Refractor enclosures

Professional Enclosure Finishing

So you’ve got a great-sounding circuit in a prototype box, and now you want to make a few (or a lot) and sell them. You know everything about sourcing your parts and your PCBs—now you just need to get it inside a professional-looking enclosure.

First, a word about what constitutes a professional enclosure: You need to get it screenprinted with a control layout and a name. Some people skip this step because it’s honestly a huge hassle and so much easier just to get an interesting paint pattern and leave it at that. But if you take the time and expense to do a proper screenprint, you can ask a higher price for them because they’re no longer just something someone made over the weekend in his basement (…even if that’s exactly where and when you made it). I’m serious: appearances are important. Don’t underestimate the need for aesthetics. People will judge the inside based on the outside.

I’m going to recommend Pedal Parts Plus for everything following because they do excellent work, have great customer service and they always send out Jolly Ranchers with every order. (And also because there’s no one else who does what they do.) They used to do traditional screenprinting for enclosures, but this was not feasible for small runs of pedals because you had to pay a $150 setup fee for them to make the screen. In late 2013, though, they bought a UV printer and switched to digital printing, and there’s no longer a setup fee. They can even do one-off printing now, but there’s a $20 minimum charge, so you pay the same whether you want one enclosure printed or five.

Now that I’ve made my case for the end result, let’s start from the beginning.

Decide on the color scheme and the name

Honestly, one of the best ways to get ideas is by browsing through PPP’s “Colors” categories. They have great photos of finished enclosures in every color, with some really interesting ones if you get into the Premium and Custom categories. Once you see a finish that seems to fit the “brand” of your pedal, start thinking about a name. Sometimes the name will come to you before you choose the color, and other times it’s the color that inspires the name. But either way, don’t forget that the name is part of the appearance and is not separate from it.

Come up with a drilling template

Next, you’ll need a drilling template. If you’re using one of my PCBs, each project includes a scale drawing of the enclosure layout that can be used for drilling if you’re doing it on your own. However, PPP uses a high-precision CNC machine to drill all their holes—so they need exact measurements from the edges of the enclosure. My templates don’t go as far as to show these exact measurements, but since they are accurately to scale, you can measure my templates to come up with the exact values if you need them.

If you use PCB mounted components (which you should!) PPP will request that you actually mail them a finished PCB so they can test it out and make sure they got the drilling correct. You probably won’t get this back, so I recommend sending them a PCB that has only the board-mounted components (pots and switches) and is otherwise unpopulated. Or if you screw something up on a build, you can always send them one of your duds.

Create the artwork

Once you have your drilling template finished (don’t forget the DC and in/out jacks on the sides!), you’re ready to create the artwork. It’s helpful to create your artwork on the drilling template itself if you can. When you send the artwork to Pedal Parts Plus, you’ll need to separate the drilling from the artwork in two separate documents, but while you’re working on it I recommend keeping both in the same file.

In 2014, Pedal Parts Plus started providing artwork templates to make printing more straightforward. You can download these templates on their Services page (note that their “1290” is a 1590B, the size of enclosure that my projects use, while their “1590” is a 1590BB, one size up).

Here are a few tips for when you’re coming up with your artwork.

  • Label all of your controls. This sounds obvious, but a lot of people skip this step. If it’s going to be a professional, usable pedal, anyone who picks it up should be able to tell what it does without having to plug in a guitar and test each knob one by one.
  • Make sure you account for the size of the knobs you’ll be using when spacing out the control labels. The control labels should be positioned at least a quarter inch away from the diameter of the knobs.
  • Consider adding the power requirements to the screen print near the DC jack, e.g. “9V DC”. You may be able to get away with not having this if it’s a standard 9v center-negative arrangement, but if it’s anything else then you will definitely want to point it out.