Laser-Based PCB Printer


Being able to create PCB’s at home is a milestone in the DIYer’s arsenal. Whether you physically mill or chemically etch boards, it’s a tricky task to perfect. [Charlie & Victor] are working towards a solution to this complicated chore. They call their machine the DiyouPCB. DiyouPCB is an open source PCB etching project consisting of both hardware and software components.

The project is based on using a Blue Ray optical pickup. The pickup was used in its entirety, without any modification, to simplify the build process. In order to use the stock pickup, [Charlie & Victor] had to reverse engineer the communication protocol which also allowed them to take advantage of the auto-focus feature used while reading Blue Ray discs. The frame of the machine is reminiscent of a RepRap, which they used to do preliminary testing and laser tuning. The X and Y axes run on brass bushings and are belt driven by stepper motors which are controlled by an Arduino through a specially designed DiyouPCB Controller Shield.

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[CNLohr] Demos His Photoetch PCB Process


If you’re going to learn something, it only makes sense to learn from a master. [CNLohr] is known around these parts for his fablous PCBs, and he’s finally started to document his entire fabrication process.

[CNLohr] is using a photoetch process, where a mask is created with a laser printer on overhead transparencies. He covers the copper clad boards with a Riston photosensitive mask—available here, and they accept Bitcoin—sent through a laminator, and exposed with the laser printed mask and a UV grow bulb. After the mask has developed, [CNLohr] drops his boards into a ferric chloride bath that eats away the unexposed copper. He then removes the photomask with acetone and cuts the boards with a pair of aircraft snips, and they’re ready to be soldered up with components.

Yes, home PCB etching tutorials are pretty much a solved problem, but [CNLohr]‘s work speaks for itself. He’s also the guy who made a microcontroller/Linux/Minecraft thing on a glass microscope slide. Learning from a guy with these skills means you’re learning from one of the best.

Video below, and there’s also a video going over the design of a PCB using KiCAD (!) and TopoR (!!!) available here.

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Toner Transfer PCBs, Double Sided, With Color Silkscreen


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.

Testing The Limits Of Home PCB Etching


[Quinn Dunki]‘s Veronica, a homebrew computer based on the 6502 CPU, is coming along quite nicely. She’s just finished the input board that gives Veronica inputs for a keyboard and two old Nintendo gamepads. [Quinn] is building this computer all by her lonesome, including etching all the PCBs. She’s gotten very, very good at etching her own boards, but this input board did inspire a few facepalming moments.

In an earlier post, [Quinn] went over her PCB etching capabilities. As demonstrated by the pic above, she’s able to print 16 mil traces with 5 mil separation. This is just about as good as you can get with homebrew PCBs, but it’s not without its problems.

[Quinn] is using a photographic process for her boards where two copies of a mask is printed on an acetate sheet, doubled up, and laid down on a pre-sensitized copper board. The requirement for two layers of toner was found by experience – with only one layer of toner blocking UV light, [Quinn] got some terrible pitting on her traces and ground planes.

Two photographic masks means the masks must be precisely aligned. This example shows what happens when the acetate sheets are ever so slightly misaligned. With a 5 mil gap between traces, [Quinn] needs to align the masks to within ±2.5 mils; difficult to do by eye, and very hard once you factor in flexing and clamping them down to the copper board.

Even when this process goes perfectly, [Quinn] is pushing the limits of a laser printer. When printing at 600 dpi, the pixels of the print are about 1.5 mils. While GIMP, printer drivers, and the printer itself have some fancy software to help with the interpolation, [Quinn] is still seeing ‘bumps’ on the edges of perfectly aligned parts. This is one of those things that really makes you step back and realize how amazing fabbing PCBs at home actually is.

With most of the hardware for Veronica out of the way, it’s just about time for [Quinn] to start programming her baby. We’re not expecting a full-blown operating system and compiler, but those NES gamepads are probably crying out for some use.

A Touch Scroll Wheel via OpenSCAD


Recent experiments with the Arduino CapSense library led [Bryan] around the Internet looking for interesting applications. He hit upon a very cool touch scroll wheel made entirely with PCB traces, but the geometry – three interleaved zig zags is impossible to build in the decidedly ungeometric Eagle PCB package. One thing leads to another and now [Bryan] has a cap touch wheel Eagle part designed entirely in OpenSCAD.

The touch scroll wheel implementation [Bryan] found came from an ST touch controller datasheet and used oddly-shaped patterns to create a capacities sensor. Eagle is terrible for designing anything that isn’t laid out at a 45 degree angle, so he fired up OpenSCAD to draw these triangles. Importing into Eagle was another challenge, but a quick Ruby script to convert a DXF file into a set of coordinates for Eagle’s POLYGON command made everything very easy.

If OpenSCADing touch sensors isn’t your thing, there’s also an Eagle library full of them - something we found last week.

Printing Printed Circuit Boards


We really respect the old timers out there and their amazing ways of crafting PCBs; they used black tape on clear acetate sheets to create single layers of PCBs with a photoetching process. Now creating a PCB is a simple matter of opening up a CAD package, but like the old timers we’re still dealing with nasty chemicals or long shipping times from China.

The EX¹, a new robot on Kickstarter - hopes to change that. They’ve created a PCB fabrication process that’s as simple as printing something with an inkjet printer. Just put in a piece of substrate – anything from Kapton to acrylic to fabric – and in a few minutes you have a single-sided PCB in your hands.

The printer dispenses two chemicals, silver nitrate and ascorbic acid, that react and produce traces and pads for the circuit. Right now, the EX¹ is limited to single-side boards, but experiments on creating multi layer boards are ongoing.

In any event, we’re really impressed with how simple the EX¹ setup actually is. Inkjet is a mature, well understood technology with more than enough resolution for simple homebrew circuits, and the AgNO3 + Vitamin C formula could easily be adapted to an inkjet printer modification.

Hackaday Links: November 10, 2013


[Henryk Gasperowicz], the wizard of electrons who makes LEDs glow for no apparent reason, has put up another one of his troll physics circuits. We have no idea how he does it (he does say he’s using wireless energy transmission) so a few solution videos would be cool, [Henryk].

Altoids tins make great electronic enclosures, but how about designing your PCBs to fit mint and gum containers? Here’s a Trident USBASP, a tiny Tic Tac ISP thingy, and a Mentos USB to JTAG interface.

By the end of this week, the PS4 will be out, along with the new PS4 camera. It’s a great camera – 1280×800 at 60Hz – but unless someone develops a driver for it, it shall forever remain tethered to a PS4. Luckily, there’s a project to develop a PS4 camera driver, so if you have some USB 3.0 experience, give it a shot.

Multimeter teardowns? [David]‘s got multimeter teardowns. It’s an HP 3455A, a huge bench top unit from the 80s. This is, or was, pro equipment and strange esoteric components definitely make a showing. ±0.01% resistors? Yep. Part two has some pics of the guts and a whole ton of logic.

The US Air Force Academy just moved their embedded systems course over to the MSP430. Course director [Capt Todd Branchflower] just put all the course materials online, with the notes, datasheets, and labs available on Github.