PCBs as Front Panels ?

From circuitbending to homebrew stompboxes & synths, keep the DIY spirit alive!

Moderators: Kent, luketeaford, Joe.

Post Reply
User avatar
werock
Ultra Wiggler
Posts: 881
Joined: Thu Apr 23, 2009 3:38 am
Location: London
Contact:

Re: PCBs as Front Panels ?

Post by werock » Mon May 04, 2020 6:14 am

I've successfully made panels before through Inkscape/Kicad, but have run into a problem with graphics.

I'm using Inkscape to create graphics, and have used both saving as DXF & a bitmap that has worked ok before.

Now I'm trying to use Inkscape to create text in a certain font. If I save it as a DXF and import into Kicad, the text isn't filled, it is an outline only. If I save as a bitmap and use the Kicad conversion tool, then the Kicad object either isn't visible at all, or has a filled background, despite the Inkscape file having a transparent background (alpha set to 0). I've experimented with the negative checkbox and the white/black balance.

The frustrating thing is I can see I've done it before ok, as I have other Kicad objects using the same font.

What am I missing? :hmm:

User avatar
EATyourGUITAR
has no life
Posts: 6130
Joined: Tue Aug 31, 2010 12:24 am
Location: Providence, RI, USA

Re: PCBs as Front Panels ?

Post by EATyourGUITAR » Mon May 04, 2020 8:46 am

if you can't export a black and white BMP from inkscape then that is your first problem. you should be able to export a black white BMP from inkscape and open it in MSpaint to see if it opens and looks ok. I could be wrong but I think DXF is for outlines. EPS can actually send information about filled closed vectors with color information per layer. if there is a way to do it with DXF, I'm not aware. neither kicad nor inkscape is owned by autodesk who invented the DXF format. that explains a lot. importing and exporting DXF from eagle works as intended but they are owned by autodesk. YMMV.
WWW.EATYOURGUITAR.COM <---- MY DIY STUFF

User avatar
Altitude909
Super Deluxe Wiggler
Posts: 3623
Joined: Wed Aug 24, 2011 5:13 pm
Location: Meesheegan

Re: PCBs as Front Panels ?

Post by Altitude909 » Mon May 04, 2020 9:15 am

IDK if its needed for KiCAD, but for eagle the BMP files need to be in BMP 1Bit format (one color). Its an option in illustrator when you export BMPs. Whether its needed or not, still not a bad idea since it will give you the best possible representation of what the output will look like

User avatar
werock
Ultra Wiggler
Posts: 881
Joined: Thu Apr 23, 2009 3:38 am
Location: London
Contact:

Re: PCBs as Front Panels ?

Post by werock » Mon May 04, 2020 12:47 pm

Thanks for the pointers, the mistake I was making was having a transparent background, making it black with a white background sorted it.

User avatar
Flounderguts
Super Deluxe Wiggler
Posts: 1116
Joined: Thu Dec 07, 2017 5:56 pm
Location: SLC
Contact:

Re: PCBs as Front Panels ?

Post by Flounderguts » Mon May 04, 2020 2:01 pm

That's an interesting bit of information...
----------------------

Flounderguts

ericneilj
Learning to Wiggle
Posts: 35
Joined: Mon Feb 04, 2019 9:09 pm
Location: Toronto, ON

Re: PCBs as Front Panels ?

Post by ericneilj » Mon Nov 16, 2020 9:04 am

Figured I’d revive this thread in case it would inspire anyone to show any recent efforts. I’m impressed with the clever ideas implemented by Neutron Sound, the textured ground planes are so good!

User avatar
elmegil
Super Deluxe Wiggler
Posts: 3029
Joined: Sun Apr 29, 2012 2:57 pm
Location: Chicago

Re: PCBs as Front Panels ?

Post by elmegil » Mon Nov 16, 2020 9:14 am

Something I'm working on...

the blank FR4 areas will have LEDs behind them...
IMG_3610.JPG

PabloSrNaranja
Learning to Wiggle
Posts: 48
Joined: Sun Dec 29, 2019 3:07 pm

Re: PCBs as Front Panels ?

Post by PabloSrNaranja » Mon Nov 16, 2020 9:39 am

elmegil wrote:
Mon Nov 16, 2020 9:14 am
Something I'm working on...

the blank FR4 areas will have LEDs behind them...

IMG_3610.JPG
Woooow, lovely!

Anyone know how to do this no coloured areas for the leds on Easyeda??

User avatar
mrand
Common Wiggler
Posts: 223
Joined: Thu May 23, 2013 11:26 pm
Location: Whitehorse, Yukon
Contact:

Re: PCBs as Front Panels ?

Post by mrand » Mon Nov 16, 2020 2:02 pm

Gorgeous!
Is is a kind of VCA matrix mixer?
--ssdp--

User avatar
elmegil
Super Deluxe Wiggler
Posts: 3029
Joined: Sun Apr 29, 2012 2:57 pm
Location: Chicago

Re: PCBs as Front Panels ?

Post by elmegil » Mon Nov 16, 2020 2:14 pm

Not so much a VCA. It only has one input, which is normalled to 12V, and the CVs and the encoders A/B/C/D vary how much of the input gets "through" to the outputs. I suppose a very carefully calibrated setting could let it behave like a VCA, aside from the fact that it's really not set up to handle audio inputs. It's based on the behavior of light through stacked polarized filters, as described in this video:

The idea is to generate a ton of interrelated CVs based on a combination of the encoder settings and up to four (plus the main input) CV inputs.

User avatar
elmegil
Super Deluxe Wiggler
Posts: 3029
Joined: Sun Apr 29, 2012 2:57 pm
Location: Chicago

Re: PCBs as Front Panels ?

Post by elmegil » Mon Nov 16, 2020 2:18 pm

PabloSrNaranja wrote:
Mon Nov 16, 2020 9:39 am
Woooow, lovely!

Anyone know how to do this no coloured areas for the leds on Easyeda??
Thank you :)

I use KiCad rather than EasyEDA but the whole idea is that you create keep out areas in the copper and the soldermask layers. In my case I took a graphic of the central part of the circular intersections and set it up as a mask layer region for front / back masks and then again as a keep out for the copper pour.

One thing I learned in this revision is that I need to actually allow copper and soldermask to be under the silkscreen because otherwise the drop off from the thickness of the copper+mask to the bare FR4 leaves noticeable gaps/imperfections in the silkscreen itself.

User avatar
Flounderguts
Super Deluxe Wiggler
Posts: 1116
Joined: Thu Dec 07, 2017 5:56 pm
Location: SLC
Contact:

Re: PCBs as Front Panels ?

Post by Flounderguts » Mon Nov 16, 2020 5:33 pm

PabloSrNaranja wrote:
Mon Nov 16, 2020 9:39 am
elmegil wrote:
Mon Nov 16, 2020 9:14 am
Something I'm working on...

the blank FR4 areas will have LEDs behind them...

IMG_3610.JPG
Woooow, lovely!

Anyone know how to do this no coloured areas for the leds on Easyeda??
In EasyEDA just make sure you have a footprint with only SolderMask TOP made up, perhaps with your silkscreen TOP as well. Then put the identical footprint on the BOTTOM, and as long as it is horizontally symmetrical, it will work. Or you can draw the shapes manually, and then copy/paste to bottom, and flip horizontally to make sure they line up.

KiCAD and EasyEDA both trace DXF files, treating them like point to point vector files for actual traces. It works very well for line art, but less well for filled spaces.
EasyEDA lets you use JPG PNG or bitmaps, but it dumbs them down in translation, so you lose a great deal of detail. I find making a DXF works great, if I have EasyEDA use a very small trace as outline. Import it into a footprint, and then go in close with the solid area tool to fill in spaces. It's clunky, but you can get very satisfying results.

The other nice thing about EasyEDA is that you can load up any TT font, and just use the text tool to put it in.

I use Altium and KiCAD at work, but I sure prefer EasyEDA for my own stuff. How did that happen?
----------------------

Flounderguts

User avatar
joeSeggiola
Wiggling with Experience
Posts: 251
Joined: Wed Jul 04, 2018 3:59 am
Location: Italy
Contact:

Re: PCBs as Front Panels ?

Post by joeSeggiola » Mon Dec 21, 2020 4:36 pm

Here's my experience with JLCPBC. I want to share pictures and details, since I was craving for them before ordering!

👍 I used their own software (EasyEDA) to design a basic 4HP (2cm) stereo input module. I think the web app is very user friendly. I'm a beginner (this is not only my first panel, but my first PCB design ever) and I was able to do everything I though about. Even that vector Great Wave detail was easy to import. The live 3D view (with "exploded" layers too!) helped a lot in understanding what I was doing.

Image

👍 I tried 5 different designs in a single panel, separated using v-cuts. Cuts are deep enough to break up easily by hand, but very narrow so they don't eat much from the final width of the panel.

Image

😐 I hoped the 2mm thickness would make it sturdier: I can easily bend them using hands, however it doesn't look like it'll break once mounted.

😐 Black finish is very opaque, but it's too much "light"; for example, Make Noise black panels are darker than this. I should have made a double layer PCB instead of a single layer one, and fill the back layer in black.

👎 Black finish around small drilled holes has visible imperfections (like, bumps). It's a bummer, since they'll expose LEDs, so they won't be covered with nuts. Next time I'll try making plated holes, as if they were solder pads, maybe that helps.

Image

👍 Holes are perfectly cut and sized, both the small drilled holes (⌀2.6mm) and the larger cut holes (⌀7.2mm).

👍 Silk screen is more precise than I expected. Even 1mm text is readable.

👍 Exposed gold plating looks fantastic for drawings. Should be noted it's very, very reflective, however I like it that way. I hope time won't made it fade to grey, like it did with my guitar...

Image

👎 Non-exposed copper layer looks really bad for decorations, instead. I tried making a coated grid pattern like Neutron7 did, but I don't like how it came out (if you're reading this, how did you make it so good?). It doesn't look uniform, especially around edges. Fortunately I also made variants without it.

Image

👍 JLCPCB service was great: they built the panels in 3 days like advertised (providing detailed progress updates) and quickly sent the package to DHL (with photo evidence).

😠 Unfortunately I didn't expect the service fee DHL made me pay when the package arrived in Italy, I mean, on top of the national customs fee. That alone was more than the shipping itself, and more than the due national tax. Next time I'll order using the slow and cheap option, and I'll eventually pay national standard tax myself.

User avatar
mrand
Common Wiggler
Posts: 223
Joined: Thu May 23, 2013 11:26 pm
Location: Whitehorse, Yukon
Contact:

Re: PCBs as Front Panels ?

Post by mrand » Tue Dec 22, 2020 12:19 pm

Looking good @joeSeggiola!

DHL is the worst shipping option! Crazy brokerage fees, and in my region, they deliver slower than anyone else, including regular post.
--ssdp--

User avatar
Tonescape
Wiggling with Experience
Posts: 351
Joined: Tue Jan 27, 2015 10:18 am
Location: Denmark
Contact:

Re: PCBs as Front Panels ?

Post by Tonescape » Wed Dec 23, 2020 3:32 am

Yes! @joeSeggiola - Looks really good. Really Impressive first try.

It does not look like you have any copper in there? (Hard to really see here though) - Hence the opaque look.

You could use LED to mask out the imperfections, like these: https://www.ebay.com/c/2037489086
Image
_________________________________________________
www.bragi-modular.com - www.instagram.com/momecmusic

User avatar
indigoid
Super Deluxe Wiggler
Posts: 1318
Joined: Thu May 29, 2014 7:52 pm
Location: Sydney, Australia

Re: PCBs as Front Panels ?

Post by indigoid » Thu Dec 24, 2020 5:07 am

yeah those look fantastic! I like matte soldermask a lot more than glossy soldermask, mainly for readability

eg. this one I prepared earlier. The module turned out super nice but I often find it difficult to read the panel text due to reflections from room lighting

viewtopic.php?p=3267078#p3267078
Zap him again! ZAP THE SONOFABITCH AGAIN!

User avatar
joeSeggiola
Wiggling with Experience
Posts: 251
Joined: Wed Jul 04, 2018 3:59 am
Location: Italy
Contact:

Re: PCBs as Front Panels ?

Post by joeSeggiola » Sat Dec 26, 2020 2:53 pm

Thanks everyone for the feedback! :hyper: :hyper:

mrand wrote:
Tue Dec 22, 2020 12:19 pm
DHL is the worst shipping option! Crazy brokerage fees, and in my region, they deliver slower than anyone else, including regular post.
I'll surely choose the cheap standard shipping option next time, I won't care if I'll wait a month or two.

Tonescape wrote:
Wed Dec 23, 2020 3:32 am
It does not look like you have any copper in there? (Hard to really see here though) - Hence the opaque look.
You mean a whole copper area under the entire panel, right? No, it doesn't, copper it's only where the Great Wave drawing is. Would that make the panel darker and/or more glossy?

Tonescape wrote:
Wed Dec 23, 2020 3:32 am
You could use LED to mask out the imperfections, like these: https://www.ebay.com/c/2037489086
Yes, I also have some of those somewhere, but holes are too small now. Maybe next time.

indigoid wrote:
Thu Dec 24, 2020 5:07 am
I like matte soldermask a lot more than glossy soldermask, mainly for readability
eg. this one I prepared earlier viewtopic.php?p=3267078#p3267078
Nice. I see, very reflective. How did you achieve this result? Text is copper or silk?

User avatar
Tonescape
Wiggling with Experience
Posts: 351
Joined: Tue Jan 27, 2015 10:18 am
Location: Denmark
Contact:

Re: PCBs as Front Panels ?

Post by Tonescape » Sat Dec 26, 2020 3:04 pm

joeSeggiola wrote:
Sat Dec 26, 2020 2:53 pm
You mean a whole copper area under the entire panel, right? No, it doesn't, copper it's only where the Great Wave drawing is. Would that make the panel darker and/or more glossy?
Yes! At least in the few experiments I have done. Maybe a copper fill on just the bottom layer would be enough, have not tried that.
Image
_________________________________________________
www.bragi-modular.com - www.instagram.com/momecmusic

User avatar
Flounderguts
Super Deluxe Wiggler
Posts: 1116
Joined: Thu Dec 07, 2017 5:56 pm
Location: SLC
Contact:

Re: PCBs as Front Panels ?

Post by Flounderguts » Sat Dec 26, 2020 3:17 pm

A full copper layer on the backside along with soldermask helps a lot with stiffness and opacity.

Remember that you don't have to shape your traces the same as your artwork. You can just expose the copper layer with soldermask, and the ENIG plating will cover that. I have found that approach to be mechanically better, and the panels hold up to abuse a bit better. It also makes them a bit thicker, approaching 1.8 mm on 1.6 mm FR4 (if you use copper on both layers and soldermask on both layers)

If stiffness is an issue, then paying for 4 layers really helps. I'm using this for my Lyra 8 gate breakout, as I want it to be stiff across 19" in 1u.

Oh yeah, if your holes are too small for an LED, remember that PCB material is really easy to drill! 3mm nominal bits are great for that!
----------------------

Flounderguts

User avatar
indigoid
Super Deluxe Wiggler
Posts: 1318
Joined: Thu May 29, 2014 7:52 pm
Location: Sydney, Australia

Re: PCBs as Front Panels ?

Post by indigoid » Sat Dec 26, 2020 4:46 pm

indigoid wrote:
Thu Dec 24, 2020 5:07 am
I like matte soldermask a lot more than glossy soldermask, mainly for readability
eg. this one I prepared earlier viewtopic.php?p=3267078#p3267078
Nice. I see, very reflective. How did you achieve this result? Text is copper or silk?
Copper. I'd flood-filled the whole top copper layer and left gaps in the soldermask where I wanted text. Seeed Studio offer "black" and "matte black" soldermask options. For the panel I'd linked to, I'd chosen "black". The Make Noise Rosie to the right in the image is an example of what you'll get if you select "matte black".

I may have also filled the bottom copper layer but I don't remember now

Per my comments earlier in this thread I've had problems with silkscreen smearing if it is handled too much, so definitely no good for my front panels. Though this is likely specific to the PCB fabs I've used — clearly it is not an industry-wide problem. My Make Noise modules have had no such problems, for example.
Zap him again! ZAP THE SONOFABITCH AGAIN!

User avatar
Flounderguts
Super Deluxe Wiggler
Posts: 1116
Joined: Thu Dec 07, 2017 5:56 pm
Location: SLC
Contact:

Re: PCBs as Front Panels ?

Post by Flounderguts » Sat Dec 26, 2020 9:36 pm

indigoid wrote:
Sat Dec 26, 2020 4:46 pm

Per my comments earlier in this thread I've had problems with silkscreen smearing if it is handled too much, so definitely no good for my front panels. Though this is likely specific to the PCB fabs I've used — clearly it is not an industry-wide problem. My Make Noise modules have had no such problems, for example.
Water-based tends to smear. The UV cure inks are pretty tough.

Usually a quick chat with the pcb house solves this...as I mentioned before, the engineers who run your gerbers don't necessarily expect you to be making front panels...but I have found them all to be *very* accomodating once you explain your needs.

I no longer use Seeed, but they once did a UV cure silkscreen ink for an ROV project for me. I think the UV ink was a $3 upcharge.
----------------------

Flounderguts

User avatar
KSS
Super Deluxe Wiggler
Posts: 4832
Joined: Mon Jan 25, 2016 7:28 am

Re: PCBs as Front Panels ?

Post by KSS » Sun Dec 27, 2020 12:55 am

Flounderguts wrote:
Sat Dec 26, 2020 9:36 pm
the engineers who run your gerbers don't necessarily expect you to be making front panels...
THIS. 100%

User avatar
gbiz
Super Deluxe Wiggler
Posts: 1076
Joined: Tue May 07, 2013 11:20 am
Location: Sussex, UK

Re: PCBs as Front Panels ?

Post by gbiz » Sun Dec 27, 2020 10:02 am

KSS wrote:
Sun Dec 27, 2020 12:55 am
Flounderguts wrote:
Sat Dec 26, 2020 9:36 pm
the engineers who run your gerbers don't necessarily expect you to be making front panels...
THIS. 100%
A few years back I had an email conversation with someone in PCBWay support, after a particularly bad batch where most were really badly scratched. They said that PCBs for front panels goes through exactly the same fabrication process as PCBs for regular use, including QA. I questioned why simple PCBs for use as a front panel seem to be worse for scratches, but i didn't get a response.

I always assumed the people on the production lines at these cheaper PCB fabricators are paid on how many PCBs the line can manufacture & pass QA per day. A simple design like a front panel is likely to get less attention than a complex design with a lot of components & traces on it. That goes for QA too not just for the actual fabrication.


PCBCart are definietly aware when PCBs are being used as front panels, & IME they do to treat them differently during manufacturing, but at additional cost. They've refused to fab front panel PCB gerbers for me in the past when i've tried to put them through their slightly cheaper, lower quality, prototype PCB process. They insisted that as the design is clearly a front panel it has to use their full price, higher spec, production PCB process, which includes a one time tooling fee, even when i've said they're prototypes & the quality of the finish doesn't matter. I guess they've had issues in the past with customers rejecting scratched front panel PCBs so this is the way they can recover the additional cost of manufacture to an acceptable finish. To prevent scratching during shipping, before vacuum packing front panel PCBs, they even place a piece of paper between each PCB, not something they do with their regular use PCBs. The additional tooling fee means they aren't be cost effective for small runs but it's not a huge overhead for a run of 25+ if the final look is important. Out of a run of, say, 50 front panel PCBs, with PCBCart i'd only expect minor surface scratches on a couple, the finish on the others would be close to perfect. By comparison, with PCBWay, i'd expect to be getting noticeable scratches on almost all, but at much lower cost. For prototypes or a small run just for myself that's not usually an issue, per-PCB cost is more important. (I've not used JLC so i can't comment on the finish of their product).



For simple, small PCBs where i just need a few with lower cost shipping, i've had good results with Dirty PCBs. Their default/cheapest shipping uses regular mail, so if you're not in any great hurry (2 weeks to the UK), a single run of 10x 100x100 or 50x50 boards doesn't attract import duty (i assume that'll change for us in the UK in the new year :( ) They also don't charge single or mutiple designs on a single PCB, or for tabbed slots, so you can get multiple boards onto a single panelled 50x50 or 100x100 PCB at no additional cost.

User avatar
batchas
Super Deluxe Wiggler
Posts: 4942
Joined: Wed Nov 09, 2011 2:51 pm

Re: PCBs as Front Panels ?

Post by batchas » Mon Dec 28, 2020 7:09 am

gbiz wrote:
Sun Dec 27, 2020 10:02 am
Out of a run of, say, 50 front panel PCBs, with PCBCart i'd only expect minor surface scratches on a couple, the finish on the others would be close to perfect. By comparison, with PCBWay, i'd expect to be getting noticeable scratches on almost all, but at much lower cost. For prototypes or a small run just for myself that's not usually an issue, per-PCB cost is more important. (I've not used JLC so i can't comment on the finish of their product).
I proposed to pay more to PCBCart but it did not make any difference. The recommentions sent with the GERBERs, the complains, in despite of their nice answers to my emails, did not improve the situation. The last time before giving up is when they sent to me a replacement which was worse than the previous batch. They had this paper in between boards for protection as I asked for, but the boards were scratched. The silkscreen was fucked up and so on.
On the last batch I had to order 50 to get 10 without scratches (2 x 25). 50 from PCBCart, then 50 from PCBWay. To make my 20 modules. This is the reason why I gave up with making modules for the BugBrand system after I tried in 3 years 5 different manufacturers.
Sometimes I got lucky (but always had to make at least twice more panels than modules), sometimes they were definitely not ok and scratched, which to me was a too big frustration. Big frustration cause on top you have 100s of PCBs that you can't recycle. I have KGs of these PCBs in boxes that I don't know what to do with.
Just to say, it's not always the same experience from customer to customer unfortunately.
BugBrand would not be able to make his amazing good modules with these PCB panels if we all had the same experience, but to me, my own experience, it's too much stress. I have 0 stress when I order an aluminium panel from Schaeffer AG. The price is not comparable, but you get what you asked for!
-----------------------------------
FS: KESAKO Player & Reverb for Serge and Buchla

User avatar
batchas
Super Deluxe Wiggler
Posts: 4942
Joined: Wed Nov 09, 2011 2:51 pm

Re: PCBs as Front Panels ?

Post by batchas » Mon Dec 28, 2020 7:15 am

gbiz wrote:
Sun Dec 27, 2020 10:02 am
For simple, small PCBs where i just need a few with lower cost shipping, i've had good results with Dirty PCBs. Their default/cheapest shipping uses regular mail, so if you're not in any great hurry (2 weeks to the UK), a single run of 10x 100x100 or 50x50 boards doesn't attract import duty (i assume that'll change for us in the UK in the new year :( )
I never tried Dirty PCB.
If I ever need to make a panel for my personal use, who knows, with time my negativity about PCB panel having lowered anyway, then I'll try Dirty PCB.
-----------------------------------
FS: KESAKO Player & Reverb for Serge and Buchla

Post Reply

Return to “Music Tech DIY”