DIY G-Shock Watch Negative Display Conversion - ITS Tactical

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DIY G-Shock Watch Negative Display Conversion

By Brian Green

G-Shock DW-5600 DIY Negative Display

This project was quite adventurous for me and quite a bit more complicated than some of the other projects I’ve done with my G-Shock watches.

It involves doing some pretty nasty things to the screen of a “naked” G-Shock, so if you’re faint-hearted this is probably not the ideal DIY project for you.

If you’re still reading this and desperately wanting to try reversing the display of one of your digital watches for yourself — read on!

Creating a Negative Display

I’m going to be taking my plain Casio G-Shock DW-5600 and converting the regular display into a negative one with the use of some self-adhesive polarizing film. It took me a while to find a good source for the right type of polarizing film. I bought mine from Polarization.com in Texas.

The quality was very good, service excellent, and the shipping was pretty fast (3 days). I ordered the thinnest self-adhesive film they had in a relatively small size, part name was: “Linear Polarizer w/adhesive PFA”.

Ok, on to the project. First let me show you some of the tools you might like to have ready for this.

G-Shock DW-5600 DIY Negative Display

With all the necessary tools at hand it’s time to start thinking about how to tackle this. I will be using the DW-5600 that I recently stealthed the bezel on (separate post coming). By reversing the display it should be a pretty fine looking little watch. The next few steps will be obvious to most of you, but I figured I’d snap some pictures anyway.

G-Shock DW-5600 DIY Negative Display

Take off the straps so that you can remove the back cover and so that they won’t get in the way while you are working on the body of the watch. I like to use my nifty little Bergeon Spring Bar Tool that is designed specifically for this.

G-Shock DW-5600 DIY Negative Display

Next, carefully remove the four small screws that hold on the case back. Always make sure to put these somewhere safe and keep them together. This is where the Husky Mini Screwdriver comes in very handy.

G-Shock DW-5600 DIY Negative Display

Remove the metal case back carefully, trying not to disturb the rubber gasket that creates the watertight seal around the module.

G-Shock DW-5600 DIY Negative Display

You should see the rubber spacer that covers and adds protection to the inner module. Remove the rubber spacer using the tweezers for extra grip. It can sometimes feel like it is deliberately stuck to the module but it isn’t, it just gets pressed tightly and sticks a bit — it should come off very easily.

G-Shock DW-5600 DIY Negative Display

You should now be able to lift out the entire module by one of its edges using your tweezers. Mine actually fell right out when I flipped it over. Be patient, there’s really nothing holding it in other than the pressure of the buttons against the spring contacts.

G-Shock DW-5600 DIY Negative Display

I took off on a bit of a tangent here and decided to remove the black outer rubber protector and the metal inner ring casing. I also removed the glass screen from the module and spent the next three hours shouting and cursing at how hard it was to put the darn glass screen back in. I was also extremely annoyed at my stupidity as I discovered that it was not necessary to remove the glass at all (I learn as I go along..).

I have deliberately omitted the next six or so images that I took of me removing the glass and putting it back in because it is not necessary and very nearly screwed up my display and module!

The next thing to do is to remove the polarizing film that is glued to the surface of the glass. The film is slightly smaller than the glass and can be seen easily if you look close up. I am using my scalpel to gently lift up the polarizing film a bit at a time. The trick is to slide the blade between the polarizing film and the glass.

G-Shock DW-5600 DIY Negative Display

Take your time and work from one edge of the polarizing film across to the other, slowly pushing the blade of your knife under more and more while still moving it from side to side. Eventually you will have the blade under far enough to lift off the polarizing film.

G-Shock DW-5600 DIY Negative Display

The film is stuck to the glass by a thin layer of tacky glue. It’s pretty nasty stuff so be patient and it will come up eventually. Lift off the polarizing film using your plastic tweezers. You can see that the film looks almost transparent while over the display and the digits are only visible on the parts of the display that are covered by the film — it’s quite amazing.

G-Shock DW-5600 DIY Negative Display

Here’s where it gets very cool. Simply turn the polarizing film around 90 degrees and as if by magic the digital display becomes reversed! The polarizing film does not need to be in contact with the glass to work.

G-Shock DW-5600 DIY Negative Display

At this point I used my Q-Tips and some Goof Off to clean the tacky glue residue from the glass and the old piece of polarizing film. Make sure you get the glass as ‘squeaky’ clean as you can. It took me several Q-Tips and about 15 minutes to get it perfectly clean. I promise you that the time spent getting the glue off as much as possible will be worth it. If there is any glue residue left on the glass it will show up when you stick on the new piece of polarizing film and you don’t want that.

Now let’s take a look at the digital module display using the new sheet of polarizing film. Here is the display with the film held in the regular position. The display is shown as normal and we can see the module is still ticking away quite happily.

G-Shock DW-5600 DIY Negative Display

Rotate the polarizing film 90 degrees just like you did with the piece that was removed from the glass and the display is reversed. Excellent, this ensures that the film is going to work — until this point it was a bit of a gamble on whether or not this particular type of polarizing film would work — looks good.

G-Shock DW-5600 DIY Negative Display

Next you’ll need to cut out a piece of the new polarizing film to the exact shape of the original piece. Make sure that you are cutting out the film with it turned in the right direction. Make doubly sure you have the film oriented so that it will make the display look reversed before you place the old piece on top as a cutting guide.

Hint: you can tell when the two pieces are the right way because the original piece that you are using as a cutting template should look completely black. Notice in the picture below how the display is invisible without the polarizing film. Also notice the small box on the display in the upper right corner; this will be disappearing when we reverse the display using this ‘hack’. The factory reversed modules manage to reverse the box too — interesting distinction.

Hold the original piece of film tightly up to the corner of the new sheet and gently cut around it using your sharp knife. Make several slices using medium pressure rather than trying to cut all the way through on the first pass. By making several slices you will avoid slipping and hopefully avoid the loss of any finger tips! Just take your time.

G-Shock DW-5600 DIY Negative Display

Once you have cut out the new piece of polarizing film, hold it over the display to make sure that it fits and that it will create the desired negative effect. The film used here (details at top) was self-adhesive on one side and had a protective cover on the other. Remove the cover from the self adhesive side and without touching it carefully place the new piece of polarizing film onto the glass screen.

Use your tweezers for better precision. Gently rub the polarizing film with a soft cloth or clean Q-Tip to make sure it is adequately stuck down. Then use your tweezers again to lift of the protective cover from the front of the film. You should be left with a smudge and fingerprint free surface.

G-Shock DW-5600 DIY Negative Display

The final step is to reassemble the whole thing. Carefully put the whole module back into the watch casing making sure it it seated down. I find that I nearly always have to use my tiny screwdriver to hold in the metal connectors where the buttons are in order to get a module back in.

Replace the rubber spacer making sure that the protruding metal contacts show through. Then replace the metal case back and four screws. I’m not showing pictures of these steps because most of you know how to do this and if you don’t simply read through the steps above that describe how to take the module out.

When the case back is firmly screwed down, flip the whole thing over and admire your handy work, a beautiful, negative display module. Notice how the small box in the upper right corner of the display is no longer visible. This is one difference between the DIY reverse display and the factory fitted version, but I kind of like the minimal look anyway so no great loss for me.

G-Shock DW-5600 DIY Negative Display

Well that’s it. The hardest part of this whole project was biting the bullet on the polarizing film and waiting the couple of days it took for it to arrive. The rest was relatively easy.

I hope you found this useful and I also hope this encourages a few of you to pop open that old G-Shock and hack a negative display. It took me a little over four hours to do this, but nearly three of those were spent trying to replace the glass display that I shouldn’t have removed in the first place. There were also some other distractions along the way.

G-Shock DW-5600 DIY Negative Display

I’ve done my best to provide as much detail as possible, but if you have any additional questions feel free to post a comment here and I’ll do my best to answer it. Happy hacking!

About the author: Brian is an avid lightweight backpacker and author of the popular Brian’s Backpacking Blog. In his spare time he designs watches and is the original designer of the Prometheus Ocean Diver line of dive watches. In addition to a rather large analogue watch collection, Brian is a self confessed G-Shock addict.

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Discussion

  • Ginger

    Very cool little project. Would have liked to seen the illumination when the watch was done. But I guess whatever is black = lights up. So the background would light up instead of the numbers.

    /Mark

    • Terry Kowalik

      Actually Ginger, the whole LCD screen lights up when the backlight is active, but the blacked out sections are covered. In the reversed setup, the white areas will be illuminated.

    • Mark, the illumination works just fine. In fact I think it works better because there is less of the screen space to allow the light to pass through than in a regular display, so the brightness seems concentrated and boosted. If I can take a picture to show you I will.

  • Jack

    Hi Brian,

    Is it necessary to buy a new film? Can the original film be reused?

    Cheers,
    Jack

    • Tim

      It looks like you have to rotate the film 90 degrees. When doing that with the original film you would not get full coverage on the screen. You probably wouldn’t necessarily have the glue to re-adhere the film to the screen either. It could probably be done… but it’s probably best to get the new film and do it right.

    • Jack

      Thanks!

    • Jack, Tim is exact;y right on both counts. Because you have to rotate the film to effect the polarization it no longer fits properly – it’s rectangular remember? And the original tackiness is all messed up when you remove it no matter how careful you are. If there is the slightest blemish in the surface of the sticky side it will show up forever on your display and you won’t want that – I know because I found out the hard way. It’s pretty easy to get the polarizing film and I think I included my source in the post, if not ping me.

  • Wayne K.

    I would think Casio would have this as one of their options, at least on some models. I like it better. Seems like a bit of work though. If it took you 4, OK, 1-2 hours, it would probably take me 6-7:) One more thing, wouldn’t an Exacto knife do as well–I imagine they are easier to find.

    • Wayne, funny you should mention that. YES! Casio very quickly caught on to the negative stealthing trend and started offering several of their most popular models in the negative display version. Unfortunately they are so sought after that a lot of them are very hard to find, but you will still see some available on the Casio G-shock website.

      This whole process came about through the love of hacking and understanding how things work. At the time there were limited options and people (myself included) wanted to know how to do this to the G-Shocks we already owned. I now have other G-Shocks that are factory finished with negative displays – interestingly enough, the watch I have done this to manually seem to have a higher contrast display than the factory ones 🙂

      And yes an Xacto knife for those of you in the US is super easy to find an almost any big lot store. I come from the UK originally and have a rather interesting and diverse background. I happen to have a lot of Swann Morten scalpel handles and hundreds of packaged blades, so I’m slowly going through my stock pile and using them up. The scalpel handles and blades I use are also far superior to anything Xacto makes :-p

  • Macs

    At least on the watch I’m wearing right now (Casio DW-9052), the backlight illuminates only the parts that are NOT black. I think the purpose of this mod, other than looking cool, is to minimize the light pollution when the backlight is activated at night. The glow is actually considerable when it’s full dark.

    • Macs, your spot on. Other than looking ultra black and stealthy-cool, this mod significantly reduces the light pollution caused by using the backlight, thereby protecting your night vision ability.

      Some of the very first G-Shock negative displays were on models labeled as “military” IIRC – so that supports the concept.

  • Ken

    What would it take to remove the lettering around the face of the watch? …the stuff behind the crystal? Then it’ll really be “stealth!”

    • Now you’re talking. To this day that has been the only part of the overall display that I have not been able to remove. The lettering is painted onto the underneath surface of the glass and then covered by a metal screen support that adds the “shock” to the G-Shock. I’ve tried grinding out the metal very carefully with a dremel with limited success, but as soon as I start removing the painted lettering the display looks like s%#@! I’ve totally trashed two G-Shock trying to do that 🙂

      There were some very limited custom model G-Shocks produced that have extremely minimal lettering on the inner surface of the glass (see this DQM example). They look superb and that’s what I was trying to emulate – with no success.

  • Terry Kowalik

    My Casio G-Shock Mudman (G-9000) already has a reversed screen from the factory. This same process will work for any LCD screened watch and depending on the type of filter, you may be able to use the same one by flipping it over, rather than rotating it. I used to do this to all my school calculators as a kid, that and painting them OD green 😀

    • Terry I have that same G-Shock model. In fact I dyed the strap and casing black (a future how-to post maybe?) to make it even more stealthy and love the watch. Great choice!

  • Joe

    I have a Solar Atomic G-Shock GW-500A that I got for my birthday, any special pointer in doing the mod to my watch since it has solar panels in the face.

    • Reddog245

      Shouldn’t make any difference, as the same amount of light will pass through, the waves will just be oriented 90 degrees different-not an issue for solar cells.

    • Joe, I have several Atomic, solar G-shocks that I have done this to – it’s not an issue. The polarizing film does not cover the solar panels at all so it doesn’t change it.

  • Reddog

    This is a really cool article. I’m not a big digital fan, but this has me wanting to get one just to try it! Thanks!

  • Matt

    Brain, Great work with the conversion! I am curious if this would work with any of the Pathfinder models as i have the PAG-40. Thank you for your time.

    • Matt, yes it can be done with the Pathfinder models. There are some slightly different disassembly method, but the process of removing the polarizing film and swapping it out is exactly the same.

  • Tom Goro

    Hi Brian,

    thanks a lot for great guide, you inspired me to buy new G’s and polarizing film just to try it out.

    If it works out I would like to try that on my Pathfinders. Any pointers on how to disassemble those (as I was unable to find any guide on Youtube).

    Thanks a lot!

    Tom

  • aj

    did it really took you 4 hours to do this?

  • Bellerephon

    Hi Brian!

    Thanks so much for the tutorial. A few days ago my Mudman bit the dust so I decided to try your method on my new Timex Ironman. I posted a tutorial of the process, and just wanted to share. You’ll note at the bottom that I gave credit to ITS.

    It worked great – thanks for the awesome tutorial! Link below:

    http://i.imgur.com/cYItq.jpg

    • That’s a great tutorial that you put together and the conversion looked great when it was finished. Thanks too for providing a link and credit back to this original post – much appreciated 🙂

  • Daryl

    Semi-off topic, but I have a PAW-1500Y. Any idea how to reverse the display from negative to positive on that one? I find the neg a bit difficult to negotiate. Thanks in advance.

    • Daryl, it’s the exact same process but the result is reversed. I will say that I have never opened a PAW myself and have heard that the additional features of the watch make it tricky to modify. So I can’t say with 100% certainty that it can be done as easily – each watch is different. Google could be your best friend here in finding out before you commit.

  • This is an awesome project; I am going to give it a go. Thanks for the great walk through!

  • Charles

    @Daryl,
    I did it with my PAG-240 with some difficulty. I broke the glass film while lifting the polarizing film off. I CANNOT STRESS THIS enough. TAKE YOUR TIME. The film was 90% off using the razor method when I used my hand to finish the rest…resist the urge. Long story short. I had to replace both glass film with other material, applied the neg polar, worked not bad for negative viewing.
    Also, the sensor plug is challenging to re-plug in, not to mention the (face-side) springs into the recessed holes.

  • Markus Jenny

    Has anyone ever tried this with a DW-6600, yet? Wonder, how different colors in the display are effected by the polarizing film.

  • jason

    very good pictures and very impressed with the quality of the instructions.

  • Jonathan

    Hi Brian. I just followed your instructions, i was able to get my G-Shock(DW6900) reversed. The only issue I see is that the display is a bit harder to see, than on authentic Negative G-Shocks
    Any Suggestions…

    • Yikes, no idea why that would be. I’ve had the opposite result where my negative conversation were a better contrast than the originals (factory). The only factor I can think of is the quality of the polarizing film that you used. Did you buy the exact same polarizing film that I referenced in this article?

  • Robert Soar

    @ Markus Jenny – yes I have done a DW-6600, results shown here:

    http://www.g-shockzone.com/showthread.php?627-WRUW-12th-to-18th-December&p=2018#post2018

  • Stuart

    Makes me want to get a digital watch just to play with, but can you see the display through polarized sunglasses?

  • Danny

    Brian-

    I saw that you were very careful and stated to take care in not removing or damaging the rubberized O-ring. Did opening the watch up affect it still being waterproof? I’m worried that opening up my Pathfinder will cause it to leak and be destroyed if I’m diving or snorkling with it. Any ideas for this issue? Or is this even an issue?

    Danny

    • Danny, I’ll let Brian answer here too, but I’ve opened up my G-Shocks and haven’t had any issues with them leaking afterwards while scuba diving.

    • Danny

      Also, I’m almost ready to pull the trigger on a G-Rescue GW7900B-1 with neg display and switch it to a pos display. Any special precautions about switching the polarized film if there are solar sensors on the face too? I’m usually pretty good with DIY stuff, but messing with a G-Shock makes me nervous. Is there anywhere that would do these mods for you for a small price? Thanks again for the great info.

      Danny

    • In all of my solar G-Shocks the panel themselves are separate (on a different layer) to the watch module that needs to be removed, so it’s never been an issue. I typically don’t do these mods for money, but did recently convert a G-Shock Frogman (pos display) to a negative display for someone that approached me very nicely via email – it turned out awesome, just wish I owned a Frogman 🙂 You can see it here > http://statigr.am/p/287022161682148333_3078753

    • There’s always a small risk that you can lessen the effectiveness of the waterproofing as stated by the manufacturer. In general I tend to believe this is nothing more than scare mongering by the manufacturers to make you not mess with your watch (like replace your own batteries) or hack them. That said, if you’re sloppy and clumsy about how you do this and dislodge the rubber o-ring or cross thread the back casing then you’re gonna be in trouble and will most likely create a problem with a good water ht seal. I’ve opened up the backs of literally hundreds of watches, some of them very expensive models and others just cheaper beaters, and I have never had an issue – but I’m very careful. If you have any doubt in your abilities to do this then it may not be for you.

  • Todd

    Awesome guide! I’m thinking of doing this to my DW5600 as well, but just a quick question. Any thought on just flipping over the polarized lens after removing it and placing the same lens back into the watch(just peeling it off and placing it back in with the side originally glued to the glass facing outward now) instead of buying a whole sheet? Or do you need to flip it 90 degrees and use the same side that was originally facing outward?

    • Todd, flipping it over will not create the negative display. Polarizing film has to be rotated 90 degrees. Besides, the factory fitted film is glued to the glass to keep it in place, there is no way you will get it off in a manner that it can be reused – ain’t gonna happen. I wish it were that easy, trust me I don’t make this stuff any more complicated than it needs to be 🙂

  • Kinda late to this, but how hard do you think it would be to only black-out just the time numbers, but leave the rest of the display intact. I’m guessing just measure well and cut two sheets, one right side for the upper portion, and one opposite side for the lower part?

  • Michael Ong

    where do you get polarizing film? where could i possibly buy those?

    • fcb64

      I just did the negative display mod on my GW2310-1. No it did not take 4 hours, it took me about 45 minutes. Most of the time was cleaning the residue off the glass after removing the original polarizing film. For me removing the old polarizing film was not that easy. I could not get it off in one entire piece and ended up ripping it all to shreds. No biggie though. To answer the above question on where did I get my polarizing film? From a pair of 3D glasses from the movie theater. Make sure you experiment with the glasses to see which side will face the watch. I was able to cut the rectangle EXACTLY to fit the display. Although I thought the negative display looked a little dark to me, after looking at actual negative display watches it looks exact. I used a micro fiber cloth to clean the polarizing film and it worked like a charm. If I can do it, you can do it. Not that difficult at all, in fact it was harder to get the watch band back on than the negative display mod.

    • john

      where did you guys buy the polarizing film?

  • Scot

    Everything worked as described. Ordered the film from polarization.com and the whole process took about 30 minutes. The display did turn out darker than expected though……

    • AlbertNikoBernas

      @Scot Hey Scot, 
      Im a little worried about doing this mod, since your pictures make it seem like it is hard to see the numbers.  Is it just the lighting that makes it that dark or is it the actual watch?

  • Scot

    Oh, I forgot… The pics I took were inside with fluorescent lighting. I walked outside and it looked much better!! This pic doesn’t do it justice. 🙂 and yes I stealthed the bezel also!!

  • wolfdale

    i´d like to know if this film are two face adesive

  • FabioTust

    @Robert Soar Hi Robert! Great work with the DW-6600. I only wanna to change the polarized film of my 6600 to show the infos easy to view. I don’t wanna convert it to a negative display. My 6600 was a gift from my parents and I own it since 1995. I was afraid that the seconds bars and the triangles will be erased with the change of the film, because I think that the original film has some drawings. 
    I just open the watch to change de battery. I also changed the bezel and de band so my G-shock is shining as new, however the contrast weak of the numbers and infos still bothers me. 
    Do you have some picture of the 6600 open without the film and only with lcd? Could you please show me this?

  • Jimbob

    yes it is

  • bleednate

    will this work on any timex watches?

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