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Panel Label Options?

Posted By:
Carl Orton
Young Eagles Pilot or VolunteerHomebuilder or CraftsmanAirVenture Volunteer
#1 Posted: 10/24/2010 17:04:14

Well, I got such great recommendations on panel paint, I thought I'd throw out the next challenge I'm facing: what to use for panel labels.

I really don't want to use labeller labels that have a clear piece of tape with labels on top; regardless of how many coats of flat clear I used on top of a test piece, you can still see the shape of the tape.

I really don't want to use vinyl ready-to-apply labels because I'm concerned about their durability - besides, none of the printers I've found will make any smaller than 1/4" anyway.

Other options I've thought about using are dry transfer (remember Lettra-Set?) but using a custom shop so that i don't have to apply every letter individually. The other option may be screen printing.

So far, I have not been able to find a local custom dry-transfer printer locally (DFW), but I'm sure there are some out there. I'm just hitting it one printer / sign shop at a time.

The other is screen printing. I found a local outfit that does it, but they were closed when I was given the recommendation.

It seems that everything out there is at least $120 for out-of-area custom dry transfer for an 8x11 sheet of labels, and I haven't even had the opportunity to check screen print prices. I'm also curious if a screen printer can apply directly to a flanged instrument panel.

Any other ideas that aren't $100? 



- Carl
#2 Posted: 10/26/2010 15:47:56

There's Decal Pro fx for dry transfer...$89  http://www.pulsarprofx.com/DecalPRO/index.html

Water Slide Decal Paper (like model decals)  http://www.decalpaper.com

Both types of decals will require a clear coat over the top to protect it. 

I don't know the price, but there are vendors who will print your dry transfer labels from your own files.    It may be worth looking into once you have the labels completed in a document/file that you like you could get quotes on cost.  One site is: http://www.cliffdigital.com/upload.php  where you upload your file and they'll give you a free quote and they can do white lettering as well.

Note about panel overlay from previous post.  Dragon Plate does have a non-reflective matte finish option for their carbon fiber wraps.  It is fairly expensive at about 25 cents per square inch.


Carl Orton
Young Eagles Pilot or VolunteerHomebuilder or CraftsmanAirVenture Volunteer
#3 Posted: 10/26/2010 17:49:40

Thanks, Andy;

After my original post, I discovered the water slide and also rub-on papers that you can print and apply. The only thing is that inkjet printers don't "print" white ink - they just use the paper color. I've decided that if I use this approach that I'll use yellow ink - improves the contrast as well, since I'm using a dark gray base color.

The vendors who make the dry transfer (rub on) copies want like $110 to make one 8.5x11 sheet.

The decalpaper folks you cite above also have the rub-on/dry transfer method that's $20 for 5 sheets, so I may go with that.

The decal pro fx kit might be $90, but they strongly recommend THEIR laminator that's another $70 (I thnk).

Regardless of method, I was going to apply multiple coats of Valspar flat clear.


- Carl
Mike Dean
Warbirds of America MemberYoung Eagles Pilot or VolunteerHomebuilder or Craftsman
#4 Posted: 10/29/2010 06:36:44


If you'd like, I can make you up some custom vinyl paint masks. You could go one of two way with this. Paint the text color first, then apply the masks, and cover with the final, panel color. Or the other way around. Panel color first, paint masks, followed by the label colors. I can do it for a whole lot less than $70. Probably less than $20.

If you're interested, send me an email and we'll discuss it. mdean@lavelle.com

(Note, my email is through work, so I may not get back to you until Monday.)


#5 Posted: 10/29/2010 06:50:36


I tried the clear labels applying clear paint over the top and it looked like crap.  You are right, you can see the labels no matter how many coats of clear you apply.


So instead, I made a new panel for my Sonex and took it to a local screen printer and I think it cost $50 (maybe it was $70, I can't remember for sure, but much less than $100).  I'm so glad I did that, it looks professionally done.  Of course, just make sure it is EXACLY how you want it before you get it done.

Russ Halverson

Sonex 1292


Craig Cantwell
#6 Posted: 10/29/2010 08:59:36

Carl: Before you settle on the letter color, you might want to experiment with some samples. Print on transparency stock and then cut them out and tape to some scrap stock painted like your panel. Look at them at the approximate distance they would be in the aircraft and use varying light angles and levels. You may find that yellow lettering washes out severely under lighting conditions that you would regularly encounter.I seem to remember that yellow, when viewed under a red light, in the dark, will almost disappear to the human eye.

I know that the human factors guys have studied this at work, and all of our panels are either black faced with white lettering or grey faced with black letters, unless they are back lit.

Thomas Muller
Homebuilder or Craftsman
#7 Posted: 10/29/2010 14:18:05

Carl:  I tried inkjet labels on my RV, but after three years of flying, they have blurred and parts have worn off from rubbing, so I need to re-do the whole thing and can't use screen printing without taking the panel out.  I had been thinking of using my Brother labelmaker, but this dialog has me reconsidering.  I have had good luck with cut graphics on the outside of the plane, although nothing as small as panel lettering.  I use Ed Bures at Screaming Aero Graphics (screamingaero.com).  They can custom cut almost anything, bua also offer interior placard kits with printed labels.

Colin Cheese
Homebuilder or Craftsman
#8 Posted: 10/30/2010 16:39:02


I have found what I think is a good and flexible system. The idea came from our hardware guys at work who in the early days of prototyping machines did their own labelling.
I use MS Publisher for them myself but your favourite graphic or artwork tool will do. Even paint will do it if you are not in a rush. In the example below I created some black labels with silver lettering for an antique look.
step 1 - create your labels - see the attached pdf for some I did for the Taylorcraft
step 2 - reverse the image i.e. make it a mirror image of what you want.
step 3 - print it onto clear film - I used some film designed for laser printing pages of presentations for use on overhead projectors. By printing it in reverse you now have the ink on the back surface of the film so it won't get abraded in use. If you use a laser make sure the film isn't going to get melted by the process. Also, some printer's drivers will have the facility to reverse print so you can miss out step 2.
step 4 - cover the back of the label (rough cut it out of the sheet at this stage if it helps but lave an outline) with self-adhesive aluminium foil tape. I used a wallpaper seam roller to get any wrinkles out. Assuming the tape has clear glue you wont see it.
step 5 - get some double-sided tape and put it on the back of the foil. I use double sided VHB foam tape which is 1mm thick - the sort of stuff the automotive industry uses to attach their badges to cars with - available on EBAY and sticks like s**t!
step 6 - use a scalpel to trim the whole thing to the final size.
You are now left with a self-adhesive custom label that has a tough plastic outer surface and will stick to anything - even my crackle black panel.
If you want black on white you can miss out the aluminium tape and just use white VHB tape. If you want coloured labels you can probably do them on an inkjet. The hardest part of the job is finding the best printer you can to get the densest black on the label.
Just a suggestion anyway............


Carl Orton
Young Eagles Pilot or VolunteerHomebuilder or CraftsmanAirVenture Volunteer
#9 Posted: 10/30/2010 22:06:12

Thanks, All, for the suggestions. My computer crashed badly 2 days ago, and it looks like I've lost a lot of data, so I've been hashing that out a bit.

At this point, I'm going to wait until my material arrives to do dry-transfer / rub on decal applications. I'm going to use yellow font only cuz printers don't print white (well, 'cept for special purpose ones...).

The yellow washing out won't be a problem with night flight / red light illumination since I'll be flying it under Sport Pilot rules, so no flying. The rubbing off shouldn't be a problem because I'm going to over-coat the whole thing with several coats of flat clear.

We'll see; maybe I won't even like it, but for $20 I'm willing to try it!


- Carl