How to print on front panels?
Working on my preamp and poweramp, I was wondering how to print labels on the front panel like ON/OFF, Input, Phono, CD etc.. :confused:
The panels are made of black-painted steel.
I was thinking about transferables like letraset, but cannot find the right font, something like Helvetica 12 pt white.
Are there any alternative labeling methods still economical and that donít require special equipment?
Thanks for any ideas and input
I don't know how far you are with your panels or how much money you have sunk into them, but a great option is to use a turn key solution like the one offered by Front Panel Express (i believe they have a European office).
You design your panel using free software that you download from their site including all holes, thread sizes and text. You select the text color and panel finish. Upload the finished file, which incidentally produces a cost estimate and a few weeks later, after paying your fee, you receive the finished panel.
White on black is a problem. I've used the white rub on letters, but they also tend to rub off if not overcoated well. If it were black on white, you could reverse print using a laser printer, then transfer the letters to the panel with heat, just like the method for making circuit boards. Older test equipment often had the labels engraved through the paint, just to the metal (GR), or into the metal, then filled with a contrasting color (Tek, HP and many others). As said above, you might consider having the panel remade, or contact an engraving shop for a quote.
Steel is a bit tricky, so is black background.
Clear anodised aluminium would have been easier.
The cheapest / easiest you know already -- Letraset and then clear lacquer on top to seal. Is not totally scratch free, but simple enough.
If you can silk screen, that is the next option. Works for both steel & alu, black & white. Again not totally scratch free.
If you wish to use Alu, there are ready made Alu panels (in Germany at least) 1mm thick with a photosensitive black layer already deposited. All you need to do then is to expose your graphics like a PCB, develope it with special chemical, that's is. The disadvantage is that you are limited in thickness.
If you want best results, either you find someone to laser engrave for you, or CNC engrave. Both will work for black & silver alu. I use CNC myself, because I have access to a CNC mill.
I did something like this on my last rackmount project. Don't have a working camera so I can't show it off.
I used Tom Gootee's toner transfer method, as if I was doing a pcb, and then ironed pulsar's white TRF foil over it to color the toner from black to white. Pulsar developed this method for DIY "silkscreens" and decals. I want to try it with gold leafing next.
I then shot it with a clearcoat using some Concept 20/20 (enamel) that I had left over from my guitar refinishing project in 1992.
I would imagine that enamels would work better than laquers, to prevent the toner from "bubbling up," but I haven't tried laquer so I can't say for sure.
The end results were quite good, very professional looking in fact, but I don't know how it will hold up over the decades. It seems to be pretty durable.
Pulsar's TRF Foils
Thanks to all of you for your reply.
You are right; Front Panel Express has a German office that supplies all of Europe. Prices seem fairly reasonable for a simplistic panel (I used to be a NAD guy, and the simplistic look stuck), but for two amps with front and back panel the cost runs up. I will probably stick with my current panels for prototyping, and when everything is up running I might consider FPE for a more professional look. Thanks.
Alu, oh yes. Try to drill a couple of 10mm holes in 3mm steel, and you will be screaming for alu. Unfortunately the guy that cut my panels only had steel, no alu. I might consider rebuying.
The problem with clear alu is that I actually prefer black enclosures. Go to any consumer electronics store now a days and try to find a black DVD reader. All shining silver alu (or plastic), no black ones. So I am being very innovative and trendsetting hereÖ well, actually my taste is just responding to the indoctrination of the eighties, that HiFi enclosures should be big, square and BLACK.
Getting a quote from a local engraver seems like a good option. Thanks for the link.
This technique is very interesting, for more reasons. I am only occasionally doing PCBs, currently using photosensitive boards. However, photosensitive boards seem to have a short shelf life, and I often throw out outdated boards, since they donít develop nicely. This technique could prove a longer lasting alternative.
Did you have problem transferring toner and TRF foil to a metal panel? I could imagine that a 3mm steel panel would require quite a lot of ironing to get a decent transfer. And doing so one might heat damage the paint? I am going to try this for myself. Thanks.
I used 3 mm steel rackpanel faces that came in black.
Ironing did not affect the paint what so ever, but your mileage may vary. The toner transfer and TRF was a no brainer. Easy.
By all means, try the toner transfer method for protyping PCBs.
It takes a little experimentation, but the method works well once you get the hang of it.
What I like best is if I screw up, I don't have to throw a spent photo sensitive board in the trash. I just use laquer thinner to scrub it clean and start over.
My biggest problem was too much heat from my iron. The toner was melting and smearing. Reducing the heat by half cured my problem. I guess irons vary from one model to the next, like microwaves.
I use a flat sheet of glass for my "ironing board".
I then use a few layers of parchment paper to "insulate" the component from the glass' heat sinking effect.
I also use one or two layers of parchment paper on top of the toner paper (against the iron) so I can get a more even pressure in low lying areas of the component. It provides a better heat distribution too. Parchment paper increased my success by a bunch.
Good luck and Success!
I used a company wich engraves name tags. Here's an example of my preamp here
The front panel is aluminium and the rear panel is synthetic material with two layers of colour.
I delivered my frontpanel and a dxf-document (drawing exchange format) to them and they made it. It's also possible to make pictures in aluminium. ...
Hope to give you some other idea ...
I once used the following on a bright anodised aluminium panel: I printed the panel layout mirrored on a polyester overhead sheet with a laser printer and then did put the overhead sheet through an office laminator. Then fixed this overlay to the panel by means of the potmeter nuts.
If you try to clear coat the black and lettering to protect it from wearing off, use a similar clear coat to the black paint. Most spray paint is enamel. Some of the nicest clear coats are Lacquer. Only problem is they don't mix. You can use the lacquer as a paint stripper for enamel. It is heartbreaking :bawling: :bawling: when you did all that work and research and it all bubbles off like a nuclear explosion right before your eyes! (been there, done that)
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