The Basics of Sleeve and Heat Shrink
There are many brands and styles of sleeving on the market, but these tend to be the most popular three solutions.
Paracord 550 - I will start with my favourite type of sleeving, good old fashioned Paracord 550 Parachute rope. Originally used by U.S troops during WWII as parachute cord, the humble rope has since found many uses by both the military and the general public, who have again adapted its usage from camping to jewellery.
Modder's being the opportunistic bunch we are also found a use for Paracord 550, "Sleeving", which nowadays can be found in almost every modder's PC. 550 is available in countless colors and patterns, while also being very easy to obtain from eBay for a few dollars for 100 foot.
For big sleeving jobs I nearly always suggest Para 550 as it's possible to do a large system for under $25 (including heat shrink) without having to sacrifice quality or color options. As Paracord is made from nylon it looks and feels a lot more like material than many other varieties of sleeve.
MDPC-X Sleeve - Although I have not personally used this sleeve, I thought I would mention it, as a lot of people swear by it. It has been used in some classic PC builds and from what I have seen it is a high quality product with a slightly higher price tag than a most of the other brands.
TechFlex or FlexoPET - TechFlex also known as Pet flex as well as a few other names is a plastic braided cable sleeve that has multiple uses in including industrial machinery, musical cables and computers. Unlike Paracord, TechFlex is expandable so it's perfect for stretching over cables that can't be sleeved without heavy modification (e.g. daisy chained or SATA data cables). It is available in a range of glossy colors with a massive range of sizes and flexibility.
TechFlex has an expandable nature so it can be stretched to the point of exposing the inner cables. To avoid obviously exposed cables I suggest pre-wrapping the wires together with electrical tape of a similar color to the sleeve you are using.
- 3mm (1/8") Suitable for Individual Wires, 3 Pin Molex / Fan Power Cables
- 6mm (1/4") Suitable for 6 Pin PCI Express Cable, 8 Pin PCI, 4 Pin EPS, 8 Pin EPS
- 8mm (5/16") Suitable for 4 Pin Molex Power Cables, SATA Data or power Cable
- 16mm (5/8") Suitable for 20-24 Pin ATX Cable
Heat shrink is a vital ingredient for sleeving, available in many varieties and quite a few colors if you are willing to search around for it. It is fairly inexpensive and I would recommend stocking up on a few sizes before any sleeving job - running out is really frustrating, so just do yourself a favour and get extra.
For this guide I purchased some pre-cut 3.5mm black heat shrink from a local store. After applying it to a few cables it was very clear that the shrink was neither straight nor even. At this point I decided to re-sleeve the unit using a heat shrink-less method which will be the feature of a future guide. After giving the store a lesson in the importance of even heat shrink, I decided to press on with the wonky shrink knowing ultimately it will be removed and replaced. With all this in mind for a perfect even finish I would suggest buying pre-cut heat shrink from somewhere reputable like MDPC-X, it will make for a smoother job. If buying uncut heat shrink, try to avoid the type with adhesive, as it is more trouble than it's worth.
It's very difficult to cut heat shrink perfectly straight and even and the slightest miss cut will show up once shrunk. I like to cut my shrink around 15-20mm long, using a metal ruler to compress the shrink and then slicing down the ruler's edge using a razor blade.
Heat Shrink Sizes
- 2:1 Shrink Ratio: 2:1 shrinks to half of its original size, so 2mm shrinks to 1mm, 5mm > 2.5mm etc.
- 3mm (1/8") - Ideal for single cables, fits over sleeve with a little help. If all goes wrong move up to 3.5mm.
- 4mm-6mm - Works well for three wire fan cables as well as other small bunches of wires.
- 12mm (1/2") - For collected cable bundles such as PCI and EPS.
- 20mm (25/32") - This size is most commonly used for 24-pin ATX cables.
- 3:1 Shrink Ratio: 3:1 shrinks to a third of its starting diameter, so 3mm shrinks to 1mm, 6mm > 2mm etc.
- 19mm (3/4") - The only time I tend to use 3:1 ratio is for cables with large heads such as SATA or perhaps USB.