PCB Take On Stars, Moons, And Ringed Planets Is Gold

Remember when PCBs were green and square? That’s the easy default, but most will agree that when you’re going to show off your boards instead of hiding them in a case, it’s worth extra effort to make them beautiful. We’re in a renaissance of circuit board design and the amount of effort being poured into great looking boards is incredible. The good news is that this project proves you don’t have to go nuts to achieve great results. This stars, moons, and planets badge looks superb using just two technical tricks: exposed (plated) copper and non-rectangular board outline.

Don’t take that the wrong way, there’s still a lot of creativity that [Steve] over at Big Mess o’ Wires used to make it look this great. The key element here is that copper and solder mask placements have extremely fine pitch. After placing the LEDs and resistors there’s a lot of blank space which was filled with what you might see in the night sky through your telescope.¬† What caught our eye about this badge is the fidelity of the ringed planet.

The white ink of silk screen is often spotty and jagged at the edges. But this copper with ENIG¬†(gold) plating is crisp through the curves and with razor-sharp tolerance. It’s shown here taken under 10x magnification and still holds up. This is a trick to keep under your belt — if you have ground pours it’s easy to spice up the look of your boards just by adding negative-space art in the solder mask!

[Steve] mentions the board outline is technically not a circle but “a many-sided polygon” due to quirks of Eagle. You could have fooled us! We do like how he carried the circle’s edges through the bulk of the board using silk screen. If you’re looking for tips on board outline and using multiple layers of art in Eagle, [Brian Benchoff] published a fabulous How to do PCB art in Eagle article. Of course, he’s gone deeper than what the board houses offer by grabbing his own pad printing equipment and adding color to white solder mask.

The art was the jumping off point for featuring this badge, but [Steve] is known for his technical dives and this one is no different. He’s done a great job of recounting everything that popped up while designing the circuit, from LED color choice to coin cell internal resistance and PWM to low-power AVR tricks.

The World’s Supply Of DB-19 Connectors

[Steve] over at Big Mess O’ Wires has a very, very niche product. It’s the Floppy Emu, a hard disk emulator for the Apple II, Lisa, and very old Macs. The Floppy Emu takes data stored on an SD card and presents it to these classic computers through a contemporary connector, the venerable DB-19. This connector is in the same family as the familiar DB-25 parallel port, DE-9 serial port and the old DA-15 joystick port, but there’s something very special about the DB-19 connector – nobody makes it anymore, and no surplus electronics store has any in stock. They’re unobtanium, and when you’re making a product built around this connector, you’re going to have a few problems.

Those problems have come to a head over the past year, but getting a few thousand DB-19 connectors manufactured has always seemed just out of reach. It would be a five-figure investment for a very niche product, and [Steve] would have to find someone to make the connectors.

The world’s shortage of DB-19 connectors is no more. After chatting up a few people in the NeXT and Atari communities, [Steve] set up a group buy and manufactured the first batch of DB-19 connectors in recent memory. The world’s supply of DB-19 connectors, all 10,000 of them, is now in [Steve]’s living room.

The process of manufacturing ten thousand DB-19 connectors actually wasn’t that hard for [Steve]. Over the past year, he’s reached out to manufacturers to get a quote, and he still had those numbers in his rolodex. The only problem was finding an engineering drawing of a DB-19 connector and transferring a large amount of money to Hong Kong. The drawing was easy enough, as datasheets sometimes last longer than the parts they describe. Transferring the money over to the manufacturer meant convincing a bank manager there is not a Nigerian prince in Hong Kong and thirty minutes of paperwork.

After a few months, a round of prototyping, and a trip through customs, the world’s supply of DB-19 connectors finally landed on [Steve]’s porch. He still needs to ship them out to the NeXT and Atari folk who participated in the group buy, but the great shortage of DB-19 connectors is over for now.