For my simpit i designed several backlit panels that i wanted to engrave using the lasercutter at our hackerspace. To print with this lasercutter, i need to export my drawings, save it on a network share and then run VisiCut on a laptop running some Linux distribution. Even though all the fonts and files are there, the export of the DXF loses all the fine details of the font and line thickness. This is probably because i’m a total n00b with AutoCad and VisiCut. Searching on the ‘net the only solution was to vectorise the image on a Window edition of AutoCad (because that comes with the awesome text tools that aren’t available on the Mac edition of AutoCad). I have no Windows machine so that is an absolute no-go.
However I found a workaround to get the 100% spot-on engraving option of my design.
The trick is to print the design to PDF in AutoCad and save the PDF as bitmap to get the proper DPI:
- Select the layers you want to engrave, either through a WBLOCK or direct from your main design
- print it as PDF. Make sure you print 1:1 and that you paper size is large enough.
- Then, on the Mac, open the .PDF with Preview,
- Crop the image
- Save As PNG. This will allow you to set the DPI of the target image (be blunt and just set it to 1000dpi or something).
Now, to laser-engrave our design you need to make sure that the scale is exactly right. VisiCut is a little pesky about opening bitmaps, but what I do is I open the DXF of the design, and then IMPORT an additional layer with the pre-rasterized bitmap I just saved. With a little adjustment, you can overlay the PNG on the vector file. When the scale is absolutely spot on you can delete the vector file.
it’s just an empty panel for now, but i have all the parts! Time to work on the softwaref!
This panel is part of a long-running project to build a simpit for Elite Dangerous. It is the keypad for the navigation computer that will replace the standard QWERTY keyboard, adding some nice features and a immersive design.
I made the panels and switches by painting transparant acrylic sheets with Humbrol modelling paint (comes in a small spray can). This paint is specially made for plastics, has very good adhesion and doesn’t melt when lasercutting. I have to paint several layers for it to become opaque (hold it against the light and check that no light bleeds through).
After the paint is done I can engrave the panels so that the white below the paint comes through.
The comes the engraving/cutting. All the panels we lasercut with the 40W lasercutter we have at my local hackerspace; i must have spent several hours sitting next to it by now! At first I wanted to make a proper PCB for the switches. But as this is a one-off prototype and PCB’s for this size are pretty expensive i tried to do it by hand. After designing the layout in AutoCAD 2016 I added several layers in my diagram:
1) switch solder panel (2mm,my alternative for the PCB)
2) support panel (actually wasn’t needed but it serves as a good standoff panel right now).
3) button panel (5mm thick creme transparent white with black paint)
4) button retaining panel (2mm white)
5) front panel (3mm thick creme transparent white with dark grey paint)
Because the buttons are 5mm and the front panel is only 3mm, the buttons stick out by 2mm which gives are nice glowing effect when they are lit.
Layer #4 is something that came up last-minute since my previous solution didn’t work. These are little plates that are glued to the backside of the buttons so they do not fall out. The buttons themselves are 13×13 (wider ones are 21×13) and the backplate is 15×15 to give them a 1mm border.
This all comes together in a stack. The distance from the pseudopcb to the buttons is fixed with a few stand-offs, but exactly high enough so that the spring tension of the switches pushes the buttons against the front plate without actually making contact. These tact switches have only 0.5mm travel.
Load of wiring because of the LEDS and the Switches
Sorting the buttons
Button back side