o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o
knife. For fabrics that are prone to fraying when
cut, dab on a little Dritz Fray Check (available at
craft and yardage stores) to minimize any runs.
Making Panels With
a Laser Printer
The other popular option for making good
looking homebrew control panels is the laser
printer. Although a monochrome (black only)
printer will work, you’ll want a color printer to
make more vibrant panel designs. Even if you
don’t have your own color laser printer, you can
take your artwork to a nearby business copy
center and have it done there. An example of a
consumer-level color laser printer is shown in
Figure 4. Like inkjet, the most common substrate
for laser printing is paper. As with inkjet, paper
panels may degrade more quickly if they are
subjected to moisture, liquid, dirt, and regular use.
A better substrate is polyester labels with a
permanent adhesive. This stock is available from
many office supply stores, or online from sources
like Labels By The Sheet (see the Sources box).
The polyester is thin but more rugged than plain
paper. It’s difficult to tear, naturally water resistant and, if
dirtied, can be cleaned by wiping it with a damp cloth.
Opt for the gloss or matte white labels. This gives your
control panels an opaque white background for whatever
colors you want to print.
A step up from polyester labels is so-called synthetic
paper — a term used for any of a variety of polyester-based printing media designed for use in high-end laser
printers and copiers. Xerox, Neekosa, and others make a
variety of synthetic papers with different thicknesses and
surface finishes. It’s sold as an alternative to printing on
paper and laminating with a plastic protective cover.
Thicknesses range from a relatively thin 6 mil (six
thousandths of an inch) to a robust 12 or 13 mil. I
recommend going with an 8-11 mil paper for control
panels. While you can purchase packages of synthetic
paper from the online stores for Staples and even
Walmart, unless you’re doing lots of panels you may find it
overall less expensive to simply take your art to a local
business copy center. Most of the better ones will have a
variety of synthetic papers to choose from. Bring in your
art on a USB thumb drive in TIF or PNG format. The
smallest page they’ll do is 8-1/2” by 11”. So, if your panel
is small, try to gang it up with others to avoid waste, or
make extras on the same sheet just in case.
Depending on the type and thickness of the digital
paper, you may find this stuff fares much better when cut
and drilled. I found that a brad point drill bit — like that for
making holes in acrylic plastic — left little or no ragged
edges. Any rough edges left were easily removed with a
small hobby knife.
Figure 4. Color laser printers can be used with paper, polyester labels,
and so-called digital paper to produce long-lasting control panels.
Photo courtesy Oki Data Americas, Inc.
Protective Coatings for
Waterproofing and Wear
When using paper and vinyl substrates, you’ll
probably want to protect the surface against spoilage from
moisture and handling. (Digital paper substrates are
naturally waterproof, and can be cleaned using mild
detergent and water.) The two most common ways of
protecting the artwork are clearcoat spray and lamination.
• After printing, apply a coat or two of clearcoat
spray, such as Krylon Acrylic Crystal Clear. Select a
spray with the finish you want; choices are matte,
satin, or gloss. I prefer matte or satin, but the
resulting texture may not be as smooth as you’d
like. Let the coat dry completely before using the
• Apply a thin sheet of protective plastic using a
pressure- or heat-sensitive laminator. The plastic
should be applied after printing, but before cutting
and drilling. One drawback to pressure applied
lamination: Tiny air bubbles can get trapped
underneath, marring an otherwise beautiful control
panel. Some types of lamination plastic have tiny
holes in it to let the air out. If yours lacks this
feature, you can reduce or eliminate the bubbles by
piercing them with a sharp hobby knife, then
pressing down to get out all the remaining air.
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