How to make Google Cardboard from scratch

We built the pizza-box VR viewer from a printout. It took aaaaaaaaages.

Oh, says the whizzy little animation, it’s so easy to make your own VR viewer! Just grab yourself a couple of simple parts, a snip here, a fold there, and whoosh: your very own low-budget holodeck. Except, like most things, it’s not that simple. Prepare to spend three hours snarling at cardboard.

Focus pocus

Carboard is basically just a box for holding two 40mm lenses 40mm from your phone’s screen, and even Google acknowledges that these lenses aren’t easy to get hold of. The link Google gives for a German Amazon seller is: a) sold out and b) in German, so we bought these ones from Edmund Optics. They came with several small bags of free sweets. They look a fair bit thicker than the ones in the neat little kit given to developers at Google I/O, but they do the job. Eventually.

Your prints will come

The printing process is straightforward. Do it at work, obviously – nobody in their right mind pays for printer toner – and while you’re there, nab a nice new cardboard box. You want strong, thin cardboard: try this with anything flimsy and you’ll end up with a ball of mashed paper and tears. You’re fairly likely to end up with that anyway.

When you print the plans, make sure you print at 100% - a lot of printer software helpfully downsizes your printout to 90% to fit it all in the page with a nice spacious border, but this will ruin your cardboard goggleputer before – well, before it has a chance to be ruined by you.

A thousand cuts

The cutting out process takes over an hour, and it’s dull, fiddly work. A good sharp scalpel and a ruler (to guide your blade) are essential – if you use any ol’ pair of scissors, as Google cheerily suggests, it’ll take four hours and the end result will look like a wasps’ nest. 

Have a podcast or three lined up to counteract the tedium of carefully cutting out the complex, many-slotted cardboard net-shape. Don’t have a film lined up, unless you’re tired of having so many fingers.

Folding fury

It’s only after you’ve spent two hours painstakingly cutting out the cardboard shapes that you realise that you hate Cardboard, you hate it with a burning passion, because the little tabs you spent so long getting just right don’t quite reach to the holes, and the cardboard is too thick or too small or just in the wrong place.

Helpfully, the only guide you have is the clever little scroll-mation on the Google Cardboard site. Basically you vaguely follow that, and when it doesn’t fit together properly, just keep Sellotaping it together until it looks about right. Everywhere a tab goes into a hole, add some tape and it should just about hold together. Cram the lenses back in (they’ll have fallen out several times), tape it some more and get a phone in there. With the Cardboard app running, obviously).

Hand vr

After hours of mucking about with cardboard and a lot of tape, we found that you can achieve a similar effect by holding the two lenses roughly 40mm away from your phone and moving your face in front of them. If all else fails, you could always just do this.

Overall, we'd recommend Cardboard as a fun project for a wet weekend. We're going to try a slightly more adjustable version with a wooden box and some G-clamps, so watch this space and we'll let you know how we get on.