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Tips and Tricks for Better
Cuts and Holes
I've mentioned throughout this article that one of the
problems of making control panels from printed substrates is
that cutting and drilling can leave rough and frayed edges.
What happens is that the cutting tool tears at the substrate,
leaving little pieces behind.
As I said, you can hide much of these edges simply with
the washers and other hardware of your control panel
components. The mounting washer and nut for
potentiometers, switches, and LED holders cover over the
If your parts fit flush into the panel, you'll need to be
extra careful how you cut and drill your artwork. Here are
some tips that can literally help smooth the way:
• Cut the printed substrate to size first using a paper
cutter, making it slightly larger than the control panel
itself. Trim any excess around the edges with a sharp
hobby knife (careful — these knives are sharp!!).
50 May 2013
solvent. This stuff is of no use to you. If you try to use a
water-based printer on these vinyls, the ink will just puddle
on the surface and make a mess. A few sources for this
type of printable vinyl are listed on
Another type of printing substrate you might consider
is printable fabric. This is a possibility if your panel is
meant to be flexible, like something you attach to your t-shirt and wear. There are two general methods for printing
Direct printing passes the fabric through the printer.
For this to work, the fabric needs to be thin enough to go
through the printer, and rigid enough that it doesn’t get
snagged or folded up while inside.
Heat transfer prints on a special sheet that’s fed
through the printer. The image is then literally transferred
onto the fabric of your choice using heat and pressure.
any excess with a hobby knife.
• Try using a sheet of 10 mil synthetic paper for the
control art. These tend to hold up better when drilled,
and leave little or no frayed edges as long as only
sharp tools are used. An example hole in synthetic
paper is shown in Figure B. Synthetic paper requires a
laser printer or copier.
Figure A. Brad point bits helps to reduce the fraying that occur when
drilling into paper and other thin substrates.
Be sure your tools are sharp.
Figure B. The thicker ( 10 mil or more) synthetic paper, actually made
of polyester sheet, is less prone to shredding when drilled.
Of the two methods, heat transfer is generally easier
and less prone to problems. You can get printable heat
transfer sheets at most craft and fabric yardage stores such
as Joann’s and Michael’s. Opt for the transfer sheets for
light colored garments. Read the instructions for suitable
fabrics you can transfer to. Most sheets will adhere to
100% cotton, cotton/polyester blends, and certain 100%
polyester fabrics that don’t have a sheen. Avoid the use of
super-stretchy fabrics, nylon, and other synthetics.
To transfer the printed image to the fabric, you’ll need
a clothes iron, though a heat press is better. You might be
able to borrow a heat press if you have a friend that does
rhinestone art or makes custom t-shirts.
Once printed or transferred, you’ll need to cut out the
holes and other openings in the fabric for any parts
attached to the panel. You can use scissors or a hobby