• Custom countersunk washers

• SSD mount extension

• GPU cable combs

• Cable passthrough bezel

• Switch panel for Xbox 360 power ring and 2 Vandal switches


• Supermicro C7 Z170–OCE motherboard

• Gigabyte GTX 960 Extreme SLI GPUs (4-gig each)

• Intel i7 6700k Skylake CPU

• Gskill Trident DDR 4 (16 Gb of ram)

• 1,200 watt DarkPower 11 Pro BeQuiet Modular PSU

• 3 X OCZ Vector 180 SSDs

• Full custom sleeved Ensourced cable set

• RantoPad MXX mechanical gaming keyboard w/backlit LEDs

• RantoPad Optical Gaming mouse

• RantoPad aluminum mousepad

• 7 X 120mm PWM PureWings 2 case fans

• 16mm angel eye Vandal switch (blue) + 16mm power Vandal switch (blue)

• 5050 RGB LED strips with wireless remote

• Automotive true RGB LED modular pods

• Arduino Mega with mini TFT touch screen (animated case badge)

• Printrbot various filaments (3D printed plastics)

• 4 X Gas struts for gullwing doors


• Large custom lexan water-path behind the motherboard tray

• Combination of nickel plated and PETG hardline tubing

• Custom built acrylic & nickel reservoir mount w/custom smart LEDs

• Water-cooling passthrough for motherboard tray

• EKWB X3 250 reservoir

• EKWB Supremacy Evo CPU block

• EKWB Coolstream XE480mm radiator (quad BeQuiet 120mm fans)

• EKWB Revo pump with acrylic top

• 12mm HDC hardline fittings, 90 degree adapters (black nickel), 50mm extenders, passthroughs, coolant and hardline bend kit


Main Sponsors:


Gigabyte: (SLI GPUs)

• 2 x Gigabyte GTX 960 Extreme 4 gig SLI GPUs (8–gig total)


Supermicro: (Motherboard)

• Supermicro C7–Z170–OCE motherboard


G.Skill: (DDR4 Ram)

• Gskill Trident DDR4 black & white edition (4 sticks of DDR4)


OCZ: (Solid State Drives)

• 3 X OCZ Vector 180 SSDs (almost a terabyte Total)


BeQuiet: (Power Supply & Fans)

• 1,200 watt DarkPower 11 Pro BeQuiet Modular PSU

• 7 X 120mm PWM PureWings 2 case fans


Ensourced: (Custom Sleeved PSU Extensions)

• Custom length cables, sleeving design and cable combs


Printrbot: (Filament & Hotend)

• 7 rolls of filament and an experimental hotend with a 1mm nozzle


EMI Design (lasercut work)

• Honeycomb floor panel, 240 grill and bottom door


EKWB: (Water-Cooling)

• EKWB X3 250 reservoir

• EKWB Supremacy Evo CPU block

• 480mm radiator (quad BeQuiet 120mm fans)

• EKWB Revo pump w/plexi top

• Fittings Including:

- 12mm HDC hardline fittings

- 90 degree adaptors

- 50mm spacers

- M to M adaptors

- 10 & 12mm hardline bending kit

- 12mm tubing

- Passthrough fittings

My Last Build: StarCraft Day Zero


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Cutting The Frame:

I started to build the frame for the build by cutting metal stock that I've been saving for this build. Some of it is steel and the rest is aluminum to help shave of any weight that I can. I also designed and 3D printed all of the brackets needed to put the frame together.

I would have rather used a more aggressive tool but, my Dremel and a hand full of cut off disks have made quick work of the first few pieces.

The Frame:



3D Printed Brackets:



Tomorrow the plan is to cut the rest of the pieces needed to complete the basic frame shape and start work on the triple SSD mount.

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Finishing The Frame:

Today I was able to finish cutting the frames square tubing. I knew this case was going to be a beast but, wow. I can now tell how big of a beast it will be. Mock-ups of the frame have been started as well.




3D Printed Brackets:

I also wrapped up a couple replacement 3D printed brackets. I designed these brackets specifically for this build. That way everything fits perfectly. I printed them with 100% infill using a new experimental hotend called the UBIS 13S. Printrbot also sent an experimental 1mm nozzle that makes quick work of any solid or larger pieces I need to print. This saved me a ton of time in printing. It heats up a lot quicker and it can handle the added volume of filament put through it.


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I managed to get the basic parts of the frame together. It took a little bit longer than anticipated but, thats ok with me. I used washers that are made from thick pieces of nylon. This helps to insulate the bolts and the frame. I also added lock rings to every bolt used which will keep the bolts from loosening over time.


Mounting The Custom Feet:

I was lucky enough to be able to re-purpose the feet that will be used for this case. I think the feet of a case serve a good purpose other than aesthetics. Getting the bottom of the case up off the floor a bit helps with cooling.



I have decided to look into adding 2X200mm fans to the bottom of the case. This will help pull air in through the bottom and out through the top+back. Smoke testing will be done to figure out the best settings/arrangements for the fans throughout the case. I do this with the majority of my builds. Please don't try this unless you know what your doing. You could damage hardware. The test results will be posted after they are done and I might do a short video.

The Triple SSD mount:

I designed a triple SSD mount to go on the right side of the case. It will have a see through piece of lexan on the outer panel. The SSD mounts were originally designed to be parallel to the side panel but, when I started cutting everything I decided it would look much better if they had a slight tilt. I made a couple of bends on each end, which allows them to be slightly tilted. I finished all the rough work with these mounts and I will do the aesthetic work after I get the rest of the side panels cut and formed.


Front & Back Panels:

Now that I have the basic structure together, its time to start wrapping the case. I went with stainless steel for the front and back panels. There will be quite a few pieces that will be built on top of these panels; stainless is a good strong base for those elements. The two panels I have are a little bit wider than I need so I will need to make a couple cuts once more cutting blades arrive. For now I can test mount the panels and double check where they need to be cut.


Bottom Panel:

The bottom panel took a decent amount of measurement to make sure it fit correctly around the feet that have already been mounted. This part of the case will be covered up but it will have about a 40mm gap. This gap will allow me to run some of the wiring so to wont be seen. Down the road to will come in handy to access any wiring needed for maintenance or upgrade.




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Motherboard Sub-Mount:

I started cutting out the sub-mount for the motherboard and the passthrough for the water-cooling. I used heavier gauge steel because this mount will also have to hold the giant water-path that will go on the back side of it. For right now I just have it mocked up so that I can get an idea of the spacing.

Cutting Out The Motherboard Sub-mount:


Mobo Sub-mount Mockup:



3D Prototyped Hinge/Latch:

I wanted to 3D print the custom hinges I designed for the outside of the case. This will let me know if they will be big enough. I am using the 1mm nozzle on the metal Printrbot UBIS 13s hotend. This allows me to print my designs much quicker than I could before. The resolution isn't as high as it would be using a much smaller nozzle but, the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. A 45 minute print takes about 5 minutes to do with the 1mm nozzle.

New UBIS 13s Extruder:


Testing The Prototyped Parts:

After printing the 3 separate pieces that make up one hinge/latch; I can already tell that there is going to be a few changes made for the next iteration. The overall size seems a little bit smaller than I imagined it would be. I will scale the design up a little bit to make everything a little larger and more industrial sized.

The bottom piece also needs to have a thicker base. Currently its about 3mm and I think 6mm is where it needs to be. I also want to slightly change the round part where it connects to the middle piece. These changes will be quick when done within Sketchup. After I finish the changes I will print another prototype to make sure its ready for the final pieces to be made.

Prototyped Latch/Hinge 1st Gen:


Front Panel Pieces:

There are a lot of pieces that go together to make up the front panel. The majority of it will be made out of acrylic and aluminum. I have translated the first 6 pieces onto a template that I can use to cut them out of acrylic. I will be using acrylic that is about 7mm thick for these pieces. They are designed the pieces to different thicknesses for the front panel. This will give it more dimension once assembled. Some of the pieces will be layered on top of each other. Layering different thicknesses of acrylic is something I love doing on my mods because it really does a great job of making the design cues stick out.




The Acrylic Process: Cleaning up edges

All of the pieces of acrylic are first hand cut using my scroll saw and then sanded/filed to make sure all the edges are perfectly flat. I make good use of a large array of different types of files and sandpaper. Typically it'll start off with large hand files to remove enough material to take out any bumps or mis-alignments. After that I will use needle files (small files.) Once all the markings are filed out I will move on to 200 grit sandpaper and rotate to progressively finer grit sandpaper for a smooth finish on all the edges. Its a long process but, I find it to be somewhat meditating after a while.


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Rounded Side Lip:

Im the type of person that is always willing to learn new techniques and tools to put in my modders tool belt. When my buddy said he had some time available at his metal fab shop I jumped at the opportunity. I wanted to learn something new so we jumped into making some bends for the bottom side of the case. These parts wont really be seen much once the case is completed but, its one of those small details that add up to make a case thats memorable.



More Acrylic Work:

Today I managed to cut about 10 more pieces of acrylic out for the front panel. Doing a little bit at a time helps me not get burnt out on the scroll saw. Most of the pieces I cut consist of the bottom layers and the grill inserts. Theses pieces are cut out of thinner acrylic that is about 3mm thick. Now that I have a decent amount of the panels cut out I started to lay them out to see what they'll look like. So far they are dead on the design I did in Sketchup.


Metal Work:

Lately Ive spent a bunch of time doing metal work. Unfortunately my Dremal kicked the bucket on me so I had to buy a cheap rotary tool to get me through this build. Currently I'm looking into buying a new metal cutting tool. I haven't decided between electric shears, die grinder and a few others. I managed to get the back panel all mounted a fit correctly.

A decent amount of time has been spent getting the top angled roof together. It has an partial octagon shape along the top of the case that is kind of hard to see in the design screenshots. The entire top slides on a track. This makes getting to the top of the case easier in the future. It also sits a bit higher than the top of the cases frame.






Im not a 100% sure what LEDs ill use and where. I invested in a little bit of everything when it comes to LEDs and accessories. I have cool white, green, blue and natural white LED strips as well as a couple different kinds of 5050 RGB strips with wireless controllers. Recently I managed to get a smoking deal on LED strip extenders, mounts and cables.

More than likely I'll end up using the RGB LEDs as they give a wide range of options. The smart LEDs also showed up recently which will be a great addition to any case build. Ive haven't seen them used yet on a build. It'll be neat to see how they look once they are all hooked up.


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Old School Techniques:

Most of the skills I use are passed down generation after generation. I like to hand build as much as I possibly can and I will typically translate CAD drawings into 2D sketches. Doing so allows me to make templates to scale. It takes a decent amount of time to do it this way but, it also allows me to really know the design well. With all the technology I have at my disposal I still can't get away from doing it this way. Today I've been working on sketching out the main features on the top portion of the case.

Part of The Side Panel: To Scale



The Top Panel: To Scale



Case Ideas:

This is the portion of the build where I start coming up with crazy ideas that usually come to me in spurts of inspiration followed by eureka moments. Being the noted Rain Man of Modding I leave certain parts of the case intentionally un-designed. Being my favorite part of the process; I typically get excited and sometimes need to be reeled back in.

Eureka! A Case Badge:

The first idea I received, while eating a bowl of corn flakes was to do a custom animated case badge. With the use of a mini TFT touch screen I plan to add a badge to the front of the case which will have a short “Dark Matter†animated design. I have ordered the touch screen and luckily I already have the other parts required to do this animated badge. I will be running it off of an Arduino Mega. I went with the mega due to the larger amount of memory which is required to do animations.


Custom Peripherals:

Thanks to RantoPad I will have a MXX Mechanical Gaming keyboard and mouse to mod for this build. I haven't nailed down the exact design I will use but, it'll match the case. I will carry over the design queues in order to make everything look as one cohesive family. The keyboard and mouse will be almost completely stripped down once I decide what I'm going to do to them and paint arrives.


XBox 360 Controller:

An Xbox 360 controller will also be modified for this build. I received a used one due to the fact that ill be ripping it apart. It will be matched to the rest of the build as well.


Taking apart the Xbox 360 controller is pretty straight forward. Use a Tx-8 or a small flathead to get their proprietary styled screws out of the back of the controller. One screw is hid behind a sticker in the battery tray. After those are removed you can start basic disassembly. All painted surfaces are prepped using sandpaper. Once I finalized a design I will use my vinyl cutter to make paint templates. More than likely I will break out the airbrush for the controller because it allows me to do more detailed work and its awesome.


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Acrylic Work: Top Panels

Like many other modders, I have a special place in my heart for acrylics and poly-carbonate. Its such a versatile material. Over the last 8 yrs its really become my go to for materials. Recently I've stumbled upon a bunch of different techniques and ways of manipulating acrylics for case mods. I designed this build to take advantage of multiple thicknesses of acrylic. Layering several pieces adds a ton of dimension.

Progress Report: Top Panels

This scratch build has a ton of detailed pieces. Do to the fact that I'm partially crazy; I still hand cut every single piece. The last couple days have been spent making templates and cutting those pieces out. Now that I have most of the pieces for the front done, I have turned my focus towards the top of the case. Some of the panels on the top are really long and take quite a bit of time to do the finish work on.



Material/Part Arrivals & Ordering:

Today two of the longer gas struts arrived. I will be making a few modifications to them. The main modification consists of 3D printing new mount brackets for them. This will help them fit into the aesthetic look I'm going for. They are silver and I might paint them before it's all said and done. Being a huge fan of OCD; they'll probably end up being paint matched unless they just so happen to match. The smaller two gas struts are on back order so it may be a bit before I can get those.


I also ordered some vinyl that will be used in a few bits of the build. I went with an Icy Silver which has a lot more depth than a flat or gloss. It's primarily used in the automotive industry so it's usually a lot more expensive than your run of the mill vinyl. (either that or I've been had) I've dealt with this supplier before and I have always been happy so I have high expectations.


Water-Cooling & Cable Passthroughs:

This piece was rather tricky and very difficult to mount. I decided to mount it so it can be swiveled open like a door. This option gave me easy access while still being hard mounted. I used rubber dampeners which lets me adjust the amount of tension on the hinge. It can be tightened down so much that it will hardly open.


As you can see in the design the giant rear water path/reservoir goes through this plate to the other side of the motherboard tray. The wiring from the power supply will go up a custom cable path and inside this passthrough so that the cables come out where they are needed. This will keep everything nice and clean.


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3D Print Finishing & Strengthening:

Ive been 3D printing parts for years and I've always had an issue with the amount of work it takes to smooth parts to prep them for paint. Theres multiple techniques to accomplish this but, most of them are dangerous, expensive or a pain To do. This issue has become larger due to the new 1mm nozzle I'm using. The 1mm nozzle allows me to print large models very quickly but, resolution is an issue when you want smooth prints.


Research: 3D Printed Water-cooling Parts

Ive spent a lot of time trying to find good techniques that don't change the dimensions of a print but, leave them nice and smooth. The first technique I will attempt is using a more common filler called, "under cover" and later a marine epoxy. The epoxy will make the piece up to 40% stronger, it wont change the dimensions and leave the model water tight. These qualities are very important to the 3D printable water-cooling parts I've been designing.

Being able to print your own water-cooling parts has been a dream of mine for a long time and this technique is the best shot I have at accomplishing this. Ive witnessed lots of people attempt to make these water-cooling parts and while they work early on; quickly they start to degrade. I am currently gathering the materials to test the first model and I will post results after each phase of tests.

EK Logo: Testing “Under Cover†Primer w/filler

I designed a piece that goes onto the top grill. It has a base plate that the logo sits on. Its been 3D printed on my Prinrbot Plus with dual extruders using a 1mm tip. After it was printed I sanded the majority of it down so that I could apply brush on filler. The brush on filler helps to smooth out any ridging or imperfections in the layers of the print. The filler os applied 2 coats at a time and sanded after which helps to smooth out the surfaces.


The Final Coat Before Paint:


Water-Cooling & Cable Passthroughs:

This piece was rather tricky and very difficult to mount. I decided to mount it so it can be swiveled open like a door. This option gave me easy access while still being hard mounted. I used rubber dampeners which lets me adjust the amount of tension on the hinge. It can be tightened down so much that it will hardly open.


As you can see in the design the giant rear water path/reservoir goes through this plate to the other side of the motherboard tray. The wiring from the power supply will go up a custom cable path and inside this passthrough so that the cables come out where they are needed. This will keep everything nice and clean.


Cutting Out Acrylic: Front Panel & EK Circle

Recently I found out that EK changed their logo so that in now includes a circle around the logo. They have done the logo with and without this in the past but, the official word is that it will include the circle. I have come up with an awesome way of adding the circle to the EK badge I have already built.

I could have easily painted the circle on once I got to paint but, I decided to attempt a much more difficult option. I am going to cut a circle out of acrylic that will go around the 3D printed EK badge. This will take a lot of skill because it has to fit exactly around the EK logo. I used an old method of pencil shading to transfer the exact shape of the 3D printed logo onto a template. The only way to find out how well this will work is by trying it out.

Shaded Template:


Shaded Portion Cut Out:


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New Tools: Air Cut-off

I managed to trade the tears from a baby seal for an air cutoff tool with up to a 4“ disk. Don't worry, I still love my dremal. I just needed a tool to cut long straight lines as well as a tool that could cut just about anything else I throw at it. The down side of this tool is the need for a massive air compressor to run it and the up side is that I have a massive air compressor to run it.

I managed to slice a rather large hole in the top of the case. This hole will be filled with a custom grill and a large radiator beneath it. I still need to get a single sheet that will cover up the sub-mount on the top of the case. This piece will make the top nice, even and clean looking.


Front Panel:

I managed to cut some more acrylic for the front panel. Due to the fact that it requires a ton of individual pieces; I am doing a little bit at a time. Ive been known to induce seizures after spending too much time on my scroll saw. Now that I think about it, I'm quite impressed that I've never cut my finger off using machinery. I have cut my finger off before but, not while using, “machinery.â€


The Search Continues: Full ATX

My search for a full ATX mobo tray, rear PCI plate still continues. I never thought it would be difficult to find a cheap hunk of junk case on a local for sale site but, apparently every PC case is worth a ton of money. Hopefully my luck will change in the next few days. That way I can get started on the rear portion of the case.

Top Portion of The Case:

Lately I've been working on the top part of the case. Theres a grill that I will have to custom make once I get the needed materials. In the meantime I decided to cut the hole for the grill out of the top panel. My new air cutter managed to make quick work of this portion. Im rather impressed with its speed and accuracy.


Towards the front of the top I designed a kind of cup shape. This design helps to add dimension to the shape of the case as well as work with the angles on the outer edges. I had to use a metal brake in order to bend the metal into the correct shape. Luckily I have a buddy that let me use some of his metal working tools.


Acrylic Prep:

Prepping the acrylic for paint has begun. I use 400+ grit sanding sponge to sand the acrylic. Ive found that this is the best method for prepping acrylic for paint. I also go over all the edges with 1,200 grit in order to polish them. I will be using automotive paint so I will only be able to prime the parta for paint as of now. I will paint and clear all the parts later on in the build.


Part Arrivals & Ordering:

Some new parts for the build have arrived. Ive never used EL wire so I ordered some to test and possibly use on this build. The EL wire arrived today along with some of the ice silver vinyl I ordered for the build. As mentioned I also ordered a small TFT touch screen that will be used as a case badge. Hopefully with the use of an Arduino Mega I can do an animated case badge.


Vinyl Arrivals:

The ice silver vinyl is typically used in high end automotive color changes. It has a lot more dimension than a matte or gloss silver. The edges and angles look darker depending on how you look at it.


A while back I found some semi-transparent vinyl that came in green and black. They have a neat pattern in them and I have an idea that will look sweet. When I was anticipating this project I started ordering as many different materials as I could. Exploring new techniques and materials allows me to truly make this build original.


PSU & HD Sub-mount:

I have almost completed the mounts for the PSUs as well as the HD. I still need to finish up the design for the HD shroud. I haven't decided if it'll be covered with some acrylic work or if I will have a cut-out for the HD. The PSU sub-mount will be the main support that holds the PSUs. I went with a method that keep the PSUs slightly above the base of the case. Its all one pieces as well which will allow me to easily remove it for future upgrades or maintenance.



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