Make Any Shape Board in Eagle

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[Bryan] has been working on a very nice analog LED clock circuit, but when it came time to lay out the parts in Eagle, he was somewhat miffed by the inability to create designs in his Eagle boards. Eagle is a fine tool for laying out circuits, but when it comes to making strangely shaped PCBs, Eagle just isn’t the right tool.

The solution to this problem was to create the board outline in OpenSCAD. The desired shape of [Bryan]‘s clock was easily designed, but importing the shape into an Eagle layer was another matter entirely.

OpenSCAD, though, can output 2D shapes to the DXF format. Getting the DXF board into Eagle required [Bryan] to write a script that outputs Eagle WIRE commands. Pasting these commands into the command line gave [Bryan] a perfectly shaped PCB.

Since DXF is supported by every drawing package on the planet, [Bryan]‘s 20 line script could also be used for much more intricate designs. If you have an incredibly complex Illustrator drawing that deserves to be a PCB, it doesn’t get much easier than tossing it through a script.

Perfect PCBs With an Inkjet Printer

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Instead of mucking about fabbing PCBs with the toner transfer method, or making masks for photosensitive boards, the holy grail of at-home circuit board manufacturing is a direct inkjet-to-etch method. [Don] isn’t quite there yet, but his method of producing circuit boards at home is one of the easiest we’ve ever seen.

[Don]‘s boards begin by taking the output from Eagle and printing them with an Epson Artisan 50 inkjet printer. By sticking a piece of cardstock in the printer before the copper board, he’s able to precisely align the traces and pads onto the copper board.

When the board comes out of the printer, it’s only covered in ink. While some specialty inks are enough of an etch resist, [Don] comes up with a clever way to make sure acid doesn’t eat away copper in the needed places – he simply dusts on toner from a copier or laser printer, blows off the excess, and bakes the entire board in a toaster oven.

The result, seen above, are perfect traces on a circuit board without the need for ironing sheets of photo paper onto copper boards.

As far as the, “why didn’t someone think of this sooner” ideas go, this one is at the top. [Don] says the method should work  on sheets of aluminum for printing solder paste masks. Impressive work, and now the only thing left to do is getting two-layer boards down pat. For more direct to copper printing check out the hacks we’ve covered in years past.

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HHH: PCB Mill from Connecticut Hackerspace

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The latest Hackaday Hackerspace Henchmen entry comes from [Bremster] and the Connecticut Hackerspace. He mentions that he’s been meaning to write about the PCB/engraving mill used at the hackerspace for some time, but it was the HHH program which motivated him to do so. Yay! That’s exactly what we envisioned with this and we hope there are more submissions which will encourage us to continue and expand the program.

We think this is a perfect CNC project for any hackerspace whose members are into electronics. It’s compact, and we find milling PCBs to be more desirable than chemically etching them; the tool should get quite a bit of use. This particular build uses x, y, and z axis hardware which was pulled separately from unknown machinery. Like any good hacking project, the fabrication process was so addictive that [Bremster] stayed at the space all night, breaking at 5am to shower and eat before heading to work.

It originally used a Dremel rotary tool but had too much play in the mounting mechanism. When they replaced it with the motor shown above they also machined an aluminum bracket that dramatically stabilizes the cutting bit. This results in clean PCBs, and they’ve even used it to make stamps for their hackerspace passports. There is an enclosure attached, which has been hinged to the right for the two images above.

Check out the demo video below, and get your own CNC submission in for the HHH program before the October 31st deadline.

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Woodcut Stamps and Conductive Ink

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Even though it’s been a while since the Rome Maker Faire, we’re still getting some tips from the trenches of Europe’s largest gathering of makers. One of these is a 30-minute experiment from [Luong]. He wondered if it would be possible to create SMD circuit boards by using a 3D printer to fabricate a stamp for conductive ink.

[Luong] told this idea  to a few folks around the faire, and the idea eventually wound up in the laps of the guys from TechLab. the Chieri, Italy hackerspace. They suggested cutting a wooden stamp using a laser cutter and within 30 minutes of the idea’s inception a completed stamp for an Atari Punk Console PCB was in [Luong]‘s hands.

As an experiment, the idea was a tremendous success. As a tool, the stamp didn’t perform as well as hoped; the traces didn’t transfer properly, and there’s no way this wooden laser cut stamp could ever create usable PCBs.

That being said, we’re thinking [Luong] is on the right track here with printed PCBs. One of the holy grails of home fabrication is the creation of printed circuit boards, and even a partial success is too big to ignore.

This idea for CNC-created PCB stamps might work with a different material – linoleum or other rubber stamp material, or even a CNC milled aluminum plate. If you have any ideas on how to use this technique for PCB creation, leave a note in the comments, or better yet, try it out for yourself.

Creating Irregular Board Outlines in KiCad

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One of the benefits of plain text file format is that you can go in and edit them by hand. This is part of the KiCad board outline hack which [Clint] wrote about in a recent post. He wanted a unique board outline, which is something that KiCad isn’t necessarily well suited for. His solution was to create the outline as an image, then import it. If you’re wondering what custom shape is called for this type of work we’d like to point you to the (kind of) bottle opening HaDuino. That PCB layout was done on Eagle, which has a bit more leeway with special shapes.

Before getting to the code editing step seen above [Clint] used the built-in feature for KiCad that will turn an image into a component. He exported that code and altered it using a text editor in order to change the layer setting for the shape to that of the board outline. This took him from a plain old image, to a module which can be selected and dropped into the board editing program. It’s a snap to do this sort of thing for the copper layers too if you’re interested in using your mad graphics editing skills to layout an art piece on copper clad.

Backlit PCB Panel as Wall Art

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For his buddy’s wedding [Saar Drimer] wanted a one-of-a-kind gift, and what’s more unique than a piece of art? He set out to design something that would speak to his geeky game-loving friend. This full-panel PCB is what he came up with. It’s a wall hanging that uses addressable LEDs and a PCB for the enclosure and as a diffuser.

On the right you can see the panel as it was delivered to him. He used routed slots to separate the main body of the enclosure from the four side pieces and the mounting bracket. This design lets him snap off the parts and solder them in place. The only thing you need to add to it is a pair of screws (well, and the components that make it light up).

We’re shocked by how well the PCB works as a diffuser. The substrate is translucent when not covered with silk screen or the copper layers. The outline of the letters uses that, as well as circular areas along the side pieces. The letters themselves are copper fills that have artistic patterns removed from them. This really adds to the visual appeal when the piece is illuminated by 42 WS2812B LEDs. The video below shows the piece in action. It really takes PCB as art to the next level

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Polyurethane protecting PCBs

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What you see above is a home-made PCB. No, this isn’t an example of a terrible toner transfer job, but rather evidence of the ravages of time. This board is seven years old, and the corrosion and broken traces show it. Luckily, [George] already has seven years of environmental data for a cheap DIY soldermask.

Seven years ago, [George] took a piece of copper clad board, masked half of it off, and sprayed it with fast drying polyurethane. After drying, he put it on a shelf in his garage. The results were fairly surprising – the uncovered portion is covered in verdigris, while the coated half is still shiny and new.

[George] took this a bit further and experimented with other spray can coverings. He found Testors spray enable worked just like the polyurethane, burning off when the heat of a soldering iron was applied, and also passed for a professional PCB.