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Making Custom Gauge Faces


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#1
djdevon3

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Article Archived from RevLimiter.net - Custom Gauge Faces

So you wanna make your own gauge faces?

Custom gauge faces made with my own two hands.
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Here you are. You've decided you don't like any of the mass market gauge faces available for your car (probably a Miata since you're at this site) and you want to make your own. Excellent! Welcome to a very cheap, very LONG project. Designing the gauges will take you anywhere from 2 to 60 hours. I use Adobe Illustrator and have decided to post a very stripped out gauge face template on this site. Grab a zip file and check it out. We'll talk about it in a minute.

After you settle on a design, you get to print your gauge faces. You must use a high quality color laser printer. A fancy dye-sub printer might work, but an ink jet WILL NOT. The spray adhesive will liquefy ink jet ink. I suggest going to Kinko's and spending $5 on a few sheets from their nicest color laser printer. Print 5-10 copies of your gauge faces and get them all run on the same printer. Different printers can and will put your tick marks on slightly different spots on the page.

Then you get to glue your two or three layer gauge faces together. This will take you the better part of an evening. Figure four hours to get at least one perfect set of gauges put together. It's nice to do this on an evening and let the spray adhesive dry overnight. You'll get a very solid gauge sandwich doing it like that.

The next day, you get to spend 2-3 hours with latex gloves on your hands while you cut out the gauges. Why? Because while you can wipe off a few fingerprints, you cannot wipe off as many as you'll put on a gauge while cutting out the little circles. Your finger prints will finally eat through the top printed layer, so you must wear gloves.

FINALLY, you get to install the gauges and fit the needles. If you've done this before, it's a 10 minute job. It takes a bit longer your first time.

So you're up to about an 8 to 80 hour project. Still want to make gauges instead of just buy them?

Miata Gauge Templates (626 compatibility unknown)

US MPH (0-160)
Adobe Illustrator 10 format
Adobe Illustrator 8 format
Corel Draw 5 format
Inkscape SVG format

KM/H (0-220)
Adobe Illustrator 10 format
Adobe Illustrator 8 format
Inkscape SVG format

UK MPH (0-120)
Adobe Illustrator 10 format
Adobe Illustrator 8 format
Inkscape SVG format

A big THANK YOU to everyone who has contributed different file formats to this project! I originally only offered Illustrator 10. Various helpful people have emailed me these other formats. I really appreciate it and your help only makes this how-to better!

A note about the gauge template: It is designed for the NA Miata, and there are NO numbers included. The template includes only the top layer. You'll want to add numbers and text to the top face and maybe rotate the tick marks around if you're so inclined. To make the mask layer, you'd simply make all your red tick marks white so that light shines through them but not the black gauge face. And to make the color layer, you'd delete your tick marks and numbers and make the gauge background whatever color you like. Save the two new layers into new files and bring them all to Kinko's. The template is designed to be a quick-start to get you on your way to custom gauge face bliss. You must create your own style. Go on and have some fun with Illustrator! (Or Corel or Autocad or Inkscape in Linux!)

#2
djdevon3

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So. You wanna go from this...

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TO THIS?

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(notice the starting needle positions and homemade back plates)

#3
djdevon3

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The RevLimiter.net Custom Gauge Face Method

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Here's how we do it. We print 5-10 copies of the gauge faces. Why so many copies? Because you are going to make mistakes. Out of so many copies, you should be able to glue together at least one perfect set of gauges for your troubles. You'll be installing that set.

Layer 1: Top Layer

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Say hello to Shockwave. He'll be helping me through this how-to. Seriously. I like my tiny robots.

Back to that gluing I mentioned at the top. You're looking at the top layer of a 3-layer gauge face sandwich. It's on transparency. It contains all the colors and art that you'll look at every day while driving.

Layer 2: Mask Layer

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The mask layer is like a black and white version of your top layer. It keeps your black gauge faces black and lets the light shine through the tick marks. If you use a large wedge of red for your red-zone, you might do as I've done here and re-print it in red on the mask layer. It will make the red more vibrant. Otherwise, there is no other color. And this is the only layer of plain paper you'll use.

Layer 3: Color Layer

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The color layer is optional. You only need to print this layer if you want your gauges to light up with a color at night. Be warned that getting even color is pretty difficult. I've made gauge faces three times now and still haven't achieved really even colors. Notice the voids in the color? That is to let the red zones shine bright red and not purple (blue plus red in this case). Also, you'll notice a big black wedge over my red-zone. This is to cut down the brightness of that big red wedge. Without it, the red wedge is about 100% brighter than all of the surrounding numbers.

Everything clear? It's somewhat hard to explain this three-layer method without pictures. I hope they helped.

Tools Needed:
Transparency Laser Paper - This is the stuff you may be familiar with from the days of overhead projectors. Most printers demand transparency paper designed for them. Figure out which model printer you're gonna print on and then buy paper for it.
Regular 20-lb white paper - I've tried this project with heavier paper and it just doesn't work as well as regular old plain white paper.
3M Super 77 Spray Adhesive - You'll use this excellent spray-glue to stick your gauge layers together. It's about $9 per can and worth every penny.
Fresh eXacto Blades - and an eXacto knife, obviously. Even if you've got an eXacto knife that you use every weekend for crafts or whatever, treat yourself to $2 worth of blades for this project. It makes cutting those tiny holes out of the faces way easier than using a dull blade.
GOOD, sharp scissors
Latex gloves - You'll ruin your printouts without them.
Plastic cutting board
One large, strong gem clip
Ruler or straight edge
Gauge needle tool or two flat blade screwdrivers wrapped in electrical tape
Assorted tools to actually remove your gauge cluster.

#4
djdevon3

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Step 1: Gauge Design
It is time to sit in front of your monitor for a few hours/days/weeks and become one with Illustrator. But before you do that, you need good scans of your gauge faces. So go and take your cluster apart and scan each face. Then you'll import the scans into Illustrator and immediately print them out. Are they the right size? You'll have to re-scale them if they're not.

Once you have the background files in Illustrator, you'll get to begin overlaying vector artwork on top. This process takes between hours and weeks. But it's a lot of fun!

Step 2: Sorting

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Really inspect each individual sheet that you had printed. There will be problems with some of them. One gauge may be a little off-colored or splotchy. Cut those out and throw them away. You'll also probably get one or two sheets that are just perfect. Set those aside as the last ones you attempt to glue together.

Step 3: Gluing

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If you notice in the shots above with Shockwave, I've got all 5 gauges laid out on each layer in perfect alignment? Yeah, I don't put them together like that anymore. It's much easier to cut each gauge out individually and spray them together one at a time like I'm doing here. I'm also only spraying one layer together each time.

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Line up your layers very carefully. This takes a while, but you've got all night. Once you've got them lined up, stick on the BIG gem clip. Then hold it up to the light. Are the layers still aligned perfectly? Sometimes it takes a dozen tries to get them lined up just right.

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When you get the top two layers put together, un-clip them and repeat the alignment for your color layer. This, for some reason, is much easier than aligning the first two layers. When you spray these together, make sure to spray a very light dusting. Even with laser printing, it is EASY to spray too much glue and melt the ink.

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And this is what a decent gauge looks like when you've got it sprayed together. I say decent because the tick marks aren't actually lined up exactly right. I ended up throwing this one away.

Repeat at least 10 times. You want to have at least two full sets of GOOD gauge faces before you stop working for the evening. You don't want to make a mistake in the cutting step (5) in the morning and have to go back to the gluing step.

Step 4: Sleep

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While Shockwave surveys the progress and guards against cat attacks, I suggest leaving your gauges to dry for the night. You'll get a very strong bond between the layers and a nice, solid gauge face to cut out in the morning. You'll notice how my shirt changes in the next picture. I seriously slept between step 3 and step 5 and got some great, strong gauge faces for my troubles.

#5
djdevon3

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Step 5: Cutting

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The cutting is a two step process. You do the first part with scissors. And if you missed the bit on the latex gloves at the top, I'll say it again. You must wear latex gloves. You can wipe off a few finger prints from the gauge faces. You cannot wipe off the amount that you'll put on while cutting the stupid things out. Your fingerprints will eat into the ink and destroy your gauge face. Wear gloves. And wipe off any latex smudges with a dry microfiber towel.

Cutting these things out is really easy if you have a laser for a hand.

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After you get the shapes cut out, it is time to put down the scissors and pick up the eXacto knife. I've tried other things. A drill will destroy the gauge. Scissors won't work on the tiny holes. An eXacto is really the best thing. And a fresh, new, sharp blade really helps.

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Cutting the square holes for the odometer is probably the hardest part. It's the making of the perfect rectangle that's difficult. It's easy to cut a bad one (and I've done many.) I'm using a small straight-edge here and a paper towel underneath to hold the gauge in place. It worked really well. If only I had a laser for a hand...

Step 6: Install!

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There is a full gauge face install in the miata.net garage, so I won't bother typing each step here. I will give some pointers. Removing the gauge needles can easily be done with two flat blade screwdrivers with electrical tape wrapped around the blades. OR you can get lucky and find a gauge needle puller like I'm using here.

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I found this tool at a local Pepboys about 10 years ago (1998). As the name suggests, the gauge needle puller is AWESOME at pulling gauge needles. You slide it under, pry up, and off it comes with no scratching on the gauge face.

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This little thing is a needle stopper. I've removed it from the stock gauge face and sliced off the little plug on the bottom that keeps it in place. I use super glue to keep it in place on the new faces since I didn't want to bother cutting a hole for the stopper. A small dab of glue on the bottom and one motion down onto the gauge. Don't slide it around. Don't put the needle on until the glue is dry.

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If you'd like to make a set of gauges like mine where the needle doesn't point at 5 o'clock, you'll want to hack up these little partitions under the tach so that light can get at your lower numbers. You don't have to remove the partitions completely, as you see here. Light will still get to the bottom of the gauges. No hacking needs to be done on the speedometer.

Step 7: Needle Adjusting

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This is either really easy or really hard depending on your luck that day. I suggest starting with the speedo needle. Put it on very gently and then give the needle a twist. Does it settle to zero? If so, give the needle a bit more pressure to secure it and call it good. If not, pull it off and repeat. It should settle to zero by itself.

DO YOUR TEST DRIVE WITH THE TOP UP!!!!

I've forgotten the above statement far too many times. The needles WILL move in the breeze.

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Gas: It helps to fill up the tank before starting this project, then you just put the needle back on full.
Oil: Got a dummy gauge? Your job is easy. Otherwise, wait for the car to warm up.
Coolant: Wait for the car to warm up. When you feel the upper radiator hose start to get warm, you're probably safe to put the needle in the 11:30 position.
Tach: When the car is warm, put it at around 800. Then rev to the rev-limit. If you're shy of redline, take the needle off and start over.


...and that's it.

#6
djdevon3

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Additional Pictures

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Did you enjoy this how-to? If so, why not visit my store and buy a photo print or two. They're just the thing for your garage, shop, living room, etc.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you help me make gauges for my Civic/Mustang/Ferrari/VW/Neon/Etc/Etc?
NO! Sorry, but this page contains absolutely everything I know about making custom gauge faces. I have no idea if this method would be compatible with your car. If the lighting method your car uses is the same as what Mazda uses for the NA Miata, then it would work. Take your gauge cluster apart and scan your factory gauge faces (300 dpi should do it). Then immediately run a test print of the scans. Did it print the right size? Good, now load up Illustrator and start making tick marks.

Can you make a set of gauges and sell it to me? Or sell me your old ones?
NO. While I'd like to make money and help out my fellow car-nut, it's just SUCH a long and tedious project to make these gauge faces. I can do it every few years for myself. To make it worth my time, I'd charge about double what the professionals charge (over $200 for a set) and then you're back where you were when you started reading this page: looking for a cheaper, better source of gauges.

How about some Photoshop sample files? I'm good with it but have never learned this Illustrator crap.
Photoshop is raster based, while Illustrator is vector based . Take a look at those wikipedia links. You could make something nice in Photoshop one time, but if you wanted to do something like rotate the tick marks so that zero moved from 4:30 to 6 o'clock, you'd need to completely redraw your tick marks. Rotating them would create blurry tick marks in Photoshop. Illustrator uses vectors which can be endlessly scaled, rotated, and transformed without any loss of quality. What if you print out your gauge sheet and the scaling isn't just right? In Photoshop, you'll spend a few hours redrawing EVERYTHING. In Illustrator, CAD, or any other vector-based program, this fix takes 5 seconds.

Do you have the sample files in XXX software?
Not yet. If you've got a software package that does vector art that I've not listed in the sample file section, would you help out this tutorial? Send me an email: adam at revlimiter.net and I'll do everything I can to help you import one of the file formats to your program. Save it back out just as it opened - no extra artwork, redlines, or numbers, and I'll host it here.

Do you have NB Miata gauges?
Nope. Not sure how to tackle NB gauges, actually, what with all the extra little icons behind the two main gauges. But, if you'd like to send me some NB face scans (300 dpi minimum, please), I'd give it a gos.

How do I rotate the needles (zero position) like you did here? Does the whole gauge rotate inside the housing?
This is very easy and simple and elegant. I just about fell over when I learned how this is done. The needles on the speedo and tach automatically stop moving at some point on the dial regardless of where you put the zero mark. You are free to put the zero point anywhere you like on your tach and speedometer. When you go to put the needle back on, you just position it such that it stops at your new zero point. And for the lighting, you just chew away a bit of the gauge insides as I show in a photo below.

How do I change the color of the gauges at night? How about white?
For white, you'd just leave out the third color layer. If your lighting is uneven, you could print the color layer with a light grey on the hot spots. That should take care of it. As for other colors, you just print the color layer in something other than blue!

How long will the ink last in sunlight without fading?
I live in New Mexico with some of the brightest sun anywhere. 350 sunny days a year! I swapped out my last set of gauge faces after having them in place for three years. I couldn't see any fading. The red was as bright and vibrant on the old gauges as the ones I was putting in. Just use a high quality laser printer to print your gauges and you should be fine.

#7
PrinceValorum

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Man, what the hell, get out of my head! I just read that article yesterday... Not even kidding! I picked up a V6 cluster the other day at Pull-A-Part, and I'm going to try this out on that first.

#8
djdevon3

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I read it a while ago when someone posted a link to it. Homepages like his don't last forever so it's always a good idea to archive articles in multiple locations on the net. In case his site disappears at least the information will still be available. It's an amazingly effort by a passionate modder. Definitely worth keeping it on the net.




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