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  • Printing on aluminum?

    I need to make up a few instrument panels and the simplest way to get text on them (and make it look nice!) seems to be screen printing. I have a screen print kit but have never used it on aluminum. I have heard that Al doesn't take paint well but I seem to remember that if you spray the panel with adhesive, let it dry and then print acrylic on that, it holds up very well. I don't remember where I read this, but I'm sure that someone here has done something similar at some point.

    I can easily test this, but I'm worried about it flaking off a few months later.

    The alternative is to laser print on a transparency (back side) and then glue the transparency to the aluminum. Office Max type transparency is too glossy (looks cheap), and I don't want to spend $$$ on polycarbonate film only for 1 or 2 panels - the prices I've seen for a roll would be half as much as I'm charging for the entire project!

    Any help would be welcome!

  • #2
    A lot of boats and caravans are made of aluminium and they paint very well , don't quite understand why they would't. I understand though that you need special car body filler for aluminium than steel.Just what I have heard Alistair
    Please excuse my typing as I have a form of parkinsons disease

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    • #3
      Originally posted by lwalker
      I need to make up a few instrument panels and the simplest way to get text on them (and make it look nice!) seems to be screen printing.

      The alternative is to laser print on a transparency (back side) and then glue the transparency to the aluminum. Office Max type transparency is too glossy (looks cheap), and I don't want to spend $$$ on polycarbonate film only for 1 or 2 panels - the prices I've seen for a roll would be half as much as I'm charging for the entire project!

      Any help would be welcome!
      Find a local printing shop that does vinyl truck signs. Have them print you a sheet that has all of your colors, lables, etc. on it. Stick it to the aluminum panel. Done.

      All of my company's products use these vinyl labels. They hold up well. They cost $5 each. Can't be beat.

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      • #4
        If you have access to a colour laser printer or colour copier, then you can make good quality decal. Check out how it's done.

        http://www.pulsarprofx.com/decalpro/..._It_Works.html

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        • #5
          My local copy place, which admittedly is a big one, has an inkjet printer that prints right on Aluminum. 4' wide, up to something like 12 feet long.

          You just take in a cd with your digital info on it, and they will do it.

          Since all the new aluminum I buy has the size, mill run, and alloy ink jet printed on it, it would seem inkjet printing works just fine.

          I know guys who have been silkscreening on aluminum for 30 years or more- and never heard of the spray glue thing.
          With the right ink, silkscreen should be just fine on aluminum.

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          • #6
            Check this thread:

            http://bbs.homeshopmachinist.net/sho...ighlight=label
            Free software for calculating bolt circles and similar: Click Here

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            • #7
              After rereading the thread on Evan's dials, I had a thought on getting various stocks for labels. I had to design some adheasive labels at work and needed a sheet that would work well in ink jet printers for continous production. we have worn out several printers by now. Each label was different but the size and pattern was the same. My local print shop was able to obtain several samples of printable stock for evaluation. They run into this on a daily basis and have sources for label stock from around the world. You would probably have to buy a hundred sheets or more but they can get almost anything and you can specify what you need.
              Paul A.
              SE Texas

              Make it fit.
              You can't win and there is a penalty for trying!

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              • #8
                I've made a number of prototypes that are just about indistinguishable from actual membrane panels except for a slight reduction in contrast. I laser print in full color (or black onto a bright colored paper) onto a good quality white paper. It gets over-laid with a 7 mil thick velvet lexan with 3M 467/468 adhesive behind it. A screen printer that does overlays can make some of this up for you. I then apply double sided adhesive to the stack and stick it to the panel. These hold up to handling as well as the real thing. Be careful if you have panel mount hardware to either not tighten too much (not always an option) or cut clearance around it so the hardware bears against the panel. You can even include a clear window in the stack ... with patience

                Paul, thanks for the reminder about Evan's Avery sticky sheets. I've been meaning to try them sometime. Den
                Last edited by nheng; 01-26-2008, 06:43 PM.

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                • #9
                  Evan:
                  thanks, that sounds like exactly what I need. My only problem with the overhead transparency I have is that it's too glossy and I couldn't find a matte finish.
                  I notice it's been 3 months since you posted that; how are the labels holding up?

                  nheng:
                  Do you have a source for small quantites of that 7 mil Lexan? All the places I've seen online require that you buy an entire roll at $200+ Even eBay wasn't any help.

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                  • #10
                    Lettering Control Panels

                    There are many ways to skin this cat. Since I am blessed with the tools and the background for commercial art production (Adobe Illustrator on a Mac) I tend to overdo these things.

                    The most expensive and complex but longest lasting method is to prepare artwork and have the aluminum panels acid etched. The etcher will backfill the etched area with paint. Or they can simply fill the letters with paint. All depends if you have negative or positive artwork. Here is an example:

                    http://www.kk5im.com/rrimages/CTCfinalD.jpg

                    And a close-up of a single panel:

                    http://www.kk5im.com/rrimages/042005c.jpg

                    These panels are expensive but perhaps in your local area there might be a source. The artwork can be produced on a computer with most drawing software and given to the etcher on a CD (similar to the vinyl sign company posted above).

                    Another alternative, much cheaper, is to create the artwork with white letters on a solid black background. Print this on photo paper and laminate it TO THE BACK of clear polycarbonate (Lexan/Plexiglass etc). Then center punch and drill holes for the components. There are spray adhesives available for this purpose.

                    Just about any self-adhesive material you apply to a metal surface that comes into physical contact with your hand (a switch or lever on a control panel) will eventually wear. Applied to the back of the clear panel, this problem is greatly reduced.

                    We have also done some panels with rear illumination using transparent film for the artwork and back mounted to translucent (white) Plex.

                    Screen printing is pretty hard to do WELL unless you have the right equipment and experience. It still requires artwork and usually a film negative.

                    The link to the Avery post was pretty cool by the way. Thanks!
                    _________________________________
                    Jay Miller
                    Dallas, TX
                    www.kk5im.com

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                    • #11
                      The labels are holding up pretty well, especially the printing. I would suggest for use in a machining environment that it would be a good idea to mask and paint the exposed edges with clear nail polish. This will seal them and prevent lifting eventually. For masking tape I always use black electrical tape.
                      Free software for calculating bolt circles and similar: Click Here

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                      • #12
                        lwalker, A local screen printing shop that did tee-shirts and electronic overlays (different areas of the shop ) made up sheets of the lexan and adhesive for me.

                        The lexan or its polyester equivalent (in appearance, at least) are common for such an operation but a quick glance online says they're not that easy to find. 3" x 60yd of 468 MP is about $40, $80 for twice the width. Other adhesive sheets can also work but they must be clear.

                        oops, found some 8A35 polycarb sheet ...

                        This place shows GE 8A35 0.010" velvet/polish sheet for $6.55 for 24" x 48". Sounds cheap but I've never bought any myself.

                        http://www.eplastics.com/Plastic/Fil...-0102448-PC815

                        PM me if you'd like a 4" x 6" sheet with adhesive applied to play with.
                        Last edited by nheng; 01-26-2008, 09:53 PM.

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                        • #13
                          Originally posted by Ries
                          My local copy place, which admittedly is a big one, has an inkjet printer that prints right on Aluminum. 4' wide, up to something like 12 feet long.
                          Ries, that's pretty cool. Do they provide the aluminum? If not, is there a specific gauge of aluminum that you need to supply, or is the printer a flat-bed of some sort?

                          Can they do color too?
                          "Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did."

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                          • #14
                            Depending on the application, another way is heat transfer.

                            A laser printer image is placed on a VERY clean part. Heated and pressed. The plastic toner bonds to the clean metal, and the original paper is removed.

                            I have done this many times for printed circuit boards, or simple markings. The paper is crucial to a good end product.
                            Dave

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                            • #15
                              lots of good ideas, a really simple one is the toner transfer method used as a circuit board etching resist. Print using a laser printer (as to be laser) onto glossy photo paper and iron onto the panel. what you print has to be a mirror image - soak in water after ironing and fingernail off the paper. the toner is stuck onto the metal and is fairly durable.

                              Dave, you beat me to it
                              .

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