Friday Hack Chat: Circuit Board Art

We are now in a golden age of printed circuit boards. It wasn’t too long ago that making your own circuit boards either involved a lot of money, or slightly less money and using some proprietary garbage PCB layout tool. Now, every board house speaks Gerber, and you can get a ten-pack of PCBs from China for five bucks. This incredible cost reduction means people are making art with printed circuit boards. We’ve seen portraits, landscapes, and memes. This is truly the beginning of a new artistic medium rendered in fiberglass and soldermask.

Check out this blinky bit of art nouveau. There is a facebook group for PCB paintings, and some of the Badgelife crew are relying on woodcut and linoleum engraving techniques to create works of art in copper and fiberglass.

For this week’s Hack Chat, we’re going to be talking all about PCB artwork. Our guest for this week’s Hack Chat will be [Andrew Sowa], an electrical engineer, a vocal advocate of KiCad, and the guy who made more of me money. The Benchoff Nickel was created by simply taking some of the fantastic illustrations from Hackaday’s own [Joe Kim] and applying KiCad’s Bitmap2Component tool. Since the creation of the nickel, [Andrew] has been working on extending his technique to cross-hatching, backlighting, and halftones.

In this Hack Chat, we’re going to be talking all about PCB artwork, including the very beginnings of PCB art where engineers hid a few easter eggs in the PCBs of Xboxen and other consumer electronics. Topics covered will be bitmap to SVG conversion (in Inkscape and Illustrator), KiCad footprint creation, and the more technical side of things with the limitations of PCB fabrication and the slightly different shades of beige FR4 comes in.

join-hack-chat

Our Hack Chats are live community events on the Hackaday.io Hack Chat group messaging. This week is just like any other, and we’ll be gathering ’round our video terminals at noon, Pacific, on Friday, April 20th. How can there be time zones when the Earth has four days simultaneously for each rotation? You erroneously measure time from one corner. Here’s a clock counting down the time until the Hack Chat starts.

Click that speech bubble to the right, and you’ll be taken directly to the Hack Chat group on Hackaday.io.

You don’t have to wait until Friday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about.

EasyEDA Two Years Later

Some people want everything on the cloud, while others refuse to put even the smallest scrap of data on the Internet. Most of us fall somewhere in between. A few years ago, we talked about a few cloud-based PCB layout programs including one called EasyEDA. We were impressed because it was a full package: schematic capture, simulation, and PCB layout. It was free to use, although they would give you a quote for producing your boards, though you were under no obligation to buy them. Of course things change in two years, so if you are curious how EasyEDA is doing, [Yahya Tawil] posted an in-depth review.

Some of the new features include an autorouter and the ability to order parts from a BOM directly, not just PCBs. The cloud aspect is handy, not only because you don’t have to install and update software to use it anywhere, but because it is very natural to collaborate with others on projects. We did notice, though, that the autorouter can run in the cloud, or you can download and run it local because it apparently loads the server significantly.

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More Homemade PCB Tinning

[Marko] styles himself as a crazy chemist. His video showing a fast tin plating solution for PCBs (YouTube, see below) doesn’t seem so crazy. We will admit, though, it uses some things that you might have to search for.

The formula calls for stannous chloride — you could probably make this by dissolving tin in hydrochloric acid. There’s also thiourea — the main chemical in silver-cleaning dips like Tarn-X. Sulphuric acid and deionized water round out the recipe.

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Tinning Solution From the Hardware Store

Making your own printed circuit board at home often leads to a board which looks homemade. Exposed copper is one of the tell-tale signs. That may be your aesthetic and we won’t cramp your style, but exposed copper is harder to solder than tinned copper and it likes to oxidize over time. Tinning at home can bring you a step closer to having a full-featured board. In the video after the break, famed chemist [nurdrage] shows us how to make tinning solution at home in the video below the break.

There are only three ingredients to make the solution and you can probably find them all at a corner hardware store.

  • Hydrochloric acid. Also known as muriatic acid.
  • Solid lead-free solder with ≥ 95% tin
  • Silver polish containing thiourea

Everything to pull this off is in the first three minutes of the video. [nurdrage] goes on to explain the chemistry behind this reaction. It doesn’t require electricity or heat but heat will speed up the reactions. With this kind of simplicity, there’s no reason to make untinned circuit boards in your kitchen anymore. If aesthetics are very important, home tinning yourself allows you to mask off certain regions and have exposed copper and tin on the same board.

[nurdrage] is no stranger to Hackaday, he even has an article here about making your own PCB etchants and a hotplate to kick your PCB production into high gear.

Thanks for the tip, [drnbutyllithium].

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The Art of Blinky Business Cards

Business cards are stuck somewhere between antiquity and convenience. On one hand, we have very convenient paperless solutions for contact swapping including Bluetooth, NFC, and just saying, “Hey, put your number into my phone, please.” On the other hand, holding something from another person is a more personal and memorable exchange. I would liken this to the difference between an eBook and a paperback. One is supremely convenient while the other is tactile. There’s a reason business cards have survived longer than the Rolodex.

Protocols and culture surrounding the exchange of cards are meant to make yourself memorable and a card which is easy to associate with you can work long after you’ve given your card away. This may seem moot if you are assigned cards when you start a new job, but personal business cards are invaluable for meeting people outside of work and you are the one to decide how wild or creative to make them.

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Print A Flexible Keypad

[Micah Elizabeth Scott] needed a custom USB keyboard that wrapped around a post. She couldn’t find exactly what she wanted so she designed and printed it using flexible Nijaflex filament. You can see the design process and the result in the video below.

The electronics rely on a Teensy, which can emulate a USB keyboard easily. The keys themselves use the old resistor divider trick to allow one analog input on the Teensy to read multiple buttons. This was handy, but also minimized the wiring on the flexible PCB.

The board itself used Pyralux that was milled instead of etched. Most of the PCB artwork was done in KiCAD, other than the outline which was done in a more conventional CAD program.

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An Hour to Surface Mount

Most of us have made the transition from through hole parts to surface mount. There are lots of scattered tutorials, but if you want to learn some techniques or compare your technique to someone else’s, you might enjoy [Moto Geek’s] hour-long video on how he does surface mount with reflow soldering. You can see the video below.

What makes the video interesting is that it is an hour long and covers the gamut from where to get cheap PCBs, to a homebrew pick and place pencil. [Moto Geek] uses a stencil with solder paste, and he provides links to the materials he uses. Continue reading “An Hour to Surface Mount”