Creating Easy Glass Circuit Boards At Home

This tip for creating glass substrate circuit boards at home might hew a bit closer to arts and crafts than the traditional Hackaday post, but the final results of the method demonstrated by [Heliox] in her recent video are simply too gorgeous to ignore. The video is in French, but between YouTube’s attempted automatic translation and the formidable mental powers of our beloved readers, we don’t think it will be too hard for you to follow along after the break.

The short version is that [Heliox] loads her Silhouette Cameo, a computer-controlled cutting machine generally used for paper and vinyl, with a thin sheet of copper adhered to a backing sheet to give it some mechanical strength. With the cutting pressure of the Cameo dialed back, the circuit is cut out of the copper but not the sheet underneath, and the excess can be carefully peeled away.

Using transfer paper, [Heliox] then lifts the copper traces off the sheet and sticks them down to a cut piece of glass. Once it’s been smoothed out and pushed down, she pulls the transfer paper off and the copper is left behind.

From there, it’s just a matter of soldering on the SMD components. To make it a little safer to handle she wet sands the edges of the glass to round them off, but it’s still glass, so we wouldn’t recommend this construction for anything heavy duty. While it might not be the ideal choice for your next build, it certainly does looks fantastic when mounted in a stand and blinking away like [Heliox] shows off at the end.

Ironically, when compared to some of the other methods of making professional looking PCBs at home that we’ve seen over the years, this one might actually be one of the easiest. Who knew?

[Thanks to James for the tip.]

40 thoughts on “Creating Easy Glass Circuit Boards At Home

      1. Don’t know, so just speculating.

        I’d think of sticking a piezo transducer on one end and another one on the other end. Pulse one of them, and read a time-delayed signal on the other one.

        Don’t know how it would be used to store something, though. That would require some feedback loop, I’d guess. Maybe you could feed the signal from the listener-piezo back to the sender-piezo. The output would either be a pulse train or nothing. If you add an R/L network, you could change the pulse train into a steady voltage. And you could store 0 or 1.

        Maybe you could even use the sender piezo to pick up the signal reflections in the glass, but I think that wold mean you would have to make 2 receiver circuits.

    1. Or you can get a cutter head for your 3d printer. Or if you still have an ancient pen plotter. The Silhouette Cameo is “just” a pen plotter where the pen’s been replaced with a knife.

    2. One could also just use an xacto knife. It’s probably not for overly complex or mass-produced items. Just for very interesting and elegant looking one-offs. We shouldn’t overlook manual craftsmanship just because we’re accustomed to making cnc machines do everything for us.

      It’s also pretty easy to add a drag knife attachment to any 2+ axis cnc, like a 3d printer. There are entries on HaD about that too.
      https://hackaday.com/2016/06/05/cnc-drag-knife-upgrade-with-off-the-shelf-blades/
      Hell, since the blades are just cheap disposable razors I’d just apply the copper to the glass and cut it straight on there.

  1. I am guessing this is not feasible for any long term use due to the adhesive properties on the back of the copper, but maybe you could make some cool looking “visible” fuses – Definitely will look way cooler than a normal fusible trace when they go!

      1. I was thinking the same thing, maybe it’s possible to find a clear coat that both works with glass and doesn’t dissolve the adhesive.

        Applying it evenly is probably not going to be easy, but maybe it would work is one side had an extra inch of glass for it to drip off, and once it’s hardened you can just snap off the extra glass and excess clear coat.

        1. This wouldn’t solve the bonding issue between the copper and the glass. That would be my primary concern. Copper thermal expansion coefficient is nearly twice that of glass so over repeated thermal cycles it would likely have separation issues from the glass even if you cover it with something. Standard FR4 thermal expansion rate is much closer to copper and the epoxy bonding between the FR4 and copper assist with the separation issue. I suppose if this glass circuitry were used in an application where temperature was held very constant it would last for some time, at least until the adhesive backing started to break down.

  2. This is actually a damn good idea. This would be great for experimenters and teaching kids circuit layouts. Not advised for microwave transmitters of course, but still this is wonderful. Thanks for sharing this HaD!

    1. … I’m not sure you’ve thought through the implications of teaming kids up with glass.

      I wish you well though. In the grand tradition of science educators everywhere, I leave you with this traditional prayer of our people:

      “May all your safety briefs be indeed brief. May your first aid kits be always stocked with primo disney characters bedazzled bandaids. And may all of your incident reports be one-pagers.”

  3. This is a fast, beautiful way to make boards. My suspicion, based on other adhesive-backed copper foils I’ve used, is that you want to be really fast on the soldering because the adhesive loses its strength when heated, so you’re relying on adjacent adhesive to keep the pads down. I do a lot of single-sided boards, and will try this out.

    1. Yup, I had some of that copper tape for stained glass a while back and I tried laying out some circuits on some small slabs of paxolin with it and it was coming up. I think on stained glass you actually turn it into a small bit of solder H channel pretty quick, so doesn’t really matter it’s not sticky still, only that it’s retaining form around the glass.

  4. Yeah yeah, nah. As I thought the first time HAD featured this idea “cool, but why?” Has anyone managed to electroplate or vapour deposit clear acrylic then etch that is per a normal PCB then embed the lot in more clear resin once constructed? Perhaps bare wire construction and clear potting is the answer, less heat issues with the plastic.

  5. So the next level would be to etch the glass with patterns, and send the light into the glass like how some people do with acrylic. Not only is the circuit on the glass, but the glass is part of the display as well. Then combine the art of the PCB layout with the art of the glass, but it would take someone pretty creative to figure out a good design.

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