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New custom foam for your astro gear!
Does your eyepiece case need a makeover? Has your pic-n-pluck foam seen better days? I know mine has. Just see the picture of my 12 plus year old case. The pic-n-pluck foam has been picked and plucked more than one too many times! I’ve changed eyepiece and accessories over the years and tried my best to modify the foam to match my latest acquisitions in astro gear with only moderate success. I knew it was time for a new piece of foam, but what were my options? Maybe I could carve out a solid piece of foam. I had tried this method in the past using a sharp knife with only limited success. The knife approach just did not give me the contoured fit or professional look that I desired. I knew there had to be something better, but would I have to go with the pic-n-pluck again with its generic cut-outs and approximated profiles and recesses?
I found the answer to my question was a resounding NO! Things have changed in the custom foam market place with a company called ‘My Case Builder’ leading the way. My Case Builder (no affiliation) can remedy all your custom foam needs. Now you may say, how much will this cost? For a thrifty guy like me, the cost of the new replacement foam was very reasonable. My case, being the standard size of 12in x17in only added a few dollars per piece of astro gear. Considering the cost of the gear itself, I found this to be very reasonable for the level of fit and finish ‘my case builder’ provides.
The entire process from start to finish was very easy. The first step is to log on to the website www.mycasebuilder.com. Be sure to check out the pictures of the finished works as they are quite impressive and may give insight in how to lay out your foam insert. Next you will need to figure out which of the 3 options available will fit your personal needs.
1. ‘A new case’. Browse from a wide variety of new cases.
2. ‘A case I already have’. Browse from cases by brand to find yours.
3. ‘My own custom size’. Foam cut to your exact case.
I had a case that was perfectly usable, but it was not in their database of existing cases, so I choose option 3. After measuring the inner size of my case’s 3 dimensions (height, width and depth), and I was good to start the design process. Additionally, you can input an upper and lower dimension if your case has a taper to it. My case did not have a taper, so I used the same numbers for the top and bottom. See partial screen shot below. Additionally, after you enter the sizes for you foam an estimated price will be given.
Now the fun begins, you actually get to design the cut outs in the foam. If you do not feel comfortable doing this you can have My Case Builder design your foam for an additional fee. Initially, I started playing with all the options to see what this software could do. It is very impressive. You can design your own shapes with the ‘CREATE A SHAPE’ menu which builds complex shapes from simpler shapes like CIRCLES, RECTANGLES and DRAW or see what is available in the ‘Shape Library’. This library is constantly growing as new designs are added.
A special feature of the software is the ability to import a stored image via the ‘Photo Tracer’ menu. This image is one that you have saved on your computer. The software then allows you to very accurately trace around that image there-by creating your own one of a kind custom outline. In order for the software to know what size your object is, you will need to make just one accurate measurement of the parts length. I tried this option by taking a picture of my 2” diagonal with it lying on its side. By imaging it from directly above I got a nice traceable outline of the shape. This option works surprisingly well. My diagonal fit perfectly in its new foam home, proving the accuracy of this feature.
There are additional tools available (see above) to the designer in the EDIT SHAPE menu. These will help you work faster and more efficiently. They include:
UNDO - Erase last performed action.
REDO - Recall a step you just erased with the undo button.
CLONE - Create an exact replica of a selected shape.
DELETE - Remove a selected shape.
The hardest part of this eyepiece case project was trying to decide what type of foam I wanted. Case Builder gives you two choices, PE (Polyethylene) and Ester (Polyurethane). PE foam is fairly dense, and only slightly pliable, like a pool noodle. It offers a secure, snug fit. Ester foam is like the pic-n-pluck or traditional eyepiece case foam. It is forgiving and exhibits excellent shock absorption. I chose the denser PE foam and couldn’t be happier. It holds everything very securely. I would recommend you add the finger notches if going with the PE foam as they really help facilitate the removal of the gear. The finger notches are semi-circular cut outs that allow you to put a finger or thumb down along the side of the item you want to remove. It takes up some extra space in your design but they really help when it comes to retrieving the items from the case. You may even want to provide 2 of these semicircular cut outs for each item, one for your thumb and the other for your opposing finger.
If you are worried, as I was, that your cutouts will not work as intended don’t worry, My Case Builder has a kind of insurance policy (for a small fee) that will allow you to return the foam with the corrections you make to your drawing. It’s kind of a second chance. I was tempted to choose this option, but did not think it would be necessary. My Foam insert turned out perfect!
There is another noteworthy design feature to be considered when designing your foam. You can have multiple depths for one or all of your cut outs. An example of this application would be an eyepiece lying on its side having more than one flat support point. For mine I used 2 depths, one to support the eyepiece body and another to support the barrel. This creates a step like feature that firmly supports your gear. See picture above.
Have fun with the software. Try it out, there is a slight learning curve, but take your time and have fun with it. There are many options that you can explore. Mycasebuilder.com allows for you to customize your foam to meet almost any need your case may have. The end result will astound you with what can be done on a consumer level. My finished case is shown below.
Hots – perfect fit, fair price, about 1 week turn around.
Nots – Slight learning curve, not all shapes in the eyepiece library are accurate.
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