Low Cost Virtual Reality Headsets with Google Cardboard

The Google Cardboard project is a fun way to experience virtual reality with your phone and software apps.

You might think virtual reality (VR) headsets costs hundreds of dollars. But you’d be wrong. The Google Cardboard project offers free VR headset plans you can build yourself, or pay $20+ for a pre-made certified headset that works with your Android or iPhone smartphone.

It’s called the Google Cardboard project. You can download for free a to scale design pattern to cut out your own headset from cardboard you have. Or buy one pre-made. In either case, you can download apps that give your smartphone and VR headset a real virtual experience of roller coasters, Google Street View, or other fun things. The virtual reality effects are amazing.

If you do buy a Google Cardboard headset, it needs to say Works With Google Cardboard (WWGC) to meet their standards and work with VR apps.

Google Cardboard Materials

  • You’ll need to download the headset plans from Google or buy a Google Cardboard headset from https://www.google.com/get/cardboard/get-cardboard/
  • Search the iTunes and/or Google Play stores for the term, ‘Google Cardboard apps.’ At the least, download the Google Cardboard app. There are other VR apps to download, as well.
  • An Android or iPhone phone.

The quickest and easiest way to experience Google Cardboard is to buy an approved headset. I bought an I AM CARDBOARD model for $19.99 USD.

If you download the plans to build your own headset, you’ll need to find or buy cardboard as well as two biconvex 34 mm aspherical singlet lenses; four velcro strips; one neodymium ring magnet and one ceramic disk magnet of approximate size: 0.75in (19mm) diameter and 0.12in (3mm) thickness; and a rubber band. The plans include details and suggested sources.


If you buy a cardboard headset, as I did:

  1. Follow instructions to build the headset. Headsets are simple in design: a box that holds your smartphone securely in an enclosed area in front with two clear lenses positioned in front of the phone.
  2. Open the Google Cardboard app and follow instructions to identify your headset type. In my case, the app asked me to capture a QR code on the side of the headset.
  3. Place the phone in the enclosed area at the front of your headset with the screen facing the two clear lenses and your head.

Using VR apps like Google Street View involves pulling the phone out of the headset, opening the app, then replacing the phone in your headset with the screen facing you. Apps might ask you to complete a few steps to calibrate them for optimal viewing.

Also note the Works with Google Cardboard headsets include a brace that runs from the lenses to your phone screen, to keep the screen a set distance from the two lenses. This ensures you can view the VR apps clearly with full effect. There’s also a side metal round magnet on the headset you can pull down to pause the VR app and/or switch to the next scene.

For $19.99, I bought the I AM CARDBOARD v2 headset in yellow. Building the headset involved matching numbered tabs with numbered holes. My iPhone 5S fit tightly in the phone area at the front of the headset.

While I wear glasses, it was not difficult to get an incredibly immersive experience. Google Street View showed the Eiffel Tower and I could look up at the top as well as side to side to see the heavy tower footings and behind to see the park nearby. It’s a stunning life like experience.

While Google Cardboard cannot replace elaborate state of the art virtual reality headsets, these low cost headsets are a fun, do it yourself way to experience virtual reality. It’s an easy project to do by yourself or in groups. Plus cardboard headsets are easy to decorate and personalize.

Learn More

Google Cardboard


Google Cardboard Apps



  • Tim Slavin

    Tim is an award-winning writer and technologist who enjoys teaching tech to non-technical people. He has many years experience with web sites and applications in business, technical, and creative roles. He and his wife have two kids, now teenagers, who are mad about video games.

Also In The December 2015 Issue

The history of an egg shaped outdoor sculpture made of electronic parts in Palo Alto, California.

Use a software app to invent neat things by mixing SAM wireless blocks. No wires and no code needed.

How to Build a Computer

Building your own computer is a great way to not only save money, and get more processing power, but also to learn about the less obvious parts of software programming.

We might think robots are a modern invention. But al-Jazari created amazing automatons in the thirteenth century. Today we would call him a maker.

The Google Cardboard project is a fun way to experience virtual reality with your phone and software apps.

Sumobots smash into each other and can be a fun project to create. Free plans are online. Upload your plan to services which send you the parts.

How our all girls high school robotics team designed then built a robot to compete in FIRST competitions next year.

This key part of electronics projects turns out to be easy to understand. Learn about breadboards by building a simple LED project with a 9V battery.

Learn more than a language. Learn skills you need to use the language. Options to suit the way you learn best.

Use dice from a board game or toy store to create difficult to crack passwords and phrases that you can remember.

Learning how to make, track, and complete goals also helps with school projects and personal projects.

An essay from the 1990s explores how software can be built like a cathedral or in groups like a bazaar.

The Clojure programming language provides the simplicity of a Lisp programming language with the ability to run in the Java Virtual Machine (JVM).

Beyond Microsoft Windows and Mac OSX there are many Linux operating systems used by programmers daily and built as open source.

Interesting stories about computer science, software programming, and technology found online since the last issue of the magazine.

Links from the bottom of all the December 2015 articles, collected in one place for you to print, share, or bookmark.

Interested but not ready to subscribe? Sign-up for our free monthly email newsletter with curated site content and a new issue email announcement that we send every two months.

No, thanks!