Friday, 5 April 2013

DIY Front Panel in Acrylic / Plexi

New amp needs a new face. Looking around in the UK I can get a custom front panel made, but it seems a lot more costly than you can get say in the U.S. Some want .DXF as the file and not having Autocad or a package with this format blocks that route. What I could source very cheaply was some cut to size 1.5mm thick clear acrylic and a couple of sheets of water slide decal paper for a laser copier.

The acrylic was delivered promptly as four sheets cut to size and a set of panel graphics produced using Paint Shop Pro 9. The images were then all mirrored as the plan is to place them on the back of the acrylic and view them form the other side, ie the front. I can then paint over the transfer effectivly sealing them in. The paint observed from the front would have a perfect  finish no matter how lumpy it was put on, or that's the idea anyway. A few old CD cases proved that using finger daubed water acrylic paint.

The laser copier paper arrived with a warning about possibly melting onto the fuser roller of the copier which was not in the advert selling the paper (ebay). However the bigger the copier the more ECO friendly it is and the large business types therefore have a lower than normal working temperature. There was no issue with the printing and it gave razor sharp results. Unlike inkjet water decal paper it needs no lacquer overcoat which is why I chose it this time.

To make the panel it was first taped in place to the front of the chassis. Using an indelible marker the position of the controls was marked onto the back of the acrylic using the holes in the chassis as a guide.  On an earlier attempt I used a scribe which leaves a finer line, but the unevenness made ripples in the transfer on application.

Finished Item...Chuffed to bits!

Test acrylic taped in place and marked.

The transfers we cut out close and then placed in position. The best method I found was to use a white paper sheet under the acrylic with straight lines printed / drawn on. This way you have a datum for the bottom edge of the acrylic and the lines assist in ensuring that the top of the transfer where the wording is is straight.  It took a while to get the result right but here is what I found best.

Lined paper assists getting it straight.

Soak the transfer for thirty seconds and then place to one side for another. Line the acrylic up on the guide paper and place a bit of water where you want the transfer to go. Without this dab of water the positioning time is about twenty seconds. what can then happen is that part of the transfer can grab and when you attempt to move it the transfer will stretch or distort. The bit of water underneath gives you minutes of working time, however at this point it is prone to handling errors if you try to place another transfer as it is effectivly floating.

Using a ruler place as close as possible, note printed mirrored!

After positioning the transfer I would then flip the panel over. The transfer is now against the guide paper. It has enough friction with the guide paper that you can still finely position it if needed by moving the panel. When it is all correctly positioned simply apply pressure, the excess water will be pressed out and the transfer will adhere to the front enough to resist handling. The transfer can still be lifted with a knife edge if required. Having lined paper to do this part also helps but missing in the shot below.

Fliping over to check position and then press to affix.

With the transfers in place I painted the rear of the panel with several coats of artists acrylic paint. I could easily use a spray paint, but the acrylic allows me to test and wipe off. After several coats I did a final coat painted some paper and placed this as a protective backing.

Final coat and backing paper will form a protective seal.

The final result, well really please with this. The edges of the acrylic had some small chipping under the green protective film, but a quick sanding will remove these and they will sit behind the cabinet woodwork anyway.

With painting the transfer blends perfectly to the panel.

It worked out cheaper than having a custom panel, and I still have acrylic and transfers for the rear and a spare front.  One other point about the acrylic paint. It is not fully opaque to light. If I cut a small hole in the backing paper but not through the paint I could shine light  from behind which you would see as a bright yellow glow from the front.. I may not go for a panel mounted power light, but insted use a 3mm white LED mounted behing the panel to illuminate a small circle of blank panel adjacent to the power switch to indicate that the amp is on.

As a final note, If you are thinking if edge illuminating the panel then the transfer edge will become visible.

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