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Old 14th Feb 2018, 1:47 pm   #1
astral highway
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Default Simple method to mark calibration and functions externally on a case?

Hello,

Iím making several bits of precision test equipment and am also looking ahead to completion stages of my major project.

It feels a shame not to put some good-looking finishes to the cases; things like calibration markers around dials, my name for the whole function of the project and ancillary functions like on, off, and the function of BNC connectors.

It feels unbalanced to put care into the internsl assembly and then not to honour that by taking pride in these details .

I have previously used a hand-held simple labelling machine for lash-ups, but I want to find a better-looking method.

I use die-cast boxes as well as the grey cases from kaput PC switchboard mode power supplies.

I know there is s lot of expertise in this on the forum and I am often impressed by the professionalism of similar work by forum members.

I do have really limited skills in this area at present.

The simplest and neatest suggestion is the best candidate for me, not out of laziness but in view of my in some aspects limited facilities here.

Thank you!
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Old 14th Feb 2018, 5:08 pm   #2
merlinmaxwell
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Default Re: Simple method to mark calibration and functions externally on a case?

You can't beat Letraset (or clones) but it is getting hard to find.
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Old 14th Feb 2018, 6:19 pm   #3
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Default Re: Simple method to mark calibration and functions externally on a case?

My approach for this sort of thing has either been to get "Traffolyte" engraved by someone with the necessary machinery [sports trophy-engravers are worth asking] or to use a CAD package to draw-up the necessary front-panel, print it out on overhead-transparency-film [remember that?] and then sandwich it between the panel and a thin sheet of transparent plastic [the thin stuff used for garden cloches].

Another thing I tried years back - with low success - was to rear-engrave the text onto Perspe/Lexan then edge-light it. The idea being that the Lexan would channel the light and the text would glow. I only had the possibility to edge-light (using filament bulbs) along one edge, so the glow was patchy. These days with cheap, very small LEDs you could edge-light from all four edges....

The Traffolyte approach is good because the sheet of Traffolyte conveniently covers-up any scratches/scribe-marks/extraneous holes in the underlying panel.
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Old 14th Feb 2018, 6:20 pm   #4
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Default Re: Simple method to mark calibration and functions externally on a case?

Quote:
Originally Posted by merlinmaxwell View Post
You can't beat Letraset ... but it is getting hard to find.

Good idea, thanks! I remember it fondly from my formative years!
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Old 14th Feb 2018, 6:34 pm   #5
Ian - G4JQT
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Default Re: Simple method to mark calibration and functions externally on a case?

I use a drawing package (MS Word will do) to create front panels. Even MS Paint will give coloured sections, panels, lines, text etc. but it isn't really designed for that.

When you're happy with the layout (and it can take many attempts to get the scales and writing in exactly the right place so I print those out in draft, in b&w on scrap), run the sheet through a laminator - they're surprisingly cheap. There are shiny, matt, thick, thin laminating pockets available.

Lay the laminated sheet on the front panel with glue, pressed down and when it's dry cut out the holes with a sharp knife and trim the edge.

Of course it's much easier to get the layout right fist on the sheet, but in practice that's not always possible when the real object exists first!
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Old 14th Feb 2018, 8:30 pm   #6
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Default Re: Simple method to mark calibration and functions externally on a case?

Quote:
Originally Posted by merlinmaxwell View Post
You can't beat Letraset (or clones) but it is getting hard to find.
I saw some own-brand in WHSmiths the other week.

Signwriters can print photorealistic images on self-adhesive vinyl so you can make your own 'fablon'. Not terribly abrasion-resistant though as there's no protective surface film layer.

For the retro steampunk look, a set of letter-punches and a steady hand ...

https://www.axminster.co.uk/axminste...unches-ax22576
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Old 14th Feb 2018, 9:00 pm   #7
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Default Re: Simple method to mark calibration and functions externally on a case?

You do indeed need a steady hand (and a good eye) to get lettering neatly aligned using punches. I have a couple of sets of the Axminster punches (Screwfix also do them, but only in one size) that I bought to make embossed lettering on the spines of books that I am re-binding, but after experimenting realised I need to make a jig (now past the design stage and in the 'start assembly when I get the missing "round tuit" ' stage ) to get them to line up properly.
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Old 14th Feb 2018, 9:30 pm   #8
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Default Re: Simple method to mark calibration and functions externally on a case?

Al,
I agree with some of the remarks about letraset, although on its own its not hardy enough for the finger wear that occurs around knobs on instrument panels. So it needs a coat of varnish over it improves it. This can be a problem though with painted panels, but its less of a problem with bare metal panels.

Also, the computer laminate method I have tried too, covers large surface areas, which you might not want if you have prepared the panel with some other special finish. So I have moved to labels made by small Brother label machines. Not only do the label tapes come in color, but they are also available in transparent, with white or black writing, and I often cut them down to a small size around the lettering. I've nearly finished building a machine with a red painted case and white writing on it, will post a photo later.

If you look on about page 8 of this article at the Fetron radio, you will see this label material, black on transparent on the IF cans and aluminium can coil covers and gold writing on black tape for the chassis labels. The transparent tape is hard to see, and just the black writing obvious:

http://worldphaco.com/uploads/WORLDFETRON.pdf

For other projects I have my local sign writer engrave the material and fill it with black paint, like the top on this regulator which is 3mm thick aluminium, scroll to the last 2 pages to see a photo of the top:

http://nebula.wsimg.com/16f83c1c70ef...&alloworigin=1
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Old 14th Feb 2018, 10:57 pm   #9
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Default Re: Simple method to mark calibration and functions externally on a case?

There is another way, but its not as cheap as I would like.
A Chinese made engraving machine costs as little as $100 with a laser for printing.
Its OK for small stuff, and as the machine gets larger so does the price.
I dont know anything about Windows, but I use LinuxCNC which is an operating system specifically designed to run engraving machines, CNC routers, CNC milling machines, and CNC lathes. I have successfully adapted a number of old dedicated engraving machines into CNC milling machines.
I make a lot of amplifiers ( guitar and Hi-Fi ) and its mandatory to have a pretty front panel.
LinuxCNC runs LibreCAD ( free) and there is a converter free as well to convert your drawing into G-Code. You just draw the panel according to what size you need, containing all the labels and scales that you require. Print it out on paper and check it fits your box, cabinet or meter face ( yes I make meter faces/scales with LibreCAD ).
Then run your drawing through G-Code ( thats the hard part, YOU have to write that code) and feed it to your engraving machine.

There are kits for serious face plate makers, to make up your own engraver. Its not cheap but its also not expensive, depending on how many panels you need.
They come with everything you need, motors, motor drivers, converters to go from a printer port or USB port, and a power supply to drive it all. Its up to you to make an "engraving table" or you can buy one ready to go. Most of these kits can drive up to 8 functions, but I have never made more than 4.

Have a look here
https://www.ebay.com/itm/A3-DIY-Desk...0AAOSw9qJaaDNv

Yes one can purchase a LOT of Letraset for that money, but in my experience it starts peeling off immediately, the origional Letraset spray also went grubby after a little use.

Best regards
Joe
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Old 15th Feb 2018, 12:44 am   #10
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Default Re: Simple method to mark calibration and functions externally on a case?

Quote:
Originally Posted by joebog1 View Post
Yes one can purchase a LOT of Letraset for that money, but in my experience it starts peeling off immediately, the original Letraset spray also went grubby after a little use.
Yes I agree with this. The Letraset needs a covering with varnish, so at one point I had been using varnish applied over it with a small artist's brush, but of course the varnish edge was visible and with time the varnish could yellow.

The other method was to spray the entire panel with Holts DS117 clear lacquer instead, but that does not suit all surfaces which is why, in the end, I abandoned Letraset and went for the Brother labels. The adhesive on these is excellent and there is seldom any issue with peeling too.

Still, it is hard to beat proper screen printing and harder to beat engraving.

The best example of engraving I have seen is the acrylic panels on some vintage Marconi video monitors. The panel is engraved from the rear and filled with white paint. The rear of the panel then sprayed black. Small holes perhaps 5 or 6mm dia with polished edges are placed at intervals, with a lamp with a screw cover over it to mask the light. The light travels by total internal reflection inside the panel, strikes the white writing and it stands out fantastically on the black background. Once you have seen a panel like this it makes all other methods look inferior. The edge lighting can also be done with light from the panel sides.

One other way I have done entire radio dials with multiple markings is to simply draw it as a jpeg in Microsoft picture it software, take it to a Stickerman shop, they convert it to a vector file and print it on to a transparent plastic sticker. All of my radio project dials were done this way.

Last edited by Argus25; 15th Feb 2018 at 12:58 am.
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Old 15th Feb 2018, 9:04 am   #11
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Default Re: Simple method to mark calibration and functions externally on a case?

I'm currently using water slide transfers. You can get such for laserjets and inkjets and there is a version of waterslide intended for GLASS use - it's very transparent, VERY sticky- (you don't even need to have a varnish over coat (but I recommend one anyway) - but the downside with the glass type transfers is that they are ultra thin and, if small, very fiddly to slide into place.

That said, the other versions are much easier to work with and produce great results. If you want WHITE printing you're stuck with using the white transfer paper (I don't like the results) but my home made equipment all have 'cream' panels and the clear transfers make a great finish.

I'm doing a panel today and will upload a picture of the process later.
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Old 15th Feb 2018, 9:33 am   #12
David G4EBT
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Default Re: Simple method to mark calibration and functions externally on a case?

The title of the thread is 'simple method'. I'd say that the simplest is to use a label printing machine, printing black lettering onto white strip, applied to a white sprayed panel. If the label is trimmed close to the text, it isn't visible as a 'stuck on' label.Label-makers usually have several fonts in several sizes, and the text can be underlined, capitalized and in a box if desired.

In my experience, the most difficult, time consuming and least presentable (and least durable unless protected) method is to use Letraset.

I've used it extensively over the years when there was no alternative, and with considerable care in exactly placing each letter or number, it can look acceptable. If you need circles or other symbols not in Letraset, you have to use say a Uno pen with Indian Ink or some such thing. If you misalign a letter or number, you have to carefully scratch it off with a razor blade or small scalpel type craft knife. You are limited to the size of text and font.

I've attached some pics of projects that I've made using Letraset some years ago, but time has moved on and nowadays I'd design and print onto paper, 'fix' the ink with clear acrylic spray, would then laminate and cover with a clear acrylic panel. Alternatively, I've occasionally stuck the paper onto the front panel with clear 'Fablon'. For small projects - up to say 3 inches x 4 inches, by far the easiest method nowadays is to print the design onto water-slide transfer paper - a topic that's been extensively covered on the forum. The main skill is in applying the transfer. Above 4" x 3" it can be a bit of a challenge to apply the transfer without stretching. Once applied, the transfers are far more durable than might be imagined.

With computer generated designs, the spacing can be adjusted, text or numbers can be 'arched', there's a wide range of font types and sizes, you can print off the design and if not happy, can amend it as desired, and can print colours.

First pic is of the PW 'Testmaster' from the 1970s. (I had to do it twice. First time, the clear Letraset lacquer floated off some of the lettering).
Second pic is of the Radcom Frequency Counter (1976). On top of it is a M.W. Modulator from EPE Magazine, designed by forum member Stef, 'Saddlestone Man'.
I designed and printed that on paper stuck it to the aluminium front panel and covered it with clear acrylic.
Third pic is of a 1 MHz square/sine/triangle wave 8038 Waveform Generator.
Fourth pic is of a 10 MHz MAX038 waveform generator.
The last pic is a panel I designed for a precision Voltage reference. Printed on paper, stuck on the aluminium front panel and covered in clear Fablon.

I hope that might be of help and interest.

Good luck in your efforts Al.
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Old 15th Feb 2018, 9:41 am   #13
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Default Re: Simple method to mark calibration and functions externally on a case?

I'm using one of these: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B0030E5WYW/

They do a clear backed tape with black lettering. Seems to be relatively durable. Doesn't look totally professional however.

Possibly the best option I have seen, but haven't bothered with (yet), is to draw it out in a vector drawing package and then get it printed onto vinyl and apply that to the panel. This works out about £35 for a one shot though so rather expensive. I know someone who used it for a commercial prototype and it looked very good.
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Old 15th Feb 2018, 9:59 am   #14
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Default Re: Simple method to mark calibration and functions externally on a case?

Having looked at your projects, David, I can only marvel at both your patience and your skill. I've never achieved that level of quality with Letraset.

My 'standard' method for items such as amplifier front panels is to design using Microsoft Publisher (I've also used Quark and Photoshop occasionally), print on white card or photo quality paper, attach trimmed print to panel with double-sided tape and cover with a fairly thick Perspex panel, perhaps 3-4mm.

This thickness allows a bevelled edge to be created and also is stiff enough to securely clamp down with countersunk screws, self-tap or machine thread, depending upon access to back of the panel. I think it has the merit of a straightforward and simple project that gives a pleasing finish.

Tony
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Old 15th Feb 2018, 10:45 am   #15
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Default Re: Simple method to mark calibration and functions externally on a case?

I am constantly impressed with David's work. Always very professional.

Likewise yours Tony. Those amplifiers look marvellous.
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Old 15th Feb 2018, 12:09 pm   #16
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Default Re: Simple method to mark calibration and functions externally on a case?

Hello everyone,

I'm just stopping by briefly to say that I'm delighted with the response to my query.

I'd like to thank you all individually but I'm tied-up for much of the day, so I'll just note that there's lots for me to study, absorb and evaluate.

It's clear that a level of patience and some trial-and-error and 'drafts' are going to be involved. I can be patient, and I enjoy learning new skills, so I'll give this learning curve the space it needs and see what I can come up with. Fortunately for me, I do already own a Brother label printer and am impressed by the choice of typefaces and how the lettering stands out, especially when set in bold, against the transparent backing tape.

I will also attempt to make markers for dial calibration, using some of your suggestions - although this seems tricky compared to my current skill and experience level with the relevant software.

I hope to come back to you with some feedback sooner or later.

This is a wonderful thread and I hope people continue to share their ideas.

Thank you again, and I'lll check back in when I can.

Cheers!
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Old 15th Feb 2018, 2:35 pm   #17
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Default Re: Simple method to mark calibration and functions externally on a case?

In the 1970's we used to use clear nail varnish to protect the lettering on the Eddystone boxes used for our lab lashups, written in black Rotring drawing ink with Rotring drafting pens. I have used the same type of varnish on the Letraset we used for the panel of the mixer console that my son made for his GCSE technology project. The sheets of Letraset I bought in the late 1960's still work OK.
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Old 15th Feb 2018, 3:39 pm   #18
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Default Re: Simple method to mark calibration and functions externally on a case?

Never thought of that. I've got a whole set of isographs somewhere. Probably dried up solid now.
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Old 15th Feb 2018, 4:23 pm   #19
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Default Re: Simple method to mark calibration and functions externally on a case?

Re post 14 and perspex, I did a front panel (30 years ago!) with reverse applied white Letraset, it did take some time to work out which letters worked backwards and what to call the various bits, roman numerals helped a lot. With a spray of black paint on the back it looked superb.
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Old 15th Feb 2018, 5:09 pm   #20
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Default Re: Simple method to mark calibration and functions externally on a case?

I seem to remember that, with bare metal die cast Eddystone boxes, the ink flowed better and gave better definition if we applied some ink to the area first and then wiped it off. If we did that, the ink stayed put. If we tried applying to bare metal, it tended to pull back due to surface tension. We discovered this as a consequence of making amendements.
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