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Make your own PCBs with a 3D printer

Make your own PCBs with a 3D printer

More PCBs, much less trouble.

Listen, anybody could make a PCB at residence, it’s simple.
PCBs (printed circuit boards) are these flat issues with all of the elements which are inside all digital units, you’ve seen them.
All you want is a laser printer, some shiny journal pages, print your circuit onto the web page, use a garments iron to switch the toner onto your copper clad, if that doesn’t work use some water and a few lacquer or one thing, I don’t know, I stopped studying at that time as a result of the final time I noticed a laser printer, a journal and a garments iron was within the nineties.

Until just lately, the one methods I knew to make PCBs was to apply the darkish artwork above, to pay $10 and wait three weeks to get professional-looking PCBs from China, or to pay $60 and wait three days to get professional-looking PCBs from Europe.
It was “cheap, fast, actually doable by a human person, choose two”.

That at all times bugged me, it shouldn’t be like that, I’ve at all times been of the opinion that there shouldn’t be issues you’ll be able to’t make when you have got a 3D printer, however PCBs have persistently eluded me.
I yearned for them, I wished to have the ability to make them at residence, but it surely appeared unimaginable.

One day, all the pieces modified.

That someday when all the pieces modified

One day, I believed it could be enjoyable to mount a pen onto my 3D printer and obtained it to attract stuff (penises) on paper.
If you don’t know the way a 3D printer works, now could be a good time to skim my 3D printer primer, however in abstract a 3D printer cuts an object into 2D slices and prints them on high of one another.

If I might take simply considered one of these slices and inform the printer to print greater, then the nozzle wouldn’t be touching the mattress, I might mount the pen decrease and put a piece of paper below it, and it could draw on the paper.
Getting the printing software program (known as a slicer) to create a third-dimensional form out of a photograph was simple, as you’ll be able to simply import a drawing and it’ll robotically convert it to a stable.

I rubber-banded a Sharpie onto a holder I shortly designed, and, a few strains of code later, my printer produced this gem (excuse high quality of potato):

My 3D printer drawing my emblem onto a piece of paper.

I felt so pleased with the utterly ineffective factor I had created, I instantly ran to share it in all places.
A good friend noticed it on Twitter and replied that this was a good option to make PCBs.

I used to be instantly intrigued.

Making PCBs with markers

Apparently, all that black magic about printing and transferring and magazines and lacquer above is simply a option to maintain the etching acid from dissolving the copper.
You see, while you’re etching a PCB, you’re mainly getting acid to dissolve the copper on your copper clad (the clean PCB).
Except, you’re placing one thing (toner) over the copper on the components you need to maintain, so the acid can’t get to it, which leaves you with copper traces.

It seems you don’t really want to do all that stuff with the toner and printer, since you’ll be able to cowl the copper far more simply simply by drawing over it with a everlasting, waterproof marker.
I had inadvertently created a plotter, which can be utilized for portray a circuit onto a PCB.

This is a sign inverter for SmartPort telemetry.

I rushed to open considered one of my outdated, small PCBs, which you’ll see on the correct, and ran it by my improved drawing course of.
I had the printer draw it on paper, simply to see what it could find yourself wanting like, and the outcomes had been fairly encouraging.

The paper considerably absorbed the ink, as paper is wont to do, so there was some seepage, however general the outcomes appeared like they need to positively work on copper.
This is that first try:

That first try.

This appeared very promising.

The improved drawing course of

The copper clad, positioned on the printer.

The unique course of (the place I exported stuff to a picture after which transformed the picture to a 3D mannequin with the slicer) labored nicely sufficient, but it surely was meant for working with 3D fashions, not circuits.
As such, it might typically lose accuracy, which doesn’t actually matter if you happen to’re printing a figurine, however does matter if it means your circuit is now not working.

Fortunately, there is a superb open supply undertaking known as pcb2gcode, which converts Gerber recordsdata (Gerber recordsdata are mainly recordsdata that describe your PCB so the fabrication manufacturing unit could make it) to Gcode for numerous CAD instruments to execute it.
The Gcode that pcb2gcode outputs wasn’t appropriate with my Marlin-style printer, so I tailored my script from above to show the output to one thing my printer can run.

My script does numerous issues:

  • It removes instructions which are incompatible with or unsafe to run on my printer (e.g. drilling instructions, because it has no drill, temperature and extrusion instructions, as I don’t need it to warmth up or extrude, and so on).
  • It rewrites feedback in order that they’re appropriate with my printer (pcb2gcode feedback use parentheses, my printer makes use of semicolons).
  • It makes positive all actions are inside some specified coordinates, so the print head can’t go too low or too excessive by mistake.
  • It permits me to offset all drawing instructions by a long way, so I can print precisely the place I need to.

Unfortunately, as you’ll be able to see on the photograph of the paper drawing above, pcb2gcode has a bug the place traces which are too slender disappear, however the creator is actively engaged on it and I labored round it for the time being simply by setting a decrease marker tip diameter.

Once all the pieces was achieved on the programming facet, and with plenty of assist from my good friend Andrew, it was time to really attempt to draw on copper.
Here’s a video of the try:

Drawing a PCB on copper clad.

The drawn and reduce design.

As the copper isn’t porous, the drawing appears to be like a lot better than on paper.
The traces are very precisely drawn, although the tolerances are a bit too tight for my liking.
One hint on the high, particularly, is means too near the pad, although they aren’t truly touching.
I’d need to see whether or not they could be bridged after etching, although.

You additionally would possibly discover a small gap within the very first pad, that’s as a result of the ink hadn’t began operating but.
It was simple to repair by simply portray it in with the marker on the finish.

The solely factor left to do is take a few of that copper layer away so we’re left with our traces.


Carefully weighing and diluting the sodium persulfate.

Surprisingly (and as my good friend Josh rubbed in with what I think about to be appreciable glee), the precise etching half wasn’t as simple as I believed.
It wasn’t onerous, but it surely additionally didn’t include simply throwing the PCB in acid and ready.

I’m nonetheless in a trial-and-error section, as I’ve solely etched two PCBs, but it surely looks as if 100 grams of water with the suitable quantity of sodium persulfate dissolved in it is just adequate to etch a tiny PCB.
If that’s true, it is going to take a lot of acid to etch a bigger one, however I’ll need to experiment and see what occurs.

The different factor I’ve realized is that you just shouldn’t warmth the water above 50ish C, in any other case it begins to vapor and that may’t be good for something.

Also, the primary time I etched a PCB I form of simply left it within the acid, but it surely seems the copper dissolves a lot sooner if you happen to’re agitating or stirring the combination.
I began wanting into designs for constructing an agitator for subsequent tries, however then realized that you just don’t want one you probably have a 3D printer, and wrote this Gcode file as a substitute:

You appear agitated.

It even heats the mattress to 40 C so your etchant is saved heat!
Is there something 3D printers can’t do?
Doesn’t seem like it!

Etchant well being issues

I don’t know what the well being issues for these chemical compounds are.
I’ve form of simply tried to keep away from getting too near the vat, even going so far as to place the lid on the tupperware container I used to be utilizing, however I don’t know whether or not that delays or someway impedes the etching course of.

It’s been onerous to seek out data about all these chemical compounds, so if you understand something, please go away a remark under or ship me an e-mail, particularly if you understand of a higher/extra handy/safer etchant.
I’ll replace the article with any data because it comes, for the edification of anybody who reads this.

The etching continues

The PCB is effervescent.

Etching was in any other case uneventful, the PCB began effervescent sooner or later after which it began flaking, and the etchant turned barely blue, which I assumed meant it was working.
Agitating it a bit made it flake extra, which appeared like a excellent signal, so I simply saved doing it and it saved working.
I then left the combination to its own units as a result of I used to be losing interest, till I seen it was lastly achieved.

Eventually I used to be left with a barely over-etched however in any other case extraordinarily respectable PCB.
I don’t know why the over-etching occurred, I think about it was as a result of I left it within the etchant for half an hour.
Maybe I would like to make use of extra etchant for it to go sooner and never have time to over-etch, I hear it ought to ideally take from three to 10 minutes.

Regardless, with no small quantity of pleasure, right here’s my first ever home-etched PCB!:

The closing product. I am so joyful.

It each appears to be like good and works nicely!
I examined all the pieces with the multimeter and all the pieces that needs to be related is related, and nothing that needs to be disconnected isn’t disconnected.

All in all, I might name this an unconditional success!

This was all a ploy

Of course it was a ploy!
What did you assume, that I spent all this time, effort and tax payer to create a sign inverter for an RC airplane?
Don’t be naive.

My final purpose was way more nefarious, and with Andrew’s assist my life-long dream is now a actuality.
I current to you this:

Yes, that’s a dickbutt PCB with a crimson LED on the dick on its butt.

If you don’t know whether or not to snort or cry, you’re precisely proper, as a result of that’s exactly what I used to be going for.


I’m extraordinarily enthusiastic about this course of, because it lastly permits me to simply make PCBs at residence, shortly, conveniently, cheaply and at fairly excessive tolerances, for what it’s.
I’ve been in search of one thing like this for ages, and I actually assume it might spark a minor revolution with hardware fans.
It’s positively a lot sooner, higher, extra enjoyable and extra handy than soldering protoboards, which I hate hate hate.

If you need to do that at residence, all my code, Gcode recordsdata and course of documentation are on this repository:


Feel free to open a problem if one thing isn’t working correctly, or a PR if you wish to enhance one thing.
I’d respect your assist.

Also, as at all times, please Tweet or toot at me, or e-mail me straight.

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