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How To Make Nice Looking DIY Front Panel

Want to make really nice looking front panel for your next DIY project? Then you’re in the right place!

First you’re gonna need to have some basic tools and materials:

  • InkJet or Laser printer(Color InkJet is better)
  • Utility knife or X-Acto knife (X-Acto knife is better)
  • Pair of scissors
  • General Usage Labels (self-adhesive white paper)
  • Self-Adhesive Laminating Sheet (self-adhesive clear film)
  • Imagination!

I am using labels and laminating sheets from www.Avery.com. Quality is ok, I guess, although adhesive side of labels could’ve been slightly more sticky. I haven’t used any other brands, so I can’t compare it to anything else on the market.

Measure twice, cut once

In this example I designed front panel board using Eagle 6.1, which has Dimension tool that let’s you do stuff like this:

This kind of information about board dimensions and components placement would be essential for designing front panel labels, where you need to know where all the switches, buttons, displays and other components are.

Art school degree, anyone?

For designing front panel label I’ve used free vector graphics software called Inkscape (inkscape.org). But you can use any number of vector graphics or CAD software out there. Whatever tool you’re most familiar with, as long as it supports absolute dimensions, so you can tell it exactly where all the components should be.

As you can see in this screenshot, the front panel label is pretty much done, and it has all the hole centers marked – you would need that to drill holes in the right places.

And this is how front panel label looks like when it’s done. Btw, I’ve messed it up a bit – I should’ve made display and LED centers white, instead of gray.

It’s time to get your hands dirty!

Print out label on an ordinary paper, see if it fits nicely and if all the control elements is in the right place. It might take you many iterations until you get satisfying results.

When you’ve got label printed with all the component centers marked, take some needle(if it’s plastic case) or some kind of marker or center punch to mark all the component centers, after label has been aligned with front panel.

Make appropriate size holes for all the stuff you will have on FP. And make sure you start-off with smaller size drill bits and gradually make your way up.

P.S. Please, don’t ask me about this hand drill. Just go out there and buy yourself a Dremel.

I intentionally haven’t tried to make nice straight cuts for a display, to show you that it doesn’t really matter, because you won’t see any of it behind the front panel label.

If your front panel is built around PCB, you need to adjust the height of PCB stands so that display(in this case) would be flush with FP surface. The front panel label should stick to the display, so that digits would show up through the label perfectly.

Sticky business

Here comes the fun part. Print out the final version of the front panel label design on general purpose labels(single-side adhesive paper) and then very carefully align it with all the holes. Remember, you’ll have only one shot at this!

Now when label is in place, cut a piece of laminating sheet, aka cold laminating film(self-adhesive clear film) to the exact size of your front panel label.

And align it with FP label as well.

Carefully cut the holes for buttons, switches and other components as needed.

Put it all together, and observe the result.

I should’ve made display and LEDs a bit brighter. IRL it looks just fine, since it gonna be used in pretty dark room, but it’s a royal PITA to take pictures of this FP for the tutorial.

As I have mentioned before, I’ve messed up a little bit. I should’ve made display window white.

19 comments

9 pings

  1. John S says:

    Congratulations on another incredibly nice looking project Phil.

    I love how you take such care with every detail. It’s also very useful as the options for quality self-labeling are a little thin on the ground.

    The clear adhesive film will also provide a moisture barrier to stop any wrinkling of the white adhesive paper underneath. Can’t wait to try it :)

    Hope you have a great New Year.

    John

    1. JumperOne says:

      Thanks John!

      I actually thought about moisture protection, but it never made it to the article.
      To really protect it from the moisture, corners of the lamination film should fully cover paper label that’s underneath. Or corners should be filled with some kind of clear varnish.

      Wish you the best in New Year too!

      Phil

  2. Tony McDaniel says:

    Thanks for this article.

    I was wondering where you get the button caps and stand off hardware that you’re using.

    1. JumperOne says:

      I bought button caps on local electronics market, and standoff hardware is just a small bolts, washers and nuts.

  3. Hasan says:

    Thanks. You screwed up a bit when cutting out a window for the LCD in the plastic case:)
    That looks nice however.

  4. Hasan says:

    Why not using a dremel tool? Then you finish the work at the corners with that knife.

  5. reginald lorenzo says:

    hello,,, !!

    were kinda troubled about our group project in physics … can you help us construct a wireless spy cam using a webcam?? we really cant afford the original spy cameras with receivers.. well i was wondering if we could make our own wireless cam and video receiver that can directly be hooked up in a tv monitor? or laptop?

    THANKS !!!
    from Philippines…
    Reginald :)
    i really hope you could help us (6-17-13)

  6. me says:

    Hello dear phil how do you do?
    I did make the project which you share it in the net all are ok and good but no reading from sensor is happen also I changed and test with different sensor but no reading I don’t know why? Also all display work with fast blink.
    No relay function also so please if possible give me some idea that I can solve my problem. That’s good idea you know I am not professional in avr microcontroller and if possible write me in simple language that I can understand it so easy
    Best regards media

  7. me says:

    Hi dear phil is it possible for you send me all your lst data abut this project in my email?
    so much thanks if you do so and if not again thanks
    good luck

  8. solipso says:

    The idea of using opaque paper “window” for LED 7 seg. is simply brilliant. Kudos!

    Cheers,
    Tomas

  9. Fidalgoman says:

    Thank you, nice tutorial. Just what I needed to know.

  10. Lukasz says:

    Really impressive work, congrats!

  11. TheDukeOfHighwayJ says:

    Instead of the self adhesive clear, could I suggest 2 coats of Krylon Clear (1st coat basically to just seal the paper)?

  12. Nikola K. says:

    So am I to understand that for the display and LED you left that all alone?

  13. Avishay says:

    Hi
    Impressive work!
    I was facing the same problem some time ago, but my panel (and the whole box) was black so I couldn’t print white letters on black background with a printer. Eventually, I went to a local sign engraving store and they made me a PVC black PVC panel with white lettering that looked very nice. They were also able to do all the cutouts (in any shape). The only minus is that the PVC is a little too soft for this kind of use.

    Avishay

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  15. sunil says:

    i learn many of things from…

  16. Clinton says:

    Really glad to meet such a helpful site ,, many thanks!!!!!!!!!!!!!:):)

  17. Werner says:

    Hello

    Thanks for the great tutorial. I’ve successfully implemented your ideas for which a big thank you.

    Werner

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