Etching PCBs With A 3D Printer

With the coming of very cheap blue laser diodes, PCB fabrication has become increasingly interesting. Instead of making a photoresist, placing it over a piece of pre-sensitized copper clad board, and putting the whole assemblage under a blacklight, it’s possible to put a photomask on a board with a tiny bit of very blue light. All you need is a CNC machine. A 3D printer can be a very precise CNC machine, and when you combine these two ideas together, you can make printed circuit boards with an Ultimaker.

[Geggo] had the idea of attaching a blue laser diode to his Ultimaker to burn a few traces into presensitized copper board. With a 3D printed adapter, he was able to mount the diode and associated electronics right on the extruder body. With a small ring to tighten up the aperture, [geggo] was able to put a 50 micrometer wide dot of light on a piece of copper. The laser is powered directly from the PWM fan output on the printer controller board, allowing this entire mish-mash of cheap electronics to be controlled via G-code.

A few experiments were necessary to determine the correct speeds and power settings, with the best results being 1000 mm per minute at 40 mA. The finished board looks fantastic, and a few minutes after [geggo] was done etching a board, he started using his 3D printer as a printer. It’s a result that is so good, so easy to accomplish, and requires so little effort it makes us wonder why we don’t see more of this.

Boldport tribute to Bob Pease

We have lost something in PCB design over the last few decades. If you open up a piece of electronics from the 1960s you’ll see why. A PCB from that era is a thing of beauty, an organic mass of curving traces, an expression of the engineer’s art hand-crafted in black crêpe paper tape on transparent acetate. Now by comparison a PCB is a functional drawing of precise angles and parallel lines created in a CAD package, and though those of us who made PCBs in both eras welcome the ease of software design wholeheartedly we have to admit; PCBs just ain’t pretty any more.

It doesn’t have to be that way though. Notable among the rebels are Boldport, whose latest board, a tribute to the late linear IC design legend [Bob Pease], slipped out this month. They use their own PCBmodE design software to create beautiful boards as works of art with the flowing lines you’d expect from a PCB created the old-fashioned way.

The board itself is an update to an earlier Boldport design, and features Pease’s LM331 voltage to frequency converter IC converting light intensity to frequency and flashing an LED. It’s one of the application circuits from the datasheet with a little extra to drive the LED. Best of all the kit is a piece of open-source hardware, so you can find all its resources on GitHub.

We are fans of Boldport’s work here at Hackaday, and it should come as no surprise that we have featured them before. From one of their other kits through several different pieces of PCB wall art, to their work making an appearance in Marie Claire magazine they have graced these pages several times, and we hope this latest board will be one of many more.

PCB Laminator Is Its Own Project

One of the easiest ways to make PC boards at home is to use the toner transfer method. The idea is simple: print the artwork using a laser printer and then use a clothes iron to transfer the toner from the paper to a clean copper clad board. The toner is essentially plastic, so it will melt and stick to the board, and it will also resist etchant.

There are several things you can do to make things easier. The first is the choice of paper. However, the other highly variable part of the process is the clothes iron. You have to arrange for the right amount of heat and pressure. If you don’t do a lot of boards, you’ll probably have to make several passes at getting this right, scrubbing the reject boards with acetone and scouring pads to clean them again.

[Igor] had enough of the clothes iron and knew that other people have used lamination machines to get the toner off the paper and on the blank board. He started with a commercial laminator but hacked it for PID control of the temperature and made other improvements.

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Even Easier Toner Transfer PCBs

One of the most popular methods of homebrew PCB fabrication is the toner transfer process. Compared to UV-sensitive films and CNC mills, the toner transfer process is fantastically simple and only requires a laser printer. Being simple doesn’t mean it’s easy, though, and successful toner transfer depends on melting the toner to transfer it from a piece of paper to a copper clad board.

This is heatless toner transfer for PCB fabrication. Instead of using a clothes iron or laminator to transfer toner from a paper to board, [simpletronic] is doing it chemically using acetone and alcohol.

Acetone usually dissolves laser printer toner, and while this is useful for transferring a PCB from paper to board, it alone is insufficient. By using a mixture of eight parts alcohol to three parts acetone, [simpletronic] can make the toner on a piece of paper stick, but not enough to dissolve the toner or make it blur.

From there, it’s a simple matter of putting a piece of paper down on copper clad board. After waiting a few minutes, the paper peels off revealing perfectly transferred board art. All the usual etching techniques can be used to remove copper and fabricate a PCB.

This is an entirely novel method of PCB fabrication, but it’s not exactly original. A few days ago, we saw a very similar method of transferring laser printed graphics to cloth, wood, and metal. While these are probably independent discoveries, it is great evidence there are still new techniques and new ways of doing things left to be discovered.

Thanks [fridgefire] for the tip.

Make PCBs with DLP, OMG!

There’s so many ways to skin the home-fabrication-of-PCBs cat! Here’s yet another. [Nuri Erginer] had a DLP projector on hand, and with the addition of some reducing optics, managed to turn it into a one-shot PCB exposer.

If you’ve ever used photo-resist PCB material before, you know the drill: print out your circuit onto transparency film, layer the transparency with the sensitized PCB, expose with a UV light for a while, dissolve away the unexposed resist, and then etch. Here, [Nuri] combines the first three steps in one by exposing the board directly from a DLP projector.

The catch is that the projector’s resolution limits the size of the board that you can make. To fab a board that’s 10cm x 10cm, at XGA resolution (1024×768), you’ll end up with a feature size of around 0.004″ in the good direction and 0.005″ in the other.

For DIP parts, that’s marginal, but for fine-pitch or small SMT parts, that won’t do. On the other hand, for a smaller board, optimally one in the same 4:3 ratio, it could work. And because it exposes in one shot, you can’t beat the speed. Cool hack, [Nuri]!

When you need more precision, strapping a UV laser to an accurate 2D robot is a good way to go, but it’s gonna take a while longer.

BGA Hand Soldering Video

By 2016, most people have got the hang of doing SMD soldering in the garage–at least for standard packaging. Ball Grid Array or BGA, however, remains one of the more difficult packages to work with [Colin O’Flynn] has an excellent video (almost 30-minutes, including some parts that are sped up) that shows exactly how he does a board with BGA.

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Nick Sayer: Making 10ⁿ Isn’t The Same As Building One

Building one of something is tremendously easy. If you’re making one of something, you can cover the insides with hot glue, keep everything held together with duct tape, and mess around with it enough that it mostly works most of the time. Building more than one of something is another matter entirely. This is the thought behind DFM, or Design For Manufacturing. [Nick Sayer] is an experienced seller on Tindie and he’s put together enough kits to learn the ins and outs, rights and wrongs of building not one, but an inventory of things. Check out this last talk of the 2015 Hackaday SuperConference, then join us below for a bit more on the subject.

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