Making your own prototype PCBs    

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What this is all about

With this page I try to show you one method for creating your own professional-looking PCBs.  They say a picture's worth a thousand words, so I used enough pictures and let them do most of the talking.

Having a 20-year experience in making my own prototype PCBs, and having tried dozens of different methods, I recommend the method described on this page as the best, both in terms of cost and overall effort.  Although the use of a specific unique product is required, this should not be viewed as an advertisement.  I have no connection whatsoever with the company mentioned.  However, I don't see why a good product should not be talked about for what its worth.  I have photographed all the stages of the process for you to look at.

Required Equipment

The whole process for making a double-sided PCB is described next.  Click on title link(s) for photo(s).

Step 1 - Printing your PCB from your favorite CAD program

Any CAD program is good enough for printing your PCB.  I happen to use EasyPC for Windows by Number One Systems (SightMagic).  I have used most of the available CAD programs and for me this seems to be the easiest to work with.

You must use a Laser Printer.  It's also preferrable to use one that doesn't curb the sheet too much.

IMPORTANT: You must prepare your PCB so that it also includes a border line at least three centimeters farther out from the regular board line.

Step 2 - The printout

This is how things look when the Press-N-Peel comes out the printer.  You should allow for a minute or so until the sheet reaches room temperature before touching it.  This prevents the toner to peel off the sheet.

Step 3 - Cutting the Copper Board

Cut the copper board at the dimensions of the printed layout leaving an extra centimeter on each side.

Step 4 - Cleaning Copper from Oxides

Scrub the copper surfaces with a wire brush or steel wool to remove the oxides.  The copper should be shining almost like new.  This makes it easier for Press-N-Peel to properly stick on the copper surface.

Step 5 - Trim your printout

Cut the PnP just a little larger than the PCB board you prepared in Step 3.

Step 6 - Taping

Use adhesive tape (scotch tape) to glue the PnP on one side of the board.

Step 7 - The Iron

Note that I've used an iron with as flat a surface as I could find.  The fewer steam holes it has, the better.  Most importantly, however, it should be flat.

Step 8- Ironing

See things from your wife's perspective.  Learn how to iron.  It's a little different from ironing clothes because here you have to be very careful not to make any mistakes and crease the PnP sheet.

Step 9

Same as Step 5 but for the other side.

Step 10 - Line up
Step 11
Step 12
Step 13

As shown in the photographs above, use a relatively bright light as a background against which to see through the PnP so that you can line up the two sides using the ouside border line of your PCB layout.

Step 14 - More ironing

After alignment, carefully iron the other side of your PCB.

Step 15 - Are we done yet?
Step 16

Here you see how things should look when you've ironed enough.  You should be able to see the PCB layout underneath as shown in the photograph.  If not, you need to iron some more.  If you can't seem to handle this, beg your wife to do it the right way for you.

Step 17 - Laundry

When you believe you have finished ironing, flush the board with water.  This cools it and stabilizes the toner on the board.

Step 18 - Surgery

Carefully cut the PnP where the scotch tape is to release the sheets from the board.

Step 19 - Start peeling
Step 20
Step 21
Step 22
Step 23

Peeling must be done very carefully.  See how many pictures I took?  That's to show you how slowly and carefully you have to remove the PnP sheets so as to avoid destroying any tracks or pads.  (If you do, don't panic, there's always a way to fix things later, but it's better if you get it right in this phase.)

Step 24

Now you have a board without the PnP.

Step 25 - Grab a knife

Prepare to remove any possible imperfections from the board.

Step 26

Carefully look at the board, perhaps consulting your PCB layout program.  PnP has the tendency to spread out due to pressure during ironing.  The toner underneath does not.  This may make it look as if there are overlapped tracks.  With the knife softly etch the blue where you know (you can actually see it, if you look closely) there are no tracks underneath.

When doing this, don't worry too much about destroying the tracks because the Blue peels off only from where there is no toner.  The toner is where your tracks and pads are.

If you happen to destroy a track, you can use a permanent-ink pen to manually add any missing track segments.

Step 27

You can see how clear your PCB tracks look.  In the picture you'll see some very fine tracks (0.4mm).

Step 28

Use a plastic cable tie (fastener) through a hole on one corner of the board so that you hold it while shaking it in the chemicals.

Step 29

Put the board in a tupperware-type container.

Step 30 - Etching the PCB

In this picture we use FerroChloride but you can use any other copper removing chemical.  PnP will stand against any such chemicals.

Step 31

You can see the cable ties when the board is submerged in the chemical.

Step 32 - Shake your PCBoogie

It takes a while to remove the copper.  Depending on your board size and chemical temperature (the warmer the better, but not hot), this could take from 5 to 20 minutes or so.

Step 33 - At Last

The copper's gone, but you've got the blues.

Step 34 - Removing the Blues

Feeling happy about your work so far won't remove your PCB's blues!  You need to use some industrial-grade aceton.  Nail-dye remover, alcohol, detergents, or cleaning solvents just won't cut it.  You need something much stronger.  I have tried pretty much everything else without luck.

Step 35 - A final check

When done, and after the board has dried, look closely for any damage.

Step 36 - Admire your work

This is a necessary step to help you gain the courage to do this all over again for your next PCB.

After the first two or three times, you'll start getting the knack.  Practice makes perfect, right?  You should probably first experiment with single-sided PCB creation and when you feel you have mastered the art of ironing, start playing with double-sided PCBs which require an extra step of very carefully lining up the two sides.

Now, wasn't that simple?

Have fun.

S. Pdmtr

Don’t want to do it your self? Then you can order your professional made PCBs at Easy_PCB at LOW PRICES!!!

Since December 30, 1999

Last modified November 25, 2004

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