Eurorack and other modular formats, custom instruments, pedals – if you’re making a DIY instrument, this software makes it look all pretty-like, and it’s free.

Now seems a great time to embrace DIY culture – audiences worldwide are stuck at home, but possibly ready to invest in gear. Synths Panel Designer, released last week, is a beautiful tool for macOS, Windows, and Linux to help you realize your custom panel dreams. The plug-in is free, and it runs on free software – the open-source Inkscape design tool.

Oh yeah – if you don’t know how to use Inkscape, or you’ve just liberated yourself from Adobe software, now is a great time to mention this free guide: Inkscape @ Flossmanuals

Make stuff like this – customizing individual layers for the tick mark indicators, the styling of the knobs and faders, and everything else – modern or vintage.

The free download is both a nice gift to the DIY community, and a calling card for its creators – a November event in Italy (yeah, an actual in-person event in 2020), plus open-source music hardware makers Faselunare (who can also help you manufacture your project). But more on that in a moment.

For its part, Synths Panel Designer gives you a bunch of time-saving tools:

  1. Standard panel support – tick off what you need with formats, mounting holes, etc. The software supports 1U and 3U Eurorack standards, Moog, Serge, Loudest Warning, Frackrack, API500, 19″, Buchla, Intellijel, Pulp Logic, Dotcom, Hammond – even VCV Rack software. It can also accommodate custom formats if none of those fit.
  2. All the knobs and faders with scale, slider, labels and sub-ticks, and dedicated layers you can customize and color. (You can even add screws in VCV Rack, or make sure your holes line up on hardware.)
  3. Tons of customization. Rather than drawing things freehand, you have 130 parameters for tweaking so you can get shapes and colors as you like them – vintage and modern.

For hardware, this looks like it could save yourself trouble in production. And for software, I think it could assist in finally evening out all those awful and inconsistent UIs we’re seeing in VCV Rack modules. (I love you all dearly, but… well, if you can’t hire a designer, please do download this!)

There’s a really excellent manual that explains all the functions, walks you through the process, and links to resources on the various panel standards.

This graphical interface walks you through what you need – and supports a host of panel standards – in the free software Inkscape.

Okay, so why are they giving this away free? The two co-sponsors hope to get your attention. And they’ve got mine.

Faselunare makes their own Eurorack module (VEGA), plus a cute and cool DIY open drum machine based on Teensy (SHAPESHIFTER) which has already inspired some mods. Plus they’re offering to help DIYers through the process of realizing your custom PCBs and hardware projects.

SOUNDMIT is a synth and pedal expo scheduled in November in Torino. Travel is opening up inside the EU, so it may be that this event is one of the first in our sphere to test whether large-scale events can be organized with social distancing rules. I remain skeptical – these rules and our understanding of the virus are changing literally week to week – but I do hope to keep in touch with our neighbors and learn from their experience. And for anyone wanting to communicate online, CDM’s doors are absolutely still open for that. The only thing anyone has caught from this site is Gear Acquisition Syndrome.

Hardware aside, I feel more confident delving into VCV Rack hacking knowing I have a tool that can help me make those panels, as I absolutely qualify as “not a designer.” (I could put it on my business cards, even.)

And if you make something with this, let us know. James of MeeBlip downloaded it last week to have a look, so we should shortly have an expert opinion on how it works (since James does know how to do this, unlike me). And I’m guessing Synthtopia’s mention will also rope in some DIYers.

I look forward to seeing what you create. Perhaps this can be a platform for supporting more standards and DIY creations and greater design customization – in that spirit of open source work.