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Method to Make Project Panels (Warning: Detailed Info!)

Discussion in 'Electronic Projects' started by crashsite, Feb 13, 2008.

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  1. crashsite

    crashsite Banned

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    When laser printers first came into coomon use (in the workplace anyway), here's a technique I came up with to make fairly professional looking equipment panels. The nice thing is that it's a pretty simple process and uses only commonly available items and thus doesn't require you to run exotic materials through your printer. It also works well with ink jet printers.

    Process:

    I lay out my panel (always black with white markings) using either a CAD or paint program. The layout is then printed 1:1 on a good quality bond paper. The white-on-black looks really good but, black-on-white looks like Xerox'ed paper stuck on the panel and really amatuerish.

    Next, I take some clear plastic tape. For smaller pannels (one dimension less than 2") I use a good grade of the clear packing tape. But, I also found a huge roll of 6" wide tape (about 100 lifetime's worth for me) that I use for wider panels. I carefully lay the tape over the image on the paper, making sure to work out any possible air bubbles as I go. I don't know a good work-around for wider panels if you don't have the wider tape. Maybe, sheet laminating plastic?

    On the back side of the paper, I make alignment marks that will be used to position the paper as it's stuck to the metal, plastic or other-material panel. A light table or small flashlight, that you can shine up throught the paper, is a good aid for ding this.

    Using either 600 or 800 grit emery paper, I lightly sand the gloss off the surface of the plastic tape to give it a matte finish thad I tend to like. Sometimes I'll also dampen a paper towel with acetone (like fingernail polish remover) and wipe the pastic to enhance the look.

    Depending on the project, I'll either plan to trim the paper the exact size of the panel it overlays or cut it larger to wrap around the edges. For this description I'll stick to only the simpler method of making the overlay the same size as the panel.

    It's important that all the holes in the panel alreay be made prior to putting down the paper overlay but, don't try to cut out the holes in the paper.

    To stick the paper to the panel, I have had success with two different methods. One is to use double-sided cellophane tape. The tape is stuck to the back side of the paper overlay and then the paper is carefully aligned with the panel edges (using the alignmnet marks made earlier) and then smoothed onto the panel (avoiding any air bubbles). The second method uses an adhesive, like the 3-M spray adhesive. I've found the spray adhesive to be better but, you have to be very careful and do the spraying away from everything that you don't want adhesive on! I do it outside. Also, spray on just the lightest mist. You can also spray a light mist on the panel, too but, if you do, make sure to mask anything you don't want the adhesive on! Apply the paper the same way as with the double sided tape but, it's even more important to get the alignment perfect as you start to smooth down the paper. It's virtually impossible to lift the paper to reposition it without ruining it. After the paper is stuck to the panel, burnish it down good.

    Take a sharp X-Acto knife (I like the #11 blade) and, using a scissors type shearing action between the knife blade and the edges of the panel, trim the paper to the panel. Where the panel has a bend in it, you may have to use techniques that are used for wrapping the paper around panel edges (cut or formed edges). The holes and other cutouts are made the same way. Use the knife blade in a scissors action to cut the holes.

    The paper is not as resistant to twisting as paint so it's important to use washers under nuts and screws to avoid having the nut or screw head twisting and marring the surface of your panel.

    The photo shows a typical example of a project made with this type of panel overlay. The project is a general-purpose comparator that's set up to switch the AC power line. Right now it's operating with a thermistor, as the sensor, to cycle an electric space heater in my back bathroom.

    [​IMG]

    I know there's really nothing here to "respond to" here but, if you haven't done this sort of thing before (or if you have) and try this procedure, I'll be interested in your experience/results and especially any tips or tricks you might have as I'm always trying to fine tune.
     
    Last edited: Feb 14, 2008
  2. Nigel Goodwin

    Nigel Goodwin Super Moderator Most Helpful Member

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    Upload any graphics to this site, don't use pointers to elsewhere - otherwise the graphics go when the other site does.
     
  3. FITNAH

    FITNAH New Member

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  4. dave

    Dave New Member

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  5. MacFeegle

    MacFeegle New Member

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    Thanks for all the details
     
  6. 3v0

    3v0 Coop Build Coordinator Forum Supporter

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    Pulsar has a nice system. DecalProFx

     
  7. Boncuk

    Boncuk New Member

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    Hi crashsite,

    here is a suggestion to improve that technique.

    Navigation maps are pretty expensive and all crews were asked to multi-use their maps until the map was updated e.g. with new flight obstacles.

    This is what I did: basically the same as your method with some final treatment of the combination paper/tape.

    Use an iron set to 'nylon' after the process and iron the tape onto the paper. This also helps dissolving smallest air enclosures. After the assembly has cooled down dunk it in the bathtub for about 12 hours (no hot water!) The relatively thick paper will dissolve and all you've left is a panel of about tape thickness. You might assist this process by rubbing the paper smoothly and rinse it. The print and the paper top layer will stick reliably to the tape without losses. (The tape I use is called "Elefantenhaut", translated elephant skin and comes in wide rolls of 1m)

    To fix the panel on a metal sheet I use wall paper glue of the toughest kind, (for fabric wall "papers") spread evenly (rolled) on both, metal sheet (thin) and "wall paper" (a bit more to soak).

    Small rinkles should be ignored as the paper contracts when the glue dries.

    As a result the panel will look like it was printed in a factory.

    Your screw holes require improvement. They look pretty fuzzy. Purchase a set of different diameter punchers and punch the holes before glueing the paper onto the metal sheet. Punching the hole to the size 1/2mm smaller than the screw head you might omit washers. Also looks pretty good punching a hole bigger than the screw head, making a shiny ring around the screw using aluminum or stainless steel.

    Regards

    Hans
     
  8. crashsite

    crashsite Banned

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    Thanks for the suggestions.

    If I'm reading your method correctly, all the paper is removed, leaving clear areas (where my panel shows white, it would show the base metal color, when put on a metal panel).

    I'll make a couple of comments about paper removal but keep in mind that these are theoretical since I haven't tried them in the panel-making process.

    Since I do use this basic method to make printed circuit boards (ie: use an iron to transfer a toner image to the copper of a PC board as the resist from a pattern printed on regular printer paper), I have found that concentrated surphuric acid can be used to disolve the paper (and interestingly, not the copper or the toner). What I can't tell you is if the acid might attack the plastic of your "elephant skin" product. But, if it's impervious to the acid, it could be used to eat away the paper. However, I have found that, in PCB work, the acid can attack the board substrate and care must be taken to keep the acid off it. I use an acid brush (like used for painting on acid solder flux) but, the H2SO4 acid does affect the brush itself so must work quickly.

    I have also gone the opposite route, using a base to soften the paper. I mix up a strong lye solution and soak the paper and soften the fibers. The lye doesn't seem to affect any of the PCB substrates I've tried, nor does it affect the toner or the copper (but it will etch aluminum). Unfortunately, even though it does soften the paper fibers it doesn't disolve them and mechanical action is still needed.

    I don't concern myself too much with detailing hole and cutout edges since they get covered by screw heads, washers, bezels of switches and meters, etc. and escutcheon plates most of the time. In the example shown, the lid of the box (an old, Bud aluminum chassis box) folds around and hides the screw holes...plus, those holes are "threaded" with self-tapping sheet metal screws and I didn't want to risk digging out any of the threading with the X-Acto knife.
     
  9. Boncuk

    Boncuk New Member

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    That might happen if you let it float for an entire day. A map also shows white where there is permanent snow or ice. Nothing was missing. There is still a very thin layer of paper left doing it right.

    It also will depend on the kind of paper. Using photo paper the top layer will stay glued to the tape.

    Also here a slight misunderstanding. The holes are punched before applying to the metal sheet.

    Regards

    Hans
     
  10. crashsite

    crashsite Banned

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    Okay...I see what you meant...

    This all points out the need for continued experimentation with the process. For example, I could see a greater need to get rid of the thickness of paper if the underlying panel were a clear plastic with a backlit effect lighting up the lettering and other panel details.

    Again, something I've considered but, haven't actually tried is to add a second layer to the panel (for the backlighting effect) with identical patterns (essentially printing the panel twice). And then ironing on the ColorMaze foil material (not for the color or foil effect but, to increase opacity) and then gluing the second layer on top of it to create the visible panel. But, of course, that increases the complexity of the whole project since yoiu also have to build some sort of masking to keep the different light sources from illuminating other parts of the panel...etc. , etc.

    Still, it's all fun to ponder and experiment with.
     
  11. wy6k

    wy6k New Member

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    Clear Laser Print labels

    I use clear laserprint labels in 8.5" x 11" to make a label that covers the entire front panel.

    I lay it out using some graphics program - usually Visio. Mark the center of the holes and the labelling that you want. Then print it on regular paper and use this as a drilling template. Drill and paint the panel. Then print the layout on the full page size clear stick on label. Stick the label on the panel, using the marks for the center of the holes for alignment.

    You can overpaint it with clear lacquer if you want. I'm not sure whether I like it better with or without the clear coat.

    The only drawback is the old one - can't print in white.

    You can see more details, sourcing info, and results at:
    http://www.wy6k.com/wy6k/homebrew_stuff/audio_control_unit.htm

    Crashsite, I would think these labels would be better than tape in your technique!

    Mike
     
    Last edited: Aug 30, 2008
  12. crashsite

    crashsite Banned

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    Curious to see.

    Mike, can you take a photo of one of your panels and post it?
     
  13. wy6k

    wy6k New Member

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    Here's a panel made with the laser print clear label. One can blend the edges of the label some by giving it a coat of clear laquer - but I did not do that to this unit.

    [​IMG]
     
  14. crashsite

    crashsite Banned

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    Looks good.

    That looks very professional. In fact, it's not uncommon to see commercially made stuff that uses a printed, adhesive-backed applique' on a panel. I've noticed that most batteries these days are wrapped in an adhesive, plastic, printed "lable" where they used to typically be printed or silkscreened with some sort of enamel.

    I guess my concern would be the durability of the toner unless, you'd use a clear laquer overcoat or, as I might suggest, laying an unprinted sheet of the clear material over the laser printed one. Of course, that does add to the thickness and makes the "lable" aspect of it more obvious.
     
  15. wy6k

    wy6k New Member

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    Yes, I haven't used this method for long enough to have any idea about its longevity. I would think it should last very well with the toner locked in with clear coat over it, or with another layer of the label material on top.

    I do find the thickness to be an issue - I am going to try to improve on this technique with laser-printed water-slide decals and a coat of clear lacquer in order to continue to try to find a technique that yields nearly undetectable edges.

    I should think the technique you described could be used to good effect using these clear labels in place of the clear tape. One would not print on the clear label, just use it as a very wide piece of tape.

    Mike
     
    Last edited: Sep 4, 2008
  16. crashsite

    crashsite Banned

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    I think that's basically the thing, Boncuk (a few posts up) was saying but, he was thinking to make the whole "sandwich" thinner by removing some of the thickness of the paper.

    As a side note. You can also print on the surface of the clear packing tape but, over time the toner will flake off. I was doing the toner PC board resist thing, using the tape as the carrier for the toner trace pattern. I did it for a bunch of boards to be made later but, when I came back to do the boards (a few weeks), the toner was brittle and flaking off the tape. That doesn't seem to be any problem with something like a VU-graph transparency or, apparently, the material you are using.

    Sorry, initially I thought this was just a link to the laser print lable info but, I see it's for your whole project.

    I have been toying with trying to come up with an open frame type rack mount for home and small office computers (mechanically similar to the industrial racks but, lighter duty and made from plywood and finished to look more, "furniture-like" and with a system of 19" panels and shelves. The shelves would hold the computers and peripherals and the panels would serve to integrate the connectivity, similar to your box (switching for multiple CPUs, bringinig all system LEDs to a common point, bringing all signal connections to a common point, etc.).

    I mention this because it seems like something you might be interested in monkey-ing around with. I'm sort of thinking about making a standard panel with sub-panels. The sub-panels would allow everything to be modularized and more easily modified as the system grows, changes uses or simply changes computer equipment. I had made a post awhile back regarding one aspect of this:

    http://http://www.electro-tech-online.com/threads/led-re-drivers.35971/
     
  17. wy6k

    wy6k New Member

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    I just realized that I can get white on black lettering in the following way.

    Use a black enclosure with a black front panel.

    Paint the front panel white, leaving a small border all around that is left black.

    Print the front panel labelling as I outlined in my earlier post but using white lettering on a black background. Print that on the clear label. Since the printer won't print white, the white lettering will be left clear. So the white panel will show through the lettering.

    Then give it a coat or two of clear lacquer.

    Voile! White on black!

    I can't wait to try it!

    Mike
     
  18. crashsite

    crashsite Banned

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    White on Black

    It's certainly something to try but, I confess that there are a couple of things I'd be concerned about. the first is matching the black paint with the black toner on the lable material or the result could look, "stuck on". Also, the opacity of the toner. While the small lettering gives a good contrast effect to the eye, will the large toner area, over the white paint, do the same? Also, it seems like extra steps to achieve the white-on-black effect I'd originally started with.

    Let us know how it works out.

    I did do a google search for "white laser printer toner -black" and got some hits but, didn't quite find an actual source or info on how the toner might work in a printer that normally uses a black toner cartridge.
     
  19. 3v0

    3v0 Coop Build Coordinator Forum Supporter

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    I posted about this earlier but I do not think you looked at it. Frank at PulsarProFx/DecalProFx has put many hours into creating good looking transfers. Even if you do not buy his materials you can learn a few things by looking at the info his web site. It is toner transfer based using a b/w or color laser. The results are amazing.

    With a b/w laser you print your image on transfer-paper. Color (foil) is then bonded to it making a transfer-paper tone foil sandwich. The paper is released and the foil-toner is attached to your project using a spray adhesive. The are many color of foil including white. The actual procedure has several more steps but that is the basic idea.

    DecalProFx
     
    Last edited: Sep 11, 2008
  20. wy6k

    wy6k New Member

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    Yes, I saw that. But a setup costs about $200 to start. My idea with the clear label is a cheaper solution. Don't know how good it will look since I haven't done it yet. I'll post results when I get them!

    I will probably get around to trying the DecalPro approach too.

    Thanks,
    Mike
     
    Last edited: Sep 11, 2008
  21. 3v0

    3v0 Coop Build Coordinator Forum Supporter

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    Not too sure how you come up with the $200 figure. If you wanted to you could get the transfer paper and a single color foil for about $25. Another other 10 or 15 for the adhesive. The kit we purchased cost under $100.
     
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