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Old 02-25-2017, 02:38 PM
KatieB's Avatar
KatieB KatieB is offline
Join Date: Jun 2010
Location: Belton, MO
Posts: 1,145
Default Silkscreening the Panel Face

First of all let me say that Stein was right when he said on here a while back that silkscreening instrument panel labels is a pain in the rear!

I did a lot of screen printing of art prints in college, so I wasn't afraid to try it. After some digging online, I ordered a starter kit from They sell sunlight-exposed, frameless screen stencils. Normally a silk screen stencil is a piece of silk or dacron stretched over a wood frame, which is cumbersome if you are printing on anything other than paper or a T-shirt. The high-definition EZScreen stencils looked like a viable option for printing small details onto metal surfaces. The kit, ink and shipping totaled around $75, not a bad price for some fun experimentation. The kit comes with three 8.5 x 11" high-definition stencils pre-impregnated with light-sensitive emulsion, an exposure board that consists of black felted board with an acrylic cover and some clamps, three laser printer transparencies, a plastic mesh for rinsing, and a squeegee. I bought black Jaquard printmaking ink, which cleans up with water (VERY important) and is permanent when applied to metals.

I printed my AutoCAD design onto laser-printer transparency sheets, then used them to expose the stencils in the sunshine. It took several test strips to get a proper exposure. After exposure, you wash the unexposed emulsion to form the stencil lettering. Large text and areas of color rinse out easily, but lettering smaller than about 16 points gets tough to rinse out.

Because the ink cleans up easily with water, you can wipe off failed inking attempts from your pre-painted surfaces. I wiped more than I kept during the process. It took a lot more effort than I thought it would, but it was fun. If you're an artsy type, you might want to try it.

Here's the exposure unit.

0225171444 by jabiruchick, on Flickr

Close-up of a stencil before inking.

0225171359 by jabiruchick, on Flickr

Stencil taped to CB panel

0216171633 by jabiruchick, on Flickr

Inked CB panel

0216171634 by jabiruchick, on Flickr

Printed CB panel

0216171716 by jabiruchick, on Flickr

Finished lettering on the panel face. The light markings above the lettering mark the location of holes to be drilled for the switches, breakers, and LEDs. This was the default line width in AutoCAD, so as you can see, it's not thick enough to print reliably.

0225171434 by jabiruchick, on Flickr
Katie Bosman
EAA Homebuilt Aircraft Council
Rebuilt most of SNF tornado victim RV-3B Tony Boy II (had to sell him, but he's flying!)
VAF Dues Paid 2021!
Thoughts & opinions expressed here are my own, and not those of my employer.

Last edited by KatieB : 02-25-2017 at 02:40 PM.
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Old 09-03-2017, 09:06 AM
jliltd's Avatar
jliltd jliltd is offline
Join Date: Sep 2013
Location: Rancho San Lorenzo
Posts: 1,309

Hi Katie,

I was wondering if you have been able to get enough time to continue with your RV-3B panel and avionics install? it's looking awesome.

I am very interested in the placement and mounting of the GSA-28 autopilot servos.

My RV-3B has manual trim and I don't think it's worth the effort to convert to electric trim. The G3X autopilot has trim prompting so that should suffice.

I also see you have left out a dedicated autopilot control head (GMC 307). People swear by one but it would probably take a lot of the 3's precious panel space.

One last thing. Where did you get the panel outline dataset for AutoCad? Did you generate it yourself from the original panel? It is a very simple curve. Since my airplane is flying I can't physically trace the curvature very easily with structure, switches, knobs, covers etc.

Jim Ivey
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