Introduction: Creating Printed Circuit Boards With a INKJET Printer

Picture of Creating Printed Circuit Boards With a INKJET Printer
When I first started looking into how to etch my own printed circuit boards, every Instructable and tutorial I found used a laser printer and ironed on the pattern in some sort of fashion. I don't own a laser printer but I do have an inexpensive inkjet printer.

This Instructable will show you how to use your inkjet printer to etch your own printed circuit boards, as well as be able to display a printed component footprint on the top side of the board giving you a professional looking design.

  • For this instructable you will be working with chemicals and power tools. Please wear appropriate protective wear. i.e. goggles, latex gloves, etc.
  • The chemicals used in this instructable will stain clothes and your skin.
  • DO NOT pour chemicals down your drain. Properly dispose of chemicals according to your local waste management.
  • Chemicals used in this instructable will eat metal. i.e. your copper plumbing pipes, metal sink, etc.
Why would you want to etch your own printed circuit board from home? For one it can be cheaper than sending your boards out to a fabrication company. The second reason is if you are planning to send your boards out to have them professionally done, by printing a few prototypes at home to test first will save you money! Nothing like getting your boards back in the mail to find out you had something wrong with your design!

Step 1: Equipment and Materials

Picture of Equipment and Materials
REMINDER: DO NOT use anything metal that will be in contact with the chemicals. You want plastic, plastic, plastic...

  • Dremel
  • Various sizes of drill bits
  • Nail Polish Remover
  • Copper Etchant - available at Radioshack.
  • Positive Photo Resist Developer - available at various online stores. I purchased from Parts-Express.
  • Daylight fluorescent bulb - available at any Lowe's
  • (Optional) Crock pots - I picked up two small crock pots at a thrift store for $2.00
  • Clear sheet of Acrylic around 8x10 in size
  • Start/Stop Timer (picked on up at the 99 cent store)
  • Plastic containers. Large enough to hold the size of your circuit board. I found some plastic paint trays at Lowe's for $1.00 each
PCB Items
  • Presensitized PCB board - I purchased from Parts-Express (they have various sizes, and even double sided versions)
  • 3M transparency film for Ink Jet Printers (this is a key component, the surface is textured, otherwise your ink would run off the sheet)
  • Grafix Rub-onz sheets - I purchased from Hobby Lobby

Step 2: Designing Your PCB Files

Picture of Designing Your PCB Files

For my project, I used Eagle Cad for my schematic and PCB design.  Eagle Cad has a freeware version for hobby users that has board size limitations. I never making anything over 4" x 3" inches so it fit my needs. There is other PCB design software that you can download by searching Google.

Once your design is finished you need to print it out to size. Since this is the bottom side of the PCB, make sure you do a mirror print.

If you are using Eagle Cad, I have attached a zip file containing the CAM print job that will print your files out for you. It will make two .PS files one for the solder side, one for the component side and will also make your solder side mirrored. Once you have those files, you double click on them and it will make two PDF files that can be printed.

TIP for APPLY TEXT and Graphics
If you want to include any text on the copper side or a silhouette of an image the best way I have found is to open the .PS file in a graphics program like Adobe Photoshop. Keep the resolution of 300 dpi. You can then added textual or graphic elements to the design and they will come out crisp. You won't need to reverse the text either since the copper traces, etc. are already mirrored.

Step 3: Prepare Your PCB Transparency for the Solder Side

Picture of Prepare Your PCB Transparency for the Solder Side
The presensitized PCB board that I used was 4" x 6". My actual circuit is roughly 1.25" x 1.75" so I was able to get a total of 8 boards from one presensitized board.

In Photoshop, I opened up the solder side .PS file and the copied my single circuit design to a new 300 dpi 4" x 6" file. I then laid out a grid, and just copied and pasted the design over and over to fill in the grid. This gave me a nice even layout to print.

  • If you don't have Photoshop. GIMP is a nice open source alternative!
  • In order to make sure I tape down the design the correct way, I always add a label to the top in normal view to the mirrored image. This way I know that the mirrored side is facing upwards. I usually just title what the circuit is.
To print. Take the textured 3M transparency sheet and load it into your printer with the white strip going into the feeder. When printed, let it sit for a minute or two to be sure the ink has dried. Then tape it to the underside of the acrylic sheet.

Step 4: Prepare Your Component Footprints

Picture of Prepare Your Component Footprints

With this step you are going to use the Grafix Rub-onz sheets. This time, I opened the component .PS file in Photoshop but created a 8.5" x 11" image at 300 dpi. I then created another grid and pasted the component footprint layout onto the sheet over and over again. The extra space down the side I placed some small copies of my blog logo.

When you print, make sure you mirror this image as well. The reason this image gets mirrored is because you will turn the sheet over, and then rub the bottom side to transfer the image to the top side of your PCB.

Follow the manufacturers directions that come with the Grafix Rub-onz sheets.

Step 5: Exposing Your PCB to Light

Picture of Exposing Your PCB to Light

The presensitized PCB boards have photo-resist coated on them. The way the process works is everything that you have as black on your design will remain as copper. The areas that are clear, will be removed by the developer and be left with bare board.

The boards come in a foil wrapping, with a peel of white protective cover over the photo side. It's not necessary but I usually dim the lights a little bit just to be on the safe side while I am lining up my design onto the board.

Once you are satisfied with how the design is laid out on the PCB board, you can then turn on the natural daylight lamp. I have found that 14 minutes seems to be perfect timing for exposure with the lamp being 5 1/2 " away. If your lamp is closer or further away you will have to experiment with timing. The manufacturer recommends 10 minutes.

Step 6: Developing Your PCB

Picture of Developing Your PCB
Once you have exposed your PCB to the light source you will want to quickly add it to the developer. The board will still have a green color to it, but you will notice a faint yellow color showing your design.

To develop the board: place 1 part developer to 10 parts warm water in a plastic container. Gently rock the container back and forth. Everything that was exposed to light will now wash away leaving you with a copper board and your design on it. Rinse in cold water to stop the developing process.

  • Use hot tap water, just hot enough that you can touch it and not get burnt. About the temperature you would want to wash your hands with. If its too hot, the entire design will wash away leaving you with a blank piece of copper board. If too cold, the developing process won't work.
  • Add the developer to the water before putting your design in. If you pour the developer directly on top of the board, it will immediately wash away anything it touched.
  • After developing, if you find any areas where your traces show cracks or areas that seem to light, you can take a black permanent marker and touch up those areas.

Step 7: Etch Your PCB Board

Picture of Etch Your PCB Board

Now that you have your developed PCB you are going to use the etchant solution to remove the copper. Everything that green (or black) on  your design will be protected from the copper etchant. The exposed copper areas will be removed.

I used my Dremel and a router bit to cut out the 8 circuit boards off my 4"x6" panel. Next you will want to pour the copper etchant into a PLASTIC container and then gently rock it back and forth until all the exposed copper has been removed.

TIP: This is where the crock pots come in handy. If you use the etchant at room temperature it will take some time to fully remove all the copper. However, if you heat the etchant up, the process is a LOT quicker.

If you use the crock pot method, make sure you have good ventilation. This stuff smells bad heated, and don't inhale the fumes when you lift the lid of the crock pot!

Make sure you wear latex gloves and old clothes. The etchant will stain your clothes no matter how careful you think you will be.

Step 8: Applying Graphics to Your PCB

Picture of Applying Graphics to Your PCB

Once your PCB is completely etched wash it with a little soap and water and then drill out your holes for component placement.

Now comes the tricky part. Cut out one of the Component side graphics that you made earlier. You will place this inkside down on the top section of your PCB. (Make sure both are going the same direction, in my photo they are not. I did line them up correctly but when I took the photo I was holding the rub-onz wrong).

The Grafix Rub-onz are on a light colored material. To make things easier to line up, I used a small light board and laid the PCB down on it. Then when I had the rub-onz close to the PCB I could see through it which enabled me to line up the holes.

TIP: If you don't have a lightboard... you can take a cardboard box, cut out the bottom, place a piece of plexiglass on top, and a lamp underneath it.

Once you have the rub-on in place, take a Popsicle stick and start rubbing firmly over the back. Peel off paper and your footprint design will be transferred to your PCB.

You are now finished!

You could also use a hobby screen printing kit for this process, but that is a whole other Instructable.


aravinds34 (author)2017-09-20

what type of paper should i select in the print properties before printing for 3m transparent paper?

taf123 made it! (author)2017-03-05

Thanks a lot for the post - very helpful. I particularly liked the idea of using the dry transfer rub on sheets for the component side design - worked very well!

In the end I talked myself into going with a purchased UV exposure box, but your post really helped me get the project started.

AnthonyC47 (author)taf1232017-04-10

Wow Nice :)

azuer88 (author)2016-05-12

I have successfully used plain paper, pigment type ink, and mineral oil. I printed my design on a plain paper at the highest resolution. After the ink was thoroughly dry, I gently rubbed in mineral oil on the paper to make it translucent. The exposure was longer using a UV lamp (20-30 minutes). So I guess it will be so much longer using fluorescent lamps.

I refill my inkjet's black cartridge with the pigment (as opposed to dye) type ink. I believe it blocks UV better. But I haven't done any real testing to prove it. Just read about it.

Hope this will help someone who may not have access (like me) to specialized media (transparencies).

guruji1 (author)2016-02-28

Hi thanks for sharing. When you mentioned developer you were refering to nail polisher as chemical? Thanks

Solion (author)2015-08-22

You may have missed step , do you remove the rub-on before you set it into the developer? I assume you do.

LINK-TECHP (author)2015-02-01

Look very helpful, still confuse on how it works?

LINK-TECHP (author)2015-01-31

Look very nice, how it works?

varora2 made it! (author)2014-07-16

The post seems nice. I found some nice and simpler instructions here to Design PCB at home along with the video on youtube to explain. Worth reading !

lambofwrath95 (author)2014-04-03

Would you be able to just put this out in the sunlight instead of using a UV lamp... only as this is a hobby for me and I'm not wanting to spend money of which I have little...

I don't plan on making a heap of these if I can't get the hang of it after a few attempts so if i could avoid buying a lamp that'd be Dope!!


cliffyd (author)2014-03-30

They look absolutely perfect...great job!

baycollie (author)2014-03-07

Would it work to use the Graphix Rub-Onz for the etchant resist ? Then it would be possible to use just bare copper circuit board and get rid of the pre-sensitized board, the light exposure and development. Just print the circuit on the rub-onz, transfer it to the copper, etch the board. If marker works as etchant resist, I would imagine the rub-onz transfer ink pattern would also.

Good article, the board looks great.

cko2 (author)2013-10-28


als_liahona (author)2009-11-11

What do you use on the dremel for cutting the boards?
Do you drill the holes prior to etching?

fiearo (author)als_liahona2012-01-29

I use a paper cutter like schools use. It makes a decent cut but don't use it on paper any more. I got mine from Harbor Freight Tools for $14.

ArduinoFun (author)als_liahona2009-11-11

I use a router bit that they sell for dremels to cut the boards with and then a sanding stone to smooth off the edges. I recently picked up a scroll saw for dirt cheap at a new uses store, and today I cut some boards with it. Works great. You can drill the holes prior or after etching. I have done it both ways.

als_liahona (author)ArduinoFun2009-11-12

Thanks much!  I tried using my scroll saw on a board and while it worked, the friction nearly caught the board on fire.  I'll try a dremel router bit.

Foxau2 (author)2010-04-05

When you use the rub onz film, does it apply a continuous film across the entire surface? Or does it only apply exactly what you printed? My question is just, could I use these rub onz sheets to create my first circuit layout so i don't have to use the photochemical process, instead using this to do something similar to using a laser printer with photo paper that you iron the design on?

AgentClank (author)Foxau22011-05-14

I'm afraid not- the PCBs are made with a piece of plastic/fiberglass and a layer of copper on top, coated in a photo resist layer that is resistant to corrosive acid. When black is printed on top of the photo resist, the covered portion of the photo resist is not exposed, and so stays active. However, the uncovered photo-resist layer is deativated under light, as it does not have any black covering, and so cannot protect the copper from corrosion (if this makes sense!).

coleyy (author)2010-12-08

how do you make the zip file make the pdfs???????????????????????????

bleh.bleh (author)coleyy2011-01-03

you have to move it or copy it to your desktop

coleyy (author)coleyy2010-12-09

i mean aftr i get the ps files, i double clicked them and it asked me what program to open it with. i tried every one but none of them worked

i think you right click and click extract

coleyy (author)2010-12-08

can you just use grafix rub-onz to put the pattern on the pcb?

jackdi (author)2010-09-30

Great & innovative ideas! Thanks.

- Jack -

planet sutcliffe (author)2010-01-31

Yes very good, I will try this at some point, still veroboarding for the time being; nice to know I can use the inkjet in the future though. Thanks!

Shadyman (author)2010-01-30

+1 Ingenuity!

Shadyman (author)2010-01-30

So THAT's what that stand thing is for! Epic. Thanks!

PyromaniacDaniel (author)2009-11-13

I have a printer designed to print on CDs. the CD goes in this tray thing and then it passes through the machine. I wonder if there is a way to sub the tray for a PCB board and print directly on it and if that would be enough to keep it from etching? I don't know how well it would like printing on metal but who knows might work.

HA! what do ya know someone else already came up with it. And its the exact same printer I have.

technicaldude (author)2009-11-05

Hi, would you specify the wattage of your bulb please?  Thanks.

ArduinoFun (author)technicaldude2009-11-05

It is a 15W bulb.

technicaldude (author)ArduinoFun2009-11-12

Thanks a lot!

brunoxyz (author)2009-11-06

 awesome tutorial,  it really makes me want to build a circuit board for something.....        too bad I don't know much about electronic circuits. 

johnpombrio (author)2009-10-31

Well, the traces are there anyways. I would assume that some drilling would be necessary at some point to actually use the PCB! As drilling usually causes some lifting of material as the drill bit removes the debris, I wonder how much chance the pad would lift or break. For one of's, this looks like too much work. Breadboarding or wire wrap sounds more reasonable.

stoobers (author)johnpombrio2009-11-05

Believe it or not, you can skip drilling the holes!

Instead of little circles, make little square pads with no holes.  Then, snip the legs off some component sockets and solder the sockets to the pads.

After the sockets are tested for conductivity, insert the chips into them.  LEDs and capacitors can be soldered directly to the little square pads.

I use the sockets because sometimes I mess up and melt things.  Sockets are usually cheaper than the chips.  You can make double sided boards this way, and connect the two sides with a little hoop of wire, if needed.

The only problem doing it this way, is the glue under the pad can overheat the the trace can lift off the board surface.

I am trying to find some way to use a conductive glue, so I can skip the soldering phase, as it is hot and stinky.  I'm not sure if there is a SMD glue or not.

ArduinoFun (author)stoobers2009-11-05

Good tip! I have done a few times. My binary clock I did that as well on the second version. I used surface mount parts, but on stuff that wasn't surface mount I still just soldered to the pads. The chip sockets I just bent the leads out and soldered it to the board so that I can always upgrade the chip if I wanted to later on.

Herbie (author)johnpombrio2009-11-05

The trick for successful drilling of vias (the through-holes for component parts) is to use the correct carbide "bits" and to use high RPMs.

The correct bit isn't really a "drill", it isn't the regular fluted drill bit, it looks more like a router bit (but very small).  The flutes on a regular bit are what "pull up" on the material and might lift the pads.  The router bits aren't as efficient as moving the debris, but they don't lift pads either!  I got a graduated set of bits from my local electronics place for $10 or so. 

These bits also require high RPMs.  Much faster than my drill press can spin.  Fortunately the size of the shank matches perfectly to a Dremel tool.  The first few boards I etched were drilled "by hand" just holding the dremel, but I purchased the dremel "drill press" holder since I was doing enough boards to justify the expense.

johnpombrio (author)Herbie2009-11-05

Good solution Herbie! I know the kind of bits you are talking about and makes good sense. Thanks!

ArduinoFun (author)johnpombrio2009-10-31

Yes, you need to drill out your holes. I will have to add that in to the step.

Its not too bad actually as far as time concerns. It took me longer to write the tutorial than to actually make a board. I put the attached board together today, and it turned out nice.

Zybeon (author)2009-11-05

I don't use the copper etchant from R-shack anymore. You can make your own etchant much cheaper using two items. Using one part muriatic acid and two parts peroxide. There is an instructable on how to make it in here somewhere. It takes a bit to maintain the solution but with a little care and practically no money, it can be used almost indefinitely.

ArduinoFun (author)Zybeon2009-11-05

I am going to have to look into that. Sounds great!

kea (author)2009-11-05

Hi, Folks I use A commercial program lite version PCB3 from England.
I pint the circuit with a laser printer & use Kinsten Positive acting presnsitised board. Exposure by light box useing  compact UV flouro tubes for 10 minutes on a 4 by 4 board. I am in the process of building another light box which will be shallower & have 2 tubes. Etching upuntill this time I have used Ammonium Persulphate which is slow & has to be heated. This method I have found to be 100% reliable unlike the iron which does not take completely at times.
I also intend to try Hydrogen Peroxide with Hydrochloric acid or solder flux easy to get. This I think was picked up from Instuctables.
Cheers guys Kiwi John

mikej_w (author)2009-11-05

Just a couple of notes:

you have the holes showing on your resist pattern, which is vital to get the drill to center.

Usually you would drill a couple of registration holes on the board before exposing the first side, so that the other side can be placed correctly afterward. I didn't see how you did that, but you must have because you had good results :)

eli2k (author)2009-10-30

Thank you for writing up the tutorial! I'm unfamiliar with PCB boards in general, but on the third image in step 2, it looks like most of the board is copper (like the area where you placed the graphics in)? I thought the traces would only be connected to the holes where you place components in. It looks like it would be easy for solder to end up on there and cause short-circuits? Unless I have it all backwards somewhere.

ArduinoFun (author)eli2k2009-10-31

That's the ground plane. The solder doesn't stick to the bare board, so it doesn't travel across and stick to the other side as easily. It is possible and can happen which is called a solder bridge. Its not as tight as it may look in the photo due to the photo not being a close up.

You can remove all the copper and just leave the traces going from component to component. It all depends on the person. I like to etch less copper away so I don't have to use up a lot of the chemical.

Likewise, when you design your PCB you could make the area between the traces wider and then you would still etch less copper.

jlew (author)ArduinoFun2009-11-05

You would want to connect your ground plane to the ground of the circuit.  Otherwise it is floating isolated from the circuit.  Very nice looking boards!

eli2k (author)ArduinoFun2009-10-31

Ah, I see. Thanks for the explanation, that makes sense because on kits and PCB boards with the holes already in them, the solder stays inside the metal pad and making a solder bridge between two of them is pretty hard without a wire.

Can you reuse the chemical, ie store it between uses, or you have to use it during that day?

ArduinoFun (author)eli2k2009-10-31

You can use them several times over. I store them in a container and then once I notice that it is starting to take a long time to complete the process I know its time to change them out.

mad_mat (author)ArduinoFun2009-11-01

Awesome 'ible ArduinoFun, nice work.
Just to clarify for eli2k; its best to store used ectchant separately, dont put it back in the bottle with your new stuff.
And just adding a bit more new etchant to used etchant doesn't really make it work faster, it just makes more used etchant ;-)


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