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!
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rustystar9 days ago

Now there is an easier way. Check out Bare Conductive's electric paint. No need for all the mess here.

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!!


cliffyd19 days ago

They look absolutely perfect...great job!

baycollie1 month ago

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.

cko25 months ago
als_liahona4 years ago
What do you use on the dremel for cutting the boards?
Do you drill the holes prior to etching?
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_liahona4 years ago
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.
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.
Foxau24 years ago
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?
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!).
coleyy3 years ago
how do you make the zip file make the pdfs???????????????????????????
you have to move it or copy it to your desktop
coleyy coleyy3 years ago
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
coleyy3 years ago
can you just use grafix rub-onz to put the pattern on the pcb?
jackdi3 years ago
Great & innovative ideas! Thanks.

- Jack -
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!
Shadyman4 years ago
+1 Ingenuity!
Shadyman4 years ago
So THAT's what that stand thing is for! Epic. Thanks!
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.

Hi, would you specify the wattage of your bulb please?  Thanks.
ArduinoFun (author)  technicaldude4 years ago
It is a 15W bulb.
Thanks a lot!
brunoxyz4 years ago
 awesome tutorial,  it really makes me want to build a circuit board for something.....        too bad I don't know much about electronic circuits. 
johnpombrio4 years ago
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.

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)  stoobers4 years ago
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.
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.

Good solution Herbie! I know the kind of bits you are talking about and makes good sense. Thanks!
ArduinoFun (author)  johnpombrio4 years ago
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.
Zybeon4 years ago
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)  Zybeon4 years ago
I am going to have to look into that. Sounds great!
kea4 years ago

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_w4 years ago
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 :)
eli2k4 years ago
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)  eli2k4 years ago
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 ArduinoFun4 years ago
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!
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?

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