Creating Sim Panels
Tips & Tricks
Liteflow or dummy Panels
In most aircraft, the panels are backlit by various colours of light depending on the manufacturer. For Garmin panels it can be green, for the 737 it's usually warm white. This lighting of the panels allows all the text to glow in low light conditions and highlight the text and symbols. The aircraft I currently work with now, these panels are called Liteflow panels. You will need to take this into consideration if you want this back-lightable version which often adds more complexity and difficulty in the build process or costs more to purchase.
Please make sure if you are purchasing panels, you are getting what you want. I have so many people who have bought their panels from a cheap online source. Only to find out they can not backlight them.
Where ever you start your sim addition, Once you get the sim bug you are going to want to build your own panels. From the MCP, MIP and all the way up to the overhead panels, you are going to need lots of them. There are a few options to look at here depending on your ability, financial situation and how valuable your time is. Here are a few options to look at:
1) Purchase the complete package
2) Purchase the panels from a 3rd party such as www.cockpitsimparts.co.uk
3) Create the panels using your own printed stickers
4) Create the panels using a laser or CNC
5) Create the panels using a 3D Printer
There is nothing more sexy and impressive than having a replica cockpit sat in front of you with all the components working and doing exactly what they do in real life. Creating the panels adds a step of realism to the sim and in my case now that I have a full-blown sim, would also make for a great procedural trainer. The MIP for the 737 is the heart of the sim and a great place to start.
2) Purchasing the panels
If you do not want the hassle of creating your own panels and want professional-looking panels. I highly recommend www.cockpitsimparts.co.uk. These panels look great, are cheap and are back-lightable. There are currently a few considerations before heading over and pressing that buy button.
I believe there are experiencing production delays right now, due to their growing popularity within the sim community. There are no build instructions and I highly recommend you buy the electrical components at the same time as a complete package so you are set to go straight away.
1) Purchasing the complete package
If money is no object, and you want a plug and play option that looks great, works amazingly and you will be the envy of most simmers worldwide, head over to:
Their stuff is gorgeous and replicates the operation almost exactly to the real aircraft.
FDS are just one major company, but there are many others to chose from.
3) Creating panels from printed stickers
The cheapest and simplest way to create your own panels is by using an inkjet/laser printer to print the panel design onto white gloss self-adhesive paper. In effect creating a sticker. This is then placed onto an easy material to work with such as 3mm MDF, hardboard or plastic sheet. The holes are then cut to support the components.
They're not usually back lightable, and produced effect can vary. But many simmers start this way, especially for the 737 forward overhead.
4) Creating panels using a CNC/Laser machine
Using a laser or CNC machine allows you to create the panels you want. You are then not limited by someone else's design and custom panels can be created.
The general procedure is used to create most liteflow panels:
1) Start with White 5mm Opaque acyrilic sheet. Place it onto the Machine bed.
It needs to be opaque white so the lettering shows when the panel is not backlit in daytime operations. I have seen many people use transparent clear acyrilic, but the text is not visible when the lights are off.
2) Use the cnc/laser machine to cut the orifices and outline as shown.
The panel placement needs to be recorded so it is placed in the exact same position for engraving. I usually use the 3 holes that are for screws to help line up the panel again.
I do not change the home point of the panel throughout the whole process.
3) Remove the panel from the machine and place the panel, so the face is up. Spray the panel with grey paint. Usually, I apply two coats allowing the first coat to dry fully first.
You can mask off the back to ensure the backside remains unpainted. I also like to raise the panel off the surface when painting so that any paint doesnt make the panel stick or run under it.
4) Place the panel back into the machine, in the exact same position and with the same home position! This time select engrave text.
For my CNC machine, I use a 3.17mm chamfer bit with a 60-degree tip. Feed speed and depth of cut are essential, and I recommend creating a test piece that will allow you to get it right before creating a panel. Too fast, and the plastic will melt to the tip creating a mess. Too slow, and the text looks like a 3-year-old created it.
5) Create the back panel from 3mm clear/Transparent acyrilic. Use the CNC/Laser to cut the orifices and outline. Paint the edges with grey paint. This will allow all the light through to the face panel.
6) Place the back panel and face panel together.
7) Add the remainder of the components. Use 12V led strip lights (warm white for 737) behind the panel. These will light up all the engraved parts and can be dimmed if required.