Going From Idea To Schematic To Printed PCB

Building a circuit on a bread board makes life much easier, but eventually you’re going to want a PCB for one of your circuits. Luckily, [Will] from Revolt Lab put up a trio of posts that will take you idea and turn it into a schematic and PCB.

First up is an awesome tutorial on the circuit design program Fritzing. While you won’t find Fritzing on the computer of anyone making a living doing circuit design work – those people usually go for Eagle or KiCad – Fritzing is very easy to use but still has a ton of features. Using Fritzing isn’t very hard, either. [Will]’s tutorial goes over copying your breadboarded circuit into Fritzing, creating a schematic from the bread board layout, and finally converting that to PCB artwork.

Once you have board artwork for your circuit, you’re probably going to want a real-life PCB. [Will]’s board etching tutorial goes over the toner transfer method of PCB creation. Basically, print your circuit onto glossy photo paper with a laser printer, put it face down on a copper board, then take a clothes iron to it. If you’re lucky, the laser printer toner will have transferred to the copper making a nice etch resist. To get rid of all that superfluous copper, [Will] used ferric chloride but a Hydrochloric Acid/Hydrogen Peroxide mix will work just as well.

Before you etch your boards, you might want to thing about building an etch tank that keeps all your slightly dangerous chemicals in one container. [Will]’s etch tank uses a large water container and a few pieces of LEGO to suspend the board in the etch solution. It etches boards a lot faster than laying them face down in a tray, allowing you to go from idea to finished piece a lot quicker.

25 thoughts on “Going From Idea To Schematic To Printed PCB

    1. Not necessarily. I’ve done some pretty dense boards with 1206 size components with some pretty clean traces and drill holes. I could probably go smaller if I had a microscope suitable for laying out such components (and if my hands didn’t shake so much). I’m down at 10-15 mils with almost no need for touch up (and that’s usually toner bleeding that shorts two nearby traces).

      The majority of the quality depends on your paper and printer, IMHO. For me, a Brother laser printer and pages from E! magazine work great. (Seriously. I tell my wife to save her old copies so I can use them.) Personally, I’ve found that glossy photo paper doesn’t work that well. YMMV.

      Your heating and “depapering” techniques also contribute. The pictures on the tutorial look like mine when I’m in a rush and either don’t do a good job heating the toner or rush to remove the paper instead of letting the water do its work.

  1. Wow, that’s an ugly board…

    I’m using presensitized board for my PCBs. They are quite cheap on ebay, the process is simpler and the results are almost professional. I successfully made a board with traces having less than 10 mil width/spacing using this method.

  2. While you won’t find Fritzing on the computer of anyone making a living doing circuit design work – those people usually go for Eagle or KiCad

    You’re kidding, right?

    1. Hey, there’s nothing wrong with KiCad or Eagle. Heck, Adafruit and other businesses are making pretty good money using Eagle. Now Orcad, Altium, etc is probably a good idea when you’re building industrial electronics, or designing for military, but for general consumer products, Eagle & KiCad often meet or exceed the requirements.

      1. I’m using KiCad for my hobby projects, but in many respects it’s just a toy (and annoyingly buggy at that). Eagle is more advanced, but is (IMO) bad value for money. You’re either stuck with a postage stamp-sized board or paying some serious cash for a mid-tier package.

    2. Just wanted to point out the same thing… I’m using Eagle privately and OrCAD + Allegro at work. Eagle is a pain when trying to move traces, align components, and WHY should I want to have arc traces under my RMB? A decent menu under RMB would by so much easier.

  3. Why does every one who uses toner transfer method always talk about glossy photo paper? The backing sheets for Avery products (or any other self adhesive sheet feed product)works much better, without the paper removal hassle.

    1. I’ve heard that but have yet to try it… soon, though.

      For the last board I made, I used a shiny magazine page and it literally peeled off cleanly within about two seconds of getting wet. I thought I was going to have to use a toothbrush or soak for a while, I was happy that I it went so well.

  4. This may be a fun way to make something but it leads nowhere. I think HaD should rather focus on good tutorials on hobby electronics. Not just some random web finds, but tutorials that meet certain quality level. Good tutorials on PCB design, good tutorials on etching, good tutorials on soldering (boo! scary scary smd!). Some of those topics are already covered in EEVBlog in great detail, why not point to them? I clicked on “pcb manufacturing” tag here and this article is the only one that has it. This is kind of sad, especially knowing that making _really_ good PC boards at home these days is easy as 1-2-3.

    1. Hi svofski. There are of course better ways of making boards, but I wanted to introduce the simplest way I had found for people with no experience in board design. Once I have a better transfer method, you’ll be the first to know.

      1. Heh thanks :) I think all methods have their place, there’s someone for everything. What I tried to say is that it would be good for the common cause if hackaday tried for once to focus on accessible techniques that produce high quality results. Basically, by clicking on “pcb manufacturing” tag, one would see at least one good article about clothes iron, one about laminator, one about photoresist, one about laser cutter and paint, one about a table mill, one about cutting the traces in the copper clad board with a scalpel, whatever. Preferrably not someone’s half-failed attempts of replicating a technique, but examples that would be exemplary of each method.

        This isn’t HaD fault, it’s just there are not too many good tutorials around. Or maybe they’re there but are well hidden, then it’s definitely HaD fault :D

      2. Rubbing the copper with ammonium hydroxide solution (sold here in every farmacy) makes it more toner friendly. If you plan to make more boards in the future, a laminator can be a good add to your lab.

        BTW, try metal cutting scissors/shears for cutting the boards. They will deform the board a little but not too much. No chips, no dust, no noise, I cut my boards like a ninja.

      3. As soon as I have the money, I am indeed getting a laminator! I’ve hered from multiple sources that tin snips are difficult to use on boards, but hey no harm in trying.

        Eventually, I plan to automate the entire process to make it as consistent as possbile.

  5. fritzing is pretty fantastic if you think about what it is designed for: learning how to make pcb of you breadboard projects.

    i went from knowing nothing to making pcbs with fritzing in about a week, by my third board revision i had a working dmx led controller that i used for a theater project. i made six units and wasted only three bad pcbs. due entirely to the fact that it was the first time i ever tried something like this.

    sure fritzing is a bit rough around the edges, and its by no means a “profesional” solution. but it certainly does what it says on the tin.

  6. “Going from idea to schematic to printed PCB” could be easily realized through this site https://easyeda.com/
    EasyEDA is one stop design shop for your electronics projects, which offers schematic capture, spice simulation, PCB design for free and also offers high quality but low price Customized PCB service. 
    Once your project is finished on EasyEDA,  you can order your PCBs right from the same interface at a competitive price, which could be very helpful for beginners who don’t know where to send the design files to fabricate PCBs. But you are not obliged to order PCBs from them and it allows you to download your project and Gerber files for fabricating PCBs from your place of choice. 
    If you need, you can access the link to learn more details about its nice, customized and personalized PCB order service: https://easyeda.com/Doc/Tutorial/PCBOrder.htm#PCB-Order

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