Experimenting PCB board creation using a laser printer

Tired of using a PCB pen to build my boards… Too time-consuming, not really repeatable, dirty… So, I’ve tested this method and here some results and thoughts.This method consists in printing circuit using a laser printer. The paper is then ironed on the copper side of a board. The toner is transferred: you have a nice circuit drawn on your board. Because the toner is composed by small plastic particles, it protects tracks while etching the board. Results: a amazing PCB board, easy, cheap, fast.That’s theory…Originally, this method seems to be first used by Thomas P. Gootee. While it exists commercial and expensive paper doing this (Press’n Peel for instance), he observed he could get the same results using some glossy photo paper, used for inkjet printers. The kind of paper is the key factor. And the iron temperature too. And also the ironing time. And the way you peel off the paper. And how you prepare you board. And also how you soak your paper. Lots of parameters, few data…

I’m not comfortable using glossy paper for inkjet on a laser printer. It can stick on the fuser and ruins the printer. Some people mentionthis. Others pretends to nice results using normal, standard paper. Some also have amazing results using mailing label backing paper, or glossy photo paper for laser printer. For now, I have tried standard paper, label paper and glossy photo paper for laser printer(see following results, except for label paper: I didn’t even managed to print on it…).

Everyone seems to report it. The board has to be clean. Very clean. Some are saying it’s important to prepare it using sand paper (or the like) so the toner has something to grip to. I’m always following those advices: clean the board with soap, use very thin sand paper, clean it again with soap, then clean it again with window cleaner to help drying it. It’s ready.

About my iron, it’s an old one. It doesn’t heat a lot. I tend to iron a lot of time, while I’m not sure it’s a good idea. I think it depends on how the toner has been fixed onto the paper.

While I was trying to build a new SirBot Mainboard, I took several pictures to report what I’ve done, what failed and what has been quite a success…

 

My first attempt was using standard paper. This was a on very small testing board, and results were amazing. Then I tried on a real PCB (photo). Several times. At least 4 times (maybe 5). And it always failed…Anyway, whatever the paper type is, the board has to be a little bit larger than the paper. Ironing will be easier and everywhere the same (hopefully).
Again, whatever the paper, the board has to be cleaned and prepared usingsandpaper. I use very thin sand paper, one used to sand body car. I clean it using soap and ultimately using window cleaner (or something with alcohol): it helps to get a dry board.
The paper is then put down on the board, toner side on copper side. Pre-heat the board (using another paper, without any dust or the like). While you stick the paper to the board, be sure you’re right because the toner will instantly grip the board.
Iron the paper. Use a lot of pressure, everywhere. For this board, I’ve tested different ironing times: 5min to 12min, all attempts have failed…Iif you’re not ironing enough, some tracks won’t stick to board (I’ve observed). If you iron too much, tracks will get fuzzy (I’ve never observed it). I think ironing this board (10cm x 10cm) for at least 10min is ok.
So far so good… One ironed, put the board on water. Hot, cold ? With ot without soap ? Some say putting the board a cold water help the toner to fix the board. I’ve experimented it: the toner also seems to diffuse on the paper, make it harder to remove. But remember, that’s a standard paper, so it may be ok for other type of paper. Soap can also help to remove the paper. I tend to put the board on medium hot water (same temp as for dishes), with a little soap…
After 15min, the board shows bubbles on its surface: every piece of paper without toner gets unstuck (remember, standard paper). This clearly shows how well the toner has fixed the board. That’s promising… You may not observe those bubbles using glossy papers.
You can then start to gently rub the paper. You should be able to easily remove most of the paper. Only the last layer will cause problems (and still cause problems…).
You should not doing this, but who could resist… Just be sure not to damage any tracks.
Finally, after 30-45min, you can get this type of results. Some paper is still stuck onto the board. And won’t be removed, even after soaking it overnight.Now, 2 options:

  • you used standard paper: the remaining paper makes tracks fuzzy, dirty. You can’t remove it without damaging them. Like the paper, you’re stuck…
  • you used glossy paper for laser printer: there’s also remaining paper (less, though), but tracks still look thin. That’s ok, you can probably etch the board :)
This picture shows tracks covered with paper, using standard paper. Some tracks are damaged, but the most important thing here is tracks are fuzzy, due irregular paper residues. If etched, you won’t get a workable result…Now, may I iron the board too much ? Not enough ? Some tracks did not stick to the board. I tend to say “not enough”. This is plausible as my iron doesn’t heat a lot. Next time I’ll try ironing it at least 20min…
Another one… this time using glossy photo paper for laser. While there’s still paper on tracks, those are accurate, well limited and quite consistent. Having paper residue is not a problem, it’s the way it sticks that is important.
Some tracks were damaged (still). I needed to double-check the board andcorrect those errors with a PCB pen. Note, on this pictures, one pen trace doesn’t mean one error: I redraw some of the tracks too make them larger. There were maybe 3 errors for the whole board. I think µI didn’t iron enough.Once ready, put the board into etchant. I continually move the board into the etchant (for 18min for this one), to be sure the board is etched everywhere, equally (hopefully).
Tadaaaa ! Nothing to say except tracks are nice…
Clean the remaining toner. People say it cannot be removed without acetone. I use nail cleaner without acetone, and it works perfectly.
Tadaaa (again) ! Ready for soldering !
A nice looking result. I can even read “SirBot Project   Mainboard” and the very small date “2008-04-08″.
So, what to say ? Using standard paper won’t produce good results ? For sure, at least for me. A glossy photo paper for laser printer is the minimum required. This is also a very first result. I needed a lot of attempts and I’m not even sure this is all repeatable. Probably the tricky ironing step needs for experiments. For now, I need to solder components on my new “half-professional looking” PCB…
  1. dore kofman’s avatar

    i used film for laser printer you see i cant find glossy paper so i used film the trike is to heat it for 5min with pressure whane you are fineshed remove the film dont with for it to cole

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