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Old 27th January 2005, 03:48 PM   #1
pjpoes is offline pjpoes  United States
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Default Making your own PCB's

hey, I know this has been discussed some, I read most of them. Seems like making your own PCB's is not too difficult given the right equipment. My problem is that Im not 100% certain what all those parts are, and Im not sure if its as easy as I think to do.

I noticed that Mouser has three kits that seem more complete than most. The top one for like 160 dollars, or something like that, inlcudes a heater, agitater pump, trays, lamp, etc. The next kit down was like 40 dollars and just had the lamp and a few other things.

I found and saved a sight which had a method for doing the PCB's which invloved dissolving the copper thorugh etching. It seems that normally this method is less precise, but easier to do for someone in there home. He found a way, using a laser printer, to make it more precise. He ironed the laser print onto the board and then etched it. I know that the iron on laser print is new, but it seems that normally this was done with the photo method. I may try this, but given the cost of the photo method, its really not that much more, I may try that. I dont own an actual laser printer, but have easy acces to a photocopier. I assume this will work just as well.

Anyone know of a good sight on the photomethod. Is the iron on laserprint thing the same. Do you use a transparency instead? If not, would that be a plausible method, and in that case, do I still need a laser printer.

Does any permanent marker work, or should I actually buy the etch resistant markers that are sold? Do those conductive pens that let you draw your traces on actually work very well? Would that be an acceptable way of doing really basic prototyping or something? How about sources? Anyone know where you can get better quality boards, or any places that simply has a good selection of the boards and chemicals. Seems like I read about a lot of companies talking about extra thick traces, and wasnt sure if that also meant the copper was thicker on the board, and not just wider. Well if you can help me out, I would appreciate it.
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Old 27th January 2005, 04:20 PM   #2
relder is offline relder  United States
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If you're not mass producing boards you don't need an expensive kit like that. If you want one or two smallish boards that's way overkill.

Instead of a heater I just heat the solution before use by submerging the jar in really hot water.

You already have an agitator on the end of your arm.

Any home PCB kit will require the process of removing the copper you don't want. This is nearly alyways by etching.

I had some moderate success with the laserprint transfer method. I did have some issues with the toner not sticking in some parts and had to touch up with pens and tape. I used the special paper sold at Digikey and a laser printer.

The 'special' pen I bought is suspiciously identical to a sharpie pen, everything except the label. YMMV.

Boards come in varying thicknesses of copper. I used the thick ones and took a long time to etch. Unless you really need it I'd go with the 'standard' copper thickness and go with wider traces as needed. Thicker ones are also a little harder to find.

All in all I may attempt something like expresspcb next time.
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Old 27th January 2005, 07:58 PM   #3
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Fancy etch tanks really are unnecessary. All I've used for years is just a simple plastic tray, floating in a kitchen sink full of hot water to maintain the temperature. Agitation is easy as the tray is floating, and any spills land in the sink and get immediately diluted to harmlessness.

The laser toner transfer method works really well, especially with 'Press'n'Peel Blue'. I usually use an ordinary domestic iron for the transfer, but have recently bought a cheap laminator for the job, which I'm modifying (slower and hotter).

Key points:
* The copper must be clean! No oxide, or grease or fingerprints.
* Keep the etchant hot ~50C
* Keep the etchant moving
* Try to avoid having large open areas on the pcb artwork. These take much longer to etch than the spaces between tracks, meaning the tracks get undercut while the open space is still dissolving away.
* 15mil track/space works well with toner transfer.

You don't need fancy etch resist pens either. An ordinary permanent spirit marker works just as well ("Sharpie" is one brand I've used successfully - test before committing to a big layout)
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Old 27th January 2005, 09:17 PM   #4
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Originally posted by relder

The 'special' pen I bought is suspiciously identical to a sharpie pen, everything except the label. YMMV.
Yeah they are the same.. but can be a little thick. I would buy an indelible fine point marker as well, for small fixes.

I wouldnt buy the kit either. Get some double/single sided copper boards on ebay, they sell for super cheap compared to the local stores.

Then local stores will have the chemicals (ferric chloride, and developer if you go UV) for around 7$ for a medium sized bottle.

Toner transfer method is just fine for making a couple of boards.
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Old 27th January 2005, 10:01 PM   #5
pjpoes is offline pjpoes  United States
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I have been looking more into this. If all I do is the etching method, I can get the kit which has a heater, containter, and instructions for 35 bucks. Thats not so bad, and if it makes it easier, why not. It will mantain the temperature and keep things agitated for me, and its 35 bucks, cant complain too much.

Thanks non the less. At this point Im gonna start with that and see how it goes. Again, is using a copying machine good enough since I dont own a laser printer. I assume the process is the same, so I could use either, as was mentioned in some right ups.
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Old 27th January 2005, 11:32 PM   #6
hermanv is offline hermanv  United States
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Default Cheap PCB

If you go to the Eagle (Cad Soft) schematic capture PCB layout tool pages you will find some listings for commercial PCB houses that are far less expensive than you might believe.

Indonesia and a couple of Slavic countries have been used where I work (No I don't want to giveout the names I can't personnaly guarantee you'll get as good a result as we did).

From one vendor, we got 5 of one small PCB in 8 days from e-mailed order to having them in our hands for $75 total including shipping! A second vendor produced 15 larger cards in the same time frame for $110.

Commercial, two sided, solder masked, drilled and with silk screen. having tried the home process (no two the same, no mask, no plating) I say bah! Yes I know its more $$ but not that much and the results are vastly superior. Get an audio buddy to want one too and split the costs.

p.s. The Eagle tool is free for small boards.
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Old 28th January 2005, 01:59 AM   #7
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A copier should work, but you may get scaling errors creeping in. To work properly you will need a dark copy, with lots of toner.

Can you really not get to a laser printer? They're so cheap these days (NZ$300 for a 1200dpi printer, new).
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Old 3rd July 2007, 06:55 PM   #8
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Unhappy about the laminator

For The Laminator I Saw Great Results With it Which Make You Completely Satisfied With Toner Transfer method BUT:
My Problem is i have no exprience or never operated a laminator so i don't know how to modify it to make it work with pcb,i tried to search the net for aan easy detailed way but ididn't find So If Any One Knows ,Please HELP.....
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Old 4th July 2007, 12:11 AM   #9
dangus is offline dangus  Canada
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Kind of an old thread, but I'm just going to point out that some people report good results using Staples house brand photo paper for the toner transfer technique.

The nicest home results I've had lately were by using an inkjet printer onto transparency stock, stacking two copies to improve opacity, then using photosensitive pc board stock.

For heating the etchant, I fill a bucket with hot water from the tap, then sit the "working" bottle of etchant in it to warm. For single-sided boards, you can carefully float the board on the surface (just be careful to avoid bubbles), and it'll etch fine with no agitation. Make a "handle" with tape on the back of the board to keep your fingers out of the etchant.
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Old 4th July 2007, 10:12 AM   #10
gootee is offline gootee  United States
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A toner transfer method with a very high "beginner" success rate and excellent results is described in almost-excruciating detail at:

It's also probably the lowest-cost procedure, and one of the fastest and easiest. Also included is an excellent homemade etchant recipe.

Details of modifying and using laminators, and fuser assemblies from copiers, and of almost everything else related to making PCBs yourself (including how to modify certain inkjet printers to print etchant-resistant ink DIRECTLY onto PCBs), is in the Homebrew_PCBs discussion group's archive, at .

Have fun!

- Tom Gootee
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