We all love PCB artwork, but those who create it work under the restriction of having a limited color palette to work with. If it’s not some combination of board, plating, solder mask, and silk screen, then it can’t easily be rendered on a conventional PCB. That’s not the end of the story though, because it’s technically possible to print onto a PCB and have it any color you like. Is it difficult? Read [Spencer]’s experience creating a rainbow Pride version of his RC2014 modular retrocomputer.
Dye-sublimation printing uses an ink that vaporizes at atmospheric pressure without a liquid phase, so a solid ink is heated and the vapor condenses back to solid on the surface to be printed. Commercial dye-sub printers are expensive, but there’s a cheaper route in the form of an Epson printer that can be converted. This in turn prints onto a transfer paper, from which the ink is applied to the PCB in a T-shirt printing press.
[Spencer] took the advice of creating boards with all-white silkscreen applied, and has come up with a good process for creating the colored boards. There is still an issue with discoloration from extra heat during soldering, so he advises in the instructions for the kit to take extra care. It remains however a fascinating look at the process, and raises the important point that it’s now within the reach of perhaps a hackerspace.
The artistic elite exists in a stratum above we hoi polloi, a world of achingly trendy galleries, well-heeled collectors, and art critics who act as gatekeepers to what is considered the pinnacle du jour of culture. Artistic movements that evolve outside this bubble may be derided or ignored as naive and unsophisticated, even in complete denial of their raw creative edge. When they are discovered by the establishment a few of their artists are selected and anointed, while inevitably the crucible in which they were formed is forgotten. On the streets of Bristol the incredible work of far more graffiti artists can be seen than just that of Banksy.
Our community has an art form all of its own, in the guise of PCB artwork and the #BadgeLife community. One day you will see electronic badges from darlings of the art world behind glass in those trendy galleries, but for now they live in glorious abundance in the wild. Here at Hackaday we are lucky enough to have in Brian Benchoff a colleague who is pushing the boundaries of PCB art, and at the Hackaday Superconference he took us through one of his more recent pieces of work.
The colour palette of a typical printed circuit board is limited by the combination of fibreglass, copper, soldermask, plating, and silkscreen its designer selects. Thus while the variety of soldermask colours and plating materials can make for an eye-catching work, they have remained a colour-tinted near monochrome. The Holy Grail of the PCB artist has been to step into the world of full colour, and Brian has been pursuing that goal by exploring pad printing to produce extra colours beyond the sodermask..
It’s a subject he’s written about here in the past, and he introduces it in the talk with a look at existing badge artwork and a mention of an expensive commercial inkjet process before considering the type of printing you see daily on the sides of promotional pens. Those company titles are deposited on pens using pad printing, an offset process in which ink is first deposited upon a photo-etched metal plate before being picked up on a silicone rubber pad for transfer to the object to be printed. It’s not the panacea for all coloured-PCB tasks, but for adding relatively small blocks of pigment to an otherwise monochromatic board it can be very successful.
Brian’s examples are a panelised set of Tindie badges as a homage to the rock band Kiss, and his Tide pod addon containing a serial number in an EEPROM that was part of a Blockchain-inspired game. The Kiss Tindie badges use black soldermask with extensive white silkscreen and a modest area of red pad printing for the stage makeup, while the Tide addon makes clever use of the same swoosh printed in alternate colours at 180 degrees to each other.
In both cases there is some labour involved in creating the prints, and as his detailed write-up of printing the Tide pods reminds us, the process of creating the printing plate is not exactly an easy one. But it remains the best way yet to add extra colours to a board without paying a small fortune for the inkjet process, and if you’d like to put your own designs at the bleeding edge of PCB art you might wish to read his writeups and watch the video below the break.
This is just one example of the kind of manufacturing techniques, and electronic design principles on display at the Hackaday Superconference. There’s another Supercon just around the corner, so grab your ticket and send in your own talk proposal right away!
I’ve done a few experiments in adding color to printed circuit boards. These experiments used a process known as pad printing, and so far all indications are that pad printing is a viable process for truly multicolor artistic PCBs. For this year’s DEF CON, I’m stepping things up and taking them to their logical conclusion. I’m making true multicolor PCBs with orange and blue ink. This is, I believe, the first time this has ever been done with printed circuit board art, and it is certainly the first time it has ever been documented.
You may be wondering why I need more color on my boards. It’s that time of year again where PCB artisans all around the world are gearing up for badgecon DEF CON. For the last few years, independent badge makers have come together to form a demoscene of hardware creation. This year, add-ons for badges are a thing, and everyone is getting in on the game. Tindie is filled with amazing electronic badges and add-ons that will be found at this year’s DEF CON. There are badges featuring the Cromulon from Rick and Morty, baby Benders from Futurama, pikachus, and glowing tacos.
This is all about badge art, but when it comes to rendering an image in fiberglass and soldermask, everyone is working with a limited palette. Yes, you can get pink and orange soldermask, but I can’t find a place that will do it inexpensively. For any PCB, your choice of colors are only green, red, yellow, blue, purple, black, or white. No, you can’t mix them.
But I want both orange and blue, on the same board, cheaply and easily — here’s how I did it.