PCB Toner Transfer With Dowel

Pulsar Professional FX has a neat tip on their site for getting a really even toner transfer when making your own PCBs. First, the PCB is cut to size, and the paper is tacked to the board. Then, the PCB is placed paper up onto a dowel and rolled back and forth with the iron. Since the board bends slightly over the dowel the toner sticks evenly to the copper. After that, just remove the paper as usual and etch with your preferred method.

18 thoughts on “PCB Toner Transfer With Dowel

  1. I’m just wondering what the point is with toner-transfer… I certainly never had any success with it. As soon as I went past the point of “tracks between 0.1in pitch DIL pins” I started having trouble.

    I switched to photo-etch earlier this year (using a Mega Electronics 8-bulb double-sided exposure unit with a vacuum system built in) and I’ve gone from having a ~40% success rate on fine-pitch SMD to nearly a 100% success rate. I think it’s actually working out quicker (for me) to go from CAD to a photo-etch PCB, and it’s certainly less effort to do double-sided boards (a photographic lightbox is a BIG help here, as is a roll of B&Q foam tape to hold the transparencies in alignment).

    FWIW, I’m using the Jetstar acetate, a Canon iP4600 printer, Mega’s own “Microtrak” laminate (but the CIF stuff also works OK) and the Seno roll-on developer (because it’s easier than setting up the developer tank for a 30 second dunk).

    Put simply, it works for me…

    (If you’re going to do this, it’s also worth getting a step gauge and setting the exposure properly…)

  2. phil: I think you’ve proven your point by listing all the items required. Most people would only have to buy blank PCBs and etchant (very cheap) for a simple toner setup.

    Each method has its strengths and weaknesses.

    – Toner: cheap and easy setup, low per-board cost, can be time consuming and frustrating especially on small clearances (good equipment helps a lot).
    – Photo-etch: better resolution without much practice, but setup cost and per-board cost are higher.
    – Inkjet: fastest processing time by far (hit print, bake for 5mins, etch), quite high res., per-board cost is low if you buy ink in bulk. Initial setup however can be tricky (pcb alignment, timing issues, etc.)
    – CNC: highest setup cost, very low per-board cost (depends how long your bits last), slow for complex/large boards, but can give you the most complete product (edges routed and holes drilled). Average resolution.

    (these are generalizations from my experience with a low hobby budget)

  3. I should clarify that the production runs were done by batchpcb and advanced circuits and assembled by screaming circuits. the toner process is very definitely not cut out for quantity, primarily due to the lack of PTH for vias…

  4. Use the blue toner transfer sheets and you never have problems.

    I gave up on this years ago anyways, I never need to make a PCB at 3am. I just export my Eagle file to expressPCB and get a perfect double sided board with solder mask in about a week or two for the same price as me screwing around for an hour to make a board, then etch, then drill, then do the nickle plating.

  5. @jproach:
    my point is that for decent TT you need (give or take a few things):
    – a laminator, or a laser printer fuser with homebrew temperature controller
    – PCB blanks
    – suitable paper (and it’ll probably take a while for you to find something that works for you)

    so that’s what, $100 in startup costs, plus the tweaking until you get the process right.

    or you spend that $100 on a cheap exposure unit (MG Chemicals do one for $55 or you can homebrew one out of MDF and a fluorescent light fitting and photoresist exposure fluoro’ lamp for about the same), a bottle of developer ($10 if that), and some PCBs (eurocard size precoated should be about $10 each, less if you’re buying in quantity). oh, and the acetates — office supply store, $20.

    as far as i can see, cost-wise, they more or less match up.

    it cost me £400 to start doing photo-etch, then £160 for my sheet-metal shear (it’s better than using a dremel to cut PCBs, far less dust), but admittedly I went a bit mad.

    i don’t want to start a flamewar here, i’m just pointing out the facts as i see them. also, the prices are in USD as that’s what it seems most people around here are used to…

  6. @farthead: oh, press-n-peel? yeah, that stuff’s great. first thing i used when i was doing TT, absolutely no problems… except by the time i ran out, the UK importer had apparently gone bust. i seem to recall it’s made by Techniks and last time i checked, they were still in business.

  7. @phil: I agree, but the allure is the fact that you can have a basic working setup, with maybe $20 invested. It’s great if you have more time than money. But I don’t think I will ever bother with it again, maybe if I need a silkscreen on something..

    Paper wise, staples photo seems to be the praised the most (although some people have used magazine paper, etc.), its $15 for 100 sheets.

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