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WIGGLING 'LITE' IN GUEST MODE

PCBs as Front Panels ?
MUFF WIGGLER Forum Index -> Music Tech DIY Goto page 1, 2, 3  Next [all]
Author PCBs as Front Panels ?
dslocum
Yes, it can be an attractive option and one I'm strongly considering - despite any naysayers.

Can anyone steer me to PCB vendors that already know what we are after?

Also, what techniques have you used to generate the layouts? My current (small) PCB vendor seems limited in their capability to handle files other than Gerbers. I currently use DipTtrace for my PCBs and CorelDraw (older version 7) for my panel layouts.

So how do I create cool patterns and graphics while still using PCB fabrication techniques?
gbiz
Generate the layout in exactly the same program as you'd use to create the PCB. Export to gerber as usual.

For graphics above the basic font & line drawing that the PCB program offers, create it in your graphics program & export that into a format that your PCB program can import. Take into account the minimum silk line width, & that thinner lines close to the minimum width may be blurred.

Most PCB FAB houses print a PCB batch number on the top silk layer. Unless you actually want that, when you order the boards specify that they print it on the bottom layer.

Remember that these are made to PCB quality standards and not panel standards, so expect a high reject rate, unless you're OK with scratches & blemishes.

Go for thicker boards (2mm) & thicker Cu (2oz).
geecen
Also remember that they can be quite expensive unless you're getting them from china - and then they're only cheap if you need 10
Morphology
I've had panels made by PCBWAY in China, because one of their options for the PCB Material is.... Aluminium.





All I sent them were the following standard Gerbers:

- Front Copper
- Front Solder Mask
- Front Silk Screen
- Edge Cuts
- Non-plated through hole drill file

Use the Solder Mask as the base colour, with the silk screen for any legends / graphics etc.

I haven't tried it, but I guess if you left off the Solder Mask & Front Copper you'd get bare aluminium. I may try that one day.

Colours for solder masks and silk screens are limited, so Black Solder Mask plus White Silk Screen (or vice versa) are probably best, though they also do Red, Green, Yellow, Blue, Purple, Matt Green & Matt Black solder masks too

Only black or white for the silk screen though.

Turn-around time is astonishing - I have sent them Gerbers on a Sunday and had the boards back in my hand 8 days later.

For 10 x 6Hp panels (30mm wide) they work out at $56 plus $25 DHL Shipping to the UK. So, $81 for 10.

Including shipping, other quantities cost:

5: $79
10: $81
15: $82
20: $85
100: $129
500: $338
1000: $602

Depending on the total value of the shipment, DHL may insist you pay import duty into the UK - I can't remember the threshold, but last time I had a batch of PCBs and Front Panels made, I ended up having to pay another $20 or so in Import Duty.

Morph
EATyourGUITAR
I know about the aluminum PCB option but I am waiting for someone to post pictures of the results. I order black matte PCB panels from pcbcart.com so far it has been perfect with the quality. I was sent there by another euro manufacturer who uses them for gloss black panels. We can both attest to the quality and consistency of the silkscreen text. Only down side is that we pay about $8 per 12HP panel in such small quantity 50 pieces. Price drop is for 400 panels. The panels are super cheap in 2HP 400 units. That same panel in metal would probably be more per unit for 400 units but less at 1000 from metal photo.
LeftyLogic
I used Project-PCB when I did the Living Memory VCOs run. Not the cheapest for small quantities, but far better quality than ITEAD or the like. They also have a matte black option which is absolutely goddamn gorgeous. love
Sandrine
Don't forget to coat them with automotive clear coat!
PCB Panels are great! Circuitry can be added to the back before clear coating which makes them a real space=saver for smaller modules
Morphology
EATyourGUITAR wrote:
I know about the aluminum PCB option but I am waiting for someone to post pictures of the results.


Here you go...




These are Aluminum PCBs as Front Panels from PCBWay - Black Silk Screen on a White solder mask.

Can't complain at the quality of the holes / cutouts etc. I haven't tried leaving off the solder mask and just silk screening direct on the bare aluminium, nor have I tried other colour combinations / ENIG plating.

For 20 of each panel, these were 6HP: $33 ($1.65 each) and 16HP: $48 ($2.40 each), plus $36 shipping for the two panels combined as they were both on the same order.

Morph
diablojoy
They came out really nice
what program did you use to produce the gerber files ?
mainly wondering how exactly you produced that font actually.
Morphology
I used Kicad, which I use for PCB Layout.

It's a slightly fiddly process, as you have to import the text as a component footprint.

There are plenty of tutorials on the net, but essentially the process is as follows:

1) Create a high resolution .BMP (bitmap) image using a white graphic on a black background (ie negative image). I use the GIMP, which gives you very fine control over fonts, size, orientation etc.

2) Within Kicad, use the Bitmap2Component tool, and load this image

3) within the 'Original Picture' tab start increasing the DPI settings, which will gradually shrink your image until the resulting image is the correct size for your panel / pcb

4) export it as a .kicad_mod file with a suitable name

5) In the footprint editor choose or create a library for your imported graphics, and import and update this footprint in the current library

6) In pcbNew you can then use the Place Footprint tool to place the graphic onto your PCB.

It sounds a bit convoluted but once you've done it a few times it's pretty straightforward and means you can gradually build up a library of graphical images that you can just place on your designs, such as on the silkscreen of this PCB:


diablojoy
thanks for the detailed answer thumbs up
sounds good, GIMP I know well enough at least
I will have to look at Kicad again seems to have improved considerably from when I last tried it.
Morphology
KiCad is great. I particularly like the design paradigm where you add a component to a schematic but then separately associate a footprint with it prior to laying out the PCB.

It makes it trivially simple to move from, say, Through-Hole Resistors to Surface Mount ones.

I used to use the free version of Eagle, but found it incredibly frustrating - the PCB size limitation wasn't the problem for the size of boards i was designing, it was the fact that you couldn't place any components outside the board edge without it complaining that boards couldn't be more than X mm

You often need to just place components roughly around the board before moving them to what might be their final position.

Also I didn't like the licensing - I don't mind paying for software, but to have two scales of charges depending on whether you were selling the results annoyed me - who knows whether (as happens in my dreams) I end up selling one of my boards, and feel that I should therefore buy the commercial version.

Even worse - it now looks like Autodesk are moving to a subscription-based license!? I *hate* subscriptions - I have an extremely short attention span and work frantically at something for a while, only to discard it for a year before returning to it and working frantically at it again.

Subscription-based licenses just make no sense in that sort of scenario. If it was something I use day-in day-out 365 days per year and was essential in order to secure my income than, yes, maybe, but for something I'd use once in a while?? No way.

So, I moved to KiCad and haven't regretted it - yes it has a few quirks that you have to get your head around but, once you have done so, it's really very simple to use, and I have been perfectly satisfied with the results. Loads of tutorials on the web.

And I *love* the push-and-shove router!
LeftyLogic
Another easy way to do PCB panels in KiCAD is to export your entire panel layout in DXF format from whatever program you're using to design it, and then import that directly into PCBNew. Then, all you have to do is align the holes correctly and you're set!
Morphology
LeftyLogic wrote:
Another easy way to do PCB panels in KiCAD is to export your entire panel layout in DXF format from whatever program you're using to design it, and then import that directly into PCBNew. Then, all you have to do is align the holes correctly and you're set!


Well I never knew that!

Thanks very much for the suggestion - I may give that a go, I see you can specify which layer(s) to import the DXF into, which would make it easier to incorporate graphics into, say, the top copper layer and then ENIG plate it?

Hmmm. Interesting.
EATyourGUITAR
although I have been using eagle for years. I am currently in the process of switching everything over to GEDA on linux so I can have more control over editing the gerbers, adding graphics and support for infinite customization or scripting. I also want to get off non-free software %100 by 2018. I noticed that a lot of the work of designing eurorack modules is repeated everytime a module is made. there is also no way to automate quality control of the gerbers. I only have a scripting language in eagle to make ULP that is not documented well. all it can do is edit the pcb layout in eagle. eagle has no way to check the gerbers. gerbv does not run great on windows but works perfect as part of GEDA on linux. in my opinion importing BMP to vector to gerber is a sloppy hack that should just go away. I want to draw gerbers in vector with scripts that trace images. learning kicad would take away from time learning GEDA. however most people should just use kicad.
Morphology
I wholeheartedly support and agree with your aims and aspirations.

I did look at gEDA but, although I am using Linux (well, Ubuntu) more and more, my main development environment is still Windows, and will probably remain so as long as I can keep Win 7 running. All my music production stuff (DAW etc) is Windows, and I write a reasonable amount of Windows software.

One of the draws for KiCad for me was the fact it is cross-platform (as are GIMP, Libre Office etc), so I can work on a design on my Windows PC, then ship it across to a Ubuntu laptop so I can continue to work on it while travelling.

I doubt I'll ever get to the stage where I yearn for the features that you do, but adopting cross-platform tools definitely makes sense for me as it enables me to keep a foot in both camps.
diablojoy
Quote:
Another easy way to do PCB panels in KiCAD is to export your entire panel layout in DXF format from whatever program you're using to design it, and then import that directly into PCBNew. Then, all you have to do is align the holes correctly and you're set!


Oh hell yeah now that sounds really great thumbs up

Re- Eagle I used it for a couple of years and hated it.
I have used FreePCB for years now

Quote:
gerbv does not run great on windows


hmm I run gerbv on a windows 10 machine cant say I have noticed[/quote] any issues yet with it.
FreePCB will export PNG's of the gerber files as an option - ok for a quick check
EATyourGUITAR
gerbv does not draw the pictures correctly. it leaves black lines of unpainted areas for large fills. probably a rounding error or just a lack of overlap in what is drawn to screen. you can test this by zooming in and out. the outlines of the polygons have a consistent and contiguous colored line tracing the boundary. it is possible that the area fills in gerbv are done using a for loop draw horizontal line with thickness default line thickness. I noticed that the outline thickness and fill line thickness is the same. if the rounding error gets fixed then the vertical spacing between horizontal fill lines will be equal to or less than the line thickness without aliasing. I think there are layers of cruft in windows gerbv. it should fill each pixel at the native resolution to prevent display errors. my two options are wait for GEDA to fix a windows app or just use GEDA as it was intended. if I am going to contribute to a project I think it should be on linux with free software.
thx2112
Since Autodesk took over Eagle became MUCH cheaper for me -- even with the subscription (which I hate by default).

I have a lot of custom libraries and scripts that save so much time and errors (like making sure PCBs align with panels) that changing would be painful. MY ASS IS BLEEDING

They've got me for another year -- for now...
diablojoy
Quote:
gerbv does not draw the pictures correctly. it leaves black lines of unpainted areas for large fills. probably a rounding error or just a lack of overlap in what is drawn to screen. you can test this by zooming in and out.


Hmm strange I don't get that at all - all fill area's are solid even at highest zoom.
using
windows 10
FreePCB
Gerbv 2.6.1
EATyourGUITAR
windows 7 64
gerbv 2.6.1

Moog$FooL$
wow! love love Morphology..... thanx so much for the info & the pics.

i think this is just what many of us have been looking for & didn't know about.

thumbs up
diablojoy
ok this is what I am getting



truman_k
Morphology wrote:
I've had panels made by PCBWAY in China, because one of their options for the PCB Material is.... Aluminium.





All I sent them were the following standard Gerbers:

- Front Copper
- Front Solder Mask
- Front Silk Screen
- Edge Cuts
- Non-plated through hole drill file

Use the Solder Mask as the base colour, with the silk screen for any legends / graphics etc.

I haven't tried it, but I guess if you left off the Solder Mask & Front Copper you'd get bare aluminium. I may try that one day.

Colours for solder masks and silk screens are limited, so Black Solder Mask plus White Silk Screen (or vice versa) are probably best, though they also do Red, Green, Yellow, Blue, Purple, Matt Green & Matt Black solder masks too

Only black or white for the silk screen though.

Turn-around time is astonishing - I have sent them Gerbers on a Sunday and had the boards back in my hand 8 days later.

For 10 x 6Hp panels (30mm wide) they work out at $56 plus $25 DHL Shipping to the UK. So, $81 for 10.

Including shipping, other quantities cost:

5: $79
10: $81
15: $82
20: $85
100: $129
500: $338
1000: $602

Depending on the total value of the shipment, DHL may insist you pay import duty into the UK - I can't remember the threshold, but last time I had a batch of PCBs and Front Panels made, I ended up having to pay another $20 or so in Import Duty.

Morph


I am thinking of doing the same thing. But pcbway is going to charge extra for large drill holes? Do you mind share an example Gerber files for us?
EATyourGUITAR
For large drill holes you can put it in the drill file or you can put it in the milling layer. I do both so the factory can choose.
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