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So you've built your own kegerator or home bar, but it still looks like a bit amateur hour... Sure you could knit yourself some bar towels or lathe your own tap handles, but what if you've been-there-done-that? Some tasteful custom branding might be just the trick to put the icing on the cake (or the shamrock on the Guinness perhaps?)

If you brew your own beer you probably also face the "problem" (if you can call it that) of a constantly changing beer line-up. So the ideal solution would allow you to keep your branding consistent while allowing you to alter the specifics of what's on tap.

In this project we will show you how to build your own "quick-change" tap handle plaques that will allow you to display the variety of beer currently on-tap while retaining the overall aesthetic of the brand.

Step 1: The Plan

Necessity: Our baby's mama
One of the beauties of brewing beer at home and serving it up in your own kegerator is that you can experiment with different brews. After brewing a couple of batches you begin to realize that you probably won't be brewing the same beer over and over again; the fun and challenge comes from brewing different varieties. But how are you to keep track of the wonderous new varieties of beer?

Version 1.0 of the brew labelling system was a magnetic photo holder attached to the kegerator. The inserted card stock could be swapped whenever a new beer was introduced. This solution was good, but was it Instructables good? As with any project, once you pass the proof-of-concept stage, inevitably you begin to think of how it can look better, work better or be generally more polished. The idea to create the quick-change tap handle plaque came from this original concept.

Layered Approach
The idea for the plaque is to create several layers that build up the design in 3D giving it a dynamic appearance. The layers are made of lexan backed with translucent adhesive inkjet printing label and sealed with sign-makers vinyl. The design is actually printed in reverse and affixed to the back of the lexan design. Check out the images below to see what we had in mind as we set out.

Step 2: Materials

First you'll want to assemble your raw materials. Here's the list of what we used along with where we sourced it from. Most of these are available at a variety of locations.

L - brackets (Home Depot)
These will be used to mount the plaque to the tap. The set we grabbed were in a four pack from Home Depot, but any hardware store should carry something similar. If you're looking for a part number we used the Stanley 30-3490 Zinc plated corner braces.

Lexan (Home Depot)
Again from Home Depot, we used a sheet of 1/4" Lexan. I didn't measure the dimensions beforehand but it's labeled XL102UV.

Glossy Inkjet paper (Dollarama)
You can get inkjet paper anywhere you want. If you have an inkjet printer, you probably have some right now. We picked some up from Dollarama, because at a dollar a pop you can't really go wrong.

Translucent adhesive inkjet printing label "Clear Fullsheet Labels (Staples)"
This was probably the most expensive piece of the lot. It was something like $30 for the 25 pack we picked up from staples. If you look around you might be able to find something for less. Keep in mind that with this 25 pack you'll only end up using like 3 sheets at most. These lables are more translucent than "clear" as they have a powdery coating that allows the ink to adhere to the surface of the sheet. If you want completely clear or transparent film you will have to use the Laser printer equivalent of these lables. (Avery Label #08665).

Vinyl backing (Local print shop)
Pictured below, this stuff comes on a roll, and some places will let you buy it by the foot. I went in to a local sign / print shop and just talked to the guy there who sold me a couple of feet for $5.

Double stick tape (Dollarama)
Once again this was from Dollarama, where it was in the craft / scrap booking section. Again you can probably find it in any one of a number of places, from hardware stores to craft shops.The stuff we used was about 1/4" wide, which was perfect. You might be able to use something wider and cut it down to size. But for the sake of a dollar it hardly seems worth the effort.

Nuts and bolts (Kicking around / Home Depot or CanTire)
These will be used to connect the plaques to the L-brackets. Again, you can find these at any hardware store. We used 8 nuts and 4 bolts in total. The bolts were 6/32 X 3/4" (although 1/2" would've been plenty) it's important to use bolts that are countersunk so that they can lay flush with the surface of the plexiglass.

Masking tape (anywhere)
If you're on instructables you have masking tape.

Microfiber cloth (Dollarama)
We'll use this to polish the Lexan once we're all done cutting it up. We found ours at the Dollarama once again, but they are available in many places. If you have an iPod or glasses they probably came with one.

Beer
You weren't going to attempt this without a cold one were you?

Step 3: Tools

Ok, so you've got your materials, now you need the tools. Below I've tried to list all of the tools we used when making these plaques, but there could be a couple of small omissions. Most of it should be pretty straight forward.

Drill and / or drill press
While a steady hand and a drill will probably do the trick, a drill press is always a nicer option when it's available.

Hacksaw
We used this to cut the L-brackets down to size.

Inkjet printer
You'll be printing off various labels and transparencies, so an inkjet is pretty much a must.

Rotary tool
We had both a Dremmel and a Kawasaki model. We ended up mostly using the Kawasaki, because of the extension attachment, but any rotary tool will probably do the job.

Attachments
We used a variety of rotary attachments. I'm not sure what they're all named, but hopefully between my description and the pictures you can sort it out:
- flex tube
- blade
- sander
- buffer
- alright I can't even guess what these little ones are called

Scissors
Just regular paper cutting scissors, nothing fancy.

Clamps
We used a bench clamp to hold another clamp. Other configurations are possible, but this was handy. At times we used the clamp to hold the plexiglass, and at others to hold the rotary tool. See the shot below for the clamp holding a clamp holding the rotary extension.

Box cutter
Just a run of the mill box cutter.

Masks and goggles
Little flakes of plexiglass are going to be going everywhere. A mask and goggles would be well advised. Who knows what that stuff would do in your lungs.

Vacuum cleaner
Again with the plexiglass dust. It's going to go everywhere, be prepared.

Step 4: Create the Brackets

First of all you'll need a way to attach the plaques to your taps. I picked up a four pack of two and half inch corner braces from Home Depot (Stanley 30-3490), but any hardware store should carry something similar.

The location of the holes as manufactured wasn't right for the distance I needed the plaque to be from the tap handle. As a result, an additional hole was needed. As luck would have it I found that drilling a new hole directly between the two existing holes (on top of the word Stanley for me) was pretty much exactly where I wanted it.

Since the hole has to fit over the existing tap screws you may want to gradually expand it until you find the right size. Unfortunately I don't remember the exact size of the bit I ended on.

After the hole was drilled, I used a hacksaw to remove the back of the bracket, no sense in having a bit of metal bulging out the back of the tap. For those with smaller tap handles, you may need to cut in even closer, and possibly use a grinder to give it a nice rounded edge. In my case however it all disapears under the handle, so I took the lazy route.

Step 5: Create the Logo

Original concept
In our case we took great care to identify the generic iconography that constitutes a typical beer logo. A quick google image search showed us the following are the main elements that will give you that beery look:
- A sylized beer barrel
- Wheat Sheafs
- A wavy banner
- A star or a crown (or both)
- Pompous looking latin text
- Coin or coins

Beer Plaque treatment of logo
The concept drawing wasn't entirely transferable to the plaque execution, so we had to do some redesigning. You'll see that for the final design we decided to remove some of the elements and reuse some of the elements so that they would be easier to render in Lexan.

You may want to create your own plaque design, however if you want to reuse our template feel free. The source Photoshop document (PSD) file is included and you can use for non-commercial purposes (remix, share-alike yada yada). You may also find this file useful to dissect and see how we set up the layers. The layers in the files were separated and set up with bleeds before printing to the translucent film.

If you attempt your own plaque you probably should have some clue about how to wield Photoshop (or any other layers based image editing program). The finer points of the logo creation are probably outside the scope of this Instructable.

Step 6: Create Jigs

We created jigs to help us cut out the shapes from the Lexan sheets. The jigs we made are essentially outlines created from the master Photoshop template that you use to cut away negative space from the intended shape. Jigs can be created on any adhesive backed paper you can put through your printer then affixed to the Lexan board you'll be working with. We used the expensive clear labels (because we determined the opportunity cost of going out to find cheaper alternatives would outweigh the cost of using the expensive clear film).

We created the following jigs (one for each lexan layer):
- Barrel shape, no frills (aka back plate Step 13)
- Barrel with frills
- top furl of wavy banner

Have a look at the video to see how we created our jigs from the source file.
(as mentioned before, we assume you know a little about Photoshop)


Step 7: Apply Jigs to Lexan

DO IT!

Step 8: Cut the Lexan

Now it's time to actually cut the shapes out of the lexan. We used a variety of techniques to get down to the exact shape we were looking for. I'll try to describe these techniques as well as I can, but you should check out the images below for a better understanding.

Roughing
To start out with we just want to get a very broad cut around the shape. This way you won't have the entire sheet of lexan cluttering your space.

Cutting closer
Now that we have a more manageable piece to work with we use the small rotary tool bits to slowly cut around the shape as close as possible. But remember, just as in kindergarten it's important not to cut inside the lines.

We found that it worked well to move a couple of centimeters forward, and then run the bit back over your work. The rotary tool has a tendency to melt the lexan, so the spot you just cut can end up sealed back up. The back a forth cutting should help clean this out.

Pay particular attention when in tight corners, like around the banner. You're not going to be able to do as much work in the "grinding down" phase in these tight spots.



Grinding down
By this point you should have a shape cut out that makes a reasonable approximation of your desired final shape. Now we'll use a grinding bit on the rotary tool to get down very precisely to the outline.

We found it worked best at this stage to hold the rotary tool stationary in the clamp, and move around the shape itself.

Buffing
Next we used a series of attachments in order to buff the edge down to as smooth a line as possible. We probably went a bit overboard with all of the attachments we used, and I can't even begin to list all of the ones we tried.

A good idea would be to take a small piece of scrap lexan (perhaps the excess created during the "Cutting Closer" stage) and try out a few techniques until you find a combination you like.

If you check out the pictures below you should see shots of all the bits we settled on.

Box cutting
Once we'd buffed the edges down, we removed the protective paper from the lexan sheet. At this stage you may see some excess material around the edge that was obscured by the paper. We used a box cutter to remove this excess material.

In some cases we found it useful to do a bit more buffing after the excess and paper were removed. You'll probably know from a simple visual inspection whether this is necessary.

Step 9: Create Backing Images on Transparent Labels

Using the logo source file from step 5 (or your own designs) split up the layers. The following video is a conceptual overview of how we split up the layers and prepared the artwork and bleed for print. For more detailed instruction on how to manipulate layers in Photoshop consult the interwebs.



Step 10: Apply Transparency Images to Lexan

Each Lexan layer, once cut needs to have its design adhered to the back. We adhere the design to the back so that the design appears to be "embedded" in the Lexan. To have this work properly we need to print this design in reverse. These designs are created by isolating each layer from the master template. Once a new file is created from the layer in question you should create a bleed around the design. A bleed will ensure that the margins of your design will extend beyond the boundaries of the shape you cut out of Lexan.

Step 11: Apply Vinyl Backing Behind the Transparencies

We now apply vinyl behind the transparent label. The reason for this is so that we can not see through the top layer (the top furl of the banner) to the layer below. Usually, when you are printing onto white paper anything that is intended to be rendered as white will simply not be printed. When we print on to transparent or translucent substrate anything that is meant to be rendered as white will be rendered as transparent. If we didn't apply the white vinyl you would see ghosting of the lower layer(s) through the portions of the design that do not have ink coverage. This step simply provides us with a way to mask all of the areas that we don't want to see through and render them as white.

Step 12: Create Layer-1-and-2 Sub-assembly

Use double stick tape to attach the lexan layers
Get layer one ready to attach to layer 2. Make sure you take some time to line these up because the doublesided tape is STICK-Y and will rip if you try to remove it after adhesion. Essentially if you don't get it on the first try you will have to peel the tape off of both surfaces (probably with a solvent). We wouldn't know, we got it on the first try... SUCKAS!!

Step 13: Create the Back Plate

Taking the back piece of lexan (the barrel with no frills) we place the L-bracket in the desired final location. Use a pencil to mark off the spots where the holes should go.

Using the drill press (or failing that, a hand drill and a steady hand) place a hole at the two locations that were marked off.

Next we want to bevel the holes, so that the bolt sinks down in the Lexan rather than protruding. Use a counter sink bit to create a nice beveled indent that the bolt can sink into. We're going to be placing the vinyl over the head of the bolt, so try and get it as level as possible. Remember, you can always drill a little more if it's not deep enough, but you can't undrill.

Once the bolts are in place you can attach a nut on there. It will act as a standoff to keep the plaque from being pressed right up against the bracket.

Finally we're going to apply some of the vinyl backing to the back plate. The vinyl will be placed on the front of the plate which will give you a nice white background for the rest of the plaque to work against, as well as conceal the heads of the bolts. the vinyl also prevents the removable insert card from getting caught up on the heads of the bolts when you are swapping brands.

Step 14: Assembly

Now the only thing left to do is assemble the pieces.

On the backing plate, using the double sided tape, create a "cup" or a ledge around the bottom half. In addition to attaching the above assembly to the backing plate, this ledge is what will cradle the removable insert card when the assembly is complete. The thickness of the foam tape provides more than enough clearance to accommodate a 100lb card stock.

Sandwich together the layer-1-and-2 sub assembly (from step 12) and the back plate to form the completed assembly.

Step 15: Attach Completed Assembly to the L-Bracket

Next you need to put the bolts of the completed assembly through the L-Bracket that we created earlier. We actually messed up a little on one of the back plates and put the bolts a little too close together. If you find yourself in a similar situation, don't sweat it. You can always widen one of the holes a little bit if needed. See the images below for a shot of our repair job.

Now add another nut onto each of the bolts to hold the plaque onto the L-Bracket (the other one should now be acting as a standoff between the plaque and the bracket).

Finally attach the L-Bracket onto your tap handle, and your tap handle onto your tap!

Step 16: The Finished Product

And that's it! When you're finished you should have some rather fetching taps to advertise your current beer selection, whatever it may be.

If you make your own plaques (or have already) leave a comment with a link to your photoset, we'd love to see what other people have done.
Comprehensive! Where does the name Colpen(Brau) come from? L
Thanks for the comment lemonie. Colp is a family name that the members of hamburgerearmuffs have in common. "en" is the definite article in German (if we're not mistaken), and brau.... well... y'know :D
OK, thank you. L

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