DIY Circuit Board Method
DIY Circuit Board represents the concept of making printed circuit boards that you will use in your next project. Yes! It is possible to make that complex-looking circuit board yourself. When working on a new idea or a project, the students may need PCB, which could have errors, especially if the project is under trial and error. In such circumstances ordering a PCB from a conventional manufacturer may not be that convenient and budget friendly. Otherwise, DIY circuit boards are also a considerable option to verify how a circuit board will behave after interacting with the actual environment. There could be many reasons to DIY a circuit board. But whatever the reason is, the NextPCB is stating below the six most convenient methods that will surely help you DIY your next circuit board.
#1 Using a Dry Film
So, this is our first and one of the most comprehensive and efficient methods. So, let's have a deep dive into this method.
- For this method, you need to export and print three layers. The three layers include the tracing layer, solder mask layer, and silkscreen layer.
- Before producing the tracing and solder mask layer, invert their colours. It will help us in the etching process.
- Now take the tracing layer and mark its measurements on the copper-clad laminate to cut it the same size as the training layer.
- With the help of a paper cutter or a sharp knife, cut the copper-clad laminate by scratching it several times and bending it to a particular position and direction.
- Now when we have our tracing layer and copper-clad laminate ready, we need to convert it (tracing layer) onto the laminate. To do so, we are going to use the DRY FILM method. In this method, we have a dry film which is a transparent polyester sheet coated with an Ultra Violet sensitive polymer. So, to convert the tracing layer onto the copper-clad, first peel off the dry film, adhere it to the laminate and make sure not to leave any air pockets between the laminate and the dry film. Then use some oil and spread and massage it onto the tracing layer to make it translucent to let the light pass through it. Finally, place the tracing layer on the surface of the dry film and adjust it to the copper-clad laminate.
- Now put that stack under the sunlight or halogen light lamp for a suitable amount of time so that when you peel off the dry film, all the signal tracks have transferred on the laminate, and not even a single path is remained non-transferred.
- Once the signal layer has been copied onto the laminate, it's time to remove the unnecessary area. To do so, dip the laminate in a solution of Sodium Carbonate and water with a ratio of 5% and 95%. While the board is in the solution, brush the top layer with a painting brush to ease the dissolving of the exposed area.
- Now, wash out the PCB with clean water and inspect for any broken tracks or other issues.
- To etch the PCB, dip it in the water and Ferric Chloride solution and slowly shake the container until all the exposed copper area is dissolved. Then, after removing the PBC from the Ferric Chloride solution, wash it thoroughly with water and dip it in Sodium Hydroxide and water solution to remove the blue resist film. Removing the blue resist film is a time-consuming method. So, after immersing the PCB in the Sodium Hydroxide solution, brush it off after some time to help loosen the blue film.
- Now, inspect the PCB and fix any broken tracks by manually soldering them.
- The PCB is ready! But to prevent the exposed copper traces from oxidizing, we have to apply Solder Mask onto it to cover up all the exposed copper area.
- The application of a solder mask is simple. We need a screen printing cloth of mesh count 120T a frame to tie the cloth and photo-sensitive emulsion. Tie the screen printing cloth to the wooden frame, spread a thin layer of photo-sensitive emulsion on it, and air dries it; then place the two previously printed solder mask and silk-screened layers on it. Place a clear glass onto the two layers and put the stack under the halogen lamp or in direct sunlight to cure the unexposed area. Then pressure washes the silk screen cloth without untieing it from the frame so that the uncured area washes out and only cured area remains there.
- Now align the PCB with the screen printing cloth concerning the cured photo-sensitive emulsion. Once again, spread the solder mask onto the screen printing cloth. This way, the solder mask will get printed on the PCB.
- Repeat the same procedure for silk screening.
#2 Using a UV Printer
- Take a copper-cad laminate and rub it thoroughly before using it to clear the surface, or if it has a protective film, peel that off and skip rubbing.
- Print the layer with signal tracks. Get that layer UV printed on the laminate (only use UV ink to print the design). Wrap the laminate in plastic right after the printing; if you have to travel it back home. Or otherwise, if you have a UV printer at home or near home. Skip wrapping the laminate. Take care of the printed laminate because the UV ink is likely to stick to it for a short time.
- Now, to etch the exposed copper, immerse the printed laminate in Water and Ferric Chloride solution with a ratio of 95% to 5%.
- Next, wash the circuit board thoroughly with clean water to remove any leftover solution.
- To remove the UV ink from the copper-clad laminate, take some Isopropyl Alcohol in a cotton bud and rub the laminate with it. The ink will come out quite easily.
#3 Using Iron
- First, mirror the PCB tracing layer and print it onto either glossy or photo paper.
- Cut the copper-clad laminate according to the size of the required PCB.
- Place and adhere the glossy paper with the printed side facing towards the laminate and put a hot iron on it. Gently move the iron back and forth to distribute the heat evenly. Do it for about 2 minutes or as long as you find it appropriate.
- Now soak the laminate in lukewarm water and leave it for about 10 minutes. Then gently rub the paper or peel the paper off from one corner of the board to the end. Be careful while peeling or rubbing the paper from the laminate because inattentive handling at this stage could lead to broken and misprinted tracks.
- At this stage, inspect the PCB carefully and fix any broken or damaged tracks. Then, you can use a black permanent marker to draw the misprinted tracks.
- To etch the PCB, dip it in the Water and Ferric Chloride solution with a ratio of 95% to 5%. Let the laminate dip in the solution for some time, then slightly rub the circuit board with a paintbrush to loosen up the exposed copper.
- Now, wash the PCB with water and wipe it out with Isopropyl Alcohol to remove the ink.
- Inspect the PCB against the layout and then drill the holes. Your PCB is ready!
#4 Without Iron
- Cut the copper-clad laminate into the required PCB size.
- Mirror the PCB tracing layer and get it Laser printed on photo paper. Note that the photo paper should be manageable; 100 GSM photo paper is okay.
- Now, pour a few drops of acetone or acetone-based nail paint remover on the copper-clad laminate and place the printed tracing layer over it in a way that the printed design is faced towards the laminate. Again pour a few drops of acetone or acetone-based nail paint remover on the photo paper and spread it over the board. Refrain from pouring an excessive amount of acetone directly on the copper laminate or photo paper.
- After a few seconds, start rolling out the paper from one corner and roll it in a particular direction. Do not rub the photo paper, as it may result in broken and overly spread-out tracks.
- Once you have removed the photo paper from the laminate, immerse it into an etching solution of Ferric Chloride and water; the possible ratio could be 5% to 95%. The temperature of the solution should be slightly hot.
- After etching, rinse the circuit board with water and rub it with acetone to remove the ink from the tracks.
- You can use the same method for solder masking.
#5 Draw the Circuit
If you are unwilling to design the circuit on PCB designing software and know what you want, you can skip drawing it on the software. Instead, what you could do is; directly draw the circuit on the copper-clad laminate. To execute this method, you have to follow these steps.
- Draw the circuit on the laminate with a black permanent marker. Do not use a 90-degree angle to bend the signal tracks; instead, keep them round or give a 220-degree angle, then proceed with the 90-degree angle.
- To etch the exposed copper, immerse the circuit in Water and Ferric Chloride solution. It is better to keep the solution's temperature a little hot as it will make the etching process fast.
- After etching and removing the black-permanent ink with acetone or acetone-based nail paint remover. If you want to apply a solder mask layer to protect the PCB from oxidation, cover the soldering edges of the signal tracks with a permanent marker and apply a thin layer of photo-resistive emulsion and cure the PCB under direct sunlight.
- Once the solder mask gets hardened, remove the ink from the soldering edges with acetone.
Note; Drawing a circuit directly on the laminate with a permanent marker may need to be more efficient; there is a strong chance that the permanent marker's ink will come off the circuit board during the etching process. Hence, it is better to draw each line twice to avoid unwanted circumstances.
#6 Using a Laminator
Likewise, the laminator is a printer-like device; its purpose is to cover both or a single side of a sheet with a thin transparent lamination sheet to protect its outer surface. So, in this last method of the DIY circuit board, we are going to explain how to use the laminator to DIY your next PCB. You need a laminator for this process if you don't have one at home; get your lamination work done from outside; any customized gift shop may help you as they usually have laminators.
- First, print the tracing layer through a UV printer and place it on the copper-clad laminate. Adhere to the printed tracing layer and the laminate if required.
- Pass this stack through the laminator at least 3 to 4 times.
- After the lamination through the circuit board in the tap water, leave it for 5-10 minutes and remove the paper by rubbing it gently.
- Now, immerse the circuit board in an etching solution of Ferric Chloride and Water with a ratio of 5% to 95%. It is better to keep the temperature of the water a little hot OR heat the circuit board with a hot air dryer before immersing it in the solution. It will fasten up the etching process of exposed copper.
- Now, remove the ink with acetone or acetone-based nail paint remover. Solder the signal tracks to prevent oxidation of copper and drill the holes. The DIY circuit board is ready to use.
Tips for making a DIY PCB
- Whenever layout the PCB tracks, avoid using a 90-degree angle. Instead, take a short length 220-degree angle, then proceed further to bend the track. This technique of routing is beneficial to the flow of current.
- Before immersing the copper-clad laminate to etch the exposed copper, heat the circuit board through a hot air gun or hot hair drier. OR you can heat the water before adding the etching material (Ferric Chloride or any other material) to the water. The heat will fasten up the etching of exposed copper.
- For better connectivity, scrub the copper-clad laminate with a small grain-sized sandpaper or a dish scrubber. To avoid harsh lines on the surface of the circuit board, try to use sandpaper with the smallest grain size possible.
- Do not use acetone or any other acetone-based material while working with heat. For example, if you are using a laminator or iron to convert the PCB design onto the laminate, do not use acetone or nail paint remover to adhere to the laminate and the printed paper. The reason is that acetone is flammable when in contact with immense heat.
- Wear gloves, masks, and protective glasses while working with chemicals to ensure your safety.
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The DIY circuit board is a popular option for students to try and execute their ideas. There are multiple methods to make a PCB at home. However, some are more convenient than others. Here in this article, the NextPCB has described 6 DIY circuit board methods that are easy to enforce and produce high-quality PCBs.
NextPCB hopes its guide will help you find an appropriate DIY method to produce your next printed circuit board!
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