A few weeks ago, I did something bizarre. I picked up my house keys and dragged them deliberately against the relatively scratch-free front of my 15GB Apple iPod
until I had etched a few deep grooves into the plastic. I really like my iPod, so why on earth would I seek to destroy its shiny surface? I assure you that it was all in the name of science. I was trying to find out whether a company that promises it can repaint an iPod in just about any color was up to the task of refinishing a sad, scratched-up iPod.
That company is ColorWare, a Minnesota concern that adds a shiny layer of color to iPods, laptops, and other tech products. I spoke with ColorWare's head of sales and marketing, Lars Rasmussen, about the process, and he explained how it works. When the company decides a product is popular enough for consumers to want to customize the color, it creates a masking mold for the device to keep certain areas from being painted. In the case of my third-generation iPod, the mold covered the back of the device, the buttons, and the screen. Then ColorWare runs the iPod through a contraption that first sprays "manufacturing paint" onto the front of the device, then covers that with a clear plastic coating (the process took about five years to perfect). Finally, the masking mold is removed, and voilà--the iPod's front surface has a brand-new color.
ColorWare also sells iPods, laptops, and other devices precolored, usually for about 10 to 20 percent more than the normal retail price. You can pick up the new fourth-generation iPod from ColorWare in any of 20 colors for $465, which is $165 more than Apple charges (a bit more than the normal margin). Smart consumers will buy straight from Apple, then pay $50 plus shipping and handling to have ColorWare apply the color. The only hitch is that you have to ship your brand-new iPod off to Minnesota as soon as you take it out of the box.
I see my iPod, and I want it painted black
But unless the result of ColorWare's process is of the highest quality, none of the above matters. To find out, I sent my freshly scratched-up iPod to ColorWare, and I'm happy to report that the carbon-colored iPod I got back looks fantastic, with absolutely no trace of the scratches I'd etched with my keys. The player's new sheen is deep and lustrous, with hints of dark green and a slight sparkle. See for yourself below.
To the left is a photograph of my scratched-up, white iPod. To the right, you can see the same device after it was painted black by ColorWare.
In retrospect, black may not have been the wisest color choice for demonstration purposes, but you can make out the reflectiveness on the upper-right corner pretty well. Plus, you have my word that the thing looks fly
But what about the scrollwheel?
I never thought you'd ask. Amazingly, the scrollwheel works exactly as it did before--it's just as touch-sensitive, in both the wheel and button areas. This is slightly counterintuitive until you realize that there's no way ColorWare would still be in business if it were breaking people's scrollwheels with a layer of paint.
So there you have it--a great way to give your iPod a fresh look. I highly recommend it, if only for the inquisitive looks you get from strangers when you break out the thing on a subway or an airplane. My only regret is that I had ColorWare paint a third-generation iPod instead of our fourth-generation model, since the latter gets painted everywhere on the front panel except for the screen. With the buttons so visible on my third-generation unit, it almost looks like a case instead of a paint job.
Nonetheless, I love my new "Darth" iPod.
Would you spend 50 bucks for a custom-colored iPod? TalkBack to me below!
Eliot Van Buskirk is technology editor for MP3.com