Heatless (cold) Toner Transfer for PCB Making





Introduction: 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

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

Step 2: Acetone Reacts With Toner

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

Step 3: The Formula

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

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

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

Step 6: Procedure

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

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

Step 9: Large Boards

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

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Congratulations to the semplicity !
I would like to find on the Web a site with drawings of various printed circuits but I found
little stuff (hi-fi). Can you please help me ?
Thanks a lot



I think the toner in my printer (I'm using a Brother HL-1440) must be a
little bit different. I've tried 8 times using different ratios of
acetone and ethanol and a few different types of paper and have gotten
0% toner transfer (+/- 0%, looking under a 120x power microscope). I
just refilled an old toner cartridge with a different brand of toner and
I'll try that. Using the hot transfer process I've had about 70 to 90%
transfer using the same toner (meaning it's still 100% failure!)
Hopefully I'll get one of these processes down soon. :)

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.

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.

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

I will try that for sure! Thanks!

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.

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.


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.

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.