Polish Up Your Product With Graphic Overlays

[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.

A graphic overlay with transparent areas, a cutout, and adhesive backing to fit an off-the-shelf Hammond enclosure.

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.

Headset’s Poor Range Fixed By Replacing Antenna

[rafii6312]’s Corsair HS80 wireless headset had a big problem: short range. The sound quality was great, but the wireless range wasn’t winning any friends. Fortunately, the solution was just to swap the small SMT antenna on the USB transmitter for an external one.

Original SMT antenna (blue component) offers small size, but poor range.

This particular headset relies on a USB dongle to transmit audio from PC to headset over its own 2.4 GHz wireless connection. By popping open the USB dongle, [rafii6312] was able to identify an SMT antenna and easily desolder it, replacing it with a wired connection to a spare 2.4 GHz external antenna. That’s all it took to boost the headset’s range from barely one room to easily three rooms, which is a success by any measure.

Sadly, the USB transmitter dongle doesn’t have any intention of being opened and puts up a fight, so the process was a bit destructive. No problem, [rafii6312] simply fired up Fusion360 to design a new 3D-printed enclosure that accommodated the new antenna. Pictures, instructions, and 3D model files are all available on the project page, if you want to improve your headset, too.

This kind of antenna upgrade is reasonably straightforward, but if one is armed with the right knowledge, antenna upgrades from scratch using scrap wire and dollar store hardware are entirely possible. Just be sure to pick an antenna that doesn’t weigh down your headset.

Weatherproof Raspberry Pi Camera Enclosure, In A Pinch

The Raspberry Pi is the foundation of many IoT camera projects, but enclosures are often something left up to the user. [Mare] found that a serviceable outdoor enclosure could be made with a trip to the hardware store and inexpensive microscopy supplies.

A suitably-sized plastic junction box is a good starting point, but it takes more than that to make a functional enclosure.

The main component of the enclosure is a small plastic junction box, but it takes more than a box to make a functional outdoor enclosure. First of all, cable should be run into the box with the help of a cable fitting, and this fitting should be pointed toward the ground when the enclosure is mounted. This helps any moisture drip away with gravity, instead of pooling inconveniently.

All wire connections should be kept inside the enclosure, but if that’s not possible, we have seen outdoor-sealed wire junctions with the help of some 3D-printing and silicone sealant. That may help if cable splices are unavoidable.

The other main design concern is providing a window through which the camera can see. [Mare] found that the small Raspberry Pi camera board can be accommodated by drilling a hole into the side of the box, cleaning up the edges, and securing a cover slip  (or clover glass) to the outside with an adhesive. Cover slips are extremely thin pieces of glass used to make microscope slides; ridiculously cheap, and probably already in a citizen scientist’s parts bin. They are also fragile, but if the device doesn’t expect a lot of stress it will do the job nicely.

[Mare] uses the Raspberry Pi and camera as part of Telraam, an open-source project providing a fully-automated traffic counting service that keeps anonymized counts of vehicle, pedestrian, and bicycle activity. Usually such a device is mounted indoors and aimed at a window, but this enclosure method is an option should one need to mount a camera outdoors. There’s good value in using a Raspberry Pi as a DIY security camera, after all.

£D printed parts with glossy toner transfer images on

Add Full-Color Images To Your 3D Prints With Toner Transfer

Toner transfer is a commonly-used technique for applying text and images to flat surfaces such as PCBs, but anybody who has considered using the same method on 3D prints will have realized that the heat from the iron would be a problem. [Coverton] has a solution that literally turns the concept on its head, by 3D printing directly onto the transparency sheet.

instrument panel design with toner transfer markings
The fine detail is great for intuitive front-panel designs

The method is remarkably straightforward, and could represent a game-changer for hobbyists trying to achieve professional-looking full-color images on their prints.

First, the mirrored image is printed onto a piece of transparency film with a laser printer. Then, once the 3D printer has laid down the first layer of the object, you align the transparency over it and tape it down so it doesn’t move around. The plastic that’s been deposited already is then removed, and a little water is placed on the center of the bed. Using a paper towel, the transparency gets smoothed out until the bubbles are pushed off to the edges.

Another few pieces of tape hold the transparency down on all corners, and the hotend height is adjusted to take into account the transparency thickness. From there, the print can continue on as normal. When finished, the image should be fused with the plastic. If it’s hard to visualize, check out the video after the break for a step-by-step guide.

There are, of course, some caveats. Aligning the transfer and the print looks a little fiddly at the moment, the transparency material used (obviously) has to be rated for use in laser printers, and it only works on flat surfaces. But on the other hand, there will be some readers who already have everything they need to try this out at home right now — and we’d love to see the results!

We’ve covered some other ways to get color and images onto 3D prints in the past, such as this hydrographic technique or by using an inkjet printhead, but [Coverton]’s idea looks much simpler than either of those.  If you’re interested in toner transfer for less heat-sensitive materials, then check out this guide from a few years back, or see what other Hackaday readers have been doing on wood or brass.

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Shot of CubeTouch, a six sided cube built out of PCBs with each of the top PCB allowing for diffusion of the LEDs on the inside to shine through

Keyboard Shortcuts At The Touch Of A Planetary Cube

[Noteolvides] creates the CubeTouch, a cube made of six PCBs soldered together that creates a functional and interactive piece of art through its inlaid LEDs and capacitive touch sensors.

The device itself is connected through a USB-C connector that powers the device and allows it to send custom keyboard shortcuts, depending on which face is touched.

Finger touching the top of a CubeTouch device

The CubeTouch is illuminated on the inside with six WS2812 LEDs that take advantage of the diffusion properties of the underlying FR4 material to shine through the PCBs. The central microprocessor is a CH552 that has native USB support and is Arduino compatible. Each “planet” on the the five outward facing sides acts as a capacitive touch sensor that can be programmed to produce a custom key combination.

Assembling the device involves soldering the connections at two joints for each edge connecting the faces.

We’re no strangers to building enclosures from FR4, nor are we strangers to merging art and functionality. The CubeTouch offers a further exploration of these ideas in a sweet package.

The CubeTouch is Open Source Hardware Certified with all documentation, source code and other relevant digital artifacts available under a libre/free license.

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Custom Raspberry Pi Case Shows The Whole Workflow

If you are a process junkie and love seeing the end-to-end of how a thing is made and with what tools, then watch [Michael Klements] show off his Raspberry Pi case design. His case has quite a few cool-looking elements to it, and incorporates 3D printing as well as laser-cut and clear bent acrylic for a gorgeous three-quarter view.

[Michael]’s write-up (and accompanying video, embedded below) are partly a review of his Creality 3D printer, and partly a showcase of his Raspberry Pi case design (for which he sells the design files for a small fee on his Etsy store.) But the great part is seeing the creation of every piece that goes into the end product. Not everyone is familiar with the way these tools work, or what they can create, so it’s nice to see attention paid to that side of things.

Both the blog post and the video nicely show off what goes into every part. The video opens with unpacking and setting up the 3D printer (skip ahead to 4:58 if you aren’t interested), followed by printing the parts, laser-cutting the acrylic on a K40 laser cutter, bending the acrylic using a small hand tool, and finally, assembling everything. For the curious, there are also links to the exact parts and equipment he uses.

Like we said, it’s part 3D printer review and part showcase of a design he sells, but it’s great to see each of the parts get created, watch the tools get used, and see the results come together in the final product. And should you wish to go in the opposite direction? A one-piece minimalist case for your Raspberry Pi is only a 3D printer away.

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The eurorack rail piece, just printed in white plastic, not yet folded, with a folded example in the upper right corner

Bend Your Prints To Eliminate Supports

When designing even a reasonably simple 3D-printable part, you need to account for all the supports it will require to print well. Strategic offsetting, chamfering, and filleting are firmly in our toolkits. Over time we’ve learned to dial our settings in so that, hopefully, we don’t have to fumble around with a xacto knife after the bed has cooled down. On Twitter, Chris shows off his foldable 3D print experiments (nitter) that work around the support problem by printing the part as a single piece able to fold into a block as soon as you pop it off the bed.

The main components of this trick seem to be the shape of the place where the print will fold, and the alignment of bottom layer lines perpendicular to the direction of the fold lines. [Chris] shows a cross-section of his FreeCad design, sharing the dimensions he has found to work best.

Of course, this is Twitter, so other hackers are making suggestions to improve the design — like this sketch of a captive wedge likely to improve alignment. As for layer line direction alignment, [Chris] admits to winging it by rotating the part in the slicer until the layer lines are oriented just right. People have been experimenting with this for some time now, and tricks like these are always a welcome addition to our toolkits. You might be wondering – what kinds of projects are such hinges useful for?

The example Chris provides is a Eurorack rail segment — due to the kind of overhangs required, you’d be inclined to print it vertically, taking a hit to the print time and introducing structural weaknesses. With this trick, you absolutely don’t have to! You can also go way further and 3D print a single-piece foldable Raspberry Pi Zero case, available on Printables, with only two extra endcaps somewhat required to hold it together.

Foldable 3D prints aren’t new, though we typically see them done with print-in-place hinges that are technically separate pieces. This trick is a radical solution to avoiding supports and any piece separation altogether. In laser cutting, we’ve known about similar techniques for a while, called a “living hinge”, but we generally haven’t extended this technique into 3D printing, save for a few manufacturing-grade techniques. Hinges like these aren’t generally meant to bend many times before they break. It’s possible to work around that, too — last time we talked about this, it was an extensive journey that combined plastic and fabric to produce incredibly small 3D printed robots!

We thank [Chaos] for sharing this with us!