Perfect PCBs With an Inkjet Printer

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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DIY Heatsinking PCBs

pcb heatsink

We have covered many do it yourself PCBs before, but this video guide adds an easy way to sink heat from high power devices, which we think you might find handy.

It is a very simple process that [CNLohr] uses to keep his small RGB LED projects from overheating. It starts by using a readily available silicone thermal sheet as the substrate by applying it to copper foil. He then applies a toner-transfer circuit pattern to the copper by running the pair through a modified laminator a few times. He makes note that you have to apply the plastic backing side of the silicone sheet to the copper foil to prevent the laminator from chewing it up.

After the typical ferric chloride etching process is complete, he then uses 220 grit sandpaper to remove the toner pattern. Often steel wool is used, but because of the sensitive nature of the silicone, sandpaper works better to avoid peeling up traces.

We have featured [CNLohr] before, as he does some top-notch tutorials in his workshop — which makes for both a fascinating and distracting backdrop for the videos. This one is a bit long (~20 minutes), but is very thorough and goes through the entire process from start to finish. Check it out after the break.

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Making PCBs and Waffles


The toner transfer method of fabricating PCBs is a staple in every maker’s toolbox. Usually, tutorials for this method of making PCBs rely on a clothes iron or laminating machine. They work perfectly well, but with both of these methods (sans high-end laminators), you’re only heating one side of the board at a time, making perfect double-sided PCBs somewhat of a challenge.

[Mark] just came up with an interesting solution to this problem. A waffle iron PCB press. Technically, [Mark] is using his ‘grill and waffle baker’ as a two-sided griddle, with a few aluminum plates sandwiching the copper board for good thermal conduction.

After a whole lot of trial and error, [Mark] eventually got a good transfer onto a piece of copper clad board. Now that he has the process dialed in, it should be a snap to replicate his results with a new project and a new PCB design.

The definitive guide to solder stencils

Yes, we’ve seen our share of tutorials for making solder paste stencils, but [Felix] hit it out of the park with this one. It’s the definitive guide to making solder stencils at home, with quality as good as you would find in any professionally made stencil.

The material for the stencils comes from the same source as so many other DIY solder stencils – aluminium cans. The interior plastic coating and the exterior paint job are both removed with heat, acetone, and patience. After laying out the cream layer of his board in a PDF file, [Felix] used a fairly interesting transfer medium to get the toner onto the aluminum; cheap vinyl shelving paper attached to a piece of paper apparently makes for an ideal surface to transfer toner.

After transfer, the board is etched with HCl and peroxide. [Felix] is getting some very good results with his method, including a few very fine pitch IC footprints. It’s just as good as a professionally made, laser cut stainless stencil, and you probably already have all the necessary ingredients lying around your house. That’s a win anytime.

[Fran’s] PCB etching techniques


We think that anyone who’s done at-home PCB fabrication will appreciate the tidiness that [Fran] maintains throughout her etching process. She recently posted a three-part video tutorial which showcases her techniques. As you can see in the screenshot above, her habits reek of top-notch laboratory skills.

Regular readers can probably guess what circuit she’s etching. It’s the test boards for her LVDC reverse engineering. She is using the toner transfer method, but in a bit different way than most home-etchers do. She uses the blue transfer paper made for the job, but before transferring it to the copper clad she uses a light box (kind of like the X-ray film viewer at the doctor’s office) to inspect for any gaps where toner did not adhere. From there she uses a heat press to apply the resist. This is a heck of a lot easier than using a clothes iron, but of course you’ve got to have one of these things on hand to do it this way.

The second part of the tutorial is embedded after the break. We chose this segment because it shows off how [Fran] built her own chemical hood. It’s a clear plastic storage container lying upside down. A work window has been cut out of the front side, and a 4-inch exhaust hose added to the top. [Fran’s] lab has a high volume low velocity fan to which it connects to whisk the fumes outside.

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Modifying a printer for PCB fabbing


The migraine-inducing image above is the product of [Rupert Hirst]’s attempts at home PCB fabrication. He’s using the toner transfer method – printing a circuit on a piece of transparency sheet with a laser printer, setting it on a piece of copper clad board, and sending the whole assembly through a laminator. It’s a fairly straightforward process, but if you can’t run a transparency sheet through a printer multiple times your etch resist won’t hold up too well. Of course the transparency sheet must be aligned each time it goes through the printer, so [Rupert] came up with a modification that ensures laser toner goes only where it’s supposed to.

[Rupert] picked up a Samsung ML-2165W laser printer for his PCB fab shop, but printing the same image multiple times on the same transparency sheet would result in unusable masks. This problem was fixed with a few plastic shims used to hang door frames and a card stock tray that ensures the transparency sheet goes through the printer the same way every time.

We saw [Rupert]’s homebrew PCB fabrication process a few weeks ago when he sent in his six channel floppy drive MIDI synth. In his build video, [Rupert] demonstrated what is possibly the cleanest toner transfer PCB we’ve seen to date. You can check out his etching process in the video after the break.

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DIY solder stencils from soda cans


Even if you’ve overcome your fear diddling about with tiny SMD components, applying solder paste – especially if you’re populating more than one board at a time – is still a chore. The pros use very expensive laser cut stainless steel solder paste stencils, something still a bit out of reach to the casual hobbyist. [Felix] solved this problem by making his own solder paste stencils very cheaply using empty soda cans.

The process begins just like any other home etching tutorial by lightly sanding the un-bent aluminum can and applying the etch resist via the toner transfer method. Etching is done with off-the-shelf HCl and hydrogen peroxide, resulting in an amazingly clean stencil comparable in quality with a professional stencil.

Sure, going through a dozen-step process to make a solder paste stencil may not be as convienent as [Cnlohr]’s toothpick and tweezers method, but [Felix]’ method is just about up to par with extraordinarily expensive laser cut stainless steel stencils. Not bad for something that came from the recycling bin.