Entry-Level 3D Printer Becomes Budget PCB Machine

A funny thing happened on [Marco Rep]’s way to upgrading his 3D printer. Instead of ending up with a heated bed, his $300 3D printer can now etch 0.2-mm PCB traces. And the results are pretty impressive, all the more so since so little effort and expense were involved.

The printer in question is a Cetus3D, one of the newer generation of affordable machines. The printer has nice linear bearings but not a lot of other amenities, hence [Marco]’s desire to add a heated bed. But hiding beneath the covers was a suspicious transistor wired to a spare connector on the print head; a little sleuthing and a call to the factory revealed that the pin is intended for accessory use and can be controlled from G-code. With a few mods to the cheap UV laser module [Marco] had on hand, a printed holder for the laser, and a somewhat manual software toolchain, PCBs with 0.2-mm traces were soon being etched. The video below shows that the printer isn’t perfect for the job; despite the smooth linear bearings, the low mass of the printer results in vibration that shows up as wavy traces. But the results are more than acceptable, especially for $330.

This isn’t [Marco]’s first budget laser-etching rodeo. He recently tried the same thing using a cheap CNC laser engraver with similar results. That was a $200 dedicated engraver, this is a $300 3D printer with a $30 laser. It seems hard to lose at prices like these.

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Heavily Hacked Printer for DIY PCBs

Sometimes we get tips that only leave us guessing as to how — and sometimes why — a project was built. Such is the case with this PCB printer; in this case, the build specifics are the only thing in question, because it puts out some pretty impressive PCBs.

All we have to go on is the video after the break, which despite an exhaustive minutes-long search appears to be the only documentation [Androkavo] did for this build. The captions tell us that the printer is built around the guts from an Epson Stylus Photo 1390 printer. There’s no evidence of that from the outside, as every bit of the printer has been built into a custom enclosure. The paper handling gear has been replaced by an A3-sized heated flatbed, adjustable in the Z-axis to accommodate varying board thicknesses. The bed runs on linear rails that appear custom-made. Under the hood, the ink cartridges have been replaced with outboard ink bottles in any color you want as long as it’s black. The video shows some test prints down to 0.1 mm traces with 0.1 mm pitch — those were a little dodgy, but at a 0.2 mm pitch, the finest traces came out great. The boards were etched in the usual way with great results; we wonder if the printer could be modified to print resist and silkscreens too.

[Androkavo] seems to have quite a few interesting projects in his YouTube channel, one of which — this wooden digital clock — we featured recently. We’d love to learn more about this printer build, though. Hopefully [Androkavo] will see this and comment below.

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Chemotransfer for DIY PCBs

Making PCBs with the toner transfer method has been around since you could buy your traces at Radio Shack. There are a million techniques for removing copper from sheets of fiberglass, from milling to using resist pens, to the ubiquitous laser printer toner transfer. Here’s a technique we haven’t seen before. [Darko Volk] is calling this ‘chemotransfer’. It’s mostly a laser printer toner transfer process, but the toner is transferred from paper to copper with the help of a special mix of solvents.

This chemotransfer process is almost identical to the usual process of making a toner transfer PCB. First, the design is printed in reverse on dextrin-coated paper, the paper is placed down on polished copper, the entire assembly is sent through a laminator, and finally the board is etched with the chemical of your choice. The key difference here is a solvent applied to the copper just before the design is laid down. [Darko Volk] made a mixture of 25% “cleaning petrol” (benzene, naphtha, or gasoline, or some sort of light hydrocarbon, apparently), 5% linseed oil, and 70% isopropanol. This apparently aids in releasing the toner from the paper and sticking it down to the copper.

From there, the process is effectively a standard toner transfer process. [Darko Volk] is using a solution of sodium persulphate for the etch, and rigged a camera up to a CNC machine for the drilling.

This process can be expanded to two-layer boards very easily using a light table to align the layers of paper before placing them down on the copper. You can check out a video of the fabrication of a single side and double sided board below.

Thanks [Andrej] for the tip.

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Ink-Filled Machine Badges Score Respect for Your Gear

Remember the good old days when machines had a stout metal badge instead of cheap vinyl decals, and nameplates on motors were engraved in metal rather than printed on a label with a QR code? Neither do we, but these raised brass labels with color filled backgrounds look great, they’re surprisingly easy to make, and just the thing your gear needs to demand respect as a cherished piece of gear.

The ‘easy’ part of this only comes if you have access to a machine shop like [John] at NYC CNC does. To be fair, the only key machine for making these plates is a laser cutter, and even a guy like [John] needed to farm that out. The process is very straightforward — a brass plate is cleaned and coated with lacquer, which is then removed by the laser in the areas that are to be etched. The plate is dipped in an electrolyte solution for etching, cleaned, and powder coated. After curing the powder coat with a heat gun rather than an oven — a tip worth the price of admission by itself — the paint is sanded off the raised areas, the metal is polished, and a clear coat applied to protect the badge.

Plates like these would look great for a little retro-flair on a new build like this Nixie power meter, or allow you to restore a vintage machine like this classic forge blower.

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EDM for the Cheap and Adventurous

Laser cutters, waterjets, plasma cutters, CNC routers – most hackerspaces and even many dedicated home-gamers seem to have some kind of fancy tool for cutting sheet goods into intricate shapes. But with no access to a CNC machine and a need to cut a complex shape from sheet metal, [AlchemistDagger] cooked up this bare-bones and somewhat dangerous EDM rig to get the job done.

Electric discharge machining has been around for decades and is used a lot for harder metals like titanium and tool steel. The process makes sense to anyone who has seen contacts pitted and corroded by repeated arcing – an electric arc is used to remove metal from the workpiece, with a dielectric fluid used to cool the workpiece and flush away debris. For [AlchemistDagger]’s purposes, a lot of the complicated refinements, like high-frequency power supplies and precise tool positioning, were ignored. He built a simple linear slide to manually control the tool position, and the power supply was just a bridge rectifier connected to the 120-volt mains with some filter capacitors and a big light bulb as a ballast resistor. While the video below shows electrical conduit being notched, [AlchemistDagger] also made a brass cookie-cutter style tool to cut the Instructables logo from steel.

Obviously, mixing water and electricity is a recipe for disaster is you’re not careful, but this low-end EDM technique is a good one to file away for a rainy day. And if you’re looking for a little more sophistication in your homebrew EDM rig, we’ve got you covered there too. Continue reading “EDM for the Cheap and Adventurous”

Magnetic Stir Plate is a Hack

If you’ve ever spent any time around a lab, you’ve doubtless seen one of those awesome combination magnetic stirrer and heater plates that scientists use to get liquids mixed and up to temperature. If you’ve ever etched your own PCBs using ammonium persulfate, you’ve experienced the need for both heating and agitation firsthand. Using a stirrer plate for PCB etching is putting two and two together and coming up with four. Which is to say, it’s a good idea that’s not amazingly novel. [acidbourbon] built his own, though, and there’s almost no part of this DIY heater/stirrer that isn’t a hack of some kind or another.

Start off with the temperature controller. Instead of buying a thermocouple or using an LM75 or similar temperature-measurement IC, [acidbourbon] uses a bog-standard 1n4148 diode. The current passed through a diode, at a given voltage, is temperature dependent, which means that adding a resistor and a microcontroller’s ADC yields a quick hacked temperature sensor. [acidbourbon] glued his straight onto the casserole that he uses as an etching tray.

Does the type of person who saves $0.25 by using a diode instead of a temperature sensor go out and buy a stirrer motor? No way. Motor and gears come from a CD-ROM drive. The “fish” — the magnetic bar that spins in the etchant — is made of neodymium magnets lengthened by shrink-wrapping heat-shrinking them together with some capacitors. Who knew that shrinkwrap heat-shrink, fused with pliers, was waterproof? Is that a wall-wart in that box, with the prongs wired to mains electricity?

Anyway, this just goes to show that etching equipment need not be expensive or fancy. And the project also provides a showcase for a bevy of tiny little hacks. And speaking of [acidbourbon]’s projects, this semi-automatic drill press mod has been on our to-do list for two years now. Shame on us! Continue reading “Magnetic Stir Plate is a Hack”

No-Etch: The Proof in the Bluetooth Pudding

In a previous episode of Hackaday, [Rich Olson] came up with a new no-etch circuit board fabrication method. And now, he’s put it to the test: building an nRF52 Bluetooth reference design, complete with video, embedded below.

The quick overview of [Rich]’s method: print out the circuit with a laser printer, bake a silver-containing glue onto the surface, repeat a few times to get thick traces, glue the paper to a substrate, and use low-temperature solder to put parts together. A potential drawback is the non-negligible resistance for the traces, but a lot of the time that doesn’t matter and the nRF52 reference design proves it.

The one problem here may be the trace antenna. [Rich] reports that it sends out a weaker-than-expected signal. Any RF design folks want to speculate wildly about the cause?

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