Introduction: A Multipurpose Business Card

Picture of A Multipurpose Business Card

Stand out from the competition with an easy to make (as easy as editing few lines in a text file) PCB business card!

First impressions matter, but what about… the second ones? Say you have met a potential employer or business partner, awed them with your skills, personality, knowledge (or your interactive name tag) and it’s time to give them your contact information. You hand out a business card. So why not make that one stand out as well?

Sure, you can always have fancy designs printed on it or even a QR code, however, why not take it to the next level and instead of a card, give them... a PCB?
I got my initial inspiration from Frank Zhao’s USB PCB Business Card and Mike Puchol’s PCB business card, however I wanted something simpler to build. My idea was to make a small development board out of the business card, with an ATtiny85 microcontroller and its pins broken out, ICSP headers to program it and some available space for prototyping. Its usability would of course not be anywhere near that of an Arduino, however it could potentially be used to make something cool.

The instructable is based on this article published in my blog.

Step 1: How to Design One

Picture of How to Design One

It is relatively easy to make a PCB business card. There are specifically three different approaches, from the “hardest” which offers the most freedom to the easiest, which limits you to the layout I created but you just need to edit a text file.

  • If you know how to use CAD programs like Eagle, then simply design one yourself from scratch. You will be able to suit it to your own needs and liking, while expressing your creativity to the maximum.
  • If you do not know how to use CAD programs like Eagle, but would not mind spending 30 minutes or so, learning the basics, then you can take my design* found here, import it into Eagle and change it as you wish. Depending on how much time you wish to spend on this, you could create something fundamentally different in just a couple of hours, without any prior experience. How about using a another microcontroller or adding a battery for example?
  • If you do not know and do not want to learn how to use a CAD program, then keep reading.

*The Eagle files are published under a CC0 license, therefore belong to the public domain. Feel free to use them however you wish.

Step 2: Design One, the Easy Way

Picture of Design One, the Easy Way

If you do not know and do not want to learn how to use such tools, then just save the pcb_business_card.brd file (right click + Save link as) and open it with your favorite text editor. Observe that it’s basically an XML file.

Find where I have placed my name (ctrl+F then type “Dimitris”) and then edit the appropriate fields with your own information.

Step 3: How to Fabricate It

Picture of How to Fabricate It

OK, now that you have designed the board, it’s time to fabricate it. You could do that entirely by yourself, but if you have never done that before, then it is best (time, effort and cost wise) to just use a service like OSH Park, or Seeed, to do that for you.

If you want the most hassle-free process and do not even wish to download Eagle, then OSH Park is for you. You only need to upload the .brd file, check the preview and if it's good enough you click order and in a couple of weeks your creations will be delivered at your doorstep.

On the other hand, with Seeed you will get more boards for the same price, however you will have to convert the .brd file into a .zip with Gerber files. Let's see how that's done!

Step 4: Generate the Gerber Files in Eagle

Picture of Generate the Gerber Files in Eagle

  1. Download the Seeed Studio's CAM file.
  2. Import the project in Eagle. You do this by finding where the default project folder location is and just putting the .brd file inside. In Ubuntu this is at /home/user/eagle, in Windows it is in the default Documents folder. If you want to keep things organized, you can put your project into a separate subfolder.
  3. Open the .brd (or .sch) file, in the board view, by double clicking on it.
  4. Click on the CAM Processor icon.
  5. In the window that will pop up, click on File > Open > Job and pick the .cam file you previously downloaded.
  6. If done successfully, upon return, the window will look a little different. Notice there are more tabs now? If yes, click on Process job.
  7. And that was it. Go to your project folder and you will see that a bunch of new files were generated. Zip them and they are good to be uploaded!

Step 5: Conclusion

Picture of Conclusion

If no other changes are made, your cards should look slightly better than mine. I improved the design, by exposing the copper on the front side of the board, so your name will look more metallic and shiny. Another change I made was to add VCC and Ground pins to the prototyping area on the left. Last but not least, I removed my logo, so you won’t have to do this yourselves. Moreover, keep in mind that if you choose to fabricate your cards at Seeed Studio, they will print a reference number to the rear (bottom) side of your PCB, which might not be the most aesthetic feature on a business card.

To conclude, this is a very easy project which can make you stand out from the crowd, with little effort and money. You can even hand them out without the microcontroller if you want to lower the cost and the size. It should not decrease the wow factor.

Finally, this is how the card looks after soldering some pins on it. Cute, isn’t it?


farldarm (author)2015-07-12

I see that your chip, even though it is an SOIC, sticks up off the board quite a bit. Assuming you can route your traces so they don't go under the chip, you could, in theory, cut a hole where the chip goes, invert it, and set it in the hole, so it doesn't stick out. This would require some circuit rework usually but is a handy way to reduce the vertical footprint of the chip. I have even put pads on top and bottom of the board and alternated chip leads to these pads for TQFP and SOIC package chips. This requires some careful gentle bending of the leads but makes for a really funky looking circuit and really stands out.

Dimitris Platis (author)farldarm2015-07-12

"in theory, cut a hole where the chip goes, invert it, and set it in the hole, so it doesn't stick out"

Aha! Nice idea, have you done this before? What tools would you use so to carve the hole/slot for the chip?

farldarm (author)Dimitris Platis2015-07-12

I have done it. I use a drill then a dremel and work very very carefully. Not so good for doing a lot of them but for a few it works. If you have a small milling machine it could mill the hold out easily enough.

Dimitris Platis (author)farldarm2015-07-12

Yeah, a milling machine could make this faster and easier indeed. Thanks for your input! :)

QazW2 (author)Dimitris Platis2015-07-15

if the "card" is going to hid heighth then any pcb manufacturer that includes pre drilling services can also "prepunch" the board if only by drilling holes so close they cut out the punched piece

asking your pcb manufacturer will quickly see if they offer predrilling services

stephenfitton (author)2015-07-13

Great article having debugged prototype card printers 20 years ago ,got a simple suggestion using a double sided board duplicate a smart card transformer pick-up circuit on the back, run to front with surface mounted let,to trick it up you could get it to flash! Have fun.

MatthewEnderle (author)2015-07-12

I kinda wish this was origninal...

farldarm (author)2015-07-12

Also, I have seen this done with a USB microcontroller where sections of the corner of the card can be snapped off, leaving a bare 4 pin card edge USB type connector.

One possible use would be when plugged into a PC it could type out your information. Just instruct the person receiving the card to open a word processor or text editor, select it, then plug the device in. It would then enumerate as a usb-keyboard and start typing your information.

I do like seeing people getting into high tech business cards though. They make others think and stand out because they are different.

Dimitris Platis (author)farldarm2015-07-12

This is an ingenious example (also based on the ATtiny85) of what you mention:

It was my inspiration to make these ones. :)

Dimitris Platis (author)2015-07-09

Wow, those are some great ideas! I will "borrow" some of them in the future. Thanks nqtronix and JesusG33k! :)

The purpose of this project was mainly to make something really simple, that can be used by people with absolutely no experience or even will to learn how to use CAD programs.
As simple as editing a text file and uploading it to OSH Park! :)

nqtronix (author)Dimitris Platis2015-07-09

I've never said this instructable has no purpose. It's spot on perfect for beginners, you have to start somewhere, right?

you asked for ideas, so you got them :) Sure, feel free to use them in
whatever way you like (Would be great if you'd post a few pictures of
it, though ;) )

Dimitris Platis (author)nqtronix2015-07-09

Yeap, will definitely post it here if I make something new. The majority of what I make is open source after all. :)

Thanks and take care!

BenderSanchez (author)2015-07-09

Nice, why don't you work on adding some cool new features to it :D

Any ideas?

nqtronix (author)Dimitris Platis2015-07-09

I do have a few. (Skip to the end for to read them)

In fact I've seen quite a few different designs of these buisinesscard PCBs, so they're not that outstanding anymore. However there's a lot of potential in these.

1. Make the card a card. Don't add any bulk preventing it from beeing carried around in a wallet/ pocket. This limits you pretty much to SMD components, a 0.5 or 0.8 mm thick pcb and a single sided load. This is the main challange. It would be great to enclose all components in some sort of clear, so that the card has a uniform surface and slides in and out of a wallet easy.

2. Make it reflect your special abilities. This is a way you can show off your skills, so make sure you do. Idealy it should be like a movie teaser: making people want to see what will come next.

3. Make it useful, if you can. It's cool to have a neat buisiness card which reflects you skills, but how awesome would it be if your future boss caries your work around because it's handy? He won't forget you, that's for sure.

4. Make it cheap. If you want to hand them out to a few people it would get very expensive anyway else. Try to source componts from China (aliexpress is a good place to start) and you'll be able do make the for less than 3 bucks each.

Last but not least a few ideas match to skills:

• Power management: double AA to 5V USB converter (mobile phone charging)

• RF: Embedded RFID interface, with your data and sensor readings (eg. ambient temperature)

• Digital: USB card edge connector, with your data printed into a text editor and some peripheral on the card (capacitive touch, sensors, Leds)

• Sub- miniture: anything, but it has to be as flat as possible. Aim for 0.8mm total, this is the thickness of a regular card. parts might have to be place in cutous of the board (a lot of handwork, but it would be amazing)

• Ultra low power: anything which does run of energy stored in the card, or is even ther produced (solar cells)

None of them is easy, but that's the point. You want to make an impression by doing something not everyone else can do. Good luck :)

Perhaps if possible, have the traces spelling out some acronym. For me (My YT-Gaming channel is JesusG33k Does MC) I could do something like JDMC on the traces. Another idea (which would require a larger micro-controller) is to have your name spelled out with SMD LED's and have it setup with some form of multiplexing to reduce the amount of pins used.

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