Thanks to the folks at the Maker Lab at the Harold Washington library in downtown Chicago, I’ve now got a nice clean faceplate for the QST Forty-9er with DDS VFO that I built a few months back. Here’s the final result up front:
The panel is just a piece of clear 1/16″ plexiglass that the Maker Lab had on hand, which conveniently is the right width to slot into the grooves in the existing case. The hardest part of the design was taking accurate measurements of the positions of the three holes in the plate, for the Forty-9er’s key and audio lines and the Arduino Nano’s USB port. In truth, I mis-measured the hieght of the USB port, but switching to a slightly higher standoff and adhering the K2ZIA board down with adhesive pads, everything lined up fine.
The process of laying out the design for the laser cutter is very straightforward. The desired shape is simply laid out in Inkscape, a free photoshop-like program. If you use two colors in the image, you can differentiate between the lines to be vector cut (i.e. cut all the way through the material, for an outline or a hole) and the areas to be raster-engraved (lightly etched for a frosted appearance). You can even do vector engraving, where a clean line is cut partway through the material. I set up the machine to vector-cut the outline and holes, raster the letters, and lighting vector-engrave around the letters for extra readability.
The laser cutting process has some trial and error in it; while the lab has some recommended settings, they’re more like guidelines than guaranteed routes to success. It took a couple tries to get the raster settings right to appropriately etch the plastic enough to be visible, without being too deep.
Hear you on the air!