Building a DIY smartphone hologram projector – is it as cool as the internet makes it look?

At the MakerBus we try to keep up with viral maker projects. Ideas, videos, and projects that promise mind-blowing results with simple household materials. In this on-going blog series we’re going to test different viral maker projects and share our results.

About two years ago, the DIY hologram project was a viral hit on the internet, spawning hundreds of tutorials like this:

On New Years Eve the MakerBus was invited to participate in the Royal BC Museum‘s Night Shift event. We thought it would be fun to try building these hologram projectors with the families who attended the event.

The material list for this project is pretty simple, you really only need four things:

  • heavy plastic of some sort
  • clear tape
  • scissors
  • a smartphone or tablet

Many tutorials for this project suggest cutting up unwanted CD cases to build the projector. We thought this might be challenging to do quickly at an event – CD cases are crack easily, are thick, making them difficult to cut, and can be sharp if broken.

Wanting a plastic that was rigid enough to form the projector but was still easy to cut we took a trip to the maker’s paradise, Industrial Plastics and Paints in Victoria, BC. Industrial Plastics and Paints carries everything from 3D printer filament, to paints, to glues, to sheets of plastic. In our experience most cities have some store like Industrial Plastics and Paints – some kind of store that collects useful materials for maker projects (in our home-base of London, Ontario we’d recommend Forest City Surplus).

From there we cut the large sheet of plastic that we purchased into smaller squares that we could hand out at the event.

Using card stock we cut templates that our audience could use to cut the four sides of the hologram projector. We made two sizes of template, one for smartphone-sized screens and one for tablet-sized screens. After doing some tests we discovered that while you could use a larger prism on a smaller screen or a smaller prism on a larger screen, the hologram effect was best if the size of the prism roughly corresponded to the size of the screen.

How did it work?


At the event we cut out and assembled the hologram projectors with families. Since the Royal BC Museum has free public wifi (thank you!) we could ask families to search for “hologram videos” on YouTube and test out their creations.

The biggest challenge families had was cutting each of the four sides precisely enough that the prism would sit evenly on a smartphone or tablet screen. Most ended up being a little bit wonky, but totally useable.

Luckily we were in a fairly dark part of the museum, because even in a moderately bright environment, you wouldn’t be able to see the hologram projections. If you’re going to try this projector, make sure you can control the light levels in your environment!

Kids and adults enjoyed this projector finding a certain degree of magic in the dancing hologram-like images they created. Because this project involves precision cutting, I’d say that children under the age of 5 would need a fair degree of parental help to make it a success.

Is it actually cool?

Yes. Overall we’d say that this project is cool, but not quite as amazing as some tutorial videos might leave you to think. It’s fun, not too difficult, and inexpensive. If you feel like experimenting with new things your smartphone or tablet can do, we’d definitely recommend trying it.


What tutorials would you like to see us try? Leave a comment on this blog post with your ideas or give us a shout on social media.

Follow us on social media (Facebook,  Twitter,  Instagram,  Youtube) for the latest maker movement news, tips, and tutorials – let us help you create fun-conventional learning opportunities!

-Ryan Hunt, MakerBus Co-Founder

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