Electronic projects that aren't in a box are fragile. I have a project completing soon that has a reasonably complex control layout. It's going to need some manner of control panel that includes plenty of writing and has different sections.

I can think of a few options:

  1. Get a panel engraved
  2. Print the panel on a color printer and laminate it.

Option #1 is the most professional but can be expensive. Therefor I am exploring option #2. Once the project works, perhaps dropped the cash on option #1 will be a consideration.

I'm wondering what software other board members use for this sort of thing. I've used a nice drafting package called Draft IT from CADlogic to draw the panel. Now I realize I need to color it. I don't think the free version (or any version, for that matter) of the software supports color. This means if I produce a PNG file using DraftIT, color it with some other software, and then need to make a change to the original drawing, I'll have to redo all my work.

Here's the latest cut of the control panel. It isn't quite ready - I haven't marked where holes need to be drilled. I'm working to ensure the control layout is ergonomic and that the controls actually fit. Like icebergs, many controls are bigger underneath...

Control panel mock-up

So we see a lot of text in the upper left. It's a table that defines the behavior of the rotary switches represented by the large circles at the bottom. The seven smaller circles represent 10mm LEDs. The three small rectangles represent toggle switches. The remaining medium sized circle is a speed control knob. Overall dimensions are 10" x 5.25".

So as you see, I have a lot going on here. I need the text to be readable; I would like the main power switch denoted by a read box. I'd like the column of LEDs and the toggle beneath also within a colored box as they are related.

How can I make this into reality, people?

  • \$\begingroup\$ What do you need colors for? If you want to make a control panel, you won't use color information for getting it cut. maybe you want to cut a pre-colored panel or paint it after cutting. \$\endgroup\$
    – clabacchio
    Oct 7, 2012 at 12:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ True enough - the typical engraved panel has no color except for that applied for contrast. However, printed control panels are a different matter and allow some flexibility. Some of this is more a matter of art and style than it is electronic necessity. \$\endgroup\$
    – Tony Ennis
    Oct 7, 2012 at 13:01

3 Answers 3


Color print on photo paper covered with a transparent sheet is the way I used in the past for a device I made.

enter image description here

I used INKSCAPE to draw it.

  1. Print layout on common paper
  2. Clean aluminium frontplate
  3. Get double linered adhesive sheet 7955MP by 3M (appears I had the 486MP, but they're comparable. The main thing is that you need double-sided adhesive sheets.
  4. Remove one liner, and fix sheet on the front panel
  5. Remove the other liner, and fix printed layout on that
  6. Protect with self-adhesive Lexan laminating sheet 7738FL (matte), by 3M
  7. Celebrate with a beer
  • \$\begingroup\$ shop3m.com/…!!! I'd celebrate with a beer for being able to afford a case of that stuff! Can you buy it in quants of 1? \$\endgroup\$ Oct 8, 2012 at 21:47
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @Scott - So? $1385 for the tape + $10 for the crate of beer = $1395. What's your problem? :-) I once bought them in single sheets, A4 size, IIRC at about €2 per sheet, which is a comparable price. Actually they seemed to be 486MP, not 7855MP, but their use is the same. I think I bought them at Conrad.nl, though I can't seem to find them there right now (site isn't fully operational due to maintenance). Anyway, you can buy them in smaller sizes and smaller quantities. \$\endgroup\$
    – stevenvh
    Oct 8, 2012 at 23:41

This may not apply to your situation, but the low-cost way to make a custom control panel is to design your circuit to be entirely digitally controlled, say through USB. Then write a control software with a "soft" control panel to be run on a pc or laptop to control your device.

  • \$\begingroup\$ It applies to my situation perfectly, after a fashion. One of my primary decisions is that I don't want a computer in my shop. \$\endgroup\$
    – Tony Ennis
    Oct 7, 2012 at 16:54

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