PCBs as Front Panels ?

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EATyourGUITAR
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Re: PCBs as Front Panels ?

Post by EATyourGUITAR » Sun Feb 16, 2020 10:43 am

rsholmes wrote:
Sat Feb 15, 2020 8:03 pm
This is an interesting discussion, but I'm still a little hazy on some aspects of it. A "worked example" would help. Would anyone be willing to post a KiCad pcb file for a typical, basic front panel?
that is a no from me but I can answer any questions you have that are hazy. where are you getting stuck? I'm sure I can walk you through it step by step.
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Re: PCBs as Front Panels ?

Post by rsholmes » Tue Feb 18, 2020 1:58 pm

I wasn't stuck particularly, nor concerned about some specific issue. Just thought it would be helpful in getting a good overall understanding.

Anyway, I've gone ahead and made something that looks right and submitted it to JLCPCB. We'll see if it goes through and comes out well. If it does maybe I'll respond to my own request and upload the gerbers in case they're helpful to others. I did have trouble getting mounting hole slots right. In the end I settled for round mounting holes and ordered the boards. Today I went back and tried again on the slots and it appears I've got it right now.

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Re: PCBs as Front Panels ?

Post by MikeDB » Tue Feb 18, 2020 4:41 pm

KSS wrote:
Tue Feb 11, 2020 12:11 am
mrand wrote:
Sat Jan 11, 2020 3:24 pm
FWIW here are a couple photos of a recent JLCPCB panel. I designed a format dedicated to maximizing the low-cost, 10x10cm PCB offerings. It's a very cost effective solution, especially now that the minimum order is down to 5 units. At standard 1.6mm thickness, there is no rigidity problem.

There must be others who have arrived at the same conclusion to use 10x10cm panels?
Many PAIA 2700 and 4700 modules are 4x4". 2wx4"h is their smallest module.
What's .060" between frends?
You can actually order 4" x 4" from JLCPCB for the same $2

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Re: PCBs as Front Panels ?

Post by MikeDB » Tue Feb 18, 2020 4:42 pm

rsholmes wrote:
Sat Feb 15, 2020 8:03 pm
This is an interesting discussion, but I'm still a little hazy on some aspects of it. A "worked example" would help. Would anyone be willing to post a KiCad pcb file for a typical, basic front panel?
I used EasyEDA rather than KiCad but what did you want to know ?

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Re: PCBs as Front Panels ?

Post by patched » Thu Feb 20, 2020 5:28 am

rsholmes wrote:
Sat Feb 15, 2020 8:03 pm
This is an interesting discussion, but I'm still a little hazy on some aspects of it. A "worked example" would help. Would anyone be willing to post a KiCad pcb file for a typical, basic front panel?
Yes, this would be greatly appreciated from me too! A simple complete project for e.g. a mult or attenuator would be awesome, having a basis and trying out the whole procedure of ordering it before starting to design my own circuits would help a ton.

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Re: PCBs as Front Panels ?

Post by EATyourGUITAR » Thu Feb 20, 2020 4:06 pm

the reason why that doesn't exactly work is because there are many ways to do it. it would be like a tutorial on how to make a beautiful painting. you can have your lettering as a pos or negative in any of 3 layers or even all 3 in some combination.
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Re: PCBs as Front Panels ?

Post by brycecake » Thu Feb 20, 2020 8:44 pm

I threw together a passive attenuator/mult type of thing this afternoon, but I have no time to make a video on how I did it. I am a student and work full time, so I have no time to become a YouTube synth DIY tutorial phenomenon at the moment. I'd never be able keep up with the fan mail.

I can attempt to upload it to Github or something, I've never done such a thing before.

*EDIT* I gave it a shot, if anyone is interested.
https://github.com/brycecake/Passive-Attenuator


However I think that it would be more helpful to just understand what I did to make it, as it is not very hard.

I start with Inkscape. It's free to download, and you can save files as DXF. There are surely others that do the same thing. I know nothing about any of them. I only use Inkscape for making panels, and I'm certainly less than proficient with the program. But I get by.

I use the the Eurorack Panel Design Extension, also free, provided here....
https://syinsi.com/eurorack-panel-desig ... -inkscape/
It has instructions for downloading and getting it in the right place. Easy to use. I haven't had any luck using the oval mounting holes when transferring over to Kicad. They just turn into rectangles. Maybe someone else knows why, I don't care enough. I just use the circular mounting holes.

Use the circle tool to make holes of appropriate sizes for pots and jacks. Put them wherever you want, but respect the room of the component underneath the panel. It helps to draw guidelines using the data sheet for the pots, jacks, and switches you plan on using. Once you draw them, you can easily copy and paste them for every project. (good practice for learning Inkscape, since it's just manipulating simple shapes)
Also, mind the size of the PCB under the panel. In Eurorack, the panel is 128.5 mm tall while the PCB is usually no larger than 110 mm tall, centered on the panel, to make room for the rails. I draw some guide lines for this too. The "align and distribute" tools are very handy for getting everything lined up. Once you have laid out a nice lookin' panel with room to wiggle, you can clean up your guidelines by deleting them, or putting them on a different layer and making it invisible.
(Once I figure out how to upload to Github, I will include the Inkscape file, so you can steal my pots and jacks that I drew.)

Click Save As, and select DXF file. It will give you some options, don't worry about them. Just leave them and click OK.

Now in PCBnew (Kicad), click File>Import>Import Graphics, and browse for your DXF file you just made. Change the graphics layer to Edge Cuts. Click import or OK or whatever it is.

Go to the 3D Viewer and marvel at your craftsmanship. (I do this all the time. It's pointless and endlessly satisfying)
You should have, ya know, some kinda blank Eurorack panel at this point.

You can make another layer in Inkscape for your graphics, labels, name of your module, whatever you want on your panel. I will not go into detail here, as there is quite a bit of information available on this, and it's much more straightforward than turning the outline into a PCB. Suffice it to say, you can export your graphics layer as a png, and use the Kicad bitmap2component tool to lay the graphics on the board. You can experiment with putting graphics on the silkscreen layer or putting them on a copper layer depending on if you want them white or silver/gold.

On the PCB for the actual circuit behind the panel, you'll need to line up the pots and jacks with the holes. Import the panel DXF file again, this time to the Dwgs User layer. You may have to "massage" the grid to get it perfect, but as long as you fix your pots and jacks to the panel BEFORE soldering them (as SynthDIY Guy Quincas has told us 1,000 times! ALWAYS!) it should be somewhat forgiving. There is also a tool to align in Kicad, but I have not yet cracked the code on it, and often get strange results.

At this point, you can export both Gerbers and send it off to your PCB manufacturer of choice. If you have trouble with this part, give it a Google, although it's not too tricky. If you are unsure if you did it right, upload the Gerber to OSHpark ( *EDIT* OSHparks preview tool is not the best, it gets confused sometimes, but PCBway now has a preview tool, or there's one built into Kicad ), it will give you a preview, along with any errors or weirdness it encountered.

If that seems like a lot of work, well you aren't wrong. But I think it gets easier every time I do it. As I said, I threw together the attenuator with a panel (w/o panel graphics) in no time. EATyourguitar is right in saying there are MANY ways to do this. This is simply what integrated most smoothly with MY workflow.
I apologize for being so long winded in my response, but I hope it can help someone in their journey. :cloud: :cloud: :cloud:
Last edited by brycecake on Fri Feb 21, 2020 11:20 am, edited 4 times in total.

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Re: PCBs as Front Panels ?

Post by rsholmes » Thu Feb 20, 2020 9:09 pm

EATyourGUITAR wrote:
Thu Feb 20, 2020 4:06 pm
the reason why that doesn't exactly work is because there are many ways to do it. it would be like a tutorial on how to make a beautiful painting. you can have your lettering as a pos or negative in any of 3 layers or even all 3 in some combination.
Yes, yes, yes. But seeing *a* way to do it might be helpful.

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Re: PCBs as Front Panels ?

Post by EATyourGUITAR » Fri Feb 21, 2020 10:33 am

NOTE: TAKE MY NAME OFF THE PANEL IF YOU DECIDE TO ORDER IT AS IS.

also, this is not how I do it now. this panel has redundant information in the milling layer and in the drill layer. pick one. not both. if you use slots, it will be in the milling and dimension layer only. however, some people put a drill hole at the beginning and end of a milled slot. as always, the rule is to check with the PCB fab house first before submitting gerbers. if you do not follow this rule please do not post a sad story about your fab screwing up your order. good communication is required when switching to a new fab.

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Re: PCBs as Front Panels ?

Post by patched » Fri Feb 21, 2020 11:51 am

brycecake wrote:
Thu Feb 20, 2020 8:44 pm
I threw together a passive attenuator/mult type of thing this afternoon...
Thanks a ton for this! I'll take a look at this this weekend :tu:

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Re: PCBs as Front Panels ?

Post by FetidEye » Wed Mar 04, 2020 4:29 am

Where do you get your pcb panels made?

The place I normally use makes a lot of scratches on my (14HP) panel pcb's lately, which make them unusable.

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Re: PCBs as Front Panels ?

Post by indigoid » Thu Mar 05, 2020 6:11 am

TLDR I wrote some software to generate my panel files.

I design my actual circuit board as per normal. I've added custom attributes to some components in my parts library that specify what size panel drill holes they need.

Then when I'm ready to generate a panel I run a single command to generate the BRD file for the matching front panel. It uses the custom attributes.

More info in this thread:

https://www.muffwiggler.com/forum/viewt ... 7&t=216689

I've used this for my last few projects and I absolutely love it. It completely eliminates two classes of error:

- alignment errors — because it knows the hole centre location for all the components that poke through the panel
- drill hole size errors — set your panel drill size once in your parts library via the custom attribute and never get it wrong again

I really like keeping all the important design data in the board file for the actual circuit, and having the front panel be just another output file that I generate (and regenerate) — just like Gerbers.
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Re: PCBs as Front Panels ?

Post by rsholmes » Fri Mar 06, 2020 1:01 am

indigoid wrote:
Thu Mar 05, 2020 6:11 am
TLDR I wrote some software to generate my panel files.
Excellent! I use KiCad, though. Has anyone done a KiCad equivalent?

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Re: PCBs as Front Panels ?

Post by indigoid » Sat Mar 07, 2020 12:36 am

rsholmes wrote:
Fri Mar 06, 2020 1:01 am
Excellent! I use KiCad, though. Has anyone done a KiCad equivalent?
I don't know, but I hope someone does. I'd rather continue paying for Eagle Professional than switch to Kicad, though, so it sure won't be me

:party:

Can't be that hard, right? I had the basics of my app working within a weekend.
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Re: PCBs as Front Panels ?

Post by Neutron7 » Sat Mar 07, 2020 12:05 pm

I have done a few, This is a pcbpanel for the diy version of this module

It was designed with diptrace. Shiny bits are drawn on solder mask layer. The texture is a copper pour pattern, nice to prevent scratches and fingerprints. it was fabricated by jlcpcb in 2mm, new matte black.
69319B38-523C-4414-A77F-23A2B837A01B.jpeg
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Re: PCBs as Front Panels ?

Post by brycecake » Sat Mar 07, 2020 1:26 pm

Neutron7 wrote:
Sat Mar 07, 2020 12:05 pm
I have done a few, This is a pcbpanel for the diy version of this module

69319B38-523C-4414-A77F-23A2B837A01B.jpeg
That looks REEEEEEEEAAALLLLL purty. I love the arrows, looks like maybe you did holes in the copper layer and also the solder mask? So leds underneath can shine through?
You do great work. :hail:

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Re: PCBs as Front Panels ?

Post by guest » Sat Mar 07, 2020 5:00 pm

that looks great, i really like the hatching pattern. are those "clear" sections around the pots for LEDs to shine through and show pot position?
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Re: PCBs as Front Panels ?

Post by Neutron7 » Sat Mar 07, 2020 5:40 pm

no, nothing that fancy. it is just solder mask. you could probably do that with an active panel with smt LEDs on the back.

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Re: PCBs as Front Panels ?

Post by Flounderguts » Sun Mar 08, 2020 12:26 am

When you say "copper pour pattern," do you mean that you did it as a "pour" in inkscape/illustrator, and spec'd it as copper traces on the surface? Then the solder mask accentuates the pattern from the traces...

Did I get it right?

I like the aesthetic of the HASL coating on your exposed copper lettering. Smart. A lot of thought went into that.

Do you get weird messages from JLCPCB when you submit gerbers like that? They gave me a ton of grief on an antenna layer in a 4 layer board, once.

I may have to try one of these. I wish JLCPCB offered aluminum core boards...PCBWay does, but I have not worked with them, yet...

Thanks for posting. :tu:
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Re: PCBs as Front Panels ?

Post by Neutron7 » Sun Mar 08, 2020 11:39 am

“Copper pour” Is how it fills in areas with no traces for ground or power planes, in diptrace you can select a pattern besides just a solid pour. you can adjust the parameters of the pattern like line width and spacing. they are simple patterns like cross hatch or vertical/horizontal lines. i wish they would add hexagons or even let you input a tile-able pattern.

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Re: PCBs as Front Panels ?

Post by Neutron7 » Sun Mar 08, 2020 11:43 am

Flounderguts wrote:
Sun Mar 08, 2020 12:26 am

Do you get weird messages from JLCPCB when you submit gerbers like that? They gave me a ton of grief on an antenna layer in a 4 layer board, once.
I just add a note “this is a panel, please ignore electrical errors”

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Re: PCBs as Front Panels ?

Post by elmegil » Sun Mar 08, 2020 2:24 pm

Neutron7 wrote:
Sun Mar 08, 2020 11:39 am
i wish they would add hexagons or even let you input a tile-able pattern.
What I've done is create a bitmap the size of the panel and import it the same way I would a silkscreen layer, except I assign it to a copper layer. I haven't done it with DipTrace, but it works well in KiCad. Main downside is that it's got to be a single object, so you can't "tile" with it.

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Re: PCBs as Front Panels ?

Post by Troubleshooter » Mon Mar 09, 2020 8:32 am

Troubleshooter wrote:
Mon Jan 27, 2020 1:03 pm
guest wrote:
Mon Jan 27, 2020 10:58 am
that looks really good! is that going to be PCB or aluminum PCB?
Ordered regular PCB material. It should be stiff enough. Lets hope so....
Yes, it is even stiffer than the same thickness in alluminium.

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Re: PCBs as Front Panels ?

Post by mrand » Mon Mar 09, 2020 7:19 pm

Neutron7 wrote:
Sat Mar 07, 2020 12:05 pm
The texture is a copper pour pattern
Fantastic design, @Neutron. Thanks for sharing about the copper pour pattern, I've never noticed that option before. Looking forward to trying this on my own panels.
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Re: PCBs as Front Panels ?

Post by EATyourGUITAR » Fri Mar 13, 2020 3:56 pm

I no longer use pcbway for non-panel PCB. I use JLC now. If the JLC PCB panels look that good I may not be using pcbcart.com for panels either. Everything JLC now. As I said before, there were a lot of problems with white silkscreen from PCBway. more than one order was bad.
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