Introduction: Heatless (cold) Toner Transfer for PCB Making

Picture of Heatless (cold) Toner Transfer for PCB Making

Toner transfer method for making PC boards is very practical and economical. The use of heat for the transferring is not. Large boards expand with heat (more than the laser print) and heat is applied to the top of the toner and not to the bottom contacting the copper layer. Too much heat melts and deforms the toner, too little heat and it won't adhere uniformly. In this Instructable I will describe a very simple technique I've been using for over 15 years. It is very fail-proof and involves the use of only 2 common chemicals : Ethyl Alcohol and Acetone. You can replace the Acetone with Toluene or Xylene, but you will have to experiment with the proportions.

Step 1: Toner Is Inert to Alcohol

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Alcohol is volatile but neutral to toner or paper. Its purpose is to dilute the Acetone.

Step 2: Acetone Reacts With Toner

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Acetone, (pure, not nail-polish remover) dissolves the toner immediately.

Step 3: The Formula

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Experimentally I found the best alcohol-acetone proportion is 8:3 (8 volumes alcohol + 3 volumes Acetone) Acetone will "soften" the toner just enough to make it "sticky" but not dissolve or blur.

Step 4: Storage

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You can store the preparation for a very long time but the container must be absolutely airtight. Acetone is much more volatile than Alcohol so exposing to air will degrade acetone concentration. The container should also survive the action of acetone. If plastic, it should be HDPE(high density polyethilene, often used in kitchenware)

Step 5: Cleaning

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This step is the same you would do for any other toner tranfer method.

Step 6: Procedure

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Pour the solution on the board (not on the print) and quickly spread to cover all its surface (quick!, acetone is volatilizing). Place the print on the board and center it in place without pushing down. Now press gently down, fully contacting the solution. Wait 5-10 seconds before finally pressing down to adhere to board (only perpendicular pressure). During those seconds, acetone is reacting with the toner rendering it "sticky". Use some kitchen paper to spread pressure evenly and absorb excess liquid. Let dry, and dip in water.

Step 7: Release the Paper

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After a few minutes (don't be anxious) peel the paper off starting from a corner. There should not be any toner on the paper. Rinse the board in water to remove any remaining paper particles.

Step 8: Etching

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Step 9: Large Boards

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For larger boards, I place board and print between two blocks of wood and press together with a C-Clamp. Place a layer or two of kitchen paper between print and wood to distribute pressure and allow for evaporation.

Step 10: For More Details, Watch the Video. Thank You


AvoR1 (author)2018-01-11

I did this to improve the results:

#1 Make the printer output more toner (thicker layer) on the paper (making black really black) by setting max contrast and min brightness in the printer settings in Windows. That prevented the etchant getting through the toner layer.
#2 I use MEK thinner in ratio of 60% alcohol and 40% MEK. The more MEK, the faster I have to work, because toner will get spongy really fast.
#3 Running the water directly on/through the paper also seemed to help better separate the toner from the paper. And the glossy laser paper is absolutely necessary. If you use regular white copy paper, the toner won't come off the paper properly and gets caught in the pores of the paper.

ajayre (author)2018-01-09

I'm pulling my hair out with this. I have tried different ratios, different types of paper, pressing with hands, pressing with clamps, soaking for different lengths of time, etc. and the result is always the same. The toner has patches where it flakes off and also once the paper has been removed the toner turns white and the copper gets a white deposit on it that I can't remove unless I scratch it, but then I risk damaging the very fragile toner.

haq3013 (author)2018-01-07

This solution work great for me although it take some time to master.

andrea biffi (author)2017-10-23

I will try that for sure! Thanks!

charliemyers (author)2017-09-12

This system works for me consistently! I make a sandwich of: wooden block, 1/2" foam rubber, copper clad board, acetone mix, circuit printed on magazine paper, paper towel, another 1/2" foam rubber, wooden block on top. Compress it together with enough clamps to distribute the pressure evenly, and wait a couple hours.

After removing the clamp, let the board sit until the paper no longer smells like acetone. Soak it in soapy water for a couple hours and the paper almost falls off by itself. PERFECT results each time so far for me. I'm not in that big of a hurry, so the extra clamp & soaking time doesn't bother me. But 100% success is well worth the wait! Better than under 10% success using the iron on method.

pjs2020 (author)2017-06-19

I tried this will great transfer results but bad etching results. For the transfer I did everything as instructed except used 99% isopropyl alcohol. I did the transfer twice using a Brother laser printer on glossy paper and both times it looked perfect on the board. I was very excited by this, but when I etched it, using 3 parts hydrogen peroxide + 1 part muriatic acid, like 30% of the copper under the toner was evenly removed as well. I've done it 100s of times with the hot iron and same etching solution with perfect results, but with this I can't seem to get the same final result.

pedja_bg (author)pjs20202017-08-13

Your solvent is too strong. I am using 10ml of muriatic acid 26% and 1ml of hydrogen 30%. Hydrogen will speed up the process, but final result will not be that good. You need to be patient, use only muriatic acid and slowly add hydrogen, when you see the bubbles stop adding hydrogen and always move the solution or the board.

pjs2020 (author)pedja_bg2017-08-14

Hey thanks for the reply! I went ahead and weakened the etchant and did get better results, but in testing out a bunch of things I noticed the problem. It just wasn't obvious. On one of the tests, when I followed the toner transfer method and wiped the print with alcohol, little bits of the toner came off from the traces. This led me to print another one and look very closely at it under magnification. The printer wasn't actually printing with full toner coverage on the glossy paper I was using. So there were very tiny holes here and there which ended up allowing the etchant to get in. I tried printing with max density and other printer setting and also tried a method I saw to even the toner out by using acetone vapor, but the results still weren't as good as using the hot iron. I also did try a different laser printer on the same paper and it had near perfect toner coverage, but it wouldn't transfer. I'll have to play around with that more to see if I can get it to work.

changeumans (author)2017-08-04

I did try it with a HP4100 laserjet, no succes, the toner do not stick at all, maybe wrong alcohol, did use 70 procent denaturalized alcohol. hae original toner cardridge.

silvaenr (author)2017-07-17

I've done this as follow:

1. HP laserjet P1109w printer with original HP toner cartridge.

2. Glossy paper used is couche paper bought at a stationery store. I found two-sided, 72cmX102cm, 130g, couche paper sheets. They cut the sheets for me to letter size.

3. 50% acetone, 50% ethyl alcohol. Ethyl alcohol bought at a drugstore and the acetone at a hardware store.

4. I followed the procedure described in this instructable to step 6, but waited a couple hours for the solvents to dry, then dipped the pcb in water. At this point, continued with procedure as described.

5. Before etching, as someone mentioned here, white vinegar helps to remove any traces of paper left between the tracks.

SaturdayScience (author)2017-06-14

I'm about to experiment with this method - I've bee meaning to make my own PCBs for years. Your transfer method is inspiring me to give it a go - thanks. A couple of points:

1) Acetone is very much 'healthier' than toluene or xylene.

2) I see some folk have substituted 70% Alcohol and the blend changed to 70%Ethanol 5: 2 Acetone. Interesting that in the 8:3 mix the acetone is 27% and in the 70% Ethanol blend the acetone is 28%. I guess with greater water content of the 70% alcohol mix evaporation will be rather slower so more paper towels or longer time required before putting the sandwich into the water bath.

My first experiment will be to test ratios for my (Brother) printer toner.

AdjustG made it! (author)2017-05-24

Very nice, clean and easy. After some tries I found that the 1:1 ratio worked for me too. I used an HP inkjet printer with not OEM toner and paper from a Goodyear tyres catalog. I resigned some spots with a permanent marker.

permanent marker

AdjustG (author)AdjustG2017-05-24

I used two woods and a wood clamp for pressure for 10 minutes but I don't that needed that much.

JamesW440 (author)2017-05-13

I tried this several times on a fairly complex board. I used acetone and denatured alcohol from Home Depot. I used the exact mix of the two, but I had little success getting the right amount onto the board. I might have hurried too much?! Anyway less than half of the toner stuck as many times as I tried and putting weight on it caused straight lines to go wiggly.

I was almost able to get it to work with 100% acetone by putting the paper on first and pouring the acetone over the paper. The pressing boards caused it to squish out.

abhinnkp (author)2017-04-14

Can I use Isopropyl alcohol instead of Ethyl Alcohol and what will be the ration of mixture?

abhinnkp (author)abhinnkp2017-04-15

I've tried it with Isopropyl alcohol with the same ration and it worked. Thanks for the Instructable.

KevinK192 (author)abhinnkp2017-04-30

Thanks for posting it worked!! what % iso did you use?

abhinnkp (author)KevinK1922017-05-01

The ratio is same 3:8 (Acetone:ISO)

abhinnkp (author)abhinnkp2017-04-15


Frazno (author)2017-04-04

what paper do I use and does it work with a laser printer?

EliR30 (author)2017-04-02

evening, I'm trying to use your method, but I can not get the drawing
out, is there any other way to get the paper out as shown in the video? Thank you.

TiborH (author)2017-03-29

I used 70% ethyl alcohol and I had do use a different ratio, as the 8:3 didn't do anything. After some experimenting, I found that Acetone:70% Alcohol - 5:2 ratio works quite well. Thanks for showing!

wafflecore (author)TiborH2017-03-30

Thanks for sharing this! I will give it a try this weekend.

plioi made it! (author)2017-02-24

This is simply GREAT! Works so much better than ironing...

Thank you for sharing this method!

Pablo (Rosario - Argentina)

simpletronic (author)plioi2017-03-05

Gracias! Aguante Rosario, cuna del rock nacional !!

AhmedS273 (author)2016-04-23

I would like to thank you for this magic like method! It works without
hard work for heat transfer method.

I want to suggest an improvement for this method(extra step).

This step is to put the board in the oven at 180c for to minutes after
removing the paper to stabilize the toner on the board to improve
etching process.

Is this step useful??

RobinM91 (author)AhmedS2732016-05-17

Yes that step is helpful. I've tried it and it significantly strengthens the grip of the toner to the board. I determined this by scratching with a finger nail before and after the oven stage. I presume this will reduce undercut in etching but have not confirmed that by experiment yet

fschendel (author)RobinM912017-02-14

Would a Toaster machine work for that?

AmerI2 made it! (author)2017-02-12

Thank you very much!

I just tried it with tracing paper.

I easy and quick got full transfer with no sticking paper on PCB!

Yeah... it is not right on the spot. There are issues with printing on tracing paper. Toner is not good cower all black areas, and lines are thinner then printed on glossy paper.

But I think it is worth trying further. Maybe out there exists better tracing paper or my printer is not just good enough.

Abraar Sameer (author)2017-01-07

Can I use alcoholic hand rub instead of Ethyl alcohol which contains 70% Isopropyl Alcohol and the rest water and other chemicals?

gfioro made it! (author)2016-12-27

Gracias loco, es genial esto! Vengo de intentar de mil formas distintas transfer termico, y tengo bastantes luchas con laca fotosensible... esto es muy bueno!

Successful on first try!
- Design with 10mil tracks and 10mil clearences
-"Ilustración 170g" paper, glossy
- 8 parts Ethylic (96% grade), 3 parts Acetone (technical grade, almost pure) measured with syringe.
Cleaned copper with abrasive cloth (coarse), rubbed with alcohol and paper towel.
Poured generous amount of solvent mix without it dropping off the pcb.
Placed print on top. Waited for it to soak. Pressed with a piece (3mm thick) of Balsa (Kiri should work too) wood, which is quite porous and soft. (bought in craft model shops, used for model airplanes and buildings).
The wood quickly absorbed the solvent. Placed a mediun weight (around 700g) and left a couple minutes alone.
Removed the weight and balsa and waited for the paper to dry. Paper tried to rise and damaged a trace in the border...perhaps i could weigh it down with some sort of mesh while it dries, next time.
Soaked it with gentle warm water; the back "wax" of the glossy paper inhibited wetting of the center of the paper, so I scratched it a little with a wire sponge. Peeled off perfect and the toner resisted the finger rubbing quite well. Tried soaking it also in warm strong bleach solution, don´t know if it helped much.

Attacked with ferric perchlorate, manual stirring, no heat.
Result is amazingly good. No shorts and no open tracks (only one, but was a design error). Edges are quite straight and healthy. Some places seem squished, as if something pressed too much there.
There are some spots in the large solid areas, probably because of the print (toner usually fails to fill large solid areas, or so I've been told). Could try hatched fill instead of solid, if I need background planes.

Tranks, again!
Gustavo (Rosario)


simpletronic (author)gfioro2016-12-31

Muchas gracias y Feliz Año ! Aguante Rosario !!

Turtle987 (author)2016-07-21

Could you give me a list of printers that work? I need to get a new one and was hoping to find one where the replacement cartridge price wasn't too high. I have a brother right now which I hear isn't the best, plus it doesn't print very darkly or smooth lines. You mentioned a canon printer, do you think all canon laser printers work, as long as the print quality is there? Also I've heard HP printers working well for other application methods, so you know if that holds true for this? Thanks!!! I'm very excited to try this!

naic98 (author)Turtle9872016-12-29

the original hp laser printers where built by canon

EMCguy (author)naic982016-12-30

Sort of. Earliest laser printers used either a Cadmium Sulfide drum (Canon patent) or Selenium drum (Xerox patent). HP licensed the Canon technology, but built most of their mechanics and all of their electronics.

stevedee78 (author)2016-11-10

Can I also take isopropanol? I have no ethanol.

naic98 (author)stevedee782016-12-29

any "drinking alcohol" is ethanol!

maxadan (author)naic982016-12-30

Any drinking alcohol contains water which would cause the solvent mixture will not work as described.

Venus Flytrap (author)2016-12-29

I wouldn't recommend Toluene or Xylene because of toxicity risks.

I'll be using isopropanol because I have a source of it (at work).

I am going to experiment using the cold transfer method but I am going to use gummed paper which will absolutely guarantee that the paper soaks off gently leaving the toner image on the copper.

gbeltrao (author)2016-12-29

Did anybody try using transparency laser printer papers? This may avoid paper trails sticking to the board. It may also be useful because we can see if the solution is spread evenly. Anyone?

M4n0v3y (author)2016-12-29

Thank you!!! Thank you!!! Nice tip! It will simplify my very life at projects!

gm280 (author)2016-12-29

Bravo sir Bravo. I have made tons of printed circuit boards in my life time using most every technique known, but I have never seen this. I will try it and soon too. Thanks for the post. Thumbs Up!

SimonLithedreamer (author)2016-11-23

It works!
I used 75% isopropyl alcohol, the 8:3 ratio for alcohol and acetone works well, while I am using plain A4 paper instead of photo paper, which also not a problem.

blueskiesokie (author)2016-09-01

does anyone have a model number for the paper that they used to get good results with this technique?

diegazo (author)2016-08-29

It works perfect!

printer: Samsung M2835DW

paper: foto glossy 180g.

proportion: i'm not sure, i didn't measure it. But it was about 4:1

and I left it about 5 minutes under water.

Muchas gracias por compartir este método.

Hermann Holbut (author)2016-08-14


I first tried the suggested proportions 8:3 and didn't work. Quality of acetone and alcohol perhaps were not the approppriate concentration, then I made a proportion 1:1 and worked perfectly. I would suggest that everybody start with 1:1 and so on until you get the exact formula that will be satisfactory. Good luck.....

FellaMegaOld. (author)2016-08-11

Methylated Spirits in Australya is 95% Ethanol & 5% Methanol, Methanol is added to deter consumption :)

gmrad (author)2016-07-16

This is a brilliant solution for PCB-development! Why did you wait 15 years to tell us?

arashisann made it! (author)2016-07-09

Forgot to put the first one in water. But the second was amazing.

Brainsoft (author)2016-05-20

Would it be possible after the entire process is finished to repeat the transfer process for a silkscreen (printed in a different color), without the etching part ofcourse? Maybe just the heating in the oven part to make sure the silkscreen sticks?

About This Instructable




Bio: Music: my profession for over 40 years... Electronics: my beloved hobby always.
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