Printable Wax As PCB Etch Resist

What if there were only two steps for making your own printed circuit board; print, etch? That’s what [Jeff Gough] has been working on and he presented the process in his talk at 27C3. In the first portion of the video after the break [Jeff] talks about various industrial PCB manufacturing processes in a depth you may not have heard before. We found it to be interesting but at about thirty minutes into the clip he begins the presentation of his modified printer. It’s an inkjet that can print wax onto copper clad board. The wax acts as a resist for chemical etchants, and provides very high resolution. He’s using a heavily modified print head, which brings to mind that diy piezo inkjet head which also has wax printing in its future plans. This certainly seems promising and if the process can be simplified it might do away with the toner transfer method.


[Ourduino via SpriteTM]

28 thoughts on “Printable Wax As PCB Etch Resist

  1. Brilliant, I have long wanted some one to do a proper reversing of Epson print heads. I need a similar setup but with distilled water instead of wax, (I really hope that makes the setup more stable, god willing oxidation wont be a problem).

    I will be following this project with great enthusiasm . Thanks HAD

  2. Just look at CG Chemicals sensitized boards. They expose with regular (fluorescent) lamps. And work great.

    I thought about using a LASER printer method, the photostatic functions to capture the toner and heat/melt onto the PCB. Even have a printer for testing. But I think one side would oxidize before you can do both sides and etch. (it’d work for single sided, but I do DS).

  3. @loki33

    use a laser printer laser with wax paper as a print transfer instead of toner. Melt the wax off the paper onto the board with the laser as it rasters your drawing image. Pull the paper off and etch… that would be cool.

    1. Laser printers use a heated roller to fuse the ink to the paper. Using wax paper in an unmodified laser printer would result in a big mess. I’ve modified mine to not illuminate the halogen bulb inside the fuser (that’s how it heats up!) by inserting a resistor of the appropriate value alongside the thermistor used to sense the fuser temperature. This deposits the toner (unfused) onto pretty much any flat, flexible surface that I can fit through my laser printer. Haven’t figured out how to electrostatically transfer the toner onto anything else, but I’m getting there!

  4. @Hackius
    How does one think solutions start? If you were expecting a finished product, I think your on the wrong blog.

    @mike mack
    I had the same thought but those materials are remarkably viscus, i see it ending poorly.However i would sure like to see some one try.

    In concept yes, its the same. But the principals here are different. Manufacturing the microfluidics needed to get the resolutions you want are currently not possible at home.

    Interesting…. i bet laser printer fusers would be helpful here, but im not exactly sure how. Perhaps printing toner on wax paper, the printed areas being slightly less thermally conductive….Hmm….ideas…ideas…

  5. Ok seriously what was that? This was advertised high and low as THE breakthrough. THE release from Arduino. A huge hall was prepared, people invited aaaaand… nothing. 1:30 of an incomplete presentation. This was a 5 minute blog post worth. The prototype isn’t even working. The most interesting questions were answerd with “I don’t have a solution for this yet”.

    Currently attaching a 0.3mm sharpie on a reprap and running PCB gcode yields better results than this.

    Sure it’s a neat idea but really I don’t see why it’s worth exploring in contrast with better alternatives.

  6. @Hackius

    Its not done.
    Some people have to do the research, and the legwork before you can have your turnkey solution. And he has clearly done a great amount of work, Reversing these print heads, and documenting the protocol will allow all sorts of interesting projects to crop up. Microfluidics are incredibly interesting, and the applications are endless. Any thing that allows a greater DIY proliferation of this tech is a big deal.

    tl:dr – cut the guy a break, he has done infantely more research on the subject then you have. Dont be so quick too judge. Yes, Trollin.

  7. At work we used to have a printer that prints using Wax instead of ink. It was very high quality, I still wish I could of grabbed parts from it before it was thrown out. It was a Xerox Phaser. Not sure if they still make them, but they’re really pricy.

    1. Ahh, dye sublimation printers, as I think they’re called. Yep, they sublimate (as in vapourise) solid wax, which then settles on a nearby bit of paper. Perhaps the wax they’re supposed to work with, the genuine printing wax, would be etch-resistant. If not, something with a similar vapour point might do. Would have to not oxidise or end up gumming up the works. It’d have to be a -scrap- printer to experiment with different waxes. But does the default wax resist etchant? Seems like nobody’s tried!

  8. I have tried a lot of processes but the easiest is probably the screen printing method. This isn’t the same photo method for PCB normally used. And it doesn’t use any chemicals except to etch, so no developer, etc. You buy the sheets pretreated.

    Print your design on transparency , place it on top of the sheet and expose to UV light. Doesn’t need to be anything strong, sunlight works, takes a few minutes. The color will change where the light goes through the transparency. When done put the sheet in a folder or something dark to shield it from extra light.

    To develop you rinse the sheet it in water. Takes a few minutes and wipe lightly with your hand. The parts not exposed will stay everything else will rinse off.If you are not familiar with screen printing, what happens is the exposed sheet now has thousands of open holes where the exposed parts wash off, that you can apply paint or ink through using the sheet as a mask.

    The sheet can now be used to make a pcb. Place the sheet on the pcb copper, apply ink or paint and use a spatula to wipe the ink from top to bottom , trying not to put too much pressure but just enough for an even coat. Let it dry and etch.

    One of the cool things about this way is that the board is already protected from the copper corroding by the paint. You can remove the paint around connection points for soldering easily with just a bit of paint thinner and a qtip.

    The other good part is after you use a screen, rinse it off , put it in a cool dry place and it can be reused over and over about 10 times before you need to make another.

    The product is called PhotoEZ and is for sale at different stores. Cost about $10 per sheet 8.5 x11 . or $2 for 4″ sheets

  9. Sigh! I’ve been looking for a cheap wax Tektronix/Xerox Phaser printer for 20 years now for this same purpose since first heard about them. :(

    The new models use a wax transfer drum though that I think may make hacking them more difficult but of course worth to try anyway!

  10. A guy called zoran published a design for a ‘kistka’ pcb plotter about five years ago. Kistka is a ukranian technique for decorating easter eggs based upon a little pot of melted wax on the end of a soldering iron. Zorans’ plotters used a little wax pot heated by a power transistor on an xy plotter. Unfortunately the site was geocities hosted, so it’s now in the bit bucket, but if you are interested google and the wayback machine will no doubt help.

  11. @Stephanie: They still make them and they’ve come down in price a bit. The last one we bought were I work was around $1k I believe (before tax here in Sweden where it’s expensive to begin with). Sure, it’s pricier than a run of the mill laser/inkjet printer but not out of reach.

  12. Great work!

    tho pft 2 step, in school when we needed an etch doing we just grabbed then CNC drill and have it trace around the file we built, worked a treat and put the holes in for components when it was done, couldnt cut the smallest of desgins but we wasnt working with surface mount components

  13. heh..
    nice idea, using wax might work if a suitable print head made out of a heat tolerant piezo material was used.
    What about using MHD techniques to extrude wax?
    this could work, mix a very small amount of salt in there and use a high voltage method similar to a Lifter to overcome the surface tension.

    (scuttles off to his workshop to try this!)

  14. @lwr20
    I don’t it’s ironic that the person who wrote the instruct able was printing an led matrix. I’m pretty sure it was the speaker in the article.

    @everyone else
    I see it as a step forward for the hacking community. It’s a shame so many people are missing the point. It’s not that he was looking for a way to create pcbs and be done with it. He’s looking for a way to strip down the work and time and get to a finished product quicker. Additionally, the tech he explores is released to the hacking community so that it may benefit us all.

    Ultimately, if the issues can be figured out, there is a solution here not just for printing circuits but high resolution three dimensional objects. AND in an infinitely more repeatable fashion than what’s currently available to the hacking community for under a grand. He’s not looking to make just another thing you can buy. He’s trying to release the knowledge that makes this idea something you can make.

  15. I think that guy did great work – but i guess there ara a lot of problems which cannot be solved.
    We already build and sell inkjet printers for etch masks, solder masks and legend printing, so we have made someexperiences…
    We use a unique, 2K thermal curable ink (no, not mispro or something like that) which was especialiiy developed for inkjetprinting onto non-porous substrates. Usually its used for frontplates etc.
    If youre interested in some pictures of results, have a look at: Bottom of the page and in the News-Section.
    For people who want to try the inks in their own projects, please send a mail. Its available in the USA also.

  16. I have been interested in a solution that is wax-based. There are some thermal wax printers that have been on the market maybe ten years ago which may have lent themselves to suitable printing on PCBs with a little modification.
    The way I see it, the ribbon style wax printers with a back and forth head had a nearly straight paper path. If the tolerances could be modified to accept the thickness of PCB stock, such a printer might work quite well.
    I wonder why more effort isn’t being focused on taking an existing wax thermal printer like this and simply fixing the paper path so that it will accept PCB stock?

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