Make Flexible PCBs with Your 3D Printer

The last few years have seen great strides in budget printed circuit board manufacturing. These days you can have boards made in a week for only a few dollars a square inch. Flexible PCBs still tend to be rather expensive though. [Mikey77] is changing that by making flex circuits at home with his 3D printer. [Mikey77] utilized one of the properties of Ninjaflex Thermoplastic Elastomer (TPE) filament – it sticks to bare copper!

The TPE filament acts as an etch resist, similar to methods using laser printer toner. For a substrate, [Mikey77] lists 3 options:

.004″ thick “Scissor cut” copper clad board from Electronics Goldmine

.002″ thick pure copper polyester taffeta fabric from lessEMF.com

<.001″ Pyralux material from Adafruit, which is one of the materials used to make professional flex PCBs.

A bit of spray adhesive will hold the Flex PCB down on the printer’s bed. The only issue is convincing the printer to print a few thousandths of an inch higher than the actual bed level. Rather than change the home position on his Z axis, [Mikey77] used AutoDesk 123D to create 3D PCB designs. Each of his .stl files has a “spacer bar”, which sits at the bed level. The actual tracks to be printed are in the air a few thousandths of an inch above the bed – exactly the thickness of the substrate material. The printer prints the spacer bar on the bed, then raises its Z height and prints on the flexible PCB material. We’re sure that forcing the printer to print in mid-air like this would cause some printer software to throw errors, but the system worked for [Mikey77] and his Makerbot.

Once the designs have been printed, the boards are etched with standard etching solutions such as ferric chloride. Be careful though – these thin substrates can etch much faster than regular PCB.

Fail of the Week: Transparent Circuit Design is Clearly a Challenge

[Frank Zhao] wanted to try his hand at making a transparent circuit board. His plan was to etch the paths with a laser cutter and fill in the troughs with conductive ink. The grooves are ~0.1mm deep x ~0.8mm wide.

He used nickel ink, which is slightly cheaper than silver ink. The ink was among the least of his problems, though. At a measured resistance of several hundred ohms per inch, it was already a deal breaker since his circuit can’t function with a voltage drop above 0.3V. To make matters worse, the valleys are rough due to the motion of the laser cutter and don’t play well with the push-to-dispense nature of the pen’s tip. This caused some overflow that he couldn’t deal with elegantly since the ink also happens to melt acrylic.

[Frank] is going to have another go at it with copper foil and wider tracks. Do you think he would have fared better with silver ink and a different delivery method, like a transfer pipette? How about deeper grooves?


2013-09-05-Hackaday-Fail-tips-tileFail of the Week is a Hackaday column which runs every Thursday. Help keep the fun rolling by writing about your past failures and sending us a link to the story — or sending in links to fail write ups you find in your Internet travels.

Toner Transfer PCBs, Double Sided, With Color Silkscreen

Silk

Making a few PCBs with the toner transfer method is a well-known technique in the hacker and maker circles. Double-sided PCBs are a little rarer, but still use the same process as their single-sided cousins. [Necromancer] is taking things up a notch and doing something we’ve never seen before – double-sided PCBs made at home, with color silkscreens, all make with a laser printer.

For laying down an etch mask, [Necro] is using a Samsung ML-2167 laser printer and the usual toner transfer process; print out the board art and laminate it to some copper board.

The soldermasks use a similar process that’s head-slappingly similar and produces great results: once the board is etched, he prints out the solder mask layer of his board, laminates it, and peels off the paper. It’s so simple the only thing we’re left wondering is why no one thought of it before.

Apart from the potential alignment issues for multiple layers, the only thing missing from this fabrication technique is the ability to do plated through holes. Still, with a laser printer, a laminator, and a little bit of ferric or copper chloride you too can make some very nice boards at home.

Copper Etching: Not just for PCBs

etching buttons

[Morag Hickman] is an artist who makes use of ferric chloride for something other than etching a PCB. She uses the process to etch beautiful designs into her jewelry.

[Tortoise Butler] is a small film crew that created this three and a half minute film on the art of etching copper, and it is an absolute pleasure to watch. There are no computers, no toner transfers, and she doesn’t even etch on a flat surface. It’s an excellent example of doing something different — why not add etching to finish off a project? If you’ve already done PCBs, it can’t be that hard to do a logo instead!

Anyway, it’s been a while since we’ve shared a handmade hack, and we think this is a great example that deserves the spotlight. Don’t forget to send in your own handmade projects to the tips line!

Stick around after the break to enjoy the film — we recommend watching it full screen and in HD.

Continue reading “Copper Etching: Not just for PCBs”

Electrochemical Etching With a Microcontroller

IMAG1459_zps68634c16

While most of the time the name of the game is to remove a lot of metal, etching is an entirely other process. If you just want to put a logo on a piece of steel, or etch some labels in a piece of aluminum, You need to think small. Mills and CNC routers will do, but they’re expensive and certainly not as easy to work with as a small, homebrew electrochemical etcher.

This etchinator is the brainchild of [Gelandangan], and gives the techniques of expensive commercial etchers to anyone who can put together a simple circuit. This etcher can etch with both AC and DC thanks to a H bridge circuit, and can be fabbed up by anyone who can make their own circuit board.

To actually etch a design in a piece of metal, simply place the piece on a metal plate, put the stencil down, and hold a felt-covered electrode moistened with electrolyte down over the stencil. Press a button, and in about 30 seconds, you have a wonderfully etched piece of metal.

[Gelandagan] has some templates that will allow you to make your own electro etcher, provided you can etch your own boards and can program the PIC16F1828 microcontroller. All this info is over on the Australian blade forum post he put up, along with a demo video below.

Continue reading “Electrochemical Etching With a Microcontroller”

The definitive guide to solder stencils

stencil

Yes, we’ve seen our share of tutorials for making solder paste stencils, but [Felix] hit it out of the park with this one. It’s the definitive guide to making solder stencils at home, with quality as good as you would find in any professionally made stencil.

The material for the stencils comes from the same source as so many other DIY solder stencils – aluminium cans. The interior plastic coating and the exterior paint job are both removed with heat, acetone, and patience. After laying out the cream layer of his board in a PDF file, [Felix] used a fairly interesting transfer medium to get the toner onto the aluminum; cheap vinyl shelving paper attached to a piece of paper apparently makes for an ideal surface to transfer toner.

After transfer, the board is etched with HCl and peroxide. [Felix] is getting some very good results with his method, including a few very fine pitch IC footprints. It’s just as good as a professionally made, laser cut stainless stencil, and you probably already have all the necessary ingredients lying around your house. That’s a win anytime.

Custom boards at home without etching

PCB

PC board houses are getting more accessable and less expensive all the time. Some of us are even getting very, very good at making our own circuit boards at home. There are times, though, when a project or prototype requires an extremely cheap custom board right now, something etching a custom board won’t allow. [KopfKopfKopfAffe] has a unique solution to this problem, able to create custom boards in under an hour without any nasty chemicals.

Instead of starting his build with copper-clad board, [KopfAffe] used every rapid prototyper’s friend, simple one-sided perf board. The shape of the board was milled out on a CNC machine, and both the top silk screen and bottom layer were marked off using the toner transfer method. After that, a custom circuit is just a matter of placing components and putting solder bridges between all the marked pads.

[KopfAffe] is only using this technique for single-sided boards, but we don’t see any reason why it couldn’t be employed for simple double-sided boards. This would still have the problem of making vias between the layers, but that’s still a problem with proper, home-etched double sided boards.