Assorted UpdatesSo over the past few days, I finished cutting out all the mdf panels. For the rectangular openings, I highly recommend getting a square file if you don't have one already - This simple cheap one from Harbor Freight worked well for me:
That will allow you to fine tune the fit of any rectangular pieces.
There's no real advice to give on this portion - just follow the templates that you glued onto the back of the mdf (remember, use the reverse image templates!) and when you get close, try to fit the component, and then file where necessary. Things don't have to be perfect, because you can use the transparency overlays to cover gaps.
When you're happy with the fit of everything, its time to prime and paint. This is simple - choose your preferred color spray paint. I'd recommend against metallic paints for uniformity issues and against the primer+paint in one can - those don't do a very good job on MDF in my experience.
Once the painting is done, give it a good solid day to cure at a minimum. Then you can get to gluing the labels on. I considered trying to use an inkjet on the laserjet transparencies to do an ink transfer - the ink won't absorb into a laserjet transparency, so if you press the panel into the transparency immediately after printing, it may transfer. Of course any shifts will lead to smudges and a very undesirable appearance. So I chose to stick with laserjet prints.
Now here comes another detail to pay attention to - If you choose transparencies for your labels, inkjet transparencies probably need to be printed on the exterior surface of the transparency to prevent smudging from the glue. They might be a little less scratch prone than laserjet transparencies facing the same way, but moisture can still damage them more readily. I chose to use laserjet with everything reverse printed. That way, when glued on, the printing is actually underneath the transparency - things will look the right way then, but you won't have to worry about accidentally scratching the surface of the transparency and taking off the label.
That said, I found the ink can still smear some in the glue, so try not to move the transparency once you've applied it. And before you even spread glue, double check the fit and alignment of the transparency. Printers have a nasty tendency to change aspect ratios ever so slightly.
Now, for gluing them on - I tested three different glues. Simple Elmer's glue stick, Cyanoacrylate glue, and Loctite spray adhesive. Only the Loctite was labeled as acid-free, which was a bonus in its favor. Glue stick simply had almost no holding power. Cyanoacrylate instantly smeared all the prints, so don't even think about using it unless you print with the ink facing out (ie not reverse printed). Loctite seems to hold ok - it doesn't end up with a perfect appearance, however - tiny imperfections in the surface show up with a somewhat mottled appearance and you can notice some streaks that formed in the paint (I'll put up pictures later). I noticed the same exact appearance in Jeff's design, so if it is something you're ok with, by all means use this approach. If not, you'll need to do more experimentation. After applying the transparency (I didn't trim them first), I put them under stacks of heavy books to keep pressure on while drying. I've finished all but a few of the panels, including the main screen and the mission sequence panel. Those are all too large to fit on one transparency, so some splicing techniques will be used. I'll try to grab pictures of that approach - gluing the transparencies on I simply didn't have enough hands to capture in process. You'll also need to adjust the default print settings from Word or copy the images into another piece of software so they print in their entirety for these two panels.
Templates for printing transparencies