Skip to content

How to DIY a smd Stencil for Your PCB Solder


Surface mount technology (SMT) has become the standard in modern PCB assembly. With components getting ever smaller, solder paste printing with stencils is required for reliable and efficient soldering.

For low volume or prototype runs, DIY SMD stencils provide a low cost option compared to contracting stencil fabrication. With some simple tools and materials, it is feasible to make custom stencils matched to your PCB at home.

This article provides a comprehensive guide on how to DIY SMD stencils for accurately applying solder paste to your boards. We’ll cover stencil design considerations, material options, preparation steps, laser cutting methods, stencil cleaning, and final solder paste application.

SMD Stencil Design Basics

Laser PCB Stencil

Some key considerations when designing DIY stencils:

Match PCB Land Pattern Size

The stencil apertures should match the pad sizes and spacing on the PCB as closely as possible for precise paste release.

For fine pitch components, apertures are often slightly reduced to compensate for paste spread. For example, an 0402 pad may use a 0.3mm aperture instead of 0.4mm.

Stencil Thickness

Standard thickness is ~0.1-0.15mm (4-6mil). Thicker steel allows durable longer life while thinner is optimal for ultra-fine pitch.

Aperture Wall Angle

A tapered aperture wall, typically 80 degrees, allows clean paste release without smearing on tool withdrawal.


Include paste release confirmation fiducials aligned with PCB for vision inspection.

Board Cutouts

Cutouts should match any slots, holes or openings in the PCB to prevent bridging during print.

Matching the stencil design precisely to the pad geometries and board outline is critical for success. Most PCB CAD tools allow exporting the paste layer directly for stencil creation.

Stencil Material Options

Stainless Steel

Most robust and durable material, allowing high temperature cleaning and multiple uses. Good for 0.3mm pitch and above.

  • Typical thickness: 100-150 μm (4-6 mil)
  • Rigid and stable for consistent print quality
  • Withstands cleaning solvents and scrubbing
  • Can be used for hundreds of print cycles
  • Requires laser cutting and framerate
  • More expensive material cost


Lower cost alternative to steel but more limited in terms of chemical resistance and temperature.

  • Typical thickness: 150-250 μm (6-10 mil)
  • More fragile than steel but easier to cut
  • Prone to damage if not handled carefully
  • Do not use on high temperature solder pastes
  • Lower durability with fewer print cycles


Softer and lower melting point than steel or aluminum but can achieve finer features.

  • Typical thickness: 50-100 μm (2-4 mil)
  • Better resolution down below 0.15 mm pitch
  • Deforms easier under high print pressure
  • Not suitable for high temperature cleaning
  • Primarily for ultra-fine pitch ICs


Various plastic films can be laser cut into stencils for very short run prototyping but have limitations.

  • Typical thickness: 50-250 μm (2-10 mil)
  • Kapton, Mylar, PET and PVC used for stencils
  • Flexible and easy to cut
  • Very poor durability with low peel strength
  • Limit to low temperature solder paste only

For most applications, stainless steel offers the best combination of resolution, durability, and temperature resistance for DIY SMD stencils.

Required Tools and Materials

To fabricate SMD stencils, you’ll need the following tools:

  • Laser Cutter – Capable of cutting chosen material and features
  • Laser-safe work surface – Used if hand-cutting frame
  • Image Editor – For generating cutting artwork file
  • Sandpaper – For post-cut cleanup of edges
  • Cleaner – For degreasing prior to use
  • Solder paste – Match type to your soldering process

Required materials:

  • Metal Sheets – Steel, aluminum or brass in desired thickness
  • Adhesive Frame – 3M 9500PC or similar
  • Double-sided tape – To secure metal to cutting bed

With these basic tools and supplies, SMD stencils can be fabricated quickly and economically without outsourcing.

Step-by-Step SMD Stencil Production

Follow these steps to DIY an SMD stencil matched to your PCB design:

1. Design Stencil CAD File

  • Import your PCB CAD design or Gerber files into graphics software.
  • Create a new layer for the stencil apertures.
  • Draw openings matching pad sizes, typically with rounded corners.
  • Add fiducials and board cutouts if needed.
  • Check all apertures are properly aligned to pads.

2. Prepare Raw Metal Material

  • Start with steel, aluminum or brass sheets in desired thickness.
  • Cut sheets down to approximately match board size + ~2″ margin.
  • Sand and wipe sheets to remove oils, dust and surface coatings.
  • Clean thoroughly with isopropyl alcohol.

3. Apply Adhesive Frame

  • Place metal sheet on flat working surface.
  • Apply adhesive stencil frame, leaving ~0.25″ margin from sheet edges.
  • Rub down firmly with roller, removing any bubbles or wrinkles.

4. Laser Cut Stencil Apertures

  • Load framed sheet into laser cutter flat with protective blue film facing up if present.
  • Focus laser head just above metal surface.
  • Set power and speed to cut through material thickness cleanly.
  • Perform test cuts on scrap material first to dial-in laser parameters.
  • Cut stencil pattern per CAD file, etching through completely.

5. Remove and Clean Up Stencil

  • Carefully peel off exterior adhesive frame.
  • Sand any remaining attached points gently with fine grit paper.
  • Smooth rough edges or boogers around apertures.
  • Clean thoroughly again using degreaser or acetone.

6. Prepare For Use

  • To apply solder paste, tape stencil down to work surface using double-sided adhesive.
  • Apply even pressure across stencil surface when wiping paste with squeegee.
  • For re-use, wrap stencil in anti-static paper to avoid dust accumulation.

With some optimization of laser settings, high quality stencils matching your exact PCB can be produced with basic tools.

Detailed Steps Explained

Designing the Stencil CAD File

Most PCB design software includes options to export a “paste mask” layer that contains the recommended stencil apertures for each unique PCB footprint. This provides the ideal starting point.

Review recommended paste coverage in the component manufacturer datasheets for dense packages like BGAs. The normal range is 60-80% of pad size.

Rounding aperture corners helps paste release. Small regions of stencil bridges between pads can help hold small chips in place. Fiducials outside board outline aid vision alignment.

Export final drawing as DXF or other vector file for the laser cutter.

Cutting Frame Application

  • Clean and degrease metal sheet surface. Adhesion is critical.
  • Carefully apply adhesive stencil frame, avoiding bubbles between adhesive and metal.
  • Rub firmly with roller, focusing pressure on the outer adhesive strip area.
  • Cut interior metal area should have no adhesive contacting it.

Proper frame bond prevents metal burrs and aids handling small parts.

Laser Cutting Parameters

Laser settings vary based on material and thickness:

  • Power – More power needed for thicker/denser materials
  • Speed – Faster speed for thinner materials, slower for thicker
  • Frequency – Higher frequency reduces charring
  • Focal distance – Focus spot just above material surface

Do initial test cuts on scrap materials to fine tune settings. The ideal cut fully penetrates the metal while minimizing slag, charring and melting. A tapered cut angle allows clean aperture walls.

Multiple passes at lower power can achieve better edge quality over one high power pass.

Post-Cut Cleanup

  • Lightly sand cut edges to remove slag and boogers. Avoid enlarging apertures.
  • Remove all adhesive residue thoroughly. This can clog stencil apertures.
  • Clean stencil completely with degreaser and lint-free wipe.
  • Avoid touching print side surface to minimize dust and oils.

Preparing For Use

Before solder paste application:

  • Wrap stencil in antistatic packaging for storage or transport.
  • When ready for use, secure stencil firmly to work surface.
  • Clean thoroughly again just prior to use if stored.
  • Apply solder paste only to print side. Never apply to squeegee side.

Careful preparation and handling maintains stencil cleanliness and maximizes print quality.

Solder Paste Application Process

To use DIY SMD stencils effectively:

  • Clean PCB lands thoroughly. Use no-clean flux for difficult substrates.
  • Secure stencil firmly over PCB, aligned visually or with fiducials.
  • Apply small amount of paste along one edge of stencil.
  • Use razor blade or plastic squeegee, angled ~60 degrees.
  • Apply even steady pressure, moving squeegee away to spread paste into apertures.
  • Lift stencil carefully straight away from PCB when complete.
  • Place components before paste dries using pick and place machine or tweezers.
  • Reflow solder per profile specifications and clean flux residues.

Stencil condition and application technique greatly impact soldering success.

Stencil Re-Use and Maintenance

With proper care, DIY stencils provide consistent performance over dozens of prints:

  • Wrap stencil in clean antistatic packaging after each use.
  • Avoid direct hand contact with print side surface. Oils degrade paste release.
  • Store flat and avoid flexing stencil to prevent distortion.
  • Clean gently with organic solvents and lint-free wipe.
  • More aggressive cleaning with heated ultrasonic baths can revive worn stencils.
  • Replace stencil if severe damage or clogging occurs.

DIY stencils typically last for 25-100 prints depending on size, material, and pitch.

Troubleshooting Tips

Solder Paste Release

Insufficient or inconsistent paste deposit can result from:

  • Aperture misalignment to PCB pads
  • Poor stencil cleaning allowing dried paste or oils to block apertures
  • Inadequate anchoring of stencil during print swipe
  • Too little paste for board area being printed
  • Clogged apertures from prior prints

Solder Bridges

Unwanted solder between pads or pins from:

  • Excess paste volume applied to the stencil
  • Insufficient pressure or angle with squeegee
  • Paste drying and blocking apertures or adhering to stencil walls
  • Alignment issues creating paste deposits between pads
  • Solder balling from reflow process splatter

Poor Prints or Incomplete Fills

Low print definition quality stemming from:

  • Aperture sizes mismatch with PCB pads
  • Rounded aperture corners instead of square
  • Excess paste drying inside apertures
  • Insufficient stencil clamping allowing movement
  • Lack of cleanliness of stencil, board, and work area

Proper procedures and regular maintenance helps overcome these common SMD print challenges.


smd stencil

Creating DIY SMD stencils is a simple, cost-effective method for applying solder paste to prototype and low volume PCB production. With careful control of material selection, laser cutting parameters, ongoing maintenance, and paste print process, high quality solder joints can be achieved.

Compared to outsourcing stencil fabrication, DIY stencils allow quick turnaround and perfect alignment with even the most custom board designs. The ability to rapidly iterate and print new stencil patterns along with a PCB design provides tremendous flexibility at the prototyping stage.

While lacking the precise dimensional accuracy of industrial chemical etch stencils, DIY laser cut stencils can produce fine pitch prints down to 0.3-0.4mm when using appropriate materials and optimized lasing. Resolution improves with thinner metal sheets while durability increases using thicker steel.

By following the guidelines detailed in this article around stencil design, preparation, cutting, and maintenance, even novice makers can achieve expert solder paste printing results using DIY SMD stencils. The ability to quickly implement design changes with an in-house stencil process enables rapid prototyping and design for manufacturability optimization.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the minimum pitch DIY stencils can support?

Using thin (~2mil) brass with optimized laser parameters allows resolutions down to 0.3-0.4mm pitch. Industrial chemical etch can do 0.15mm. Stainless steel is limited to ~0.5mm minimum.

What are recommended printer and laser cutter models for stencil making?

High resolution laser cutters like Epilog or Trotec work well under $10k. For less cost, the NEJE and Ortur lasers can produce results around 0.5mm pitch.

How many times can a steel stencil be reused?

With proper cleaning, steel stencils often exceed 100 print cycles. Soft metals like aluminum degrade faster. Max life also depends on pitch, stencil handling, and maintenance.

What stencil thickness should be used to support 0.5mm pitch ICs?

For fine pitch around 0.5mm, a stainless steel thickness of ~4mil (0.1mm) provides the right balance of durability and resolution. Finer requires reducing to 2-3 mil brass.

Is it better to print solder paste onto the PCB or stencil side of the aperture?

Always print solder paste onto the PCB side. The print side walls provide optimum release while the squeegee side can trap paste in crevices causing clogging.




                Get Fast Quote Now