[Fran’s] PCB etching techniques

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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

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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

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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.

Toner transfer for resist and silk screen using printable vinyl

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This toner transfer method uses a different material than we normally see. The red sheet being peeled back isn’t toner transfer paper. It’s printable vinyl used for both the resist and the silk screen.

The application process is almost the same as any other toner transfer PCB fabrication material. The printable vinyl stick is first adhered to a piece of paper before feeding it through a laser printer. It is acceptable to clean the vinyl with alcohol before printing if you think there may be a finger print or other oil on its surface. After printing it is carefully aligned with the board and ironed on.

[Mincior Vicentiu] thinks there are a few big benefits to this material. It seems that as you heat the toner it expands and hardens, but the vinyl actually softens to make room for this. We can imagine that this helps alleviate the smudging that sometimes occurs when ironing toner that is simply printed on paper. The other advantage is that the vinyl peels off quite easily after ironing, where as you need to soak paper in water and carefully massage it off of the toner.

[via Dangerous Prototypes]

Etching your own PCBs at home

Etching your own PCBs from copper clad board is nothing new, but the ability to make your own circuit boards at home is so useful it should be part of every maker’s repertoire of skills. The folks over at Hub City Labs in Moncton, NB, Canada put together a workshop covering the basics of home PCB manufacturing, allowing any maker to put a circuit board in their hands in under an hour.

The process starts just like any PCB design – laying out traces, parts, and vias in a PCB designer such as Eagle. When making your own boards, it’s a good idea to make the traces and pads extra large; the folks at Hub City Labs follow the 50-50 rule: 50 mil wide traces with 50 mils of seperation.

The PCB design is printed out with a laser printer (in mirror mode) onto a piece of paper from a glossy magazine or inkjet photo paper. After the copper board is scrubbed to remove any oxidation or oils present, the design is laid face down on the copper and heated with a clothes iron or sent through a laminator.

After the laser printer toner is transferred to the copper, the recipe calls for etching the board with a solution consisting of a half cup of 3% Hydrogen Peroxide and a quarter cup of muriatic acid.

The folks at Hub City Labs put together a great tutorial for one of the most useful skills the home electronics wizard can have, but etching your own PCBs is an art unto itself. There’s a lot of ways this process can be improved, from using Kapton tape to secure the printed art to the copper board, to getting high-strength peroxide from a beauty supply store.

If you’ve got any tips on making your own PCBs at home, drop a line in the comments below.

EDIT: Good job killing Hub City Lab’s web server, everybody. They’re working on getting something up.

Make your own custom iPhone back glass

[Jake von Slatt] is at it again; putting his own artistic spin on ordinary items. This time around it’s the glass on the back of an iPhone. It kept breaking and after a few replacements he wanted to try to replace the glass with a piece of etched brass. But part way through that experiment, he figured out how to use toner transfer to develop these stunning custom iPhone glass back plates.

The first step is to source the correct replacement back for your phone. These are made of two parts, the glass and a plastic backer. By carefully heating and wedging the two parts with some popsicle sticks he was able to separate the pieces. Next, he cleans and buffs the glass, preparing it for the artwork he is about to apply. Toner transfer paper, just like that used for PCB resist, is used to print and adhere a design to the underside of the glass. From there he hand paints over the black outline to achieve the results seen above.

It takes time and patience, but shouldn’t be any harder than etching a circuit board.

PCB manufacturing tutorial

There comes a time in every maker’s career where solderless breadboards won’t do, perfboard becomes annoying, and deadbug is impossible. The solution is to manufacture a PCB, but there’s a learning curve. After learning a few tricks from [Scott]’s awesome DIY PCB guide, it’s easy to make your own printed circuit boards.

There are a few basic steps to making a PCB. First is designing the board in Eagle or KiCad. The next step, putting the design into copper, has a lot of techniques to choose from. Photo transfer, direct printing, and CNC milling have huge benefits, but by far the most common means hobbyists produce boards is with toner transfer using a laminator.

Unless you’re doing SMD-only circuits, a drill is required. Most people can get away with a Dremel or other rotary tool, but Hackaday has a favorite drill press that is perfect for drilling holes in FR-4. In part two of [Scott]’s tutorial, he goes over solder masks, silk screens before jumping into vias. These small bits of copper conducting electricity through a circuit board are extremely hard for the garage-bound builder to achieve on their own, but there are a few solutions – copper rivets (anyone have a US source for these?) and copper foil can be used, but sometimes the most effective solution is just hitting the board with a lot of solder and heat.

Thanks [Upgrayd] for the title pic.