I have had several requests from readers of my QEX and QST magazine articles. They specifically wanted to know about the techniques I used to get professional looking lettering on the enclosures I show in the articles. Here are two approaches I use:
First, I use a Brother P-Touch label machine. Mine is a P-Touch PC, but all of today's machines make good quality lettering. Their available fonts, sizes and styles provide a remarkable versatility and precision. One warning though on the machine model, however: choose a model that supports black lettering on clear tape and white lettering on clear tape, as they are the ones used the most. Finally, a tip: Using a good pair of scissors, cut the excess tape around the lettering. It further enhances the appearance. Of course, take the time to carefully align and level the labels.
Another approach is required when the number of labels becomes excessive. Design your front panel at scale on a computer drawing program and print it on transparent slide (projector transparency). You can make a more complete design this way, including graphics. Choose a matte transparency finish if possible. Print the design directly on it. Make sure the ink is on the non-exposed face of the transparency; you may have to invert the printout to accomplish this. Include drilled hole marks where the knobs and switches will be located. Punch these holes in the transparency using a sharp hobby knife. Place the transparency on the enclosure faceplate. Mount the switches and potentiometer shafts on the faceplate and through the transparency holes, using the proper nuts and washers. The transparency will be help in place by the nuts. When many knobs are distributed over the faceplate, there is sufficient retention on the transparency and no spray-on adhesive is required.
Here are two good examples of front panels made by my friend Jacques, VE2AZX. Jacques describes his technique in the first comment below.
I use a method similar to Bert's second approach.
I first design the faceplate using powerpoint and adjust the scale to match EXACTLY the faceplate contour.
I first print the design with all drilling / cutting info. Print this on a standard white paper and temporarily attach it to the faceplate with scotch tape. I can then drill all openings with this sheet as a template, without messing up the final faceplate.
When done I print the final version of the faceplate on a photographic paper and glue it to the faceplate. I then lay a sheet of transparent self adhesive laminating sheet over the faceplate.
With an exacto knife, I remove all excess transparent sheet around the faceplate and cut out all openings.
Et voilà ! Ready for installing the controls, meters etc.
Note that the self adhesive laminating sheet may be used to hold your own drawing done a standard paper sheet with the transparency overlapping the paper sheet.
I used the ideas here to make a label for my component tester (a.k.a "Octopus"), and it turned out pretty nice.
First, I made a drilling template in Google Sketchup, printed it out on regular paper, and lightly pasted it to my enclosure with spray adhesive. After the holes were drilled, I exported my Sketchup drawing as a Windows Bitmap and opened it in MS Paint to annotate/decorate the label.
I was shopping for photo paper at Walmart like Bert suggested, but ended up purchasing Avery printable shipping labels (#18126) instead of photo paper. You can pick up a pack of 20 labels at Walmart for $4.44. You just print out your design onto the label and stick them right on the enclosure (I cropped the label with my wife's scrapbooking trimmer made by Cricut, but a hobby knife and straightedge would be fine). I covered the shipping label with the single-sided adhesive laminate sheets like Bert suggested, also purchased at Walmart.
I'm pretty satisfied with the look, but I will say that a Windows Bitmap does not look as nice as Bert's Powerpoint label... but it was good enough for my use. Thank you very much to Bert and Jacques for the suggestions!