Laser-printed panels and other topics
Christopher_List at Sonymusic.Com
Christopher_List at Sonymusic.Com
Tue Oct 22 00:02:18 CEST 1996
Last week I tried a new panel fabrication technique. There were some
bumps along the way but it turned out pretty good, so I'll probably
be using it from now on. So it's time to share my story:
Up till now all my DIY synthesizer and effects panels were made out
of aluminum plate, as follows:
1. Cut plate to size
2. Get white posterboard, draw the desired panel in 1:1 scale
3. Tape posterboard panel to plate, drill pilot holes
4. Remove posterboard, drill holes out to final sizes
5. Orbital sand both sides of plate
6. Spray paint user side of panel flat black
7. Apply border and box outlines (white auto pinstriping tape)
8. Apply text labels (white rub-on letters)
9. Spray paint with clear coat
What I'm wondering is; Why didn't you just glue the whole thing together,
coat it, then drill it all in one shot - through the paper and the
aluminum? This is what I do and it works great. Then again, the stuff I
coat it with is really thick, so the paper can't twist or rip when it
gets the drill...
I also use self-adhesive laser printer paper - which is not sticky
enough, so you still need to use glue - but it is made of a vinyl like
material that holds up well and has a cool metallic look under the
coating. It also may stand up better to your clear-coat without bubbling
or yellowing. The actual brand I use is "Best-Print" by Chartpak -
available at most office and graphic design stores. The downside is that
you have to squeegy out air bubbles because the paper isn't stiff like
Actually, since Gene told his story, I'll reprint mine (see below),
because my method is very similar - only the materials and sequence
If any of you know of an epoxy substance that can be used as a clear
coating, that dries thick and hard, comes in large sizes (like quarts -
or litres), and beads when it dries (that's what makes it thick) - please
let me know. This EnviroTex stuff that I use is good, but it's a little
inconsistent, and doesn't get as hard as I'd like unless it's reasonably
thick (> 1/32"). Getting this kind of thickness consistently is a little
tricky, and I'd like this to be a perfect repeatable process. A brush-on,
beading, fast-drying, non-yellowing, super hard and sticky epoxy would
be the ultimate...
To: synth-diy @ horus.sara.nl
From: Christopher List
Date: 01/26/96 12:34:22 PM
Subject: How I did modular face panels (very long)
As some of you may recall, I put out a request a couple of months ago for
information on how different people did the lettering and dial markings
for the face plates for their modulars. Since then I've gotten a lot of
responses and tried MANY different methods (no small investment of time
or money). I thought I'd tell you a little about what I tried and what
I've decided to do with the hope that it will save some of you some
Note that the panels I have been using are Paia Black-anodized aluminum
Frac-Rack panels. - These were actually LESS expensive than having scrap
sheets cut at the metal surplus store! - But then again, I live in NYC,
where industry ain't cheap.
First off, what I wanted:
1. A hard, durable coating.
I mean bullet proof. The best test for this was the finger nail test - If
I can scratch it HARD with my finger nail - and it's affected - it's no
2. The ability to do it myself.
I didn't want to rely on a print shop or someplace to do it, because I
may, in the future, want to change a panel, or do something new - and the
expense of having them do the work for these little "one-off's" wouldn't
be worth it. Silk screen companies WILL do one-off 5 1/4 x 19" aluminum
plates for about $50, provided you supply the artwork - if you want to
go that way.
3. The ability to do layout on the computer.
Mainly because I wanted everything to be nice and neat. Also because once
you get a couple of different symbols and dial markings made up, it's
really easy to do a new layout. - Not to mention the fact that I work on
a computer all day long - so who's gonna know if I'm laying out face
4. Consistent, easy results. I wanted it to be science, not art.
Things I tried:
1. Enamal and Acrylic Laquers over various lettering methods.
- I don't know how other people are applying this stuff, or if the
problem is that it just won't stick to anodized aluminum, but I tried a
LOT of different laquers (spray on and brush on) - and I could scratch
all of them off (fairly easily) with my finger nail. The other problem
was that some of these dissolved laser-printed or painted-on letters.
2. Toner Transfer system on to white-painted panels. I did this using the
"heat method". The problem is that regular paint melts at iron
tempurtures. So I used high-temp. Krylon to paint the panels before
transferring. This looked promising, but it was way too difficult to get
consistant transfers without some of the toner flaking off. The toner
that does stick, sticks well - the problem, however, is that I could
scrape the paint off with my finger, so I'd have to coat it with
something. - Too much work. Maybe if I got white toner for my printer and
transfered directly onto the black - but I wasn't in the mood for another
3. 3M Dynamark II. The starter kit costs $150. It's a cool system, seemed
promising, but unless you have a UV light, or want to spend another $150
for one, don't bother. - It's also a little flaky, inconsistent, and
requires a negative image of your art, which is hard to get with the
average laser printer, printing onto transparencies.
FS: 3M Dynamark II starter kit - hardly used $50.
4. Silk screening. I can get screens made locally for about $10. The
problem with these cheap, "instant screens" is that if you use them with
a good paint or ink you won't be able to clean them with out destroying
the screens! - The other problem is the paint should still be coated, and
using this method relies on outside industry. If you want to bother with
this, you should just have a screen printer do both the screen making and
What I'm doing now:
Opaque, white, self-adhesive laser print paper
Mylar overhead transparencies
Brush-on all purpose adhesive
and lastly (the magic ingredient) "ENVIRO-TEX Lite" epoxy coating
What's "Enviro-Tex Lite" you ask? - It's this epoxy they use to make
those cheesy clocks with the picture of Elvis glued to a piece of
driftwood and coated with a glossy, smooth 1/8" of plastic. You can find
it in plastics shops, art supply stores, and crafts centers. You can
order it from Pearl Paint in NYC. It comes in all different sizes, from
4oz to 1 gallon. The 4oz size is about enough for a 5.25 x 19" row of
panels and costs about $7.
1. Layout the panels on the computer. Make your border a tiny bit smaller
than the size of the panels (.05" on all sides works well). Put circles
where the panel-mounting holes are (this assumes you're using pre-made
panels that come with holes for mounting on rails). Don't forget, the
circles should be aligned with the ACTUAL sides of the panel and not your
shrunken boarder. Laser print onto the self-adhesive paper, and cut it
out with a straight-edge and razor.
2. Peel the backing off of the paper. Brush the back of the paper and the
panel face with the mounting glue. While trying to keep the glue off of
your fingers, quickly put the decal on the panel, as close to centered as
possible..Hold it up to a light and look from behind to line up the
circles for the mounting holes with the mounting holes (you can't line up
the edges, because the decal is slighlty smaller than the panel). Most
all-purpose glue dries fast so you don't have much time, but when you
first put the decal on, you should be able to slide it around. If you
have glue on your fingers, they will make dirty marks on the paper - so
avoid this. Try to squeegy out any air bubbles and double check the
circle alignment (this circle through the hole stuff insures that the
decal is perfectly centered on the panel).
3. Whip up some Enviro-tex (here after refered to as "gloop-stick" -
anybody remember the Raggity-Ann-and-Andy x-mas special?). Follow the
instructions and do it in a warm room (otherwise it turns cloudy). I use
the bottle cap to messure the portions. One capful of the each A and B
will make enough to coat one 5.25 x 3" panel. Either use a batch all up
or throw it out. If you make a new batch on top of an old (though still
very liquid) batch - you'll get a lot more air bubbles that take longer
to come out.
4. Put your decal-ed panels face up on a piece of mylar or wax paper on a
smooth LEVEL surface. Pour on the environ-coat. Pour it on THICK. You can
spread it around, but it's best if it just spreads on it's own by
gravity. It's OK if some runs off and pools around the sides of your
panel - you can break this off after it dries. Let it stand for about 2
hours so that the air bubbles rise out of it - blowing on it will speed
the air-bubble removal process (and makes you all loopy if you inhale to
blow on it while your face is still abiove it). This also gives it a
chance to dry a little bit and firm up so that it stays nice and thick
after the next step...
5. *** The Big Trick *** - This is the only skill part. Take a piece of
mylar transparency and slowly lay it onto the enviro-coat, from one side
to the other. If you do it carefully you won't have any air trapped
between the mylar and the coating. Otherwise, you can gently herd the air
bubbles out to side by pressing on the mylar. - Try not to press too hard
or on too much surface area at any one time, because you want a decent
layer of gloop between the plate and the mylar. Hopefully there's enough
gloop that some will get squeezed out and bead on all sides of the plate.
You will now have your plate entombed in a gloopy sandwich with mylar on
6. BE PATIENT. - Let it sit to dry in a warm, dry place, face up for
about 12 - 18 more hours. DO NOT PLAY WITH IT. If you try to take the
mylar off prematurely, it will stick to the gloop and mess up the seal.
If you can wait 'til it's hard, the mylar will just rip right off and
leave a smooth, very hard block with the lettering inside. You might need
to pick a little at a corner to get the mylar to start coming off of the
gloop. Since we made the decal smaller than the panel, there's no edges
that can peal up - it's all encased in gloop-stick.
7. You should be able to snap the gloopy border off of the edges of the
panel. The gloop-stik is pretty brittle once it dries so it will break
off clean with the edge of the panel. If there's some that needs to be
cleaned up you can use a drum-sander attachment on your drill press and
shave the gloop off of the sides of the plate - this is very quick and
easy, but you might want to wear a face-mask to avoid breathing the dust.
If you don't have a drill press, this will be a real drag, but so will
drilling the holes...
8. Now, drill the panel holes and you're done! If the gloop is thick is
make drilling very easy because it's nice and soft so the drill can get
started easily, and you can be very careful about lining up your holes...
The gloop stick somehow makes the decal paper look silvery and cool.
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