Professional PCB fabrication traditionally required sending designs to manufacturers and waiting days or weeks to receive finished boards. However, desktop PCB printers now allow conveniently printing circuit boards in-house.
This article reviews the top 6 desktop PCB printers currently available. We will compare key specifications, capabilities, and pros/cons of each model to determine which best suits different applications and budgets. Read on to find the ideal desktop PCB printer to bring your electronics projects to life.
Overview of Desktop PCB Printers
Modern desktop PCB printers leverage various technologies to turn copper-clad plastic or ceramic substrates into functional circuit boards:
- Mechanical Drilling – For holes and vias
- Laser Machining – Ablates away copper
- Milling – Uses end mills to isolate traces
- Inkjet Printing – Deposits conductive inks
- Photolithography – Selectively etches copper similarly to industrial processes
By combining these methods, multimodal desktop printers can fabricate detailed single or double-sided boards with fine features comparable to industrial standards. Let’s examine the top models.
LPKF ProtoMat S104
The ProtoMat S104 from German firm LPKF stands as one of the most premium desktop PCB printer options:
- 10,000 rpm mechanical drill
- 60W CO2 laser, 5.5 mil spot size
- 4 mil milling cutter, +/- 5 mil accuracy
- 4”x6” max board size
- 16 mil min trace/space
- Commercial quality boards
- Very intricate cutting, drilling, and milling
- Excellent line precision and edge quality
- Wide material capability including flexible
- Fiducial recognition and alignment
- High price over $18,000
- Limited to 2 signal layers
- Manual loading/unloading of boards
With its combination of laser micromachining, high speed drilling, and precision milling, the ProtoMat S104 produces professional multi-modal circuit boards in-house from prototype to medium volume production.
The Voltera V-One aims to bring easy, affordable PCB printing with:
- Piezoelectric inkjet for conductors
- Single-sided boards up to 50×100 mm
- ~200 dpi / ~127 μm traces
- 2 mil drill bits, +/- 4 mil accuracy
- Very low cost under $4000
- Simple barrel ink cartridges
- No chemical processing required
- Easy to use touchscreen interface
- WiFi and USB connectivity
- Slow printing speed
- Limited to 1 layer
- Lower resolution traces
- Smaller board size
The V-One makes PCB prototyping accessible for education, startups, and hobbyists via hassle-free inkjet conductive trace printing combined with through-hole drilling.
Nano Dimension DragonFly LDM
This 3D printer style device uses advanced nano-particle inks to directly print PCBs:
- Proprietary silver nanoparticle ink
- Single/double-sided PCB printing
- 7.6 x 7.6” max size
- 2 mil printing resolution
- 1 mil drilling resolution
- High conductivity metal traces
- Multi-layer capabilities
- Very fine print and drill resolution
- Touch probe depth measurement
- Fully automated operation
- High cost near $50,000
- Limited to own conductive ink cartridges
- Smaller build area
The DragonFly LDM produces professional quality boards through additive inkjet printing of traces combined with precise depth-controlled drilling.
Optomec Aerosol Jet 5X
Unique aerosol jetting technology distinguishes this high precision PCB printer:
- Atomized nanoparticle ink deposition
- 5 mil min trace width
- 1 mil drilling diameter
- 5×5” max board size
- 2 layer capability
- Non-contact printing minimizes defects
- High conductance metal inks
- Excellent fine line capabilities
- Dual single/double-sided printing
- Can print non-planar surfaces
- Very high cost near $150,000
- Limited build size area
- Requires compressed air and N2 supply
With its high resolution and flexible printing options, the Aerosol Jet 5X excels at research-level PCB printing but has limited production utility.
This compact printer combines inkjet printing with robotic assembly:
- Piezoelectric inkjet deposition
- Dispenses solder paste and adhesive
- Pick and place component assembly
- 1 mil drilling and routing
- Single or double-sided
- Fully automated printing through assembly
- Tiny 1 mil holes and isolation
- No chemical processing needed
- Compact desktop size
- Low cost under $5000
- Slow overall speed
- Limited features and small size
- Lower yield and precision
While capabilities are limited, the BotFactory SV2 provides all-in-one desktop PCB printing coupled with automated component population for rapid in-house concept prototyping.
LPKF ProtoMat E34
LPKF’s entry-level circuit board plotter balances cost and quality:
- 60W CO2 laser cutting
- 4 mil mechanical drill bits
- +/- 8 mil precision
- Max board size 4.7” x 3.9”
- Min trace/space 10 mil
- Reasonable ~$9000 price tag
- Robust laser and drill performance
- LPKF’s proven mechanical engineering
- Easy to use CAM software included
- Upgradeable with milling/routing
- Limited feature sizes
- Single sided only
- Manual loading of boards
The ProtoMat E34 from LPKF’s proven system provides an affordable solution for low volume, fast turnaround desktop PCB fabrication when industrial solutions are overkill.
|Printer||Key Processes||Max Layers||Min. Resolution||Max Board Size||Price|
|LPKF ProtoMat S104||Laser, Drill, Mill||2||4 mil||4”x6”||$18,000|
|Voltera V-One||Inkjet, Drill||1||127 μm||5”x10”||$4000|
|Nano Dimension DragonFly||Inkjet||2||1 mil||7.6”x7.6”||$50,000|
|Optomec Aerosol Jet 5X||Aerosol Jet||2||1 mil||5”x5”||$150,000|
|BotFactory SV2||Inkjet, Dispense, Assembly||2||1 mil||4”x4”||$5000|
|LPKF ProtoMat E34||Laser, Drill||1||10 mil||4.7”x3.9”||$9000|
Desktop PCB printers grant electronics designers, engineers, and makers the ability to quickly turn their circuits into physical boards without relying on external fabrication.
From budget inkjet models to professional laser/milling systems, today’s desktop printers offer resolutions down to 1 mil and features rivaling small-scale manufacturing capabilities. As the technology continues advancing, expect wider adoption driving faster iteration in circuit design innovation.
Frequently Asked Questions
What materials can desktop PCB printers work with?
Most support common FR-4, polyimide, ceramic, and Rogers substrates. Some models allow printing flex PCBs on polyimide films. Material choice depends on requirements like flexibility, high frequency, thermal conductivity.
How many layers can desktop printers produce?
Entry-level printers generate single layer boards, while advanced models support multilayer with either double-sided printing or layer lamination. However, 4+ layers remain in the domain of full-scale PCB fabrication.
What precision and minimum feature sizes can desktop PCB printers achieve?
Leading desktop printers offer 1 mil features and accuracy rivaling industrial equipment. High-end laser, milling, and inkjet models can produce traces and spaces down to 4-5 mils. Entry-level printers support 10 mil features.
What desktop PCB printers are best for small prototypes?
For hobbyist and educational use, low-cost inkjet printers like the Voltera V-One provide an accessible starter option. For more advanced engineering prototypes, the LPKF ProtoMat E34 or BotFactory SV2 balance cost and capabilities.
What desktop printers come closest to commercial PCB production quality?
High-end laser milling hybrid printers like the LPKF ProtoMat S104 offer close to commercial board quality and feature sizes. The Nano Dimension DragonFly also produces professional grade boards through additive inkjet printing.