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Dec 26, 2010, 01:35 PM
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ken_nj's Avatar
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DIY - How to etch a PCB

I've more or less perfected this method for myself to make my own PCB's. I prefer this method over wire wrapping components. It looks neat, clean and professional and is relatively easy to do. You can read the attached document that I wrote up to share with everyone so that you can try this step by step in your own shop if you wish to try.

Once I get the PCB mounted in the cabin and a few other things done, I will connect the LED's. If you read my How-To on vacuum forming, those are some of the LED's that will be controlled by this PCB. Here is a link to the Vacuum Forming thread.

To connect the LED's to this PCB and the switches, I used copper foil tape on the underside of the cabin. The foil tape was purchased from a local glass craft shop. They use it to solder colored glass together to make those nice glass windows you see in churches. It measures about .010 thick and has an adhesive on one side. In the attached picture the entire underside of the cabin will be painted white including most the the copper tape. Solder points for the LED's have been masked and can be painted later. This tape will not bee seen, and can run through area's better than plain wire. Where the tape meets at a corners, the two pieces have been soldered and sanded flat. Where positive needs to cross over negative, I added a small piece of electrical tape at the crossing point to separate them. The adhesive seems to work separating the two lines but I wanted the added security.
Last edited by ken_nj; Mar 24, 2013 at 10:52 AM.
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Dec 26, 2010, 01:52 PM
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ken_nj's Avatar
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Had trouble upload the original PDF but found a way to reduce the file size on my Mac.
Last edited by ken_nj; Dec 26, 2010 at 02:18 PM.
Dec 26, 2010, 02:33 PM
Registered User
CornelP's Avatar
Very interesting!! One quick question: have you tried to skip the pcb heating part and heat directly the film on the pcb (with some paper in between)?
Dec 26, 2010, 03:02 PM
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ken_nj's Avatar
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Have not tried that.

With the PCB being hot, the toner would stick right away to the surface hopefully negating use of additional heat.

If you heat just the film, depending on how much heat you apply, there is a greater chance of the toner melting causing it to deform from the original lines. It turns into one big smudge.

IMO, better to have the toner stick to the hot surface then to overheat the toner on the film. I think the less amount of heat on the toner retains the original image the best.
Dec 26, 2010, 03:11 PM
Sea Dragon-Lover
Umi_Ryuzuki's Avatar
I was thinking that my next pilot house would just be an etched
circuit board, similar to how you have run your coper tape.

Peel and Press is another way to transfer the toner...

This could also be applied to making photoetch parts.

Last edited by Umi_Ryuzuki; Dec 26, 2010 at 03:16 PM.
Dec 26, 2010, 03:17 PM
Where's Pamela?
patmat2350's Avatar
Ken- Thanks for your work in presenting the info-- this is the kind of content that really adds value to the site!

I've tried ironing the transparency onto the copper before, was never very satisfied. Your method of heating the copper instead sounds good.

My other big issue has always been getting a good dense black print onto the transparency. I have an inexpensive laser printer at home... it's horrible. The office printer is better, but still not trustworthy, I still get lots of holes in the "solid" areas... harumph.
Dec 26, 2010, 03:28 PM
Grumpa Tom
Kmot's Avatar
That is really awesome looking! Great job!
Dec 26, 2010, 03:33 PM
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ken_nj's Avatar
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UMI, in the PDF I mention trying to use this for PE, have not tried yet but would like someone to do so. Would be interesting to see the results.

Pat. I use an HP Laserjet 2200. The quality is pretty good. With ExpressPCB you can also vary the width of the traces and diameter of the pads to improve your chances of a quality run. If you look at the traces with a magnifying glass, good chances you will see imperfections and voids. But as long as there is continuity throughout, the PCB should be fine.

As a followup to the copper tape, here is the same area now painted. The area that is not painted will have wires soldered for connections to switches and the PCB. The thicker 1/4 trace is the ground. The other copper traces will supply the LED's.
Last edited by ken_nj; Dec 27, 2010 at 12:03 AM.
Dec 26, 2010, 05:49 PM
George Jure

Mini-HowTo DIY - How to etch a PCB

Hi ken nj

Thank you for posting this How to information. I have been looking for a method like this.

One thing I am not sure of, you mentioned something about the software you used for the other side printing on the Circuit boards, making sure that when you print it on the clear film that you print it in reverse. Could you tell us what program that is that you used ?

What`s a Good cheap brand of Laser printer to use for this OR if Could I go to a local Print shop and have them print out on a regular size paper page/film page multiple foil prints for backups? The just use that at home ?

Thanks Again for Your Info.

Dec 26, 2010, 06:05 PM
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ken_nj's Avatar
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George, it might help with the explanation if you were print to the component side on regular white paper. If you were to take that image and apply it to the PCB, you will see that the image would apply in reverse. Therefore, if you reverse the image when you print it on the transparency, when you apply this reversed image to the PCB it will come out correct.

Another example\explanation...If you were to take a page that you can read and hold it up to a mirror, it would be backwards. If you could reverse print that page then hold it up to the mirror, it would appear normal.

Again, this only applies to the top component side of the board, not the important side which is the side with the copper.

Another tidbit. The important part of this is the copper side, the first side that you etch. You do not need to print the component side if you don't want to. Just refer to your PCB design on the computer program as to where each part is located. You can also usually tell where each part goes by the hole locations.

Hope this helps.

The programs that I used for this is ExpressPCB mentioned in the document and Adobe Acrobat to reverse the image. Most people only have Adobe Reader. Some printer drives will allow you to reverse the image. Going to a print shop should work fine. I never did but you may have to buy the tranparency film when your there. If it is not close by, have them print a few pages or you may finding yourself running back if the first copy did not work out.
Last edited by ken_nj; Dec 27, 2010 at 12:04 AM.
Dec 27, 2010, 03:38 AM
George Jure

Mini-HowTo DIY - How to etch a PCB

Hi again Ken nj

Thanks for the fast reply to my question. Sorry but can you clear up a couple parts for me some more ? Reg. the foil pattern side printing. What I have been doing is finding Circuits on various websites that were posted by their creators for Free use by everyone. What I thought I would do is print that out on standard white paper on my ink jet printer. Take that with my source of Transparencies to a local Office Supply/Printer Store.

What do I tell the usual "Young" staff member to do ? I thought I would say I need to make multiple copies of this image that is on this white paper and have that fit onto a Transparency. First off how do I OR can I print off a free on line circuit in Reverse so that at the copy place, they just copy that with a laser copier. All I have is an H.P Ink jet printer at home.

Other wise the rest of your explanations are very clear, so far.

Thanks Again for your help.

Dec 27, 2010, 04:38 AM
GSMB Member
ken_nj's Avatar
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Usually what you would see from freeware circuits like you found online would be the schematic diagram. That schematic diagram cannot be used as the circuit board artwork. The schematic is a logical assembly of components that allows you to see the flow of the circuit. The PCB diagram is a logical placement of the components on a board for the design to function. You need to take that schematic diagram and convert it to a PCB diagram. Not that I am pushing the ExpressPCB software, I just found it very easy to use. If you go to and click How It All Works, that might explain something about going from a schematic to a PCB diagram.

Here is another link that might help you...

Insomnia sucks by the way people!
Dec 27, 2010, 08:28 AM
Registered User
Excellent article Ken. You made it look easy. now to design a board.
Dec 27, 2010, 08:37 AM
Cheif Bottlewasher
more coffee's Avatar
Id love to try that ..

Dont think my insurance has a Homer Simpson clause though..

Very good info ...

Any chance of getting this info as a subcatagory in the wiring and Schematic's sticky???
Dec 27, 2010, 09:48 AM
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ken_nj's Avatar
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I added this information to the 'Wiring diagrams made easy' thread in the Scale Boats forum. Is that where you are referring to?
Last edited by ken_nj; Jan 10, 2011 at 04:19 PM.

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