Enclosure art: how to make good looking DIY pedals

One of the nicest parts of making guitar pedals is having a personalized design. However, it is quite hard to make good looking guitar pedals.

Here are a few techniques to make guitar enclosures pretty! You can of course combine these techniques to get the best looking pedal possible!

I will present you a lot of techniques, from the most basic ones to the most professional looking ones.


1. Bare aluminum enclosure

It is the simplest way to do: just let the enclosure in bare aluminum.

Please don't do that.
DIY guitar pedal bare aluminum
Bare aluminum enclosure guitar pedals simply do not look good. They really look like something cheap and dirty that you have done quickly in your garage, whereas you have probably spent a lot of hours on it!

It can be nice for prototyping though, you can improve the design later on if you are satisfied with the result. (practically speaking, it is very rare to improve the design... and I like good looking prototypes so not for me!)
  Pros
  • A circuit in a box is better than a circuit without a box... 
  • Cheap
  • Quickest possible method

  Cons
  • Not really good looking
  • Do not really reflect your hard work and dedication


2. Polished / Brushed aluminum enclosure

This already look waaaaay better than the bare aluminum enclosure, and good news: it only take a few minutes to do!

Here is an example of a Big Muff I have made this way:

Polished guitar pedal

Just grab some sandpaper (I recommend to use different grit, 150 for the beginning and 400 for final polishing), and start polishing your enclosure under running water. Finally, apply a varnish layer to protect it!

Beware: I noticed that the maximum quality of the polishing that you can get highly depends on the quality of the aluminum used. For instance, a "mirror" finish can be really difficult to achieve with low grade aluminum. 
If you want to go for the "mirror finish", be prepared to spend some time on it. Use really fine grit sandpaper and a polishing spray for the last Polish.  Here is a good tutorial
  Pros
  • Good looking!
  • Easy to do
  • Cheap

  Cons
  • Can be time consuming
  • Depends on the quality of the aluminum of the enclosure


3. Spray painting

I would not recommend spray painting guitar pedals enclosures. Read my post about it for more detail.

If you still want to go this way, apply really thin layers, at least three times. Wait between each spray for the paint to be dry enough. Finally apply a layer a varnish. For your health, please do it outside and wearing a mask!
  Pros
  • Easy to do
  • Cheap

  Cons
  • Time consuming: 3 layers is a long way to go
  • Toxic: wear a mask and do it outside!
  • Wears off easily


4. Hammertone finish

This is a special kind of spray painting that will give an amazing vintage feel to your pedals. You can create really beautiful textures with this kind of paint and it also does not wear off as easily as spray paint.

Here is an amazing example done by Basic Audio:

hamertone guitar pedal

Here is a very good step by step tutorial about how to use it.
  Pros
  • Easy to do
  • Cheap
  • Looks great!

  Cons
  • Time consuming
  • Toxic: wear a mask and do it outside!


5. Powder coating 

Powder coat is the kind of paint used on cars, and the one used on most guitar pedals as well. It looks very professional and there is a wide variety of colors available.

Here is an example of a commercially powder-coated enclosure:
prepainting guitar pedals

You can either buy pre-painted enclosures, or make it yourself. Making it yourself would require some space and equipment, but it is not that hard.
  Pros
  • Really good looking
  • Nothing to do
  • Professional standard

  Cons
  • Expensive
  • No writings


6. Aluminum etching

Aluminum etching is an easy way to have a custom design without spending too much time and money. It requires a bit of practice though.

Here is a beautiful example:

Aluminium etching guitar pedal
 
You can find a nice tutorial here. It is not an easy technique to master (requires a bit of practice before managing to have a precise etch), but it can give really good results. Moreover, you get a fully custom design with anything you want on it.
  Pros
  • Can be good looking...
  • Cheap
  • Fun! You get a fully custom design

  Cons
  • Hard to make it as sharp and neat as above
  • Beware of acid!
  • Time consuming


7. Reverse etching

It is very similar to the technique above, except that the etching is reversed, so the non-engraved parts sticks out of the paint that you can apply afterwards.

I tried this technique once on one of my first pedals (+spray painting):

Reverse etching guitar pedal

Cody of "They Remained Silent" is an absolute expert with this technique and has written up a really good tutorial about it. LIke etching, it can be a bit long before your perfectly master this technique, but it really worth it.
  Pros
  • Good looking
  • Cheap
  • Fun! You get a fully custom design

  Cons
  • Hard to make it as sharp and neat
  • Beware of acid!
  • Time consuming
  •  Requires spray painting...


8. Decal

Decals are a good way to have a fully personalized design. 
Here is a good tutorial about it. Another nice one here on the Big Muff page.

If you are good with Photoshop or Illustrator, you can make your own design on your computer and use it for your guitar pedals. Print it on a decal paper, then apply it on your guitar pedals. You can use prepainting guitar pedals as well.

However, this technique is quite hard to master and to have good results. Most of the times, you will need to apply varnish layers. You can use Envirotex for a professional look,
  Pros
  • Easy to do
  • Cheap
  • Personalized design

  Cons
  • Time consuming
  • Not always so good looking


9. Laser engraving

Some folks use a laser etching maching to remove the paint and engraved their design.

The graphics are thus very sharp and neat looking: a laser cutting machine can be as precise as 0.1mm! Here is an amazing example by function f(x) Third Rail:

Laser engraving guitar pedal

However, it does not work very well with dark colors scheme because of the color of the aluminum (dark grey). One other problem is that you will have to have access to a laser cutting machine, or find a supplier that would accept low volumes, and this can be difficult or expensive...
  Pros
  • Looks amazing
  • Custom design
  • Very precise

  Cons
  • Requires design of the pedal
  • Can be expensive
  • Requires access to a laser cutting machine


10. Laser etched plate

More and more common on commercial effects these days. All the Greer amps pedals are made this way for instance. 

In France, Anasounds makes its pedals with a similar process, on wooden plates, they look great!

Anasounds Guitar pedals
This is a nice way to avoid painting the enclosure, or having to use expensive techniques like UV printing, and still have very professional looking guitar pedals.

You can combine it with powder coating to get even more pro looking DIY pedals. Like with laser engraved pedals, finding the right supplier can be difficult or expensive. However, it is generally easier than laser cutting the whole enclosure.
  Pros
  • Good looking
  • Easy to do
  • Custom design

  Cons
  • Expensive
  • Difficult to find the righ supplier for low volumes


11. Silkscreening

This technique is used by many professional pedal builders. It looks great and you can make hundred of enclosures in a few hours. Walrus used it for their pedals for instance:

Silkscreening guitar pedals

It consists of a fine mesh that will let a special acrylic paint goes through only in specific parts of it (like a pochoir). With a râteau, you can pass the paint over this mesh on a powder coated enclosure, and directly print your graphics on the enclosure. Here is a video of how it is done:


It is a great technique if you have many many similar pedals to make in a row

Making this mesh is quite a complicated process involving projecting UV light on a light sensitive plate, but fortunately, you can order these meshes to specific suppliers. Applying the paint is quite a messy process, which requires both space and practice. 

Once the technique mastered, you can make lots of pedals very quickly. The graphics will be very precisely printed on the pedal, and will last for a very long time. It looks really professional. However, the only problem with silkscreening is that you can only print one color at a time. You have to make one mesh per color and it can become quite time consuming if you want to use more than 3 colors... So adapt your graphics!
Good news is: you can apply this technique to many other usages like making t-shirts or posters for your next gig.
  Pros
  • Professional looking
  • Custom design
  • Do not wear off

  Cons
  • Difficult to make it yourself
  • Requires high volumes
  • Difficult to find a supplier
  • Requires some practice


12. UV printing

The nice part about UV printing is that you can print litteraly anything you like on your enclosures :)
This is the technique I use for my commercial projects like the Dolmen Fuzz or Montagne Tremolo:

Coda Effects Montagne Tremolo


UV printing machine are highly expensive, however it is possible possible to lease it. That is what is done by many professional like Kelley Electronics. A solution easily accessible to hobbyist is to use Pedal Parts Plus services.
 
They can UV printing pedals for a reasonable price. However they are based in the US so you  can unfortunately expect some shipping delays and customs issues... Anyway the people there are great and really helpful so I highly recommend it.
  Pros
  • Really good looking
  • Custom design
  • Durable and professional

  Cons
  • Expensive
  • Minimal volumes necessary


There you go! I hope that you liked this post! Show me your best guitar pedal and let's share our ideas on the Coda Effects Facebook page. You can also follow Coda Effects on Instagram.
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