I had some left over vinyl from my other arcade project so I didn't even have to spend any money on it (which is a good thing because I'm already over-budget). Anyway, if you need to obtain some vinyl I got mine from Happs. The exact type I used is called Black Pica Vinyl (Part No. 49-0474-10). I normally don't recommend them because they really really kill you on shipping but at the time I placed my order (2004) it was the only place I could find - there are probably better places to get it nowadays.
First and foremost I made sure that the entire control panel was sanded completely smooth - especially at the joints where two pieces of MDF were glued together. I can't stress this enough - ANY imperfection on the surface that you apply the vinyl to will show through to the finished product because the vinyl is so thin. Even though MDF is very smooth to begin with, I still sanded the entire surface down, including the edges, using 600 grit sandpaper. This is the part that is tempting to rush through because it's tedious and the fun part is applying the vinyl but definitely take your time. If you rush and there's a bump or a seam showing through to the finished control panel you are going to notice it every time you sit down to play.
After sanding the control panel smooth the next thing I did was eyeball the size piece I was going to need to completely cover the control panel as well as wrap around to the back (so it would stay on better). I cut out the rough rectangular shape using a regular pair of scissors. Again, the vinyl is very thin so it is super easy to cut.
The next step is where things get a bit difficult and you really have to be careful and take your time. As you can see from the picture, I removed the paper backing to the vinyl. It's really like a giant sticker - the entire back is coated in an adhesive.
I applied the vinyl to the actual control panel surface first because the less vinyl that is stuck on the more control you have over it and if there was any place I didn't want any air bubbles or imperfections to show through this was it. I worked from the front edge and rolled the vinyl on towards the back making sure everything was lined up properly. My rough cut piece was plenty oversized so it's not like I had to be too careful here - the main concern was smoothing out the surface, removing all of the air bubbles and pulling everything tight. It's tricky to manage everything with only two hands!
After the vinyl was applied to the entire surface of the control panel and wrapped around to the back it was time to cut the vinyl to proper size. To do this I just used a razor and the edge of the MDF and cut it freehand. As long as you keep the blade tight against the edge of the MDF you will get a perfectly straight line. Make sure that the edge of the control panel that you are trimming is flat against your cutting table, including the edges. This may take some creative maneuvering of the control panel around the table - especially when you are cutting the pieces you wrapped around to the inside of the control panel.
And there you have it. As you can see below, the entire surface of the control panel has been covered in vinyl and cut to the proper size. You can see the indentations where the holes are for the buttons and joystick. I did clean up the back a little bit so the vinyl that wrapped around wouldn't be in the way of the buttons.
Now comes the really fun part - installing the controls! There's really nothing to it. Before cutting out each button hole I pressed the vinyl into the hole to make sure it was stick to the edge of the button hole as best as possible. Then using the razor, I rough cut the hole making sure to not even come close to the edge. Once I removed the piece of vinyl in the middle I used the razor to make a ton of little cuts in the vinyl from the edge of the hole to the center (probably about 15 per button). This allows the vinyl that is overhanging the hole to wrap rather neatly inside of the hole so the button can fit through with little resistance and no warping of the top surface.
I repeated this process for each button and installed the controls accordingly. I think is came out great - I was able to achieve a "professional" look with just a little time and minimal effort. There are no unsightly screws showing through to the surface and the look is very clean.
Here are the results!
In addition, I should note that I decided to not use a piano hinge to connect the control panel to the cabinet. I decided instead to use two 3" clamps on the bottom of the control panel to secure it to the cabinet on the inside - there are two pieces of 1.5" x 0.75" strips of wood on the inside that I can clamp it to. Along the top edge I am going to install a strip of velcro which will allow the top part of the control panel to attach to the rabbetted lip on the bezel panel. The reason I made this decision is because there was not enough overhang by the control panel to allow for the bottom to be hinged. Also, the actual hinges would end up overhanging the coin door panel by about 1/8" and it would not be able to open.
I think the clamps and velcro will be strong enough to hold the control panel in place but I guess I won't really know until the cab is up and running and Bella is pulling on the joystick. This is one of the first design decisions I had to make on the fly but I think it will be OK.
The only thing I'm waiting on in order to truly call the control panel 100% finished is the vinyl button decals I'm ordering from MikeDeuce over at BYOAC. This will add the finishing touches and label each button so the user will know what does what. Hopefully he will be able to send them to me soon!
Whew! That was a long post... Thanks for looking!!