If you have struggled with other methods of DIY PCB prototyping you've likely figured out the hard way that they can be frustrating - provide spotty results - and require alot of steps and work.
Well here's another method to throw into the bag of tricks that might just work out for you! It's really only 3 steps and turns out perfect everytime!!!! This method has served me very well over and over for dozens of boards! It uses a vinyl cutter/plotter to create a mask in vinyl to resist the ferric chloride etchant.
WHAT YOU NEED:
- Prepared vinyl mask (if you don't have a vinyl cutter - sign shops and many hackerspaces do!)
- Etchant solution and glass or plastic tray
- Fingernail Polish remover and acetone safe container
- Blank copperclad PCB
- Standard chemical safety materials - gloves, eye protection, etc
That's about it!
We will skim over how to design and cut the pcb design into vinyl and at this point assume that you have a cutter or know someone with access to one (local hackerspace or even a local sign shop!) It's the same as making any vinyl cut sticker. See the additional pictures in this intro for some educational pictures of the preparation of a vinyl sticker in this step. Next Step! - Placing the mask onto the PCB
Step 1: STEP ONE - PLACING THE MASK ONTO THE PCBThis only takes about one minute. Notice that I'm doing two boards at once!
This is much faster than the iron on method - you don't even have to clean the board or prepare it for the mask!
Place the vinyl mask paper side up and remove the wax paper backing by peeling it up and over.
The clear transfer tape holds the vinyl in place!
Line up the mask and lay it onto the blank PCB.
The clear transfer tape makes alignment as easy as it can be!
Once it's down - use a squeegee, plastic card, or just your fingernail to rub the top of the transfer tape thus pushing the vinyl to the board.
Starting from one corner - peel the transfer tape off and the vinyl mask will stay onto the copperclad PCB.
Step 2: STEP TWO - ETCHING THE PCB
FOLLOW ALL INSTRUCTIONS AND WARNINGS THAT APPLY TO YOUR PCB ETCHANT!
This step is the same with any method of DIY PCB etching!
CAUTION! Regardless of how you make your mask - this is NASTY stuff if you are sloppy or careless.
FOLLOW ALL INSTRUCTIONS AND WARNING THAT APPLY TO YOUR PCB ETCHANT!
Use gloves (stains and chemicals)
Etch in ventilated area (fumes)
Don't be CARELESS or SLOPPY (this can be serious stuff!)
Do not reuse the tray/bath for anything but etchant!
The best instructions are the ones that come with your etchant chemical.
You MUST ALWAYS follow instructions from your etchant manufacturer.
The basic steps are here in picture - and use paper towels to soak and wipe off any residual solution from your etched board when etching is done..
When doing the final rinse with water (not shown) - again - observe precautions stated on your etchant manufacturer's directions.
DO NOT RINSE IN AN OUTDOOR AREA WHERE ANIMALS FREQUENT!
OK - that's enough BOLD and ITALICIZED warnings for you...
On to the rewards!
Step 3: STEP THREE - REMOVE THE MASK AND BE PROUD!
You can peel the vinyl off by hand - one piece at a time but that would make this method as painful and time consuming as the other DIY PCB methods.
This method requires no work or scrubbing off toner by hand.
You can do 100 PCB's as easy as doing one!
Imagine ironing and scrubbing 100 PCB's. EEK!
Here's the last trick -
Take some standard acetone based fingernail polish remover and soak the board for a minute or two.
The adhesive on the vinyl softens and the vinyl just slides into a nice bundle of synthetic "seaweed" to be scooped up.
The acetone in the polish remover can melt some plastics (notably ABS types) so make sure that your tub is acetone safe or just use a glass dish.
Do not reuse the container for anything but acetone.
Pull out the board... pat dry and rinse in water!
Yep - THAT'S IT!
I told you it was easy!