Use a Cricut cutting machine and Sure-Cuts-A-Lot software to create usable solder paste stencils for electronic prototyping purposes.
The quality and precision of the resulting stencils is good enough to prototype 0805 and TQFP (0.8mm pitch) size electronic components.
If you need PCB layout software, I recommend the free and Open Source KiCAD EDA Suite.
This Instructable is based on a tutorial I originally posted at Solder Paste Stencils.
I would not recommend buying a Cricut just to create Solder Paste Stencils. If, however, you have a friend or relative who owns one, or find a Cricut on sale or at a Garage Sale, then buying Sure-Cuts-A-Lot software will turn a Cricut into a very useful device. Functionality will then be similar to something like a low-end vinyl/craft cutter such as the Craft Robo.
Step 1: Materials and Preparation
- Cricut machine
- Sure-Cuts-A-Lot software
- Gerber Viewer software
- Transparency Film for overhead projectors which you can buy at any office supply store
- A Windows XP/Vista computer
Your Cricut must have a specific firmware version. You can update/downgrade your firmware by downloading Cricut Desgn Studio and following the directions under Help for updating firmware. Note your firmware may already be up-to-date. See the Sure-Cuts-A-Lot FAQ for more info.
Step 2: Preparing Your PCB Layout and Determining Dimensions
You need accurate dimensions of your PCB stencil for later. Use your PCB layout software's distance tool to determine the distance between the outermost component pads. Not the size of the PCB, but the distance between outermost pad edges. In the example below, the PCB has a width of 2.3" but the edge to edge pad distance is 2.142".
In KiCAD, you can measure distances by selecting Drawings from the Layer pull-down menu and clicking the Dimensions button in the right-hand tool menu. It is the 4th button from the bottom.
Step 3: Creating Gerber Files
If using KiCAD, select Plot from the File menu. In the Plot Window, select SoldP_Cmp for Solder Paste Component Layer and click the Plot button.
Step 4: Open Gerber File for Conversion
Step 5: Export Gerber File to SVG
Step 6: Cutting Software
Step 7: Resize the Design
Step 8: Prepare Transparency and Machine
Set the Cricut's Pressure wheel to High, the Speed wheel to High or Medium, and the cutting blade depth to 5 or 6. Detailed instructions can be found in the Cricut's manual. Some trial-and-error is required here. Speed and pressure may change the precision of the cuts, and larger cutting blade depth speeds up how quickly you will need to replace the cutting mat.