My buddy Wayne Yamaguchi sent a little update on making printed circuit boards (PCBs) at home. Wayne always was the expert on toner transfer PCBs. This is where you print your Gerber art on a special film. Then you use an iron or a hot roller to transfer the printer toner from the plastic film to the copper-clad PCB material. The printer toner becomes the resist that keeps the acid away from the copper foil. Wayne has also figured out how to use a sponge to rub the ferric chloride on the board, so the copper etches away in seconds, not minutes.
I gave this a brief mention in an article about prototyping years ago. Wayne just keeps on improving this process and I hope to give a complete update soon. Wayne is also the guy that figured out PCB-Pool in Ireland was doing good work, as well as the USA triumvirate, Proto Express in Silicon Valley, Advanced Circuits in Colorado, and Sunstone (PCB123) in Oregon. Lately Wayne has been a fan of OSH Park up in Oregon. They operate like a community, where they take a bunch of PCB orders and panalize them on one substrate, so you can share the cost with a bunch of other people. For Wayne’s small boards, this can be ideal.
So here is Wayne’s latest missive:
“Many of you know I still make my own PCBs at home. I think I just tweaked or ironed out a nagging issue. Sometimes I would lose some toner during the process of putting it on the PCB. Using the GBC laminator I’ve had reasonable success and I finally think that putting the board through once is insufficient to apply pressure across the whole board. I put the board in offset 30 degrees and then a second pass with the board turned offset -30 degrees. Putting the board through the laminator at different angles ensures all of the board gets heated and pressed.
“Here’s a board I made a week ago and now it’s aged and somewhat tarnished. You can see the test patterns in the circuit and one test pattern outside of the circuit board. All test patterns came out. The test pattern has an 8 mil trace, 6 mil trace, 4 mil trace and a 2 mil trace. Of course they all get flattened out during the process, but, the 2mil really had little toner and was surprised how well it came out even if it was flattened.
“Rough measurements show the 2mil came out around 3mil and the 4 mil squished out to around 5.5mil and the 8 came out around 11 mil. Typically for prototypes I try and stay with 10mil trace widths.
“This particular prototype yielded some good info and with that info I’ve made a few changes and have sent out for real 2 sided PCB at OSHPark. The OSHPark order came out to a total $4.95. The boards were placed on a panel within a day or so and have been sent out to the fab shop. I might get the boards next week some time.
“The process is a slight derivation from Pulsar, who created this process a long time ago. Frank at Pulsar is the originator and should get all the credit for the process.”
Well thanks Wayne, many of us still like to whip out a single-piece prototype before going to fab and this is a great way to do it. My only warning, gleaned from personal experience, is to not put any vias under surface mount parts. There are no plated-through holes with these home-made PCBs, so you have to solder a little wire into every via.