A printed circuit board or PCB provides the mechanical base and electrical interconnections to mount and connect electronic components using copper traces on a non-conductive substrate. PCBs are at the heart of all electronic devices and equipment we use. While PCB fabrication has largely shifted to large manufacturers using sophisticated processes, it is still possible to make DIY PCBs at home or in a small lab for prototyping or hobby projects using some simple techniques.
This comprehensive guide covers the end-to-end process of making a custom PCB from design to finished board production.
- Draw the circuit diagram with symbols for each component
- Connect symbols using wires showing connectivity
- Add power supply, input/output ports, etc.
- Assign component values, reference designators
- Verify circuit logic and connections
PCB Layout Design
- Import schematic into PCB design software
- Place component footprints on the blank canvas
- Route copper traces to connect component pads
- Design power and ground planes, silkscreen markings
- Set track widths, clearances based on manufacturing capabilities
- Adjust board dimensions, number of layers, materials
- Run design rule checks to verify
PCB Prototyping Methods
There are a few common techniques to fabricate DIY PCB prototypes:
- Print PCB layout on laser printer toner transfer paper
- Iron paper on copper clad board to transfer toner
- Etch away exposed copper leaving toner mask
- Coat copper board with photosensitive film
- Expose to UV light through printed mask
- Develop to remove unexposed photoresist
- Etch copper not protected by resist
- Export layout as CAD file
- Use vinyl cutter plotter to cut resist film
- Transfer film on copper board
- Etch away copper not covered by vinyl
- Mill (remove) exposed copper on board with CNC
- Remaining copper forms desired tracks
Toner transfer is the most accessible DIY method using common tools. Photosensitive and CNC approaches produce higher resolution but require more specialized equipment.
Gather the necessary materials and tools ahead of PCB fabrication:
- Copper clad laminate board
- Ferric chloride etchant
- Isopropyl alcohol, acetone
- Small plastic tray for etching
- Eye protection, nitrile gloves
- Laser printer and glossy paper
- Clothes iron, rag, distilled water
- Flux pen, soldering iron
- PCB drill bits (0.8mm, 1mm..)
- Dremel or drill for holes
- Sandpaper, tack cloth, nail polish
- Marking pen, ruler
PCB Fabrication Steps
Here are the step-by-step instructions to make your own PCB:
1. Print Layout
- Print PCB layout on laser printer toner transfer paper
- Allow ink to dry fully to avoid smearing
2. Prepare Copper Board
- Cut blank copper clad to required size using hacksaw
- Clean copper surface with isopropyl alcohol
3. Transfer Toner
- Place paper print on copper board with layout facing down
- Set clothes iron to high heat, iron paper for 2-3 minutes
- Let cool, soak paper in water to remove paper fibers
4. Etch Board
- Pour ferric chloride etchant in plastic tray
- Immerse board in etchant until all exposed copper is etched away
5. Drill Holes
- Mark hole locations indicated on PCB layout
- Drill holes using Dremel tool and small drill bits
6. Cleanup and Finish
- Scrub off toner mask using acetone
- Remove oxidation from copper traces with light sanding
- Apply protective nail polish solder mask
- Label components using permanent marker
That completes the PCB fabrication process! You now have a custom DIY PCB ready for electronic component assembly.
Populating the PCB
- Insert component leads through drilled holes
- Solder leads to pad on other side to connect
Surface Mount Parts
- Apply solder paste on pads
- Position parts on paste with tweezers
- Reflow to solder all joints at once
- Use multimeter in continuity mode to test tracks
- Check for shorts between adjacent pads
- Verify no dry joints or broken traces
- Reheat cold solder joints
Small kits are available to practice SMD soldering techniques before working on your own PCB.
Tips for Success
Here are some tips to help make your PCB fabrication process smooth:
- Use laser printer for good toner adhesion
- Soak paper thoroughly before peeling off
- Use fresh ferric chloride etchant and agitate solution
- Let toner and etchant fully dry before drilling
- Apply solder mask to protect copper traces
- Work in well-ventilated area with eye protection
- Start with simple single-sided board before attempting multilayer
Making PCBs does take some trial and error but gets easier with practice. The ability to produce customized PCBs is very useful for prototyping new ideas.
Advanced PCB Manufacturing
For more advanced boards, home fabrication becomes challenging and professional PCB manufacturing is preferred:
- Better precision and complexity
- Multi-layer boards
- Fine line/space rules
- Plated through-hole connections
- Solder mask and silkscreen
- Lead-time in days with quick-turn
- Higher setup costs
- Minimum order quantities
- Can’t easily modify after ordering
- Need Gerber design files
Many low-cost manufacturers provide online instant quoting and offer hobbyist friendly rates for small quantities.
Making DIY printed circuit boards at home or in a small lab provides a great way to prototype electronic products. The toner transfer method offers a simple PCB fabrication technique using common tools and materials. With some practice, you can learn to produce custom PCBs tailored to your needs and applications. While home-made boards have limitations in complexity and precision, they enable iterating on circuit ideas quickly and affordably.
Frequently Asked Questions
What resolution should my printer have for toner transfer PCBs?
For toner transfer, use a laser printer with 1200 dpi or higher resolution. Inkjet printers are not recommended as ink will spread when transferring. Higher dpi allows smaller trace designs.
What software is best for designing PCB layouts?
For simple boards, free tools like EasyEDA and KiCAD work very well. They have all the features needed for basic PCB design. More advanced paid options provide more functionality for complex boards.
Can I use a clothes iron for toner transfer?
Yes, a regular household iron can work for toner transfer. Use the highest heat cotton setting. Apply firm pressure and rub in small circular motions for 2+ minutes to fully fuse the toner onto the copper board.
How long does it take to etch a PCB board?
Etch times vary based on concentration, temperature, agitation level of the etchant. For most DIY boards, expect at least 30-60 minutes in ferric chloride. Check every 10-15 minutes after immersing.
What is the minimum track width and spacing I can do at home?
20 Steps To Make Your Own PCB
Build a PCB, your personal printed DIY circuit board at home to prevent issues resulting from sloppy breadboard links. If you are interested in electronics or electrical equipment, PCBs are one of the most popular items you may view. These boards facilitate our life by removing all cables and breadboards. It changes the shape of your smartphone and may appear excellent if correctly built.
What is PCB?
Before we get to the most significant item in current times, we must look at the definition of making Circuit Boards that help us work with more enthusiasm;
A printed circuit board(PCB) physically supports and links electrical parts electrically through conductive tracks, padding systems, and other components printed on a non-conductive substrate from copper sheets. A printed circuit board features copper traces pre-designed on a circuit.
You will learn how to make PCB at home. This will save you a lot of time from troubleshooting and double verifying the breadboard connections. After this session, you can even make your PCB. Just sit back and watch how!
1. Different Ideas to Make Own PCB at Home:
All three fundamental PCB techniques are available
- Method of Iron on Glossy paper
- The circuit on PCB by hand
- Machining laser edge etching.
Since the laser boards are a commercial DIY PCB approach, we shall examine the first two techniques for making PCBs at home in-depth.
2. List of Materials:
- Magazines or publicity pamphlets
- Laser Printer
- Household clothes Iron
- Copper laminate clad
- Solution Etching
- Kitchen scrubs
- Thinner, for example, acetone
- Coated plastic wire
3. Creating Layout for PCB:
This is usually done by turning the schematic chart of your circuit into your PCB layout utilizing software for the Pcb CIRUIT board. There are several open-source PCB layout and design software tools.
Some of them are mentioned here to start:
- Eagle Cadsoft
4. Get a Printout for PCB Layout:
Use the laser printer and the A4 photographic paper/glossy paper to print out your PCB layout. Keep the following considerations in mind:
- It would help if you held the reflection printout
- Select both the PCB software applications and the printer driver settings for the output in black
- Ensure the paper is printed on the magnificent side of the paper
5. Copper Plate Cutting:
Cut the copper board to the plan size. You have to pay good attention to the printing layout when you cut the copper plate as needed.
6. Use the Smoothing Scrub:
When you cut copper in the desired size, the edges are ruff; you may use a kitchen harsh sponge scrub to clean the copper side of the PCB by using stainless steel brush; this eliminates both the top oxide copper layer and the picture coating. A sanded layer makes the picture cling more effectively.
7. Print a Layout Design on Copper Plate:
Drawing a design on a copper plate is not a straightforward task since you can construct your DIY PCB flawlessly if you cannot create a design on the plate. You may use two strategies to tackle the challenge for this difficulty;
8. Circuit by using Permanent Marker:
Using the diagram picture references printed on glossy paper, construct a first basic drawing using a pencil and a black marker on a copper plate.
9. Iron on Glossy Paper:
Move from photo paper to the board the printed picture. Ensure the upper surface is flipped horizontally. Place the board’s copper surface on the printed pattern. Make sure the panel is correctly positioned along the edges of the printed pattern. Put a sheet on the two sides of the non-copper side of the board. This helps to keep the surface and the printed design in place.
10. How to use Iron:
We iron it on the copper side after printing on glossy paper. Heat the iron to the highest degree.
On either a clean wooden table and clothing, place the photopapers layout with the back of the photo paper towards you.
Grab one end of it by the napkin and place the hot iron for 10 – 20 seconds at the other end. Now iron the picture paper with the tip and use low pressure for around 5-15 minutes.
Be careful with the corners of the board – you have to push, iron it carefully.
The firm press for a long time appears to work more than Iron.
Iron temperature melts the glossy paper printed ink here and has been transferred to the copper plate.
11. Peeling off:
After ironing, pour warm water on the printed plate for about 10 minutes. Paper is softly dissolved and removed. With low angles & traces, remove the foil.
Sometimes, when the paper is removed, parts of the pattern becomes dim.
See, the figure in the check black line track is colored with light; hence the black marker is used for the dark track, as seen in the picture.
12. Etching the Chip:
- You must be attentive and cautious in this stage
- Put rubber or latex gloves initially.
- Place a newspaper to prevent the etching solution from spoiling the floor.
- Take a plastic container and add some water to it.
- Dissolve 2-3 tea cubes in the water with hydrochloric acid power.
- Soak the PCB for around 30 minutes to the Etching process (Ferric Chloride, Fecl3).
- Fecl3 interacts with copper unmasked and eliminates the undesirable copper from PCB.
- This is known as Etching. Use pins to remove the PCB and verify whether or not the entire exposed region has been grafted. If it is not etched, keep it in the liquid for some additional time.
- Rotate the plastic box carefully so that the solution of etching with visible copper and create iron and copper chloride interacts.
Check if all copper is etched after 2-3 minutes.
Do not contact the grafting data directly; always wear gloves before contacting the fluid.
When you notice copper gradually and then perfume following step.
The solution of Etching is hazardous to fish as well as other aquatic bodies.
Once you are done, don’t dump it down the sink. It is unlawful and might destroy your pipes.
Titrate of Etching and then remove the solution.
15. Link parts:
Now is the time to design some connections; in particular, we would like to link our LEDs and wire them in specific pins on the sockets to the capacitors. By choosing the Wire button, we accomplish this.
To create a wire, you click the starting point. Suppose you want to construct joints in the cable; you have to click and alter the direction. When you join your planned sections, use ESC to cancel and join more wires from the starting position.
16. Completion of connections:
Now that all our LEDs are ready for use, we can next concentrate on the buttons. We have to install more connections and resistors so that we can do anything. Just use the Insert tool to deliver1>GND to your base and the RE U>RE U 0207/10 to your capacitors. You may put them beneath the controls, as what is illustrated, to the schematic. Don’t forget to supply a 330-ohm value to each resistor.
Then the wire tool connects the base and the filters to leg three on each of the levers.
17. Adding Power to Schematic:
After that we have grounded our switches, we need some electricity. We go to source1 > +5V to click on our ADD button.
Then we put a source across each switch’s pin 1.
Now we can also use A2 to add a source and attach it to the A2-3 pin. Before inserting, you may rotate the component placement using a right-click before installation.
18. Error Checking:
Now that our design has been done, we will examine our mistakes on tools>ERC.
You will notice several mistakes, even though we did everything perfectly.
All these errors may be ignored since not all wires need to be attached, as previously stated. As an additional point, you don’t require LED and Switch settings. Click on each “error” and hit each of the Approve buttons. Rerun the mistake repair to ensure that nothing else is incorrect. Watch for “matching wires” and other mistakes. The only ones we accept in the photo below.
19. Installation of the circuit:
Observe how we have our pieces right beside a box on a screen in a confusing mess. The container is where our circuit is going. For our Machine tool, we have to position these pieces in a logical design to grind it and install the circuit board on a Microcontroller and get it working correctly. This is primarily an afterthought for everything else, but the port orientation is essential to our connections. We require a certain distance between them and have connections A1 and A2 parallel to D1 and D2 c. The remainder of the components run between the two connection rows.
20. Final Touch:
Just several drops of thinner (nail polish solution works well) can altogether remove the toner on a scoop of cotton wool and return the copper area to it. Rinse well and wash with a clean towel or paper in the kitchen. Cut into final size and sand to polish edges. Solvent helps to attach glossy paper to stiff paper.
The iron Glossy paper technique is an effective way of building a PCB at home. Each track may be reproduced flawlessly if done correctly.
Circuit by hand on PCB is restricted to our aesthetic abilities. This approach may easily be used for a small circuit; however, Iron-on Glossy Paper is preferable for complicated PCBs.