Thinking of what to do for front panels (simple and affordable?)

So, I’m wondering how I should design the front panels for the modules I’ve built that wouldn’t look shabby but also is inexpensive. I’m using 2mm aluminium in the LMNC 20cm tall format but am having problems thinking of how I should label the panels as I dont really want to write on them as my handwritings pretty shocking lol. Just chuck any ideas you have in to get me thinking :wink:


Have you looked at this topic?

I’ve been doing more FR4 (PCB process) panels lately but I did a video about how I’ve done homemade aluminum ones with graphics done on the computer:

This is a recent one:


One way is this one :

I believe @devicex is using this method.

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What material is that which you stuck on the aluminium? and what did you use to print or where did you get printed?

It’s all in the video.


If aluminum is pricy for you (US folks tend to find this is the case), another alternative is using PCB manufacturers. I made a thread a while back.

One thing i didnt mention on there that i would recommend is to add a copper plane for rigidity, and focus on using the silk screen for graphics.


Aluminum’s a lot cheaper than FR4, unless you’re making multiple copies of the same panel. At this writing, Al from costs about $10 plus shipping for five 50x200 mm pieces. Five (different) FR4 panels from JLCPCB would run about $35 plus shipping.

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yeah just watched the video and thats a great idea actually, how hard wearing has it been though, does the plastic start peeling off after a while or is it pretty solid?

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Unless you want your synth to look like a seventies component Hi-Fi, I don’t see the attraction of aluminium. It’s difficult to work and the finish is vulnerable to the least scratch. Thin plywood is tough, will take a multitude of beautiful, hard-wearing finishes, and is abundant and inexpensive. Carpentry is a highly advanced and widely understood technology that’s been embedded in human cultures for thousands of years, as this rather fetching portrait of a young Palestinian carpenter shows.


I suppose it depends how much you put it through, I’m pretty gentle with it. Certainly it’s not bulletproof. I have one module that’s peeling a bit at the corners but that’s the paper, not the plastic, and I kind of rushed that one and didn’t use enough adhesive. One thing I tried differently on the most recent was I didn’t glue the paper down, instead I cut the plastic wide and wrapped it around the back of the panel. Between that and the 16 jacks covering the panel I don’t think it’s going anywhere, but we’ll see how it works out long term.

Plywood flexes more than Al so would need to be thicker. That’s not so much an issue with 1/4" jacks but the 3.5 mm jacks I’ve used really max out by about 2 mm. You also may want to line it with foil for grounding.

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okay, I was thinking you could probably wrap it around the edges instead so yeah I think I will be definitely giving it a go. Thanks for the help :smiley:

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Dope. The last i checked aluminum it was setting me back like 80 bucks. I’d love it if you had tips on getting the right size cut for you.

Depends on how right you want it. They want dimensions specified in 1/16" increments and they say cut tolerances are -0 +1/8". The ones I’ve gotten tend to be a few millimeters too wide, close or a millimeter or two too long.


Makes me wonder if its all that noticeable if its the width of an m3 screw diff. I imagine it could add up though.

This makes me ponder how much more it is for their “precision cut”.


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My favorite odd panel material is paper and cardboard. Straight or paper maché with the magic ingredient of wood hardener.
Why have a flat panel?


I don’t especially care about width precision (except that the space remaining in Kosmogenesis is just a hair too wide for an Al panel). Height precision isn’t too critical either for my Vector rail rows, but I have modules a little too tall for my TipTop rail row (where there are lips).

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I guess i shouldnt worry too much, i need to remind myself that my case is janky and imperfect too so it will probably screw in just fine.


That’s because they say the word alooominum, so the other nations of the world charge then extra.

I’m a black spray paint and a silver paint pen guy. My handwriting ain’t wonderful, just use simple upper-case block letters. Done!

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If handwriting is an issue there’s loads of stencil guides and print blocks out there. Potato prints even :smiley:


I’ve been making panels for a long time. These days I have a milling machine and a router, but I still have many modules and pedals that I made with other techniques.

One of the best is waterslide decals…you can get the paper for inkjet or laser. It’s basically an adhesive layer that you print on, and then spray acrylic to hold it together. While white text is tough (you either have to get a special white ink printer or print a negative in black and put it on a white panel…most printers don’t really print black enough for that!) colors like red and blue work really well on bare alu or painted.

I had the best results on painted white alu (there is a very good, very opaque white spray paint called “Iron Lak” that you can find at art stores). Hobby shops have compounds that help adhere the water slides, or even soften them if you are going onto a texture. Then a spray of clear acrylic over top makes the whole thing pretty tough, and you can do gloss, satin, or flat with the topcoat. It has lasted pretty well even on abused pedals…usually only when the base coat chips off do I lose graphics.

Another thing I’ve done is printed the waterslides mirror image, and put them on very thin acrylic sheet. Then I put them over the panel, using the jack and pot nuts to hold them together. It works very well with 1.5 mm alu and 1.6 mm acrylic sandwiched together. I tried adhesive, but it tended to yellow over time. It makes the waterslides look “deep.” The drawback is that the plastic sheet scratches easily, and looks a bit shoddy after a few years…but the text looks great! You can edgelight the top, too…looks pretty cool with pink and blue led edgelighting!

If you’re stateside and you’re looking for cheap aluminum, check out the offcuts section at your local metal mart. For panels, you are best off with 5052 architectural aluminum, but 6061, 6063 work well too. Avoid 7000 series sheet unless you are painting it. 3003 will work, but is pretty soft for panels, and tends to bend easily.

For cutting it, a good carbide wood saw works great. Circular saw is best, and make sure that your blade doesn’t stick past the sheet more than twice the depth of a tooth, or you will make a lot of heat…and aluminum gets hot fast! A tracksaw or panel saw works great. Tablesaws as well, but I don’t like having aluminum chips inside mine. I find jigsaws wander too much to get a good cut, but if you cut wide you can clean it up with a file. Clamp the panel to a piece of straight steel lined up to your desired cut line, and simply file down to the steel. A bit of soap or limestone on the file will prevent clogging (esp on 6061 and 3003) and you can get it as flat and straight as can be!

I have also had spectacular results from a scroll saw with a skip-tooth carbide blade (go slow, use a guide) and generally terrible results from a bandsaw (gets too hot, hard to hold and guide)

Another method that worked really well was using a Cricut or Silhouette machine to cut adhesive vinyl. Weeding it out is time consuming, but I have had good cuts down to 0.2 mm dots on my Curio, and the results are pretty awesome. I tried embossing a set of panels with it, but the resolution was too low for me. You could do some awesome steampunk stuff that way!

Speaking of steampunk, I have seen some amazing engraved copper and brass panels, sometimes with lacquer rubbed in. I saw a MU system that used ferric chloride etched copper pcbs that had the copper oxidized to black…that looked amazing. You could etch alu like that as well, and then rub paint into it.

MFOS paperface is a good method, too…and looks great when done right. In Japan, they use print on rice paper and use a shellac (like model airplane dope) to adhere it to steel…it goes perfectly transparent, and the steel doesn’t rust…I was amazed at how tough it was even after I was scrubbing it with a brush every day.

Hope that helped! You DON’T need a CNC and a flatwork screen printer to make nice stuff.