Cardboard RetroPie – The ‘How-To’ guide

So if you’ve read my blog before you’ll have seen that I put a Raspberry Pi on my classroom wall to make my own arcade for the kids. This worked great, but it wasn’t very portable. I really wanted to take it to a Raspberry Jam, so needed to adapt it. I took inspiration for the Google cardboard projects like VR and the AIY projects and thought I’d pop it in an old cardboard box. Cheap and easy, and not the end of the world if it went wrong! So lets get started with how I did it!

Equipment Needed: 

  • Self sealing cardboard box, The kind with the flap down the side to keep it tight! Amazon delivery boxes are great for this
  • Raspberry Pi 2/3
  • 7″ Display screen. Cheap Chinese import, not need for the expensive touch screen ones in this build
  • Small fan and heat sinks
  • Games remote – Xbox for windows or PiHut games controller work great
  • Short HMDI Cable
  • Foam filling
  • Sharp craft knife
  • Strong Tape

The Prep

I’ve covered a lot of the ‘How To’ with setting up the Raspberry Pi in my previous post, so see it in a bit more detail there. Keeping it short and sweet here though you need to get the Raspberry Pi ready for the build by adding the RetroPie software on a flash drive. This video by ETA Prime is by far the clearest and easiest to follow. It’s also a bit easier if you’re ready to go with some games first too, so try downloading some ROMs on a USB stick and installing them. It’s really important to look after your RPi in the box too, and it overheats really easily. Make sure you add some heat sinks to the processors.

The Build 

Start by carefully opening out the box you you’ve go the space to work, making sure not to tear it, and draw out where you want the screen to go.


Lay it out flat, cut out the hole using the craft knife, and use the tape to secure it in place. If you can, try using a real cutting mat instead of an old copy of Stuff magazine like it did! You might notice the Velcro on the back of mine. I used this to keep the graphics card for the screen in place. This worked really well as I needed to make a few adjustments as I went.


Once the screen was lined up, as above, I added the foam lining of the box, secured the graphics card, added the HDMI cable. To finish off the display work I placed a thin layer of foam over the top. Nothing going anywhere in here!

This is also the point I added 2 discreet holes on the side. These allow for you to slide in the power cable for the screen and the RPi. The best way I’ve found for them is for the the wire to be in permanently, with the plugs hanging from the side when moving. Not very neat but I’ll come up with something I’m sure!


Next up was the screen controls. The screen I ordered has the little buttons on a cable which is great. Allows for different inputs and volume control, so with some measuring and careful cutting each got a little space. Bit of tape on the back and it will hold it fine.

With the screen and controls in place it’s finally time to add the Raspberry Pi! Slot in the HDMI cable and the power wire. At this point I carefully tilted the box up so I could check it was working and connecting OK. Last thing you want is to close it up to find you’ve not connected it right! At this point I cut the hole in the side for the USB and network points on the RPi. If you can cut it precisely enough the Pi should hold itself there.


Then to finish close it all up start playing! You might need to cut out some of the flaps on the side of the box to allow for your wires and USB ports on the side, so watch out for this when you’re closing the lid. Plug in your remote, callibrate it with the RetroPie and you’re good to go. You can add more ROMs as you go through the USB ports on the side.

IMG_5453UPDATE: It was still getting quite warm inside, so I bought this fan on eBay and I plan to cut a hole in the back to add it. Should work a bit better with that in I think.

I’d love to see some other cardboard boxes converted like this, so if you have a go please send me a picture! I’ve also only got around 20 classic and essential ROMs on this RPi at the moment, so get in touch and tell me what you’ve favourite retro game is and I’ll add it for the kids to play!

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