Panel labeling and decorating techniques

This is a topic for discussion of labeling and decorating front panels. This has come up in several other topics before but I thought it should have a topic of its own.

Techniques include:

(the last three of which are really panel fabrication techniques which can incorporate labeling/decoration)

Discuss below!

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One thing I’ve mentioned in another thread is using self-adhesive printable labels. My chosen panel size after much internal debate is the international standard paper size A5, and so it’s easy to procure A5 labels which can be put through a printer and then stuck directly onto the panel. A5 is like Kosmo with a 10mm height bonus and a 148mm width.

I have particular wishes for panel markings and I dislike computer printers, so I’m probably going to bypass the computer stage and simply hand draw my panels. To aid with this I’ve bought some of the usual art gear. No acrylics yet, but I’m considering it. Finished panels will most likely be laminated.

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@analogoutput Description below of my anodised aluminium / CNC router method, adapted from an email sent to a friend a little while ago…

It took a while to figure out a good process for making the synth faceplate panels, but in the end I bought a load of 1.5mm thick black anodised aluminium from these guys (in the UK): http://www.impactmetal.co.uk/

To do the lettering I use a 0.4mm cutter, not a pointed engraving tool but fluted: https://www.mscdirect.co.uk/ACM-20000H/SEARCH:CATEGORY/product.html

The process is quite laborious, as the depth of the lettering has to be really accurate. First I machine an area of the MDF bed using a big 50mm diameter cutter, about 0.5mm deep, to make a flat area. I had all the anodised aluminium cut into 1m x 250mm strips (my synth modules are 222.5mm high), and one of these is then placed into the flattened area. The aluminium can be held in place with screws / penny washers and with aluminium bars with holes in the end, as well as the vacuum bed. Make sure the screws don’t deflect the aluminium at all.

The lettering is then machined to a depth of around 0.05 to 0.08mm (note that’s not 0.X, but 0.0X). Any less and the letters don’t show up, but any more and you get a burr and you don’t get nice shiny letters, and risk breaking the tool. I have to machine relatively small areas of lettering at a time (maybe 50 x 50mm) as the thickness of the aluminium varies over the sheet. I also have a suspicion that the hardness of the anodising isn’t perfectly uniform either.

If necessary, the Z axis in Mach 3 is updated if I’m cutting an area and the tool is a little bit high or low. So the tool might start off at 0.05mm but then need slight adjustment as it gets to the bottom of the panel. The trick is, though, to get the material really flat in the first place, as this saves a lot of time. If there is an accidental bit of burring, I smooth it over with a wooden lolly stick and re-cut the path to tidy it up.

Fine tuning the height is the laborious part, but I’ve found that resting a hand on the spindle or gentle pressure on the underside adjusts the tiny amount of backlash in the ballscrew bearings enough to correct the Z axis to make the lettering look good. I’m using a CNC router with 1220 x 1220mm bed by the way.

I have to sit with the machine as it does the lettering, and it takes roughly 45 minutes per 50mm panel width, but it’s surprising how you can get a few done in an evening, and they look great afterwards. Once the lettering is done, I change over to a 3mm cutter and machine two stripes at 0.15mm, cut the holes for sockets etc, and finally cut around the perimeter. This bit is a lot easier and the machine can be left unsupervised.

These single flute cutters are great, I use them for pretty much everything: https://www.cutwel.co.uk/milling/milling-cutters/alu-power-aluminiumnon-ferrous/1-flute-alu-power-carbide-end-mill-e5e47-series

Once the machining is done I file off the tabs, deburr the edges, then add a couple of strips of masking tape, which protect the face when the sides are folded in the folding machine.

PCB brackets are just cut with a 3mm cutter out of any 1.5mm aluminium sheet. Pots and sockets are added and tightened with Wera nut spinners. I’ve found the anodised panels to be really hard wearing, resisting scratches from dropped jack plugs etc. They look fantastic once they’re done, and it’s less hassle than this lengthy description might indicate, in that now and again I’ll re-make panels if I need to change the layout of a module or add an extra feature or whatever.

I think early Moog panels used bare aluminium lettering on a black anodised panel, which I only found out after settling on this method. Moog used some kind of industrial etching process though, rather than machining.

I’ve found this method works well, and if I didn’t have my CNC router that I use for other projects I’d definitely get a small one just for synth panels…

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From Mr Moog himself, via the internet archives:

In 1964 and 1965 we made a few modules with ‘Metalfoto’ material. Metalfoto is anodized aluminum with a photosensitive material embedded right in the anodizing, and you ‘print’ the image exposing the material to ultraviolet light and then immersing it in some photographic chemicals. After that we used a meterial called 'Fotofoil" for modular panels. Fotofoil is anodized aluminum in which the anodizing is dyed black and then covered with a photosensitive resist. You expose the resist through a photographic film, then wash away the unexposed portions. This leaves the unexposed portions uncovered and the exposed portions covered by the resist. Then you put the whole panel in lye, which etches away the uncovered portions and gives you the panel design in in natural aluminum. That’s how all Moog modules were made after 1965.

Bob Moog

Some random googling brings up various self-proclaimed aerospace suppliers who say they have Fotofoil in stock, just call them for a quote, but not entirely convinced it’s still a thing.

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That is absolutely fascinating - thanks so much for sharing that…

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I have been using a combination of CNC milling and hand painting of Alupanel to get my panels done, mainly because of the cheapness of the panel materials and the fact I have yet to find a decent sub 1mm mill bit to do the text on real hard anodised aluminium. I am only using a cheap-o Sainsmart mill that is more suited to wood and plastic, so I need something that will cut the stuff like butter, or it really complains, but I will definitely give the one you have listed a go, even if I have to stick with the Alupanel and just use it to take away the enamel paint. Your results are just awesome!

Instead I size the text large enough to engrave (which means I have to be very picky about what I actually put on for labels) and mill out to about 0.5mm depth and fill the resuling engraving with oil paint, wiping off the excess from the surrounding panel. I described the whole process over here - Making my Big Button Cartesian Sequencer

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@JonGreen The surface of the anodised aluminium is hard, but as there’s so little of the surface being removed I think your CNC machine should be fine. The 0.4mm cutter in the link above only costs about £12, and last a surprisingly long time, as in many many panels.

The trickiest bit is probably getting the bed flat relative to the cutter, and keeping the accuracy, eliminating backlash etc.

I like the space scene on your example!

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For other non-synth control panels I’ve also used a layered plastic called “traffolyte”, which is certainly easier to machine, although it would be nice to find a version of the material that didn’t have such a high gloss finish.

http://www.mastergrave.co.uk/catalogue/detail.php?product_ID=724&product_Category_ID=122

Just noticed they even do a material where the central layer glows in the dark!

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Some oddities I’ve used for pedals and panels.

  • Decoupage with diagrams and schematics.
  • linoleum with hand cut lettering
  • potato print etching (lots of fun)
  • caulking and acrylic paint on wood with scratched out lettering (for a drum module : very rubbery)
  • embroidery and clearcoat.
  • sugar and blowtorch on wood and metal then clearcoat.

I just got a 3018 cnc kit plus a laser for it so thinking of trying wood and inlay.
Enjoy

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Kristian Blåsol used these for his Modular In A Week project. Pretty flimsy on their own, but gluing vertical strips to the back made them a bit more usable.

Also TIL this material has a name (at least in the UK).

I MADE A VIDEO ABOUT THIS!!!
…Also my video making needs work, but it was a fairly impromptu affair. also my editing software was barely usable. I haven’t gotten around to remaking it yet… 12 hour shifts at the factory :frowning:

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Looks good. As somebody who hates to watch loads of face to camera bloviating, I find this video very watchable.

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But bloviating to the camera is my specialty! :laughing:

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thanks for showing this option for making face plates . the video worked , simple and to the point and the text tips help to. I will defiantly be giving this a try .

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