Introduction: Converting an Inkjet Printer to Print PCBs

Picture of Converting an Inkjet Printer to Print PCBs


Recently one of my focuses has been to find a way to make the PCB (Printed Circuit Board) creation process easier. I like being able to design something based on what I want in a circuit and just making it myself on the random weekend. While the toner transfer method has been my go to in the past it’s just not nearly as consistent as I would like it to be. The specific pressure of the iron and timing both make it a hit or miss approach. I’m not a fan of hit or miss I like to know something is going to work every time I try to do it. This sentiment got me exploring new ideas for PCB creation which is the topic of this project.

About a year and a half ago I found this webpage on modifying an Epson inkjet printer into a printer capable of printing on thicker materials such as copper clad board used by hobbyists such as myself to create custom circuit boards. As you'll notice that webpage is centered around an Epson C84 printer, but Epson printers are all somewhat similar so I decided to try this method on the C86 I had lying around the house.

Since I've been working on my own website ( I've documented everything about the project and thought it would be good to put it multiple places so hopefully numerous people can see it and try something new for themselves. I really tried to go into detail on everything I did in this process and the problems I had to troubleshoot because from looking around online there have been a few people who have done these modifications before, but no one really seems to have given a very good in-depth step by step build guide. Hopefully this Instructable can serve as just that.

So all that being said let's start with the tools and materials you'll need for this project:

- Obviously you'll need some form of an Epson inkjet printer probably of the C80 family as those are the ones I have seen modifications to in the past.
- A sheet of aluminum or steel or some metal sheet (about 9 inches by 14.5 inches roughly)
- Approximately 4 feet of 1/4 inch bent (90 degree corner piece) aluminum rail
- Some type of brackets and screws to secure them with (I used 3, you'll see an image of them later on)
- Some 4 - 40 screws (I used 1/2 inch long ones)
- Nuts for said screws (I used about 16)
- A small piece of scrap plywood and some other random scraps of 2x4 or something of the sort
- Epoxy and/or hot glue
- The drivers for whichever printer and operating system you decide to use
- An ink kit from (more details on this later)

- A Dremel tool with grinding wheels to cut through metal
- Various screwdrivers
- Pliers or a socket wrench that fits the nuts or screws you'll be using
- A drill of some sort to attach the brackets
- A hot glue gun
- A heat gun

Once you've gathered all of those things you're ready to begin.

Step 1: Panel Removal and Breakdown

Picture of Panel Removal and Breakdown

Step one is a pretty easy one and is somewhat self explanatory. The first thing I did was remove the paper feeder sticking out of the back of the printer and toss that aside. Once that's gone you can just use the tabs in various areas of the printer to pop off the front tray, the side panels, and ultimately the main printer casing. I chose to keep the main casing so that I have something to cover the printer with later for storage purposes.

Once you get all that done you'll end up with the internals of the printer ready for modification.

Step 2: More Removal of Parts

Picture of More Removal of Parts

After removing all the covers there are some parts that you should remove and set aside for later. You'll need to relocate the paper feed sensor because the feeder no longer sends paper in from the top rear of the printer. I'll talk more about how this system works later, but you'll want to remove that sensor from the back of the printer and unplug it from the circuit board. Set this aside and we'll work more with it later.

Next up is the pressure wheels in the center of the printer. You don't really need all three sets and the center set could cause clearance issues when you send a circuit board through the printer. So to avoid this problem I simply removed the roller leaving a clear area for the circuit board to pass through.

Finally you'll want to remove the print head cleaning station. You'll want to be careful here! This station simply pops out from the press fit connectors it's sitting on, but it will have a tubing system connected to it. This tubing is necessary so make sure not to break it or remove it. Once you have those three things removed we can start looking at the heart of modifying this printer, the lifting process.

Step 3: Removing the Print Head Assembly

Picture of Removing the Print Head Assembly

The next step is where you roll up your sleeves and start the cutting and modifying process. It's also the step where you need to pay attention to what you're doing as you could seriously injure yourself and/or ruin your printer modification completely. As such you should be wearing safety glasses or goggles during the cutting process and keep your hands away from the cutting disc. Also for those unfamiliar with using a Dremel tool when you cut through the metal sections of the printer body you will create a rain of sparks and small flakes of sharp metal. As I said before be careful and wear safety glasses, you don't want any of this stuff in your eyes.

So on to the modification...

Let's start with the easy areas first and work from there. Starting with the front rail of the printer you will see two screws which you will want to remove. Once you do this the rail lifts away and you can set it aside for later re-installation.

Next you can focus on the two screws near the print head cleaning mechanism. By removing these two screws the right side of the printing assembly will be lose and removable. However you cannot remove this entire piece yet as the left side is one large metal piece and there is a small hidden tab which also holds the assembly in place.

This is where the Dremel tool enters the picture. You first want to look at the metal areas and plan out exactly where you would like to cut. I tried to minimize the area I had to cut because as I mentioned the sparks flying in your face is something you want to experience as little as possible. That being said you'll want to cut through the small interior tab to release the right side of the assembly before finally cutting around the entire left metal corner so that you can lift the print head assembly and remove it completely from the printer's base.

If you've been careful and follow the directions thus far you should have three pieces laid out in front of you. Check the images I've posted to make sure you have everything disassembled properly.

Step 4: Cleaning the Print Head (Optional)

Picture of Cleaning the Print Head (Optional)

This step is optional depending on what shape your printer is in, but since mine was a little older and had been sitting around I decided to clean the print head. This is a pretty easy process since you've now removed the entire assembly and you can just place it on the table while cleaning the head. My print head was pretty dried out and had a lot of old ink stuck on it so I did some research to find out the best way to remove it. What I found to be the best suggestion was to use some cotton swabs to knock some of the larger gunk off before spraying the cotton swab with Windex glass cleaner to really remove the dried out ink from all the surfaces. As you can see from the image I used quite a few cotton swabs to clean the print head really well.

Like I said this step is optional, but it really helped my print head work like new again.

Step 5: Reinstalling the Print Head Assembly Part One

Picture of Reinstalling the Print Head Assembly Part One

Now that everything is taken apart and cleaned up it's time to start the process of lifting and reassembling the print head. This process will ultimately depend on what you're hoping to print on and the thickness of the material you're planning on using. For my modification I plan on using a metal carrier tray onto which I will attach some copper clad board I'm hoping to print on. As such my materials are just under 1/16th of an inch for the metal carrier and a little over 1/16th of an inch for the copper clad. I however don't want the print head to be too close to the copper clad or hit anything so I went ahead and lifted the printing assembly almost 3/8ths of an inch for guaranteed clearance. This is also a good idea in case I decide to print double-sided boards in the future as the copper clad for that is a bit thicker due to the extra copper layer.

Now that I've decided on the amount I want to lift the printing assembly I can begin inserting spacers to get the desired height. The easiest place to start is with the front rail system. As it is attached with two screws I simply bought some longer 4 - 40 screws and used two of the nuts that came with them as spacers. Once that rail is screwed back in it's done with and you can move on to the more complicated print head assembly portion.

Step 6: Reinstalling the Print Head Assembly Part Two

Picture of Reinstalling the Print Head Assembly Part Two

The reinstallation of the print head assembly is a bit more complicated because you will need to create some sort of bracket piece to hold together the corner section that you cut through. For this I purchased some corner brackets from the local hardware store and cut them in to single smaller pieces that I could use. You can see these brackets in the images. I just chose them because they were cheap and I figured they'd be easy to modify, but you can make other brackets as you see fit.

Once I had the brackets made I needed to mark where I wanted to drill for the bolts to hold these brackets in place. This process was simple for the bottom section. I just decided where I wanted to put the supports and then marked for the holes and drilled. Once I had those holes drilled I attached the bottom portion of the brackets so that I could line up the print head assembly and mark where the top holes should be drilled.

To make sure the top holes where in the right spots I went ahead and inserted the 2 spacer bolts on the right hand side where the two screws attach to the printer base. Once those where attached I aligned the brackets with the cut corner and use a level to make sure the assembly was in the correct position before marking the hole locations. At that point I removed the assembly again to drill those holes and then reattached the entire piece this time using screws and the brackets I had create to secure the entire assembly in place.

Step 7: Lifting the Print Head Cleaning Station

Picture of Lifting the Print Head Cleaning Station

This is a step I think gets overlooked a lot, but is actually quite important for your printer to function well for a longer period of time. When you turn off your printer the print head moves into the cleaning station to help prevent the ink from drying out and clogging the nozzles. This station is also what's used to perform a nozzle cleaning cycle so you need to make sure you raise it just as you raised everything else in the printer.

To make sure the cleaning station was raised the right amount I used a somewhat indirect method of measuring. You can obviously choose your own way to lift this, but what I did was reinstall it in the normal position before using two of the leftover brackets that I had to mark where the screw holes fell on the printer base and the cleaning station itself. From there I measured 3/8's of an inch down from the marks on the cleaning station and drilled pilot holes at those marks and the marks on the printer body. Once I had those holes I lined up the brackets to the printer body and attached them with screws before lining up the cleaning station and screwing it to the brackets as well.

When I turn the printer on and run cleaning cycles the cleaning station is lined up where it needs to be and works as it should.

Step 8: The Feed System

Picture of The Feed System

At this point in the modification you've got most of the straight printer work done, but if you look at what's in front of you you'll notice that there's still no good way to feed material into the printer and you also still have a sensor sitting off to the side of your work. Since you'll ultimately be using a heat gun on your printed work it's a good idea to create a system that can feed your carrier and copper clad material into the printer pretty much hands free. As such I built a rail system that supports the carrier and allows the printer to function without me having to hand feed it.

Again you can devise your own system, but here's what I've done with my printer. My first consideration was where I wanted to attach the feed sensor. This sensor is absolutely necessary or the printer will not function. What it does is it senses when material passes through its gap and relays that message to the printer so it knows exactly where the printing material is. The seond important thing to know about this sensor is that it expects a delay between the time that the rollers of the printer start feeding paper in and when the sensor is triggered. I'll go into detail about that more later though when I talk about the carrier piece. Since the sensor needed to be mounted in a place where the carrier would pass through it and I was already planning on making a plywood deck area to level the back of the printer body I decided it would be best to hot glue the sensor right into that decking near the edge of where the carrier piece would travel.

As you can see in the images I basically used a few layers of scrap plywood to create a level area in the rear of the printer. This decking area covers the large felt waste ink reservoir you'll see and also the metal power supply area. Basically all I did for this area was to measure out those two enclosed areas and cut layers of plywood until they were level. As you can see in the images again that took two additional layer in the waste ink reservoir and then I was able to lay one larger piece over the entire surface. Once I created this decking I cut a corner off of the top layer and lined up the feed sensor with where the carrier material would travel. This ensures that the material can travel through the sensor and set it off as the printer expects it to.

The main point of the decking area however was to create something to which I could attach support rails to. Using these rails I can simply lay the carrier and copper clad in the tray and let the printer take over. What I did for that was to take some aluminum that was bent into a 90 degree corner and cut it to the length of my expected carrier piece. From there I epoxied the rails to the decking and a third piece across the back for extra support.

With the feed system taken care of I wanted to test and make sure everything was functioning properly. To do that I finally cut my carrier material. I had a sheet of anodized aluminum lying around so I decided it would make a good carrier. To start I measured the width of the print gap which in my case was around 9 inches. With this in mind I decided to aim for something similar to paper size and drew out a 9 inch by 11.5 inch rectangle. Luckily however I read more information about the feed sensor before I cut that sheet because as it turns out that carrier would not have worked very well. From what I've learned the carrier piece needs to have a notch cut out of it that is about 3.5 inches long to allow for the proper delay between the feed rollers activating and the sensor triggering. So with this new information I modified my carrier outline to be a 9 inch by 14.5 inch rectangle with a 3.5 inch section cut out of one corner.

After cutting this carrier I installed the printer drivers on my computer and taped a piece of paper onto the carrier before running a print cycle to check for complete functionality. Everything came out and the printer functioned normally so I began to look forward towards the printing of PCBs.

Step 9: Filling the Ink Cartridge

Picture of Filling the Ink Cartridge

The final modification to the printer is in the ink. While this printer can still use regular ink cartridges from Epson the ink in those cartridges will not resist the chemical etching process used to make PCB's so it has to be replaced with ink that can. This actually brings the entire modification full circle because this ink replacement is why an Epson printer was chosen in the first place. Aside from the somewhat easy modifications Epson uses a special print head known as a piezo print heads which will allow them to print a replacement ink called Mis Pro yellow ink . This ink would clog most other printers as they use a different type of print head system. So the Epson is of double importance to the entire project.

If you follow that link above it will take you to which is where I bought everything I used for the ink replacement. All you really need if you have an empty cartridge is the Mis Pro yellow, but I bought a few things to make the process easier. The first thing I bought was an empty ink cartridge that they sell which will make filling the printer easier and I won't have to clean out an old cartridge. Secondly I bought a fill kit from them that supplies you with two syringes and a set of tips to fill the ink cartridge with. Finally I bought a device from them that resets the small chip that's on Epson print cartridges so that you can convince your printer there is still ink in the cartridges after they run dry and you refill them.

So using these things and my yellow ink I filled up the cartridge and got it prepared for installation in my modified printer so that I could run a final test and etch a circuit board to see the results of my work.

Step 10: Printing Test

Picture of Printing Test
Recently I've been testing various techniques for creating PCBs so I created a test board in CadSoft's Eagle that features the three pad types and traces in various different measurement sizes so I thought it would be an appropriate gauge of how well this printer works also.

Also for those of you who are curious about how detailed this thing can get I've also printed drj113's Ethernet Arduino board . This thing is packed full of little details and a few surface mount parts so that will give you a very good idea of what you can print with this system.

You can see how I'm going about printing in the video below and also see the two printed boards in the images.

Make sure to check out the next page for some important etching information before you proceed any further or you may ruin your boards!

Step 11: Notes on Etching

Picture of Notes on Etching

This is a section that I didn't think I would need to write seeing as etching is usually the easy part of the process of PCB making. However I have run into some issues that I think people should know about so that they can avoid them and make this a smoother project and better PCBs.

First, everyone should know is that if you go this route you need to use ferric chloride to etch the boards. I know it's nasty for the environment and a lot of people are trying not to use it, but the Mis Pro yellow ink will only work with ferric chloride as far as I know. You may ask how I figured this out and some of the images will show you how. I tried to etch my first set of boards in a mixture of hydrochloric acid and hydrogen peroxide, but the etching solution ate right through the Mis Pro ink and I ended up with those nice green boards of junk (oxidized copper) when I got frustrated and washed them off with water. Ferric chloride however does not eat away the Mis Pro ink and the etching will work as expected provided you follow the next suggestion.

Second, the thickness of the copper layer on your copper clad board is somewhat important. In the past I've used the old permanent marker drawing method and the toner transfer method of PCB etching on some copper clad that had a 2 ounce per square foot copper layer. This worked fine in the past as the permanent marker ink and the toner are a bit more robust and can withstand a longer etching process. The Mis Pro yellow ink however in my experience cannot withstand that same duration. This makes sense seeing as it wasn't necessarily designed for this purpose. The solution however is quite easy. If you choose a copper clad board with a thinner copper layer of 1 ounce per square foot the Mis Pro ink will survive the shorter etching process and give you a better PCB in the end. (If you're looking to buy PCB material check out eBay as it's a great source for bulk material at a good price. I buy from an eBay store run by the user abcfab and have gotten some good deals on some nice PCB material. The nice thing too is that you can contact him if you want a specific material (size, copper thickness, # of boards, etc.) and he'll work with you to get an order going.)

Lastly, my "Trace and Pad Test Board" was poorly designed. Yes that's a shot at myself, but I thought it was worth admitting. I realized during the etching process that there is way too much copper on that board that needs to be etched away. As such I thought about redesigning it with less open space, but then decided to stop trying to etch a nonuseable test board because I didn't want to waste more ferric chloride when I knew the process was working already. Also the Ethernet Arduino serves as much a better measure of printing and etching with this new printer modification as it will be a functional board that I can solder parts to and test traces on.

I know that those may seem like somewhat stupid or strict requirements, but they're things that worked for me and I figured I'd relay them to everyone. If you come out with results that aren't quite perfect just play with your printer settings and heat time as once I got those right things started to work a whole lot better and got some really nice results and a PCB which is ready for tinning and parts.

Step 12: Etching Revisited (October 24th Edit)

Picture of Etching Revisited (October 24th Edit)

As many people in the comments have noted my boards had pinholes all over them and I was just as unsatisfied with that as anyone. As such I started to do some more research and try to find ways to correct this issue. Among the many suggestions I received I put two at the top of my list for researching. Firstly, I looked into a better etching setup as I've been considering this for some time and this seemed like the right project for the upgrade to a heated, aerated tanks. Secondly, a few people mentioned the ink I am using and that the proper setting temperature may be higher than I am actually achieving with my heat gun. Since those two things seemed easy enough to remedy I focused on them first to try and solve my pinhole problem.

To start I began looking at a few different etching tank designs and thinking about what I wanted out of my design. I came to the conclusion that I wanted something nice, but not overly expensive and building my own setup was the best option. As such I took a plastic cereal container that I found lying around the house and decided to use it as my tank base. This container is nice because it's large enough to fit bigger boards and has a snap on airtight lid, but not too large that it takes a whole gallon of etching solution to fill. From there I visited the local pet shop and purchased an air pump, some plastic tubing, a bubbling rock, and a small aquarium heater. With all the materials together I hot glued the bubbling rock into the bottom of the container and the plastic tubing up the wall of it. Finally I inserted the heater and was ready for the etching solution.

My second improvement was to heat the boards hotter and set the ink better in hopes it would adhere to the boards better. This was an easy fix as I found a coupon for a dual temperature heat gun at Harbor Freight Tools. This heat gun cost me $10 and has two settings of 570 degrees (F) and 1110 degrees (F) or so. This is more than enough heat as through some research I found the ideal heat for setting my ink is around 425 degrees (F). This is also great because at about 425 degrees (F) the copper clad board will start to turn a bit purple due to oxidation and the heat.

With my two problems solved I printed 2 new boards and tried out the new heat gun. This is where I must issue a warning. As much as you may think the higher 1110 degree (F) setting will heat your board faster and set the ink more easily do not try it. If you heat the board too fast it will warp. If you heat it too much, as I did with my first board, the adhesive holding the copper to the board will melt and the copper will bubble up. All that bubble took was a second on 1110 degrees (F) and the copper popped off.

My second board however I was patient with and used the 570 degree (F) setting and slowly heated the entire board until it started to turn purple. I tried to take an image of this for reference, but it's not visible on camera so you just have to keep your eye on your boards as you do this. Once the ink was set at this higher temperature I fill up my etching tank with some Ferric Chloride and let it heat up and bubble for a bit. When the solution was nice and warm I dipped my board into it and checked it every 30 to 40 seconds for progress. After about 3 minutes my board was done etching. (This type of tank and etching method is so much faster than rocking a container around by hand so I'd recommend the upgrade to everyone.)

After my board was complete I rinsed it off and took some pictures for this page. As you can see these two tweaks in my method produced results that are significantly better as this board has crisper traces and none of the pinholes that plagued the first few boards that I etched.

Step 13: Results

Picture of Results

So as my etching section has proved this didn't work perfectly for me the first time. Things like this never do, but as far as printer functions go everything worked out nicely once I got the air out of the ink cartridge and ran a few prints to get the Mis Pro yellow flowing properly.

With that said you can see from the images that I'm getting some very good results now that everything is sorted out. I've reprinted and etched the Ethernet Arduino with ferric chloride and it is now waiting for parts that I ordered from Digi-Key. I think that compared to other ways I've etched PCBs in the past this method has had it's initial drawbacks, but now that things are in working order I think it will be a simpler, more consistent, and more reliable system. Rather than drawing out all of the traces with a marker or worrying about the heat and pressure of an iron in the toner transfer method I can now simply print my PCBs once and drop them in some ferric chloride.

Hopefully you've found this Instructable informative and helpful (If so please remember to vote for me in the Epilog Laser and Hack It Challenges) and are considering building your own Epson PCB printer. If you have questions feel free to ask me here or on my website and be sure if you do build something that you post a comment or a link so everyone else can see your skills and possible improvements.

On the subject of the Epilog Laser Challenge I really hope you consider voting for me as I feel the combination of this PCB printer and an Epilog laser cutter opens some serious doors for future projects which I hope to post to Instructables. I also hope to find more hackers and modders in my area to collaborate with on projects and I think a laser cutter could not only serve me well, but others I may meet in those collaborations.


StephAngel06 (author)2017-10-23


First, thanks a lot for sharing this tuto.

I would like to use this tuto to modify also a printer. The difference with your system is that I would like to be able to print on supports that could be more than 1 inch. So, I think it is quite easy to increase this size. But my question concerns the feed system. Will the metal carrier piece still eaten by the printer ?

Is the metal carrier piece between 2 rolls?

I do not understand how the metal carrier piece is moved by the printer. Could you provide me inputs on that ?

Thanks in advance



BarryO8 (author)2016-07-18

I was wondering about the feasibility of using two chemicals that when they come in contact with each other will cure . Araldite might be too thick but if there was a way to thin it then glue in one color and hardener in the other color might work. The other thought was cyanoacrylate and it's accelerator component. I'm sure there are other chemicals that would work. Any thoughts on this?

SupravatD (author)2016-06-01

Hi, I have an unused HP D1360 Inkjet lying around for many years. Will it usable for this project?

im 13,im not that good at electronic beside rc stuffs,my dad have an epson cx900,he gave it to me.I want to make that old printer to this awsome pcb printer,but can you simplify the steps?it gives me headache

Thunder120 (author)2014-12-06

The aluminum angle you're using is 1/4 tall, correct?

pourcirm (author)Thunder1202014-12-09

I believe it was yes. Although you could use any size that fits your printer model.

avinashk (author)pourcirm2015-10-30

one more thing i ve 1 epson c 90 lying around can it be modified as yours?

avinashk (author)pourcirm2015-10-30

the mechanism i made was just like baby cradle which moves back n forth so that the echant keeps agitated and the copper contamination wont affect process

avinashk (author)pourcirm2015-10-30

dear pourcim thanks for posting noce n useful instble.all in one i found that its about raising the printer mechanism to accomodate copper clad in place of paper. well done.just one query about the mis pro cart and its chip setting .what exactlt it is? n one suggestion anout itching process which i my self tried during manual pcb making.i used a rectangular container n made it moving with motor n cam mechanism n found the itching was faster than isual without eating the copperclad.
however thanx again 8n keep exploring things .all the best!!!!

Darkkeep (author)2015-10-02

Stumbling across this instructable has turned on so many lights...I NEVER knew the fine difference between printheads in inkjet printers. I had hoped that the HP PSC 1210v I have laying around could be modified for this, but with a short amount of research I discovered that Canon and HP use Thermal and Epson is the ONLY manufacturer to use Piezo. Happier now that I purchased the Artisan730. I realize this is an old instructable...but WOW. Thanks for sharing!!

R-A (author)2014-10-20

Thank you for the instructable.

How would you print a protective print layer on the PCB after it's been etched?

i.e what ink would you us? And do you have to design a new PDB layout, with the print layout, and lettering for components, etc?

pourcirm (author)R-A2014-10-20

I haven't worked out a process to print a solder mask yet. I've tried simply printing the MISPRO ink over the board after etching, but it didn't stand up very well. Currently I'm experimenting with some glass paint called Pebeo Vitrea. The paint is heat set and from what I've seen on a few sites can produce a nice mask when applied properly. When I finish the laser cutter I'm building currently I hope to use the laser to cure or remove various type of coatings as an experimental mask.

alvin.mhaine (author)2014-10-17

Sir, may I ask if the Epson C80 family of printers is still available in the market? We are planning to use this idea of yours as our project but we're having a hard time searching for the printer. Is it possible to use other types of inkjet printer? Thanks for the reply.

pourcirm (author)alvin.mhaine2014-10-19

I actually don't know if the printer is being produced any longer. If you're looking for a different printer the important thing is to get a printer that uses piezo printheads. Epson printers had this on some models last I checked, but I can't tell you exactly which ones do currently.

vandalelis (author)2014-10-01

but where is the point to to waist so much time to convert printer if u can just use photo cooper clad and get pro level pcb's with no hassle...

pourcirm (author)vandalelis2014-10-01

I don't feel like it was a waste of time for a few reasons. First this project really only took me a few hours over two weekends to get everything complete so probabaly 6 hours total. Second I already had the printer and a lot of the parts on hand so there really wasn't much if any cost. Third I would of had to build or buy an exposure box for the photo method anyway. And finally the process now that it's built is really as simple or perhaps simpler than the photosensitive boards. I don't have to expose or rinse the boards at any point. I just print, drop them in my etching tank and in 5 minutes I have pro level boards too. Everyone has their own preference and this ends up being mine.

shukata (author)2014-03-07

A good technique to remove all copper instead of ferric chloride is use 60ml of peroxide and 40ml of sulfuric acid, mix both and put in the plaque and it will be ready in a few minutes.

castleink (author)2014-01-08

Wow, I'm amazed that this is possible - never considered this as an option. Does the kind of ink you use matter (other than the fact that yellow works best)? Thanks, Bill Castle Ink 

dregalia (author)2013-12-11

Quick question, does it have to be yellow? Can I use magenta or some other color?

pourcirm (author)dregalia2013-12-19

From what I've seen online in various forums yellow seems to work the best so that's what I went with. I'm sure you can experiment though as I've seem magenta used before as well. Just need to make sure and get a thicker layer of ink on the board.

thrasher529 (author)2013-07-21

Would this method/ink work with electrolytic etching using salt water and electricity? Or would this ink not withstand it?

pourcirm (author)thrasher5292013-07-22

I can't tell you for sure if it would withstand the salt water and electricity. I had some issues with hydrogen peroxide and hydrochloric acid eating right through the ink, but ferric chloride didn't damage it. Those are really the only two etching methods I've tried thus far with the PCBs.

fmubarik (author)2011-11-27

Can anyone tell me what is the minimum possible line thickness can be achieved

stephenfitton (author)fmubarik2013-05-24

This depends on several factors the main three are (once perfect lines are produced)
The under-etching of the edges Due to (1)Etch-ant type,(2)time exposed, and the (3) irregularity of the mixes composition, (usually overcome by running through a low volume all plastic water pump ) design circuit to the amount of current the copper has to take,Otherwise eat away to zero.

pourcirm (author)fmubarik2011-11-27

Currently with the Ethernet Arduino board that I've printed and etched the thinnest trace printed would be about the size of the 74HC08 surface mount chips leads. That is to say that they are approximately .3 to .4 mm wide roughly. I don't have an exact way to measure something this small at the moment, but from the datasheet for the 74HC08 I can estimate them at about that thickness.

As for the thinnest etched spaces on the board I have a few areas that are even thinner and I would estimate at about .1 to .2 mm wide roughly. I'd venture to say probably more around the .15mm area.

I know there are a lot of others out there using this setup too and maybe some of them are getting different results, but that's what I can tell you from my experience so far. I'm working on my own board design for another project currently so once I can that board all designed and ready to print I may be able to give you more measurements straight from Eagle.

ahmed92 (author)2013-04-26

thank you very much.
but have one question,can i use canon printer.

dennist1 (author)2013-03-20

Great write up, well written and covering all the bases. Excellent job.

I have been considering a very similar mod, but not had the time to attempt it yet. What I am considering is replacing the print head with a laser diode; which could then expose a presensitized board. This of course would require some new control boards/software - possibly Arduino based, but should be able to generate very high quality boards. First thoughts were of course just cutting the copper with the laser, but my guess on that would be a very powerful laser given the heat transfer properties of copper. Anyone ever tried either; or anyone want to take the idea that does have some time to work on it - feel free!

aliyousu (author)2013-03-14


i had a question. I am working at a startup and we are making comic publications. We need to print rolls of size 4inch by 150 ft long! and this is on bible (thin paper). The question i had was, we cant afford these fancy large format printers which are able to do this. Neither can we outsource as the cost is too high per unit. We need to print these cheaply and with inexpensive equipment. Any ideas if it is possible to convert a normal printer into something which can print 150 feet long documents.

The print quality is only 300 DPI and black and white.

Would really appreciate some help.

aavs (author)2011-11-19

hi really like the idea, but having trouble with the ink, I thought it would be possible to use laser printer instead of ink jet....

pourcirm (author)aavs2011-11-19

I'm not 100% sure how to approach the idea of using a laser printer truthfully. There's a lot to consider that complicates the process. While you may be able to do it I don't think it will prove to be nearly as simple as this modification was. The laser printer has a more complicated system with the fact that it uses toner and then as the name suggests has a laser which melts or sets the toner powder into an actual ink. If you do try to modify a laser printer let me know as I think it would be quite interesting, but I don't know how much help I can give you without directly having access to the printer and seeing the inner workings that need modification.

switch62 (author)pourcirm2012-05-27

The laser only writes the image onto the drum. The photo conductive drum is charged with a positive charge. The laser writes onto the drum, where the laser hits, the drum becomes conductive and discharges the positive charge. Positively charged toner particles then stick to the uncharged parts of the drum. The paper is negativley charged and the toner transfers from the drum to the paper. The paper and toner go through heated rollers (like a laminator) and the plastic toner melts and fuses to the paper.

Two main problems in conversion are,
The paper path is never straight, impossible to make it so without very major modifications.
The copper on the PCB will not hold a static charge as it is conductive.

Though if anyone does do it I would be very interested in seeing it. :)

beatyruth (author)aavs2011-11-26

I haven't tried it myself, but I have a friend that uses his laser printer to print out the PCB drawing on parchment paper, then transfers it to the board by ironing it on. I've heard of others using regular paper the same way

pourcirm (author)beatyruth2011-11-26

That's the typical method of making homemade PCBs. My upgrade to this system was to make more intricate and more consistent boards. There are a lot of options out there though if you search Instructables for other methods.

ryanbou (author)2012-05-11

Awesome work. Question- could a laser printer be modified in this same way to directly print toner onto a board?

switch62 (author)ryanbou2012-05-27

I would say probably not.

The paper path in most laser printers is a sideways U.  That means the paper has to bend around the drum and rollers, a normal PCB won't.

Even if you could get a laser printer with a straight path the PCB is too thick and you would need to modify the actual drum/toner assembly and the fuser assembly.  Not easy at all.

Lastly the transfer of toner to paper relies on a static charge given to the paper to attract the toner.  I don't think the conductive copper will hold the charge well enough, if at all.

pourcirm (author)ryanbou2012-05-13

I have been curious about the same thing actually. The short answer is I'm not sure.

The longer answer is it would depend on the construction of the printer and how easily you could "lift" it. Factor into that the different printhead system and whatever other mechanisms a laser printer might have and it could complicate the build. I don't really have access to a "junk" laser printer so I haven't been able to test this idea out. I'd need to take it apart and look at the specific printer to decide how to go about modifying it.

If you do decide to try it and are successful or find some helpful things out make sure to let me know as I would like to try that in the future.

switch62 (author)2012-05-27

Well done, very thorough instructable.  Especially your experiments and results on etching.

I've been converting an Epson T21 but for various reasons haven't finished it yet (over 3 years !) 

The T21 has the whole printing mechanisim and electronics on a vertical steel plate that is held by 2 screws to the base.  I just need spacers under the screws to raise it, no cutting, no brackets.  I was lucky on that part.

 I really should finish it and put up an instructable.

fedey2k1 (author)2012-05-22

Hi, Did you modify the programming if not then how did you tell the printer to only print with the cartridge you filled with the yellow ink, or did you fill all of them???

pourcirm (author)fedey2k12012-05-22

You could fill all of the cartridges if you'd like to and then you wouldn't have to worry about what color printed, but I didn't go that far. I only filled the black ink cartridge.

I've just been designing things in all black and then printing them using a black and white option in the printer settings and that has been working fine.

Additionally the program I use the most with this printer is EAGLE and it has an option on the print screen to only print in black which thus far has worked fine for me.

No-Shi-De (author)2012-04-26

I just thought somebody has to say this... your a smart person...

rohanmk (author)2012-04-24

Dear Sir,Your video is not available here.

qualia (author)2012-04-15

i was recently thinking about hacking a printer like this for a slightly different purpose, and i checked instructables to see if it was already done by someone else, this was the closest. my idea was to mount a lightscribe DVD burner laser on the printer head of a cheapish $50 printer (bought the DVD drive, not the printer yet) and link it up so that as well as depositing ink it could reduce graphite oxide film into graphene, on a glass or, (optimistically)- a cellulose acetate substrate for the purpose of making an active matrix pixel array for creating OLED displays (including the field effect transistors+capacitors for each pixel in the same process, using the semiconducting and conducting properties of the graphite oxide and graphene, respectively), the electroluminescent doped polymers could possibly be dissolved in acetone or perhaps a weaker solvent that wouldnt attack a printer cartridge too much, then printed over the transparent graphene electrodes, one for each subpixel in alternating formation according to the RGB dopants and corresponding subpixel.

the idea i had was having the printer rollers actually moving the entire printer along rack and pinion type rails on each side of the build surface, and i wasnt sure if the steppers would be powerful enough, got some heartier steppers around though, but different current ratings to most printer steppers so i'd have to make a breakout board to drive them if i had to use them for it. (which would be fairly straight-forward, i got a cnc lathe/mill and a UV LED PCB developing glass table)

anyway, what my question really is, would you know of how to mess with the printer driver program and/or circuitry to use it as a plotter as well, so it could laser reduce graphene oxide in continuous lines while changing from one axis to another instead of rastering? rastering would be fine for the deposition of the EL polymer but i think the graphene would have a more continuous molecular formation if it was reduced as a continuous trace.

apologies for lack of caps and the grammar, i are retard.

i would very much appreciate a reply if you have any information i might find useful to achieve this objective.

booga007 (author)2012-01-19

Very well done. Something that I might try in the future.

Is is just me, or does the final etched product seem rough around the edges for the copper pads and traces, doesn't look very clean in the pictures?
If this is the case, would a better quality printer be the way to a better etch, or is it simply the "DIY"ness of it all that produces the 'rough' results?

pourcirm (author)booga0072012-01-19

The first boards I did while still testing the printer and trying to iron out the kinks do have rough edges on them yes.

As I got everything fixed and calibrated right though the boards got better. I have pictures of the better board I made in there a few places, but now that I know exactly how long to preheat the boards for and how to set the ink better and have a better etching tank the boards are coming out smooth.

I haven't had a chance to post anything new recently because it's been pretty cold outside and I haven't been able to etch boards yet. The new etching tank is nice, but the bubbling ferric chloride isn't something I like to use inside very much. I'm working on designing a few of my own boards currently and when I get a chance to etch them I plan on posting updated photos.

ARJOON (author)2012-01-01

i still don't believe my eyes. this instructables is incredilble. big thanks. will make one because i have the same printer

skrubol (author)2011-12-01

Is there something about the MIS ink that makes it more suitable for this task than other pigment inks?

pourcirm (author)2011-11-18

Just wanted to post a comment and thank everyone who voted for me and viewed my Instructable. I'm a finalist in the Epilog Challenge and I really appreciate it. Here's hoping I can win and bring you more cool projects with that Zing laser cutter.

wizejester (author)2011-11-15

Thank you so much. I have been dreaming of something like this for a while but have been to busy (way too lazy) to go through the trial and error myself. I look forward to building one of these soon. You definitely have my vote for most awesome in show!

pourcirm (author)wizejester2011-11-15

The build really isn't all that hard once you've got a plan of attack for everything and it's definitely worth the time you put in because my new boards are coming out very nicely now that I have the heating and etching problems sorted out. Hope the build goes well for you and thanks for the vote it's much appreciated.

profpat (author)2011-10-25

interesting!!! great work!

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Bio: I have a Master's degree in Biomedical Engineering. I'm always looking for new challenges and projects. I'm interested in science, math, art ... More »
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