DIY Printed Circuit Boards with the “Toner Transfer” Method
Written by Stuyo
Friday, 24 April 2009
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Most probably everyone of you who makes his own small electronic project at somepoint needed or will soon need to make himself a printed circuit board (PCB) for a given item. This is not at all difficult and in today's article we will show you a short guide how to make such PCBs with the most common method at home – the toner transfer method.
First lets make a short list of what we need:
1. Foiled textolite (material for PCBs);
2. Laser Printer;
3. Transfer of other highly gloss paper;
4. Lacquer thinner (acetone);
5. Fine sandpaper (240 and above);
7. 0.8mm drill and suitable device to use it;
8. Etching solution – most frequently FeCL3;
9. Protection gloves.
The first thing you have to do is the PCB design. The most commonly used software for this is
as its license is free for small projects. After the design is ready we have to print the copper layer which later will be transferred to the PCB on glossy paper. The most appropriate paper for this task is transfer paper, but it is hard to obtain. You can also use the glossy back of self adhesing paper folio, the white back of calendars, paper brochures and every type of glossy paper with similar surface. Do not print the design mirrored because during the toner transfer it will be mirrored by itself. It is important to use such paper because this method is based on thermal transfer of the toner from the paper to the copper side of the board, i.e. after it is printer we must try and keep as much toner OVER the paper as possible, and if it is not glossy the toner gets deep into it and after that it cannot be transferred on other surface. Also when printing set the contrast to MAXIMUM and so we will get the maximum quantity of toner to be printed on the paper.
The example shown here was printed on the cover of a magazine:
The next step is to cut a piece with the corresponding size from the foiled textolit. For this purpose you can use dremmel, small wood saw, of even hack-saw if you do not have anything else:
After you cut the piece, its edges have to be polished, it can be dune with rough sand paper. After that for best results the copper layer must be polished with fine sand paper (minimum 240 or m ore). This helps the toner to stick much better:
At the end of this procedure you have to get something like this:
The next step is to cut a piece of the printed design, which to be transferred onto the textolit:
Before you put the paper, clean up the copper layer with lacquer thinner. In this case weused AMB,brcause there was nothing else, bu I don't recommend it – it is somewhat greasy and is not the best choice in this case, even though it does the job:
After that put the piece of paper face down on the PCB so that every circuit is over copper, also you can use some paper tape to fix it in one place. Plug in the iron on maximum setting, turn of the steam and wait. When the iron turns off, it means that it is completely heated up and is ready for ironing:
Put the PCB with the paper facing up on a flat surface, which will withstand the heat and will not damage the iron. The work bench did the trick this time. Over the PCB put a piece of white paper just in case for better protection of the iron's surface. After the iron is completely hot, put if in such a way that it encompasses the whole copper layer. Leave it that way for 2 minutes in order to heat up the copper layer. After that the toner transfer has been started and you can “iron” a little. The ironing itself is made slowly with pressure, but yet again be careful not to move the paper. You iron with the edge of the iron, which provides complete adhesion of the toner to the copper. Good trick is to use something round, over which you put the PCB. After that you put the iron over it and start rolling it backward and forward. In this way you concentrate the pressure only where the PCB touches the rolling support, but not on the whole PCB surface. The complete process takes not more than 5 minutes:
After you finish the ironing carefully put the product in a thick book with hard covers and put it under something heavy till the PCB is cool again. This ensures the complete toner transfer on the copper. And be careful – the PCB is quite hot!
The next step after the PCB cools down is to put it in water, which will remove the paper. This is the longest process. After the paper starts to detach a little, remove its upper glossy layer. This is done most easy under running water with the tip of your fingers – be careful not to take off the toner from the copper surface! The upper glossed layer is important to be removed so that the water can get to the lower paper layer and remove it also:
After some more soaking in the same way remove all the paper. You should get clean traces, covered with toner and a very thin layer of paper over it:
If at this stageyou have something like on the above pictures, the toner transfer went well. If you have some cut traces you can paint them with permanent marker. Try to make maximum thickness layer, in order to protect the copper from etching. If you have many disconnected traces better clean everything with thinner and start with new printed traces, ironing and so on. In such a case probably the paper you used is unsuitable and we strongly advise you to try some other more fit for this purpose.