PCB material front panels advice

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geecen
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PCB material front panels advice

Post by geecen » Mon Jul 13, 2015 10:54 am

Hi all,

I've seen some DIY companies make their panels out of PCB material. This seems to have a few advantages: cheap to get manufactured, tougher than acrylic, can put metal 'trim' and designs on it.

I quite fancy getting some Turing machine boards made, and I thought I would try my hand at a panel design too. Does anyone have any experience, advice, egs etc. they would like to offer about how best to get this done?

I guess I'll have to figure out some Eagle or free pcb software basics to get the design done but that should be ok.

Thanks! :smoke:

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geecen
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Post by geecen » Tue Jul 14, 2015 3:59 am

Anyone? :despair:

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stabilt
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Post by stabilt » Tue Jul 14, 2015 5:02 am

It's not only cheaper to get manufactured but it's also much faster to get manufactured than aluminium.

They are more flexible than aluminium panels, it's more difficult to get it completly flat unless you do 3.2mm PCB panel. With aluminium the panel will bend the PCB with the panel components soldered to it if it's not even while a PCB panel will take some of the flexing instead upon itself. Soldering the panel components after fixating them in the panel helps a lot in both cases.

The main problem we have had at RYO is the visual quality. Some cheap PCB houses use 300dpi silk screen printers and some use 600dpi. You can buy visual quality control but that usually increase the price more than just scrapping a portion of the panels.

The cheaper the manufacturer the higher risk for more and worse surface scratching also. Some light scratching will always be there on a portion of the panels unless you pay a lot.

Another advantage compared to aluminium is that you can electrically isolate jacks from the panel without using plastic barrel jacks like Doepfer, Tiptop and more.

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geecen
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Post by geecen » Tue Jul 14, 2015 2:12 pm

Thanks for the info- I think I will go ahead and give it a try! It was the ryo panels which inspired me to try in the first place!

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Post by jazzmonster » Wed Jul 15, 2015 2:55 am

Hi, I just started doing that myself therefore I have limited experience.

Have a look at Tom Whithwell's Microphonie panel file:

http://musicthing.co.uk/modular/wp-cont ... el-PCB.zip

There are 2 PCB designs there for Eagle, panel and the actual circuit PCB. Have a look at the panel. That's what I learnt from.

Generally all the holes you need for the jacks, pots, screws etc. should be done as vias with appropriate diameter as that will create a nice copper rim around them and will connect the back to front of the panel electrically.

The back panel should be 1 large ground plane without the solder mask - a filled rectangle in the bStop layer in eagle (so it's basically all covered in exposed copper). It will help you ground all the pots/jacks etc. Have a look at the way it is done for Mikrophonie.

For the front of the panel you have a couple of options.

You can either go without solder mask (so the fStop layer covered with a filled rectangle) and use the actual copper layer (Top) for writing. That's how Mikrophonie's done. It's quite bare but also rather cool.

The other option is to cover the whole front with a solder mask (a filled rectangle the size of the board in the tStop layer) and use the tName silkscreen layer for all the text.

I tried both ways, using oshpark.com PCB house for my prototypes and they looked outstanding.

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Post by raveboyy » Wed Jul 15, 2015 3:25 am

Another advantage compared to aluminium is that you can electrically isolate jacks from the panel without using plastic barrel jacks like Doepfer, Tiptop and more.
What is an advantage of this? Isn't it better when the panels are grounded together with the sleeves of the jacks?

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geecen
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Post by geecen » Wed Jul 15, 2015 4:49 am

jazzmonster wrote:Hi, I just started doing that myself therefore I have limited experience.

Have a look at Tom Whithwell's Microphonie panel file:

http://musicthing.co.uk/modular/wp-cont ... el-PCB.zip

There are 2 PCB designs there for Eagle, panel and the actual circuit PCB. Have a look at the panel. That's what I learnt from.

.
Good idea! I forgot that the mikrophonie had the PCB panel- I'll DWF have a good play around with freeware eagle when I get home.

Do you have any pictures f your panels? I'd love to take a look.

From what you've said I'm guessing the ryo panels use the solder mask and silkscreen method. I'd def like yo try both, but have been fantasising about having copper detailing so might try it bare first. Is there a way you can finish them off with some kind of clear lacquer or varnish to give sheen and more even finish?

Thanks

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Post by cereyanlimusiki » Wed Jul 15, 2015 6:37 am

This is a good reading How to Build Beautiful Enclosures from FR4 and it might give an idea

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Post by jazzmonster » Wed Jul 15, 2015 5:40 pm

This is a panel with without the solder mask, with the writing in the copper layer. unfortunately I don't have any pictures of the panels with the silkscreen and solder mask (waiting for a batch of them). This was really just an experiment with a simple panel design before I move on to more complicated ones.

Image

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Post by jazzmonster » Wed Jul 15, 2015 5:42 pm

The only problem with panels with the writing in copper is that the contrast between the copper and the bare pcb isn't that good. Depending on the lighting condition, sometimes the text can be hard to read. But I do like quite a 'technical' look of it.

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Post by andrewF » Wed Jul 15, 2015 5:54 pm

Once the soldermask is on, it is easy to read. Also if it is just bare exposed copper, it will darken as it corrodes (might even turn green!). I get mine finished with ENIG (gold)

Image

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Post by geecen » Wed Jul 15, 2015 6:04 pm

andrewF wrote:Once the soldermask is on, it is easy to read. Also if it is just bare exposed copper, it will darken as it corrodes (might even turn green!). I get mine finished with ENIG (gold)

Image
I love the look of your panels! How do you stop the soldermask from going over the design? (Is that a stupid question? Not tried using eagle yet!)

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Post by Sandrine » Wed Jul 15, 2015 7:22 pm

jazzmonster wrote:The only problem with panels with the writing in copper is that the contrast between the copper and the bare pcb isn't that good. Depending on the lighting condition, sometimes the text can be hard to read. But I do like quite a 'technical' look of it.
I've used cova dye for that, if the PCB is lightly sanded / abraded it'll soak in
It's a leather dye my X used for saddles etc

Then polish up the copper parts and coat with urethane or "Nu-Lustre 55" epoxy (which is awsome)

There's also "Tinnit" for the copper to make it silver, but must be coated as after a while it seems to oxidize.

I've done panels with a reflow which makes beautiful lettering but it's really finicky with the resin, need to clean it after, and cooks paint if on there

PCB's are great for LED backlighting also (for lettering) if the phenolic type, but you're kinda stuck with the board colour with that, with some variation of course

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Post by billsship » Thu Jul 16, 2015 1:13 am

Really helpful thread everyone. Any recommendations of PCB manufacturers for front panels?

@jazzmonster, is the photo you posted a panel from OSHpark?

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Post by jazzmonster » Thu Jul 16, 2015 3:19 am

andrewF
the panels look great! I never thought about using solder mask and copper instead of the silkscreen.

billsship
Yes they were made with oshpark. The price is not too bad for prototypes (19.99 USD for 3x 4HP panels).

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Post by edwinm » Thu Jul 16, 2015 10:17 am

Can anyone recommend a good (+cheap!) UK/European pcb manafacturer?

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Post by av500 » Thu Jul 16, 2015 10:58 am

edwinm wrote:Can anyone recommend a good (+cheap!) UK/European pcb manafacturer?
Yes, living in Germany I can recommend dirtypcbs.com in China and oshpark.com in the US - I dont know any European one :(

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Post by edwinm » Thu Jul 16, 2015 11:10 am

Thanks :tu:

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Post by fuzzbass » Thu Jul 16, 2015 1:13 pm

andrewF wrote:Once the soldermask is on, it is easy to read. Also if it is just bare exposed copper, it will darken as it corrodes (might even turn green!). I get mine finished with ENIG (gold)
I just received one of Andrew's new SOU panels. Looks and feels great - a real standout.
Wired for weird

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stabilt
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Post by stabilt » Sat Jul 18, 2015 10:12 am

raveboyy wrote:
Another advantage compared to aluminium is that you can electrically isolate jacks from the panel without using plastic barrel jacks like Doepfer, Tiptop and more.
What is an advantage of this? Isn't it better when the panels are grounded together with the sleeves of the jacks?
It's a matter of monkey see monkey do. Several manufacturers that we respect isolates the panel. All manufacturers don't want to mix what should be earth with signal ground or at least make a star ground with the panel as a lone "arm" on the star.

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Post by okelk » Mon Jul 20, 2015 11:25 am

How thick is the FR4 you use for pcb panels?

2mm?
Or is 1.6 good enough or do you pay more to get 2.5mm pcb's?

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Post by andrewF » Mon Jul 20, 2015 5:34 pm

2mm - same as most panels in eurorack.

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Post by BugBrand » Mon Jul 20, 2015 5:57 pm

For prototypes, standard 1.6mm wins - partly because I don't think it is worth the great increase in price to go to thicker. In production, I use 3.2mm - haven't tried anything between 1.6 & 3.2 actually..

1.6mm can flex a bit, but it depends a lot on the design -- my initial designs (5+ years ago) had perpendicular PCBs -- maybe it is now better with my parallel pcbs.. just tried 'pressing' a proto build - minimal -- and you're never going to break the panel by pressing like that anyways. So, probably you'll be fine with 1.6mm.

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