How to Take Pictures of PCBs

While we’ve covered light box builds and other DIY photography solutions, general picture-snapping tips and tricks are a bit out of the purview of what we normally write about. Nevertheless, [Alain] just put up a great tutorial for taking pictures of PCBs. This is a great skill to have — no one cares about what you’ve built unless you have a picture of it — and the same techniques can be applied to other small bits and bobs of electronic equipment.

As with all matters of photography, light is important. [Alain] built a DIY light box using two cheap outdoor square LED panels and some scrap wood. There’s really nothing to this build: just build a box that holds soft, diffused light.

A camera is a little more complicated than a box, and here [Alain] is using an entry-level DSLR with a kit lens. The takeaway here is to set the aperture to the highest number (or smallest hole) possible while still keeping a reasonable shutter speed. This increases the depth of field and produces a picture where the board and the tops of components are in focus.

There are a few more tips for getting the best PCB pics possible including shooting in RAW for Aperture or Lightroom, getting a macro lens, and using a tripod. Like all things, there’s a law of diminishing returns, and even with a smartphone camera and a DIY light box, you can produce some fantastic pics of PCBs.

Use All that Extra Space with PCB Panelization

Anyone who’s made a PCB has encountered the conundrum of having to pay for space that you don’t use… for instance, designing a round PCB and seeing the corners go to waste. The solution? Smaller boards added to the blank spots.

One logical stumbling block might be that you simply don’t have a small PCB design ready to go. Latvian hacker [Arsenijs] created a resource of small PCBs that can be dropped into those blank spots, as well as a tutorial on how to combine the gerbers into a single panel.

Great minds think alike, and this guide is following hot on the heels of [Brian Benchoff’s] article on panelization. They’re both a great read. It’s interesting to think that not long ago we would see multiple guides on home etching boards and now we’ve climbed the production ladder to guides that help better utilize PCB fab houses. Neat!

This project seems a logical spinoff of [Arsenijs]’s ZeroPhone Pi smartphone project, a finalist for the 2017 Hackaday Prize that makes a low-cost phone using a stack of PCBs. One imagines that while prototyping the phone [Arsenijs] ended up with a lot of wasted space! Fill that up with smaller designs like breakouts, or decorative items like a hackerspace business card. If you’re looking for small PCBs you can find a few in the files area of the project on Hackaday.io. Otherwise, you can share yours and [Arsenijs] will add them.

Cleaning flux from PCBs the easy way

While we’re all for building circuits on protoboard or constructing a deadbug circuit for a last minute project, it’s always nice to see a proper PCB now and again. We think that leftover flux can sometimes make even the nicest of circuit boards look a bit dingy, and Hackaday reader [RandomTask] wholeheartedly agrees. He wrote in to share a method he found online that he uses to get his PCBs squeaky clean after soldering.

The secret to his clean PCBs is a product called Poly Clens. It’s essentially a paint brush cleaner that does a great job at removing flux without having to resort to using a brush to scrub it off the board. [RandomTask] simply submerges his newly assembled board in a small container filled with Poly Clens, agitating it for about half a minute or so. After the flux has been removed he rinses it with water, pats it dry, then ensures the board is moisture-free with a few passes of his heat gun.

He says that the entire process takes him less than 5 minutes per board, which is far better than the old alcohol and stiff brush method he used in the past.

What tips or tricks do you have for getting your new projects cleaned up? Be sure to share them with us in the comments.

Look at Your Gerber Files with Gerbv

gerbv_with_loaded_gerber_files

Tired of making kindergarten macaroni art PCBs? Check your Gerber files before you send them off to a fab house with a Gerber file viewer. Viewplot , GerbTool’s Viewer , and FAB 3000 Free DFM are all free versions of for-pay software to view your Gerber files. If you use Windows and demo software, these are nice options. If not, you can use gerbv. Allied with gEDA, Gerbv is free, open source software that you can use to view all of your RS-274X Gerber files and Excellon-type drill files. Still being worked on with an active development group, gerbv does not have all the bells and whistles, it does have the ability to delete objects. Check it out after the break. Continue reading “Look at Your Gerber Files with Gerbv”

RGB etched box


[Dine909] brings us this simple glowing box made out of five etched PCBs. The PCBs control RGB LEDs inside the box, which is also filled with clear glass beads. The four walls are connected to a base controller board that has a Cypress PSoC chip for color mixing. There’s no writeup, and even though it looks a lot like the Lament Configuration, it should be a lot easier to build; any transportation to other dimensions it provides will be strictly figurative.

[via ladyada]