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Home brew PCB Advice

Discussion in 'Electronic Basics' started by Hammy, Jun 23, 2007.

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  1. Hammy

    Hammy Guest

    I've been trying to make a PCB at home using the iron toner transfer
    method, as illustrated at these sites.

    After five attempts my results have been, smudged traces, bubbles
    lifting up between the toner and substrate and a white fog. The fog is
    transparent when submerged in water and visible when exposed to air
    (I'm assuming this is the final layer of paper).

    Has anyone had any success with this method, and if so could they
    provide some guidance please. Is there any other method that doesn't
    require a substantial investment in equipment? Obviously going to
    professional board manufacturer is the best solution, but I don't want
    to spend the money or wait weeks or months for my boards.

  2. Rich Webb

    Rich Webb Guest

    Caveat: I usually do one-offs using point-to-point perf board or
    stripboard (using the Veecad stripboard layout program).

    That said, I've had pretty good success with the toner tranfer method
    using a hot roller GBC brand laminating machine and the Pulsar "toner
    transfer system" paper.

    Surface prep is obviously very important but there's also the
    interaction between the toner, the paper and the surface. Until you
    get the hang of it, you might want to start with the Pulsar paper
    (Digikey carries it) and they try out some of the other types.
  3. Steve Wolfe

    Steve Wolfe Guest

    I've been trying to make a PCB at home using the iron toner transfer
    I've had very good luck with it, so long as I followed instructions. As
    for smudged traces, first make sure that you're using the right paper. Use
    the EXACT Staples paper that is recommended. The only time I've had any
    smudges when using that paper is when I was doing very small boards, in
    which case I had to press down with the iron, but not rub around with it.
    With boards of more normal sizes, I've had no problems.

    If the toner is lifting up, you need to:

    1. Make sure you're using the right brand of printer. I've only tried HP
    and Brother, the Brother failed miserably (as so many others have reported),
    the HP works well.
    2. Make sure that you're cleaning the board well beforehand with the
    scotchbrite, then cleaning with acetone.
    3. Make sure that you iron it well.
    4. Soak it for a long time. Peel back a layer or two of paper, then soak
    it some more.
    5. Make sure that you have two parts hydrogen peroxide, one part muriatic
    acid - NOT the other way around.

    If "bubbles" are lifting up the toner (probably the paper wrinkling up
    from the cooling, lifting the toner with it), then my guess is that you're
    not getting #2 or #3 right, although #5 can cause it as well.

    The "white fog" is, indeed, the final layer of paper. On the traces, it
    won't hurt anything - it will actually add a slight bit of resist. In
    between traces, it can make things a little slower, especially in the
    smaller gaps. You can usually work nearly all of it off with your finger,
    and I use the tip of an x-acto to get the last few bits that seem to stick.

    Within two or three successful PCBs, you start to get a real feel for the
    process, and you get much quicker at it. I helped a coworker make one
    today, and it was a piece of cake. It was a controller board for a MAME
    cabinet, so we put a nice little Galaga screen-shot in a blank area of the
    board, and it came out even better than I had expected.

    BTW, the clear tops that come on spindles of blank CD/DVDs make very good
    tubs for etching, particularly the tall ones from 50-packs. It gives you
    enough room to submerge the board nicely, and give it a good swirling
    without worry of spilling.
  4. In my experience, the single most important thing to get right, is the
    choice of paper. It must have a very smooth surface, and also be
    easily dissolved in water. Finding paper with either property is easy,
    but finding a paper with both properties is much more difficult. The
    good news is you don't have to etch to test if the paper is good. Just
    try some paper, and if does not work, remove the toner with Acetone
    and try another type of paper.

    I have good results with paper from a mail order catalog. The paper is
    semi-glossy and very thin. I have to tape it to a sheet of normal
    paper to get it through the printer without jamming. This paper
    actually works better for me than expensive, purpose-made paper.
    There are three reasons for this:

    1: Too much pressure on the iron. You will squish the toner out.
    2: The paper moves while ironing.
    3: Too hot an iron. Will make the toner too liquid, and increase the
    risk of squishing or moving.
    You did not get the toner to stick to the copper. Possible causes are:

    1: Not smooth enough paper.
    2: Too low temperature.
    3: Pressure not even enough.
    4: Copper not clean enough.
    Yes, I think so, too. Your paper may be too water resistant. Since you
    also have problems with bubbles, you may want to try a different

    I use a couple of drops dishwashing liquid in the water. It seems to
    help the water soak into the paper. Luke warm water seems to further
    improve soaking. Don't use hot water, as that will soften the toner.

    To get the final paper residue off, I use a soft toothbrush. If the
    toner has adhered well, and the water is not too hot, the toner is
    surprisingly tough.

    I use a liminating machine instead of an iron. Mine is only just hot
    enough, so I have to leave it on for a while before I start, and I run
    the board through several times in different directions.
  5. JeffM

    JeffM Guest

  6. Hammy

    Hammy Guest

    Thanks everyone for your advice. The Pulsar site has lots of good
    techniques I'll try.

    I'm using the staples brand picture paper that goote recommends on
    his site (Staples "photo basic" "gloss"). The only thing I can think
    of is I've been getting my printouts from "kwikcopy" a local copy
    outlet. I don't know the name and model of the laser printer they use,
    but this may be part of the problem.

    Would the "Hewlett Packard LaserJet 1018 Monochrome Laser Printer"
    found here,3300,432,4486&webid=639133&affixedcode=WW

    be a good choice. What would you recommend from your experience in the
    ($100-250 price range).

    I'm also considering purchasing the Pulsar's "toner applicator
    "(laminator). Could someone recommend a good place to purchase the
    laminator? Digikey list a non-stock "KIT PCB STARTER W/LAMINATOR"
    (Digikey part # 182-1024-ND) that includes the laminator 20 sheets of
    TTS and plus green and white TRF and a couple of ½ OZ boards for $155.
    They sell the laminator alone in stock for $158 digikey part#
    182-1029-ND) go figure.

    The Pulsar site is a bit confusing too they show a laminator here

    Note the price on the bottom left $129.95, clicking on buy now takes
    you here

    The only toner applicator is listed at $69.95
    Is there a difference? I can't even see a picture of the laminator at
    the second link. Is this the Laminator you have Rich?

    Sorry to bombard you with all these questions but if I'm going to
    purchase this I want to be sure they are the right tools for the job.

    Thanks for your replies!
  7. JeffM

    JeffM Guest

    The only problem I ever had with a LaserJet
    was with one that was ancient.
    Even with it's RAM maxed out, it wouldn't do a whole board.
    (The fraction of the board it did before it gave up looked just fine.)
    When you are doing your own printouts,
    you can open the printer's Properties and tell it to put down more
    The Kinko's guys aren't going to do that
    --at least not if you don't specify it.
  8. Jamie

    Jamie Guest

    That's strange, I use a brother and it works just as well as the HP I
    use to have before it went belly up..

    I use glossy photo paper..
    Maybe it's a different bother.. model..
    I did notice that I had to heat the sheets hotter than I did when I
    used the HP..
    Not sure how that would work on paper because I've never tried the
    Brother with just paper.. I just happen to have lots of photo glossy
    (smooth) lying around.
  9. Jamie

    Jamie Guest

    Yes, I do it now with Bother Laser printer and inkjet photo glossy
    paper! (not mat finish)..
    Also, I use what they call CLover which is used in machine shops to
    polish up steel for a smooth finish. I use fine sand paper with a
    dab of clover on it which cleans and smoothes the copper surface to a
    shine.. Its important for some laser printers to have a smooth surface
    because of the thickness of the toner and the type of materials that
    are used in making toners.
    I use a dry (no water in the iron) and hot to apply it and then lay
    a weight on it while it cools enough to handle.if it's double sided, I
    have 2 alignment holes pre drilled in the PC board that match alignment
    holes in the image..I leave the paper on until i get ready for use.
    Then I place it in water to release the paper when i get ready for
  10. Ben Jackson

    Ben Jackson Guest

    Don't slide the iron (if you're using an iron). Just apply downward
    pressure and lift/move.
    Clean the surface thoroughly first. Use acetone.
    You can scrub that off with a toothbrush. When the toner adheres
    properly, a toothbrush won't take any of it off (any it DOES take
    off probably wasn't going to work as a mask anyway).
  11. Rich Webb

    Rich Webb Guest

    I think it has to do more (or as much) with the toner formulation as
    the printing engine. I use an ancient HP-4ML (note the "L" suffix,
    indicating it's a 300 dpi model) with Xerox-brand cartridges (got a
    couple on sale a while back). I don't try to go below 0.015 inch rules
    with that model but that's good enough for my purposes.

    Ultimately, AFAIK, all laser toner is basically tiny plastic beads
    with a pigment filler. The Xerox cartridges produce slightly shinier
    printing than the original HP toner.
    I suspect that any of the GBC "type" of laminator would work. I use
    the GBC H200, modified as per the instructions on the Pulsar site. An
    un-modified laminator should probably be used only with 0,031 inch
    stock vice the more common 0.062 variety (although I see that Pulsar
    states that 0.062 is okay with their current model). Even after the
    mods I typically use 0.031 stock; easier to cut & drill, and sturdy
    enough for small projects (no MIL-STD-901 shock quals required).
    The one they show looks like a newer model. Recommend just check the
    local office supply stores to see what they have. Might as well pick
    up some laminating pouches, too, if you get the machine. They do make
    dandy ID and luggage tags. Again, note that "standard" laminators may
    not do the thicker board stock.

    With the Pulsar paper, I generally take about three passes through the
    rollers to get a good fusion. The biggest benefits to using a
    laminator vice a hand iron are the uniform heat/pressure application
    and use-to-use repeatability. It's kind of guesswork with an iron.
  12. ehsjr

    ehsjr Guest

    The Gootee method works, and works well. You must follow *all*
    the instructions carefully. I clean the boards first with
    Brillo, then with copper cleaner. The boards must be 100%
    clean and free of any chenmical residue. Let me slay some
    myths that I saw in the thread:
    I use a Brother laser with great results. I use the iron at the
    highest setting. I press hard while ironing, and slide the iron
    around. And I soak in hot tap water.

    Fold the paper over the blank so that it cannot move while
    ironing. Iron for ~5 minutes. Soak the board for ~ 1/2 hour
    before attempting to remove the paper from it, and peel off
    only what come off easily, then soak it again, peel some more.
    Repeat this until you can't rub any more paper off with your
    fingers - then use a toothbrush.

  13. Bob Masta

    Bob Masta Guest

    In answer to the "other method" question, for one-offs or
    even several of a simple circuit, I use a Sharpie-type
    permanent marker and draw the circuit directly. This
    is much easier than you might think, and very flexible.

    Complete info on this, as well as general board-making
    tips (like using dental burs instead of drill bits, and *diluting*
    ferric chloride that etches too slowly) at

    Best regards,

    Bob Masta

    D A Q A R T A
    Data AcQuisition And Real-Time Analysis
    Scope, Spectrum, Spectrogram, Signal Generator
    Science with your sound card!
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