While there are different methods to mass-produce Printed Circuit Boards (PCBs), we show you how to make them at home. Almost every electronic device has PCBs; although factories manufacture PCBs conventionally, this article shows how to make a homemade PCB. However, we also tell the difference between the fabrication methods for making your PCB at home. Therefore, you can decide whether to buy a PCB or create one for your next DIY project.
What are different methods to make PCB?
We discuss factory-built PCBs, Using photo paper and cloth iron, and hand drawing the circuit.
The PCBs made in a factory have laser-precision accuracy. Factories manufacture PCBs in cleanrooms to avoid dust getting on the boards; that's why you shouldn't expect your homemade PCB to replace an Intel motherboard.
Using photo paper and cloth iron
This method provides an optimal balance between precision and simplicity. You can use this method for making dense circuits. On the other hand, you can use the following techniques for the more simple courses.
Hand drawing the circuit
You can also draw the circuit on the copper plate by hand if the course is simple enough. After all, it's easier to draw on the copper layout. Otherwise, the rest of the steps are similar in both methods.
Hand drawing the circuit
Note: don't make sharp corners when drawing on the copper surface.
How to Make Your PCB at Home
Now, let's demonstrate how you can build your PCB at home. We've covered both methods mentioned earlier, so use either way that suits you.
- Copper clad board to make the copper layer.
- Ferric chloride solution or an alternative etching solution
- Electric drill and PCB drills
- Metal cutter
- Cloth iron
- Photo paper (only for the first method)
- Gloss paper (only for the second method)
- Black permanent marker for drawing the PCB layout
- Laser printer (only for the first method)
- Sandpaper or steel wool
- Soldering iron
- Pin or scalpel
- Duct tape
Follow these steps
The steps are the same for both methods, except for adding the circuit to the plate. So, let's start making the PCB.
Print the circuit
Print the design on the photo/gloss paper and cut the design out of the article. You can use Autodesk Eagle for this stage.
Note: Leave a 4-mm margin around the edge of the drawing to keep the copper tracks away from the edges.
Prepare the copper plate.
Cut the copper plate to fit the circuit using a metal cutter or a saw. Then, use sandpaper to scrub the surface of the metal plate. This action will remove scrubs and help toner adhere to the surface.
Adding the circuit to the plate
Put the toner side of the printed circuit facing the plate. Next, align the borders of the paper and plate. Now, use tape to hold the pieces together firmly.
Using permanent marker:
Draw the circuit on the plate using a pencil. Next, highlight the paint using the permanent marker. Then, place a gloss paper and tape the paper tightly to the board.
Note: In either method, the paper should not fold or bend.
Ironing the paper
Turn the cloth iron to maximum heat and press it on the gloss/ photo paper. If the copper plate is larger than the cloth iron, move the iron gently on the surface to keep the heat evenly distributed all over the plate. Remove the iron safely after five to seven minutes.
Caution: do not touch the copper sheet or the iron, or you might get burnt. You can use soldering gloves or towels if you need to grab the piece.
Note: do not use steam when ironing the paper.
Removing the paper
After ironing, place the PCB in tap water and let it rest for about a quarter. Then, gently start removing the paper from the edges.
Note: The ink track might be lighter in some areas. Highlight those lines with the permanent marker.
Caution: put on rubber gloves and goggles before proceeding.
Note: lay some newspaper or scratch paper on your desk or where you work to avoid damaging the surface with acid.
- Fill a plastic container with water.
- Dissolve 2-3 tablespoons of ferric chloride powder
- Dip the PCB in the solution and let it rest for 30 minutes
- Use pliers to take out the board after 30 minutes.
- If some copper parts remain unetched, sink the PCB for a few more minutes.
- When you have fully etched the board, you can remove it using the pliers from the solution.
The copper tracks are ready to use as the copper layer around them has vanished during the etching process.
Disposing of the ferric chloride solution
Caution: ditching the etching solution into sewage or soil is harmful to your home and the environment.
Add two or three tablespoons of baking soda to the etching solution to neutralize the acid. Then, you can safely dilute it and dispose of it.
Sanding the PCB
After etching, you need to remove the ink from the board to bring back the copper.
- Add a few drops of acetone or thinner to a patch of cotton wool
- Now, rub it on the board to remove the toner or ink
- Rinse the panel with water and let it dry
Note: Do not push too hard on the copper surface. Take your time and work your way through the PCB layout.
Drill the holes for placing the components on the board.
Now, your PCB is ready. You can add components and solder them on your board.
- Start with lower hole diameters first when drilling the PCB surface.
- Make sure you have removed all the ink. Apply thinner to a piece of clothes and remove the remaining toner.
- Look for rough edges: use sandpaper to smoothen the edges all over the copper surface.
- You can also add resin to the surface to give it a soldering mask and a better look.
What is the Industrial PCB Production Process?
Although making PCBs in factories is the same, there are some differences between the two methods. We only name the steps for manufacturing PCB below:
- Designing the PCB (software)
- Printing the PCB blueprints
- Printing the copper for the inner layer
- Etching inner layers
- Layer alignment
- Optical inspection
- Laminating PCB layers
- PCB plating
- Outer layer imaging
- The Outer layer etching
- Outer layer inspection
- Solder mask application
- Silkscreen application
- Tests and inspections
PCB Manufacturing Houses vs. Making PCB at Home
Apart from the difference in how you make them, homemade PCBs' purpose is usually different from factory-built PCBs.
Companies mass-produce PCBs in manufacturing houses. The makers pack and sell them in hundreds or even thousands. Alternatively, electronics factories might prefer to build their PCB in-house. Furthermore, manufactured PCBs come in single, double, or multi-layer models, while we discussed how you make a single layer PCB at home.
On the other hand, you can use homemade PCBs for prototypes and replace defective PCBs that you can't find on the market. In this case, ordering 1000 PCBs for fixing your Grandpa's old radio doesn't make sense. Additionally, you can only make simple PCBs at home; therefore, don't expect to build iPhone boards at home as the copper tracks on such devices are measured in micrometers. In addition, the copper foil is much thinner than the layer of copper you use in DIY projects.
Printed circuit board manufacturing
Wrapping up the instruction
We showed you how to build your PCB at home and explained the differences between the boards you make at home with manufactured PCBs. Although the process is straightforward, making PCBs needs extreme caution because of acid and high temperatures. Nevertheless, it is a great DIY experience for those who want to make electronic components.