World, meet my first home-made circuit board

My very first PCB
My very first PCB

Well, with the priceless aid of my dear friend HappyThawts, I’ve managed to produce my first home-made Printed Circuit Board!

How it went

There were a bunch of weird issues that came up in making it and thus it’s not all that ideal, though I could hack it to work. The main challenge was that my copper clad boards were actually covered with PhotoResist (for masking boards via UV). The process we used entailed working directly on a layer of Copper. Thankfully Happy realized that Acetone would probably send the PhotoResist on it’s merry way to aqueous exile in my trash-chemicals bucket. She was dead-on there.

Another problem was that we used Ferric Chloride as our etchant, however, the particular solution I had on hand was given to me by someone cleaning out their closet a few years ago. It turned out that the Ferric we had was 12 years old! Happy informed me that it tends to lose it’s muscle over time, and the etching we did took a lot longer than it should have.

The Process

The process we followed is a well-documented method that’s meant to aid in cheap, rapid prototyping. There are many small variants on this process to choose from. I love the notion that I can come up with an idea and later that night have a working prototype built out. In addition to written instructions being a dime a dozen, there’s a ton out there and some good YouTube videos on it too.

In short the steps are:

  1. Print out your desired circuit pattern on the low quality (thin) magazine paper using a lazer printer. Glossy magazine paper doesn’t hold the toner well and the cheap paper make it easy for you to remove the paper at the right time just by weting it with water and letting it fall apart.
  2. Clean off some Copper-Clad (essentially a fiber-glass board with Copper plated on a side), position the magazine paper on the board and apply a bunch of prolonged heat via an Iron.
  3. Remove the magazine paper by dipping the board in water and gently brushing away the paper.
  4. Dip the board in an etchant such as Ferric Chloride. Check on it closely to monitor your process. Observe proper chemical handling safety precautions.
  5. If you like, you can remove the toner with Acetone / Nail Polish Remover, though I like keeping the toner on the traces to isolate the copper a little more from the elements.
  6. Go ahead and use your board!

What’s Next

Next I’ll be repeating this process, but using more appropriate boards and fresh Ferric Chloride. I expect this to work out really well and a few Google Searches on the subject will re-inforce how many people are making this work for them. I’ll blog on this in more detail as I continue on.

What would you make?

So, with this established, I’m wondering what kinds of boards people out there would use this process for? Personally, I’m a fan of making a bunch of Arduino rip-offs with it. In fact, the board I made this time is a single-sided Arduino board.