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Front Panel Express is a great service for getting custom engraved panels. However, if you are not careful, panels can get very expensive. Here are some tricks that can save you money.
Front Panel Express Tricks
Don't infill engravings. I think it looks okay without infilling. You can buy a special infilling crayon if you need to infill.
Combine multiple designs into one panel. This will save on some of the fixed costs like the frame.
Use HPGL Engravings
I do all the layout in Front Designer, export to HPGL and then import it into FPE. This will reduce the cost by a lot. Front Designer is a better design tool anyway. I mark drillings in Front Designer with a '+' mark in a different engraving thickness from the text and lines so I can delete them all at once after I have added the holes.
- Draw everything including text with the pen set to "Engraving".
- For precise positioning of objects, click on the object and enter the desired coordinates in the lower right corner.
- When you export to HPGL, all lines which have the same engraving width will be grouped together in one layer. After the HPGL is imported into FrontPanelDesigner, you will only be able to set properties of this layer as an atomic unit. I've been using 3 layers, one for thin lines, one for thick lines, and one for guidemarks which will be deleted before being uploaded for manufacturing.
- Drillings can be exported from FrontDesigner, but not imported into FrontPanelDesigner, so mark them with guidemarks (i.e. a plus sign), using the engraving width you have chosen for guidemarks.
- I mark rectangular holes with a box using the guidemark engraving width.
- When you are done, select "File...Export...HPGL machine files". A dialog box will appear. Each of the different layers will appear in the Jobs list; make sure there are no engraving widths that you don't expect. Select the "Common origin" checkbox and push OK.
- Start with a blank front panel of the dimensions you desire. Make sure the origin is in the lower left corner.
- Click "Insert...HPGL Engraving"
- You will get a tool with crosshairs; click the origin (make sure coordinates are "X: 0.0000 Y: 0.0000".
- A dialog box will appear. Load the first HPGL layer you exported. Set the tool to the final desired width (can be different than the FrontDesigner engraving width you specified) and set the in-fill color. Click the radio button "Origin of HPGL file" and push OK. The engaving should appear exactly aligned with no need of manual adjustment.
- Repeat steps 8-11 for the rest of the layers.
- Add drillings based on the guidemark layer.
- Delete the guidemark layer.
- Print out on paper.
- Double check everything.
I've done three 6U wide MOTM height panels with lots of text, tick marks, and drillings (and some square holes) for about $85 each. Each panel has 3-5 modules on it.
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