Printed Circuit Board Minus The Printed Traces

Reader [Osgeld] is a board-layout ninja. He populated this 4×4 LED matrix board without having a layout plan to start with. Watch it develop in slideshow format to see the art work he performs. The display is driven by a shift-register and he’s included all the proper parts like resistors and transistors, yet he makes everything fit. Why is this amazing? He’s using uninsulated wire and not a single one of them crosses another wire. He’s physically designing a printed circuit board, routing the traces as he solders away. He’s built this to use with an Arduino shift register tutorial and our only question is where is the header to hook this board to a microcontroller?

34 thoughts on “Printed Circuit Board Minus The Printed Traces

  1. But why?

    I could understand doing this years ago when making your own PCBs was a painful experience of spending hours laying out letraset only to discover when etched that a bunch of it had lifted and ruined the hole board, but even then you had the advantage of discovering layout errors before soldering components together. In today’s age of affordable good CAD (eg Eagle) and cheap laser printers there’s no good reason to not etch a board. I prototype by etching and laying down SMDs. It’s quicker, easier and generally cheaper than dealing with through-hole components, and you have the advantage that you can more easily reuse components too. The resulting board is far more reliable too.

  2. I remember being in junior high and watching the older kids play with these blinking light boxes consisting of neon-bulbs, capacitors and resistors… all jumbled together without a circuit board and having 120VAC in a metal box without a ground. And then seeing tube projects and thinking it was all too free form for me.

    Fast forward to breathing lead solder fumes for days at a time and wiring up projects just like this… I wasted hours building enormous collections of gates, counters and LEDs and then running them like light shows… which took me back to building light show boxes…

    Which led to accidentally becoming a DJ and directly resulting with the chance to commence sleeping with a score* of attractive but not very bright girls… all of whom eventually realized that not every DJ is a party animal worth keeping around.

    So kids, a word to the wise:

    Knowing your way around a soldering iron can do wonders for your social life. Just make sure you read the MSDS on serial dating first. Especially the parts about vector multiplication and the least common denominators. Ah, innocence.

    * Speaking of scores (a score is 21), I should probably send a fat envelope of cash to Giorgio Moroder. That dude’s use of sequencers and vocoders changed my life, along with a rather stupid film scored by the band Blondie.

    It’s a good day to surf hackaday.

  3. 1 I dont have a laser printer, they are still kind of expensive, though I am keeping an eye out for a decent used one

    2 I dont have a good workspace, living in a tiny apartment its hard to store chemicals, and I rather not explain the stain on the carpet to the wife, its bad enough with little strands of wire in it

    3) except for the board every single bit of this was scavenged, which nullifies your price points

    4) cause I wanted to

    5) there is no header, and there are a couple pictures missing from the end but its just 4 wires hanging off to the side

    6) thanks for the photography comment, the camera I use is a old Toshiba that my wife hates, I can understand cause on batteries it takes 2 shots and dies, but its a really nice camera for 2Mp and for my workbench its fine to be tethered, otherwise it would have been gone years ago

  4. @ian: He points out he built this to use with a tutorial, it’s not for “production”. You bring up a point that a lot of people here seem to miss: Sometimes the goal is HOW you get there, not the place itself.

  5. I disagree with with the previous comment. There is no way you can beat this technique for getting a working build in the minimum amount of time. This can be finished in less than a hour. Unless you own a board grinder, you can’t get within 10x of that. Of course for really complex circuits, this will start to get unwieldy, but I have home-made test equipment, with these sorts of boards inside, that have been bullet proof for 20 years. CAD is great, but nothing beats getting your circuit up and running fast. BTW, you don’t even need solder pads on the boards to do this.

  6. > John Berube said:
    > I am building projects now in my high school years with this method.

    Oh John I envy you. You are going to get to play with some of the most FANTASTIC stuff before you get to be my age.

    I’ve had a fantastic ride over the last 35 years or so, and I think you will too if you are building like this right now.

    Have fun, and send photos!

  7. Occasionally I’ve used CAD to get the parts layout kinda sorta right, then built the board like this. And I’ve also built dozens of boards, up to fairly packed Euroboard size (10x16cm) this way too, routing straight from the schematic and with as little wire bridges as possible. It’s quick, robust and accomodates minor corrections.

  8. @osgeld WOOT, this is pure badass. Also I agree the pads do help hold things in place, I end up using the hot glue gun too much for non padded perf board.

    @Stoneshop I’ve been doing something similar, only using graph paper instead of CAD — it’s neat that he just whipped this up without any layout plan.

  9. it is very nice to see that these methods aren’t dying anytime soon. CAD, etching and drilling is fun, but nothing comes close to the enjoyment you get by just sitting down and soldering something off the top of your head. Also, I have kids and I don’t like the idea of having chemicals in the apartment.

    I made two led matricies with similar methods a little while ago. It was probably more work than it should have been, but it was fun and they work.

  10. You can’t compare matrix board for prototyping to making a PCB. With matrix board you can build and change your design pretty much as fast as you can solder it. If you make a mistake it is very easy to fix.

    To make a PCB:

    1. Create schematic on PC
    2. Create board from schematic
    3. Fix issues discovered with rule checks
    4. Print board on to special paper
    5. Apply to copper board
    6. Use nasty chemicals to slowly remove excess copper
    7. Check for broken traces, mistakes etc.
    8. Solder everything up

    Through hole is faster and easier. Matrix board prototypes might not be as clean and visually appealing as a PCB but for development there is no comparison.

  11. When having someone do something like this as a starting electronics project, it’s generally better to make sure whoever does it plans ahead, unless you really want to debug some wire porn.

  12. There are perfboards with solder pads connected in rows of 3. It’s even easier to use those when doing something like this.
    Like someone said above, it’s a fast way of making a small board that just needs to work.

  13. Excellent. This is exactly how I do projects, except generally nothing so complex. My hardware projects tend to be more in the range of 2-3 transistors, an LED or two, and maybe a couple resistors. Don’t even use any micro controllers yet. I’m more of a software guy.

    Also, @osgeld:
    If you’re looking for a cheap laser printer, see if you can find a Brother HL-2040. I bought one a couple years off Amazon. $70 for the printer, came with a full toner cartridge. I get the toner refilled for $40 and one refill lasts me _years_ (at 50-100 pages per week)

  14. “Don’t even use any micro controllers yet. I’m more of a software guy.”

    oh you need to then, a mcu is just a very basic computer running your software

    also about the printer, since I print nothing at home 70$ would be just for printing the occasional pcb, and it eats precious space

    so to me that is a bit pricey for such a limited use, especially since my last one cost nothing from a recycle shed

  15. Yea, I mean I get the idea of micro controllers and such…I actually started programming on Lego Mindstorms, which are basically the lego version of an Arduino. lol. But I’d always end up either writing software but never getting around to building the hardware for it, or building hardware but never getting around to doing the software. lol. I’ll probably buy an Arduino at some point, and then if I end up actually using the thing I’ll move on to real chips. I just honestly don’t know what I’d use it for.

  16. @ osgeld – re, “it does help to hold things in place” – Yes, it helps, but not as much as you think. For the board shown, you’d poke the LEDs through the holes and bend the leads a bit and just solder wires to the leads. Many times you can bend the leads and use them for connections and not use any wires. ICs like DIPs are also held in place by the bare wires connected to the pins. Blank perf-board is cheaper, and solder pads aren’t so great when you need to remove something. Also after a little bit of rework, the pads fall off anyway.

  17. beautiful work. great craft; great outcome; great process; wonderful photos of the process. that technique is *very* reliable, looks good, repairable, pleasant to see, shows incredible thought and care. form and function merged into one. i couldn’t have done better myself and i’ve done that sort of thing a long time.

    your low impact process is great. i bet you could toss that thing at a brick wall and it would still work great. it’s not like you’re trying to make 1000 of the things, then a pc board is worth the effort. pcb layout is a lot of work and money!

    ignore the whiners and the you-are-doing-it-wrong types. they’re unhappy no matter what you do. when you ‘do it wrong’ and it works out so nicely, clearly you’re on the right path!

    keep up the good work is a terrible cliche, but hey.

  18. its been sitting under a pile of 3.5 inch scsi hard drives adn scsi cd roms, over that there has been a growing layer of cable, all sitting in a cheap plastic bin

    stirred frequently the display still works fine

  19. i have question that
    “is it possible to convert a circuit which is present in PCB layout in its actual form … …??
    if the answer is yes then plz tell me the procedure or any software that can do this
    or if it is not possible then tell me why its impossible

  20. You can just take a piece of perforated board and run all the wires along the paths you see in the PCB layout and everything will work.

    No software needed. Just a lot of time and soldering.

  21. once you start soldering you should be committed to a trace and a good idea of what needs to go around it, so yea its time, but its more thought

    if you have a fairly basic pcb layout you can almost print it out, use it as a pattern, and duplicate it (you may need more than a single sided radio shack board though)

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