Raspberry Pi boards, including the popular Raspberry Pi 4, the Raspberry Pi 3B, and the Pi Zero W, are often sold without cases or covers to house your builds. That means if you want to protect it from the elements or make it look more polished, you’ll either have to buy or make your own case. This article will help you decide what options are available and which case is best for your Raspberry Pi.
If you have a new Raspberry Pi, learn how to set up Raspberry Pi OS on your Pi.
Things to Consider for Your Pi Case
There are a number of key considerations when choosing your case. They range from a simple matter of taste to more functional needs. It could also be that you want to keep playing your most demanding retro games without the Raspberry Pi shutting down every five minutes.
This is the most obvious one. You want your creation to look good: the color, pattern, texture, and shape. If your project is for a more utilitarian device that could get dirty, such as a controller for an oven, it makes sense to choose or print with a darker and sturdier material that is more forgiving. If your project has the device sitting on the table – for example, if you made a video conferencing center from your Raspberry Pi or multimedia center in your living room – you may want it to have colorful patterns to express your tastes.
Depending on the kind of project you are working on with your Raspberry Pi, the case will need to accommodate those needs. It should be the correct size for the specific Raspberry Pi board and house it securely. It should also allow for access to the various connectors and ports on the board, such as HDMI and USB ports to connect displays and peripherals.
For example, if you are using a camera in your build, the case should have an opening for the camera ribbon cable or eyepiece. If you’re attaching your Raspberry Pi to the back of a TV to make it a smart TV, it should be able to dissipate heat efficiently, protect the board from dust, and have holes to fasten the device to the rear panel of the TV.
3. Performance and Safety
The Raspberry Pi case will affect the airflow; hence, the heat across your board will be affected as well. This affects the performance of your board: it could overheat and turn off or sustain damage due to prolonged exposure to heat in a confined space.
That’s why it’s a good idea to install fans and heatsinks on the areas that heat up on your board and design or select a case with openings for airflow. You could opt for a Raspberry Pi case with a very large heatsink, although this may be more than what you need. That said, small insects might find your Raspberry Pi case to be a nice warm place to rest, so don’t create more openings than you absolutely need.
Shopping for Raspberry Pi Cases
When buying a Raspberry Pi case, always remember to buy a case for the type of Raspberry Pi you have. Some generic cases may not fit the Raspberry Pi board securely enough or be too small altogether.
In the case of third-party cases, check the dimensions of your board and the case in question before making a purchase. The level of finish on these cases varies widely. Check out the detailing on fasteners and holes to see if they’re neatly machined.
Lastly, you can even get a secondhand Raspberry Pi case to save some money. Check for wear and tear, and good on you for reusing, repurposing, and saving something from a landfill!
1. Official Raspberry Pi Case
The first and most obvious option is the Raspberry Pi official cases. The Raspberry Pi Zero case has a variety of top panels for various applications – from a hole for a camera to completely closed. These cases also generally come with the little heatsinks which you should stick on your Raspberry Pi’s processor to dissipate heat readily. There are cases for the Raspberry Pi 4, the Raspberry Pi Zero, and the Raspberry Pi 3B.
These are well designed and can be used for a variety of projects. If you like the standard color scheme and are happy with the openings in the cases, these covers are a great option. They generally come with heatsinks and openings for airflow.
There are only a set number of styles and designs, so if you need something other than what they offer, look for third-party sellers.
2. Black ABS Plastic Case
Alternatively, you can get third-party cases made from black ABS polymer plastic. Such cases are widely available, and the prices are affordable. I have various black ABS cases for the Raspberry Pi 4 and the Raspberry Pi 3. There are also ABS cases available for the Raspberry Pi Zero.
These cases are simple and are generally well-made, which is why they are my go-to. They offer good access to the I/O pins for your projects and are slim and rounded to be placed in your pocket easily. The Raspberry Pi 4 case comes with a small opening, which you connect to the I/O pins (3V usually). This is needed because the Pi 4 can overheat and shut down without sufficient cooling. They often come with little heatsinks for the chips, too.
The case is black, which is great if you like black. If not, look for a more colorful case. The Raspberry Pi Zero case doesn’t have a fan (though neither does the official Raspberry Pi Zero case).
3. Aluminum Case
Instead of relying on fans to blow away hot air, you can get a case made from metal, which conducts the heat away from the Raspberry Pi. This is passive cooling, as it doesn’t require a fan or active systems, such as circulation of coolant. Aluminum cases are good for conducting away heat and look good, such as this silver aluminum case for a Raspberry Pi 4.
Aluminum is shiny. It also, if formed properly and not painted, touches the Raspberry Pi and conducts the heat away, similarly to a heatsink. Aluminum forms an oxide layer, which prevents it from corroding, so it won’t form rust readily as a steel case would.
Some of these cases do not have an opening to access the I/O pins, which is important if you need this for your project.
4. Cluster Case
If you need to put a number of Raspberry Pis together, you may want to look at a Raspberry Pi cluster case, which provides support while still allowing for airflow.
You can stack Raspberry Pis on top of each other. Some come with the little heatsinks, that you should add to the Raspberry Pi chips, as well as cooling fans.
The Raspberry Pis are open, so will need to be dusted periodically. Also, if you don’t like the clear acrylic aesthetic, you could opt for a more colorful case.
5. Case With an Included Screen
If your project calls for a little tablet that is robust and Raspberry Pi-shaped, you may want to get this kind of case. It comes with a screen – usually a touch screen – and stylus. You then need to add the Raspberry Pi, the heat sinks, and fans. These cases are usually ABS and come as screen cases for the Raspberry Pi 3B or Raspberry Pi 4B. You could also go for an education station case for your Raspberry Pi to help teach electronics and coding.
Some cases do not come with heatsinks, which is not a major concern, as heatsinks are cheap, but they are needed on the Raspberry Pi if it gets hot, so you will have to buy them separately if housing your board in a case.
Neatly incorporate a Raspberry Pi and a screen, available models are usually between 3.5 and 7 inches. Most still have access to the I/O pins behind the cover.
The assembly is not straightforward, involving mounting pins, connecting wires, and some assembly. Also, the SD card is not always easily available when the screen and Raspberry Pi are assembled, so you may have to take apart the case again to remove the SD card. They might not come with fans or heatsinks.
6. Retro Gaming Cases
If you are a fan of the retro gaming aesthetic, retro gaming cases are available for your Raspberry Pi. These look cool and are available in a number of styles. They are usually assembled with a screwdriver. There is an NES-style case for the Raspberry Pi 4, an NES-style case for the Raspberry Pi 3B, and an SNES-style case for the Raspberry Pi 3.
They look fantastic and are especially nice if you are using the Raspberry Pi for retro gaming, such as game emulation with RetroPie. They usually come with heatsinks and fans.
These retro gaming covers are only available for certain Raspberry Pi boards and need some assembly, but the instructions might not be clear. Often, they do not have easy access to the I/O pins and SD card.
Now, if you are up for a challenge, you can also make your own Raspberry Pi case using a variety of accessible manufacturing techniques. The most popular method is 3D printing your own case.
There are many types of 3D printers, setups, and print media (filaments and liquids). If you have access to a 3D printer, it’s possible to print a case.
Which Raspberry Pi case should you get? This depends on the environment and style you want the Raspberry Pi to operate with. If you want a quick solution, Raspberry Pi provide their own covers. If those don’t fit with your needs, there are secondary producers with adjusted cases for specific functions. If you don’t find one that will work for your project, or if you want to be creative, you can custom make your own case.
Not a fan of Raspberry Pi? Check out some of its alternatives.
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