10 ways to etch PCBs at home

There are a ton of benefits for etching your own circuit boards at home, chief among them the ability to design a circuit in the morning and have a prototype in your hand by lunch. There’s always the question of how to etch the board, but [NurdRage] over on Youtube has all the chemistry covered on ten different etchant solutions for DIY PCB manufacturing.

The peroxide-based methods use simple over-the-counter Hydrogen Peroxide to remove all the copper on a PCB. By combining H2O2 with either Hydrochloric (muriatic) acid or Sulfuric acid, you’ll get a relatively easy to acquire and somewhat safe etching solution.

Historically, the favorite etchant for the home PCB manufacturer has been Ferric Chloride and is still surprisingly available at a few Radio Shacks around the US. Another chloride etchant – Copper Chloride – is one of the most reusable etchants available, able to be regenerated by simply bubbling air through the solution. You can actually make Copper Chloride etchant by reducing down the products of an H2O2 + HCl etchant, making this a very good etchant for PCB pros.

In the ‘miscellaneous’ category, [NurdRage] goes over some alternative etchants such as Bleach and HCl, Nitric acid, and potassium nitrate and HCl; the potassium nitrate etchant is fairly similar to aqua regia, so if you’ve ever wanted a gold PCB, this is the way to go.

Balancing the ease of production and safety of all these etchants, we’ll stick with our Hydrogen Peroxide and HCl etchant for now, at least until we move up to CuCl for the best etching machine we’ve ever seen.

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Single sided Arduino is a great introduction to PCB etching

After you’ve taken the plunge and decided to learn how to etch your own circuit boards, you’ll quickly find even the simplest boards are still out of your grasp. This is due mostly to the two-layer nature of most PCBs, and turn making a homemade Arduino board an exercise in frustration and improving your vocabulary of four-letter words.

After looking around for an easy-to-manufacture single-sided Arduino board, [Johan] realized there weren’t many options for someone new to board etching. He created the Nanino, quite possibly the simplist Arduino compatible board that can be made in a kitchen sink.

Billing it as something between the Veroduino and the Diavolino, [Johan]‘s board does away with all the complexities of true Arduinos by throwing out the USB interface and FTDI chip. A very small parts count makes the Nanino much less expensive to produce in quantity than even the official Arduino single sided board.

For an introduction to etching your own PCBs at home, we couldn’t think of a better first board. As an Arduino, you’re guaranteed to find some use for it and the ease of manufacture and low parts count makes it the perfect subject for your hackerspace’s next tutorial series.

Etching brass and copper with The Etchinator

If you’re in to making your own PCBs at home, you know the trials of etching copper clad boards. It’s slow, even if you’re gently rocking your etch tank or even using an aquarium pump to agitate your etching solution. [cunning_fellow] over on Instructables has the solution to your etching problems, and can even produce printmaking plates, jewelry, photochemically machine small parts, and make small brass logos of your second favorite website.

The Etchinator is a spray etcher, so instead of submerging a copper clad board into a vat of ferric or cupric chloride, etching solution is sprayed onto the board. We’ve seen this technique before, but previous builds use pumps to spray the etching solution and cost a bundle. [cunning_fellow]‘s Etchinator doesn’t used pumps; it’s driven by two cordless drill motors sucking up etching solution through a hollow tube.

The basic idea behind the build is sticking a vertical PVC pipe in a box with etching solution. Mount an impeller in the bottom of the tube, drill many small holes in the side of the tube, and spin it with a motor up top. The solution is sucked up the tube, sprayed out the sides, and falls back down into the reservoir. Put a masked off copper board in the tank and Bob’s your uncle.

Not only did [cunning_fellow] come up with an awesome PCB etching solution, but the same machine can be used for etching brass plate for printmaking, and even photoetching brass sheets for model planes, trains, and automobiles. The quality is really amazing; the Instructables robot above was etched out of 0.7 mm thick brass, with an etch depth of 0.35 mm with only 0.05 mm of undercut. A very awesome build that is already on our ‘to build’ project list.

Etching your own PCBs at home

Etching your own PCBs from copper clad board is nothing new, but the ability to make your own circuit boards at home is so useful it should be part of every maker’s repertoire of skills. The folks over at Hub City Labs in Moncton, NB, Canada put together a workshop covering the basics of home PCB manufacturing, allowing any maker to put a circuit board in their hands in under an hour.

The process starts just like any PCB design – laying out traces, parts, and vias in a PCB designer such as Eagle. When making your own boards, it’s a good idea to make the traces and pads extra large; the folks at Hub City Labs follow the 50-50 rule: 50 mil wide traces with 50 mils of seperation.

The PCB design is printed out with a laser printer (in mirror mode) onto a piece of paper from a glossy magazine or inkjet photo paper. After the copper board is scrubbed to remove any oxidation or oils present, the design is laid face down on the copper and heated with a clothes iron or sent through a laminator.

After the laser printer toner is transferred to the copper, the recipe calls for etching the board with a solution consisting of a half cup of 3% Hydrogen Peroxide and a quarter cup of muriatic acid.

The folks at Hub City Labs put together a great tutorial for one of the most useful skills the home electronics wizard can have, but etching your own PCBs is an art unto itself. There’s a lot of ways this process can be improved, from using Kapton tape to secure the printed art to the copper board, to getting high-strength peroxide from a beauty supply store.

If you’ve got any tips on making your own PCBs at home, drop a line in the comments below.

EDIT: Good job killing Hub City Lab’s web server, everybody. They’re working on getting something up.

PCB manufacturing tutorial

There comes a time in every maker’s career where solderless breadboards won’t do, perfboard becomes annoying, and deadbug is impossible. The solution is to manufacture a PCB, but there’s a learning curve. After learning a few tricks from [Scott]‘s awesome DIY PCB guide, it’s easy to make your own printed circuit boards.

There are a few basic steps to making a PCB. First is designing the board in Eagle or KiCad. The next step, putting the design into copper, has a lot of techniques to choose from. Photo transfer, direct printing, and CNC milling have huge benefits, but by far the most common means hobbyists produce boards is with toner transfer using a laminator.

Unless you’re doing SMD-only circuits, a drill is required. Most people can get away with a Dremel or other rotary tool, but Hackaday has a favorite drill press that is perfect for drilling holes in FR-4. In part two of [Scott]‘s tutorial, he goes over solder masks, silk screens before jumping into vias. These small bits of copper conducting electricity through a circuit board are extremely hard for the garage-bound builder to achieve on their own, but there are a few solutions – copper rivets (anyone have a US source for these?) and copper foil can be used, but sometimes the most effective solution is just hitting the board with a lot of solder and heat.

Thanks [Upgrayd] for the title pic.

Going from idea to schematic to printed PCB

Building a circuit on a bread board makes life much easier, but eventually you’re going to want a PCB for one of your circuits. Luckily, [Will] from Revolt Lab put up a trio of posts that will take you idea and turn it into a schematic and PCB.

First up is an awesome tutorial on the circuit design program Fritzing. While you won’t find Fritzing on the computer of anyone making a living doing circuit design work – those people usually go for Eagle or KiCad – Fritzing is very easy to use but still has a ton of features. Using Fritzing isn’t very hard, either. [Will]‘s tutorial goes over copying your breadboarded circuit into Fritzing, creating a schematic from the bread board layout, and finally converting that to PCB artwork.

Once you have board artwork for your circuit, you’re probably going to want a real-life PCB. [Will]‘s board etching tutorial goes over the toner transfer method of PCB creation. Basically, print your circuit onto glossy photo paper with a laser printer, put it face down on a copper board, then take a clothes iron to it. If you’re lucky, the laser printer toner will have transferred to the copper making a nice etch resist. To get rid of all that superfluous copper, [Will] used ferric chloride but a Hydrochloric Acid/Hydrogen Peroxide mix will work just as well.

Before you etch your boards, you might want to thing about building an etch tank that keeps all your slightly dangerous chemicals in one container. [Will]‘s etch tank uses a large water container and a few pieces of LEGO to suspend the board in the etch solution. It etches boards a lot faster than laying them face down in a tray, allowing you to go from idea to finished piece a lot quicker.

Etching your own boards really, really fast

Sometimes the planets align and the Hackaday tip line gets two posts that are begging to be used together. Here’s two hacks to etch your own boards at home in just a few minutes.

Toner transfer PCBs on the quick

One way of putting an etch mask on a PCB is with the toner transfer method: print your circuit on a piece of inkjet photo paper using a laser printer, lay that circuit face down on a sheet of copper, and go at it with a clothes iron. This takes a heck of a lot of time and effort, but [Dustin] found another way. He used parchment paper instead of inkjet photo paper. Once the paper was on the board, he rolled it through a laminator. The results are awesome. It’s a very fast process as well – you don’t need to soak your board in water to get the photo paper off.

Etching that’s like wiping the copper away

[Royce] wrote in from the Milwaukee Makerspace to tell us about [Tom]‘s etching process that is like wiping the copper off the board.  He used Muratic (Hydrochloric) acid and Hydrogen Peroxide with a sponge to wipe that copper away. The trick in this, we think, comes from the 30% H202 [Tom] picked up at a chemical supply company, but we’re pretty sure similar strengths can be purchased from beauty supply stores. Check out the video after the break to see [Tom] etch a 1 oz. board in just a few seconds.

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