[Kevin Hunckler] recently did some in-house manufacturing for a product and shared his experiences in adding high-quality custom graphic overlays or acrylic panels to give the finished units a professional look. The results look great and were easy to apply, making his product more attractive without needing much assembly work.
Sadly, when doing initial research he was disappointed to find very little information on the whole process. While in the end it isn’t terribly complex, it still involved a lot of trial and error before he zeroed in on what the suppliers in the industry expect. Fortunately, everything can be done with tools most hackers probably already have access to.
The process seems to us somewhat reminiscent of having PCBs manufactured. One defines the product housing, outlines the overlay, creates the artwork, defines an adhesive layer, and makes a design document explaining each layer and important feature. [Kevin] provides examples of his work, one of which fits an off-the-shelf Hammond enclosure.
Professionally-made acrylic panels or graphic overlays is something worth keeping in mind for hobbyists and those who might engage in desktop manufacturing, as long as the costs are acceptable. Rather like PCBs, costs go down as quantities go up. [Kevin]’s 50 mm x 50 mm overlay cost about 1 USD each in quantity 200, but only 0.50 USD each when buying 500.
These may be great for low or middling quantities, but that doesn’t mean one is out of options for prototypes or micro quantities. We have seen fantastic results adding full-color images to 3D prints, and even using a 3D printer to draw labels directly onto prints.