PCBs are widely used in the electronics industry and are also cost-effective. It can assemble some of the most complicated circuits in small spaces while eliminating the risk that comes with loose connections. In industries that deal with PCB manufacturing, there exist several ways of making them coupled with the necessary machinery. But again, PCB etching can be done at home quickly. This article offers insightful information regarding DIY PCB etching while touching on steps to follow, tools that you may need, and safety measures, among others.
1、Materials and Necessary Tools
The following constitute some of the essential tools and materials that you need to etch a PCB on your own.
♦ Cloth Iron
♦ Drill machine
♦ Soldering iron
♦ Steel wool or Sandpaper
♦Photo paper / Glossy paper
♦Permanent marker (preferably black)
♦Ferric Chloride, also known as the Etching solution
Image 1: An image of a young man operating on a PCB
Before going into the steps that you need to follow to etch your PCB at home, remember that the above materials and equipment are a must-have. Otherwise, you may end up not working as expected on the PCB.
For instance, if you lack rubber gloves, you may end up straining your hands. On the other hand, if you don’t have steel wool or Sandpaper with you. It will be difficult for you to clean the top oxide layer of the copper material in addition to the photoresist layer of your PCB. Sanded surfaces do allow the image from your paper to stick better to stick in the right way.
As it seems, therefore, having the right tools and materials in place is necessary if you intend to etch a PCB that will meet all your needs as desired. Lacking even one of them may end up leaving you with an unpleasant PCB etching experience.
2、Steps to DIY PCB Etching
Step 1: Take a circuit board layout printout
Using a laser printer and glossy paper, take or have a printout layout of your PCB. Also, make sure that you print your printout on the paper’s bright side. Additionally, make sure to select the output in colour black both from the printer driver settings and the software of the PCB design.
Step 2: Carefully cut the copper plate meant for the circuit board
Carefully cut the copper board according to the size of the layout either using a cutter or hacksaw. After completing this, using a ball of steel wool or Sandpaper, rub the copper side of your PCB as such removes both the photoresist and top oxide layer of the copper.
Step 3: Make a transfer of your PCB print onto the plate of copper
By using your circuit as a point of reference, slowly sketch the plate of copper using a pencil and once your sketch comes out, use a permanent black marker to trace over it.
Step 4: Onto your PCB plate, iron the circuit from the paper
After making the print on glossy paper, iron the image side down to the side of the copper before heating the iron to the iron cloth to its maximum temperature. To do this, place the board and photo paper on a clean wooden table while keeping the backside of the photo paper facing you.
Using pliers, hold one end to keep it steady before putting the hot iron cloth for around 10 seconds on the other end. Now, slowly iron your photo paper using the tip with little pressure for close to 15 minutes.
The heat that comes from the iron transfers all the ink printed on the glossy paper to your copper plate. Now, place your printed plate inside a bowl of lukewarm water for 10 minutes. After this, remove the paper gently by peeling it.
Image 2: An image of copper plating on surfaces to increase thickness
Step 5: Etching the plate
First, put on the rubber gloves before placing some pieces of newspaper on the bottom to avoid the spillover of the etching solution on the floor.
Secondly, find a plastic bowl and fill some water into it before dissolving around 2-3 ferric chloride powder teaspoons in the water.
Thirdly, slowly dip your PCB into the etching solution for close to three minutes. And after that, the ferric acid will react with the unmasked copper to remove the unwanted pieces of copper from your PCB, a process known as etching.
Step 6: Cleaning and final touches
Cleaning is the last step. Here, you need to be careful while disposing of your etching solution and other unwanted material. Don’t pour it on a pool or a pond. Finally, rinse your PCB carefully and dry it using a clean cloth and there, you have your PCB!
Image 3: An image of copper plating on surfaces to increase thickness
3、Safety Measures While Undertaking PCB Etching
While trying to create a PCB out of your own hands and equipment is fun, you should be very cautious. A simple mistake may see you seeking costly medical attention or a few stitches. Since such involves the use of power tools and dangerous chemicals, it’s good to be cautious.
It is vital to ensure that you wear safety equipment such as protection glasses, gloves, and an apron all the time. I need be, you may be required to do your work close to an eyewash station, a phone, and a first aid box.
Before starting the PCB etch process, you may have to make sure that you use all the tools and equipment correctly. If you aren’t sure of anything, go ahead and ask an expert.
Image 4: An image of a person soldering a PCB
4、Challenges of Creating/building PCB By Hand
Lately, a lot of hobbyists are trying out their hand of etching their PCBs. However, on a closer examination, the results that come out are mostly less accurate. There are a few challenges to be encountered here and there.
First, etching a PCB by hand is a lengthy process that can turn out to be extremely disappointing. Some people who have tried out building a PCB by hand have reported spending a considerable amount of time to do so. For instance, it can last a week or two to fabricate just a single board by hand.
Secondly, soldering and etching mistakes are easy to make. Best practices used by reputable manufacturers out there are hard to follow, a reason as to why hand-made PCBs may not function as desired.
Human hands aren’t the best substitutes for machines as such. Even the most stable hand encounters some difficulties in trying to achieve the precision of the machine and the etching tool.
Finally, why do a large number of engineers seem to be moving away from hand-made PCBs? Another reason is that it is difficult and almost impossible to effectively assemble SMT (Surface Mount Components) according to board requirements.
5、Why Choose Our PCB for Your PCB Etching Solutions?
We understand that you desire to etch a PCB out of your hands. Besides being fun, it’s exciting and an excellent way to learn something new. But again, we at Our PCB understand that such a process may turn out to be challenging at times.
Here is where we come in. So, why choose us for your PCB etching solutions when you have a dozen of other companies to choose? The reasons are relatively simple to understand. Since going into business, we have provided our clients with high-quality PCBs with exceptional customer care and excellent speed.
Our objective is to save time and hard-earned money of our customers while assuring them some peace of mind. Achieving such a goal gets reflected from everything we undertake, from our speedy delivery to our hard-to-resist quotes.
So there you have it with do-it-yourself PCB etching: besides being fun, it’s a straightforward and cheap process to do. Provided you follow the right steps while ensuring that you have in place the right tools and equipment to use. Please be assured that once the process is complete, you will come up with a final product that will satisfy you. Even though challenges are hard to avoid, following the right procedure will guarantee you a remarkable product at the end. Also, do not forget to observe all the safety measures necessary during the etching process. But again, if the whole process seems complicated and somewhat frustrating on your end, you can always rely on the services of experts for your PCB need. There are plenty of players out there but for the best results, look no further than Our PCB.