I needed a front plate for my project that looked fairly professional. I have used silk screen printing before, but the costs are high for only a few plates. So this time I tried dibond-aluminium laminate printed by a company that produce photo books, calendars and such. The panels consists of 3 mm laminates, a polyethylene kernel bonded between front and back aluminium sheets. This constitutes a very stiff construction which is easy to drill and saw. The image is UV printed with up to seven colours from an image file.
The process begins by creating the panel image. I used Inkscape, a vector drawing program. The panels are available in different sizes, I planned to use a 200 by 300 mm one. Once finished I exported the drawing as a 300 dpi PNG image using minimal (no) compression. Do not use JPG as this file format uses destructive compression and sharp edges, like in letters, will become fuzzy. It is important that your drawing is exactly the size of the dibond panel, else the dimensions may change during production. I uploaded the image to the web-shop and waited some days before the panels arrived. This is what I got ( I have smudged out some client related information).
As these panels are for wall decoration, a wall mount was glued to the back side.
I removed the mount by a heat gun and a snap-off blade knife. I also used a screw driver to press the mount up from the panel at one edge and cut the glue. In this manner I worked my way across the mount. I used the heat gun only at the start to get the first opening for the knife.
This is a very simple panel, just some text and a few crosses to mark hole positions. Some of these holes are big, 22 mm, I considered several options for them: punch and die, hole saw and step drill. As I was afraid of tearing the thin aluminium sheets I settled with the step drill, believing that to be the most gentle. I also drilled a few holes within the rectangle and used a Coping saw to take out the square hole.
The panel was a little higher than I wanted. I cut through the front aluminium layer using a knife...
and then just broke the plate.
Te result was a clean edge, only had to file of some edge burrs.
Then I cleaned the front side with alcohol and spayed on a few layers of clear varnish. I first tested the print a few places which would not be visible with the alcohol and varnish to be sure they did not dissolve the print.
At last I mounted the switches and display. Despite the large square hole, the panel is very stiff due to the lamination.