Want to Make a PCB? The Pantum Knows…

We’ve done a lot of PCBs with the toner transfer method over the years. The idea is simple: print a pattern using toner (which is just ground up black plastic) and then use an iron or other heat and pressure device to transfer the toner to a copper-clad board. It works and it works well. But getting just the right combination of heat, pressure, release paper, and toner is sometimes tricky.

Some people hack their printers to turn off the fuser wire (to make the toner not stick to the paper) or to run a PCB directly through it. If you have a big expensive laser printer, though, you might not want to chop it up just to run PCBs. Have you looked at laser printer prices lately? We aren’t sure if it is cheap units flooding the market, or the overwhelming popularity of color printers, but you can pick up a Pantum P2500 for about $25 or $30–and probably get WiFi printing at that price. [Mlermen] picked one of these up and shows you how to convert it to a PCB printer.

The mod isn’t for the faint of heart. You’ll have to cut slots in the printer, add a microcontroller, and you wind up using the printer rotated (to provide a flat path for the PCB. The results, though, look impressive. For $30 and some elbow grease, it could be worth it if you make a lot of boards using toner transfer.

The printer, by the way, is an amazing deal by itself. It is small, fast, and does a fine job. Sure it doesn’t do automatic duplexing, but it does have Windows, Mac, and Linux drivers. It also has a WiFi hotspot to print with a phone. Out of the box, ours didn’t do Airprint, but there’s a firmware upgrade that allows it (and has a few other new features; see the video below). It is supposed to directly support Google Cloud Print, too, but we haven’t found the firmware for that. The toner is programmed to self-destruct after 700 pages and it might be cheaper to buy a new printer instead of replacement toner, so be prepared for that.

[Elliot] posted about toner transfer and you might want to read up on that. If you don’t want to cut up a printer, you might try doing a chemical toner transfer, instead. We’ve also seen [Mlermen] do this with other printers before.

28 thoughts on “Want to Make a PCB? The Pantum Knows…

      1. I don’t know about the toner for this laser printer but I know that there were a lot of inkjets that people used to actually throw out and buy new because they thought the printer was cheaper than the ink. The problem is… they were wrong. The printers came with ink cartridges that were only about 1/4 to 1/3 full. The refill cartridges were completely full. A lot of people wasted money, resources and landfill space replacing perfectly good printers.

        I wonder if that is the case here too?

        1. my experience was that by the time you used up the demo cartridges, you couldn’t get replacements anymore. i blame the need to redesign new cartridges every 6 months for no apparent reason. it makes inkjet printing very impractical for people who dont print too frequently. meanwhile my ancient laserjet 4000 works every time. i figure with the way i print, it will still have toner in it when i die.

        2. The cart that comes with it does 700 pages. The refills do 1000 for $30 or – $50 for 1600.

          So at $35 for 700 (5 cents per page) or $30 (3 cents a page) or 3.125 cents per page. It looks like the $30 refill is the way to go.

          Keep in mind the cart counts pages so you won’t “coax” a little extra out of it.

        3. I’ve filled and replaced the cartridges on my Lexmark inkjet printer at least 4 times. I haven’t gotten ONE clean page after the demo cartridge, so possibly the head became clogged. Spent 140E on the printer, 100+ on refills and cartridges and got at most 200 pages out of it. The printer decides (decided) to clean the head at random times during the night. It also kept track of how many dots it printed so it could scrap the cartridges. When the printer decided the cartridges were almost empty (they weren’t) it started printing fake empty strips to ‘signal’ this. And they were chipped, so it wasn’t like you could reuse or refill them, it kept track of at least the last 5 for each color.
          I fail to see how everything of the above is not evil.

        4. Before there was evil, there was the Likes of the BJ-210 or the Deskjet 500 series that were awesome inkjets… but cartridge availability died and they only liked refilling about 20 times or so.

    1. I had a Konica Minolta printer that did this. There was a chip on the toner cartridge that was simply an EEPROM. I removed the chip and used an Arduino to dump its contents to the serial monitor. Unfortunately, I only did this on a cartridge that had already reached it page limit, but with a fresh cartridge, I could have taken a snapshot of the memory when it was new and flashed it to the used cartridge. In the end, it let me keep printing with a bit of hassle (click a dialog box for each page and intentionally crippled printing speed), so I never bothered replacing the cartridge.

    2. Man, the best thing I saw in china were bootleg toners made for easy refilling with external containers you could fill with whatever ink you wanted. I don’t even know what to google if I wanted to find them online.

    1. Actually you can do that if you print on the sticky side of water activated adhesive paper, … as long as humidity is low…. you can make decals if you spray a few coats of lacquer over the ink.

  1. We can thank the husk of a once incredible engineering company’s marketing department (starts with an ‘h’ and a ‘p’) for promulgating the ‘self destructing consumables’ as a business model for the toner behavior. This is pretty cool, but I still find photo etch to work better, just more trouble. I have had very little luck getting worthwhile PCBs out of toner transfer. eliminating the ‘transfer’ step would probably help a lot with the success rate.

    One concern would be printer resolution. I imagine it tops out at 600 dpi which could cause problems if you do anything tight tolerance, but then any hobbyist method doesn’t really give good results for that stuff anyway without some very careful work, so maybe a non-issue? YMMV…

      1. Yes, but is that native or software dithered? I have a printer at home that claims, and advertised 1200x1200dpi, and lets you set that in the print settings, but the actual hardware really only prints at 600x600dpi in the end, just uses software to do some processing to help sharpen the image up a bit. Its a Dell(lexmark) so no surprises there about the cheat, but in a sub $40 printer, it might be a similar case.

  2. I’m still waiting for desktop board printing without chemicals. I have bad lungs and have to stay away from the chemicals and dust from a desktop mill. And I am too impatient to wait for boards from a 3rd party… ;)

    I want a press print, board comes out the other side ready to work with. I maybe waiting for a long time…. ;)

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