Frequently asked questions

Stompbox building 2:
Transfering graphics onto a stompbox using the Dark T-Shirt Transfer method.

In this article I will describe how I finish my stompboxes using a method in which I use ‘dark t-shirt transfer’ to apply graphics. I wrote this article on request of Gert-Jan van Helden of Newtone-online. A webstore devoted to stompbox and guitar amp related electronics

First I decide how the layout of all the controls, switches and in- and outputs will be. For this I use a template from GEO. By importing this in Photoshop I can layout all the controls by copy and pasting.

After making the right layout I print the template. Be sure to switch off any “fit to page” function to keep the right proportions. Then cut the template and fold the sides as indicated.

In this example I am using a Hammond 1590BB box. The template I use is created for this size box. It is easily adapted to be used by the slightly bigger Eddyston 1590BB.

Remove the bottom plate and fold the template around the box. Tape the edges with some scotch tape to keep it in place.

Using a center punch you can now mark the point where you want to drill the holes. Use the appropriate drill size for the holes. Where necessary you can use a drill unibit for the larger holes.
After drilling the holes you have to clean and sand the box. The t-shirt transfer needs a very smooth surface to be applied upon. Scratches or dents may turn out to be a problem later on. So, take your time to do this right as it will largely determine the succes of your finish. After sanding clean the box with hand warm water en soft soap. To be sure any grease is gone you can clean it with a bit of lighter fluid or nail polish remover.

Now you are ready for the transfer of your graphics.
I create my graphics every time differently. I might draw an idea and scan that image. Another time I create the image from scratch in e.g. Illustrator. To prepare the final design I use QuarkXpress but any graphic design program could work. Print your design to see if it turns out the way you want it. This example can also be used to see if it is also the right size and proportions for your box.

It is not easy to find the dark t-shirt transfer at this moment. I was lucky to find it in my village at the local computer store. The dark t-shirt transfer I am using is from ‘Easy computing’. The reason for using dark t-shirt transfer as opposed to the regular t-shirt transfer is that the background you are working on is white and not transparent. For graphics this is the way you can get white in your image. The transfer is a sort of rubbery layer that sticks on a surface by ironing it. With an inkjet printer you can print any image on to it.

Dark T-shirt transfer is not cheap. In my case this package with 6 sheets of A4 size paper costs € 12,95. But if you consider that you can get 4 1590BB size graphics out of one sheet it is not so bad.
The package contains the transfer paper and a sheets of chalk paper that you use in transfering with an iron.

For printing I use a Canon Stylus 895 photo printer and the regular printer cartridges. In the beginning it took some experimentation to find out which combination of settings provided the best result. This transfer paper with this specific printer using the most common settings and print quality set on ‘best’ resulted in the best quality transfer. So in my case i do not use any special paper setting or any other special adaption. It might be so that with another printer/paper combination you will have to find the best working combination for yourself. For printing I cut a sheet the size I need and feed that through the printer. If you want to be very economical you could cut the sheet very close to what you need and tape that on a regular sheet of paper on which you printed out the design and feed that through the printer again. That way you are sure that the print will be on the right spot.

Cut the design printed on the transfer paper to size and also cut a sheet of the chalk paper to a size a little bigger. This will go between the transfer and the iron.

Check if the design fits the box. If you make a mistake in the transfer it is quiet a job to clean the box and do it again.

Remove the back cover paper from the piece of transfer paper.

Turn your iron on. Put it on the hottest mode. For my iron that is the linnen mode. Be sure to turn any steam accessory of. You do not want any water involved.

Put the transfer onto the box and position it in the right place. Be sure not to move it when you put the chalk paper on top of it.
Then put the iron with the tip on one corner and keep it there for about 15 seconds.

From that corner start working across the whole surface. Slowly and with a little pressure. Work from one side down and from the center outward.

Total ironing time is about 3 to 4 minutes. My experience is that it sticks sooner then you would think.
When it starts to stick the chalk paper will look a bit more transparant.

Carefully lift the chalk paper to see if the transfer paper is sticking to the surface and if it is sticks evenly.

Depending on how well you sanded the box you might get some bubbles underneath the transfer. With a cloth you can rub these down and to the sides while it is still hot. Do this carefully. Watch your fingers because it is really hot now. The first couple of times I had some problems with these bubbles and learned that a well sanded and cleaned surface was a key to solving this. Also heathing the transfer to lang can get you in this kind of trouble. If it really goes wrong, let it cool down and remove the transfer with paint thinner or sticker remover. Then start over again.

The final result after ironing.

Let the box cool down and then cut out the holes with a stanley or exacto knife.

After cutting the holes.

The transfer need a finishing layer of lacquer to protect it. For this I use Motip Clear Gloss Lack Spray. This is a Acryllic Lacquer. This will not damage the transfer. You can get this in any car supplies store.

When I use this transfer paper to finish a stompbox I do not paint the sides. I have experimented with this a lot. The problem is that aluminum is a very difficult material to paint. I have used a clear coat on a few boxes but it only works with a very thin layer or it will chip really easily. You need in fact an etching primer first before a paint layer will stick well. This is of course a problem when you want a clear coat finish as an etching primer has a non transparent color. Therefore I have chosen not to put any coating on the sides and bottom of a box when I use the transfer for graphics. Instead I polish the sides with sandpaper or even with a dremel with a metal brush. Just experiment! Before painting I tape the sides of the box where I do not want any paint. Then I spray the clear coat in several thin layers. The first layer should be very thin! Drying time in between layers is 10-25 minutes depending on the thickness of the layer. Be sure to put on the next layer within 30 minutes. If not you will have to wait a few days for the paint to cure before you can put on a new layer. In general about 4 to 5 layers give me a shiny finish. If by chance you have some tiny bubbles under the transfer paper a bit more lacquer might cover that. You will learn this by experimenting.

The result after the last paint coat.

The final result.
This is a PT-80 clone delay pedal with an switchable effect loop.

Some more examples:
A Tremulus Lune clone with ramp up/down mod.

Bandung Boost.
A Rangemaster clone with selectable input range and tone control.

Swirl & Sway.
A Phase 45 clone with vibe mod, external mix and bias control and rate led.

Orange Apple Crusher.
A dual compressor with a modded Ross clone with a recovery (attack) control and a blend control and an Orange Squeezer clone.

A tubescreamer/boost clone.

No Fuzz!!
An extended Fuzz Face clone.

Have Fun!!
(c) 2006 Baixim Music Publishing

September 2008 added note:
By the time you are reading this many, many people have visited this site to check out this article. Please let me know if it has been of help to you and please check out the rest of the site. Music is our passion and we would like you to know about it. Regards, Marc

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