Making of a professional looking decals for your projects Adventures

By Adrian VK5ZBR

 

A bit of history

When making an electronics project I was always disappointed in the labelling of functions.

I uses rub on lettering, this was one way of doing it, getting those darn letters and numbers to line up was difficult and then making them scratch proof with clear lacquer paint.   

Dot matrix printer decals looked a bit average too.

Then inkjet printers were getting affordable.  You could easily print much better looking decals.  Use a clear contact sheet to make it moisture proof, it’s a bit soft though.  I also tried using a laminator and this worked better, much tougher surface.  If you want the mat look then you would use a kitchen green sponge to take the gloss off.  This still looks good and I have many projects that have tested years of use.

 

The Lexan velvet feel sheet.

At the time as an apprentice we got these new space age looking  HF radio’s and they had a plastic membrane (escutcheon) on them, the buttons were printed on and like magic worked.  I liked the look, very modern.  We repaired these radios as time went on, I got to replace the escutcheon and key membranes quite often.    I asked the manufacturer where they got these from and they were a local company.

I did visit this company and they were a great help.  They sold me the lexan sheet and 3M sheet adhesive for hobby use.  Now the next questions how do I print on this lexan sheet as they usually silk screen the back as a reverse image.  I at first I used the lexan as a protective cover as it is see through to protect my print outs.  This didn’t look to good as the lexan frosted and washed out the view.

X,Y plotter

 

We had a plotter that I use to plot my PCB art work on clear film for exposure at work, then I starting the same at home when I purchased a second hand plotter I fixed.  I used latex ink and plotted the art work in reverse on the back of the lexan sheet.  I would then spray paint a backing colour.  I was limited to black text and a light colour in the back.  I then with a bit of masking did a bit of u multi-colour back grounds.   It never looked that sharp as the masking wasn’t that great.  This work well 50% of the time, it was tricky as the colours would wash out the text.

 

 

Silk screening

I did try this out track but with many attempts of trial and error it was a lot of effort for a one off project.   It’s very similar to exposing a circuit board and developing the screen.  It’s messy and again lots of effort for a one off project.  Was fun trying!

 

Lexan on paper

Well this was a bit of a fluke.  I thought my original play around of lexan as a protecting layer didn’t look that good.  When I stuck the sheet adhesive to the lexan and then stuck this to the paper art work, wow.  The paper art was turned into an instant decal.  With a bit of pressure rubbing with a plastic tool, this made the lexan become one with the paper.  The next step is to stick  another adhesive sheet on the back of the paper to make it a sticky decal.  For best result I used mat photo paper.  This disadvantage with this paper was its more expensive and will delaminate if the lexan edges are pick at hard enough.

 

I found the best way to cut the holes is using a wad punch and a xacto knife for the straight edge holes.

 

Colour laser printer became affordable for home use and this again made the decals look even better.  

 

Keyboard eschuction

I have also have made keyboards with success, they are quite robust and look great.  I made a ARDF finder for 2m from VK3YNG as a kit PCB.  I wanted it to be rainproof and the lexan keyboard became my first experiment.  I used a old telephone membrane I salvaged and made the laminated sandwitch.  Well its still working today after 18 years getting damp.

The computer CAD

Well this only became possible when the computer technology became more advance and affordable, I guess is was in the mid 90’s.  The software I use was a word to start with.  When windows 95 came around Corel Draw was my go package for a while.  I got into AutoCad LT and I use this to draw the basic lay out accurately then exported it to Corel Draw to make it look nice.  AutoCad 2000 came along and real style fonts were available.  So now at last I could make the art work look so much nicer.

I now use iStudio and Fusion 360 for my art work.  Do the marking up in fusion, export it to a PDF,  iStudio opens the PDF and thats my trace I use to do the graphics.

 

Materials.

Where do you get this stuff?  Good question.

I got my stock over 20 years ago and it’s still good.  My stock was from a local company that no longer exist.  Now we have the internet  so have fun on google.

Try eBay, Alilexpress or your local companies.  

 

Some links as an example

    Eplastics 

    HVGplastics

    Lexan Velvet film

      M 467MP Clear Double Sided Adhesive Transfer Tape

 

There are so many ways to do things and this is what worked for me.

 

Regards Adrian.