Introduction: Laser Cut Circuit Boards

Yes - you can make circuit boards on your 40-watt CO2 laser cutter without etching!

Quick summary (step-by-step / more details in video):
1. Attach .001" steel shim to cast acrylic sheet with mounting tape (leave paper backing on acrylic)
2. Cut out though-holes and board itself at 6.5 mm/s (2 passes)
3. Cut traces at 15 mm/s (2 passes)
4. Peel off non-trace segments from board surface (including tape and paper backing)
5. You have a circuit board!

Pros:
Fast - can make a simple board in only a few minutes
No chemical etching needed
Boards can be any color acrylic comes in - including transparent!
Laser can be used to cut through-holes / cut the board out in any shape

Cons:
Steel isn't a great conductor / may be an issue for some circuits
Boards are not as sturdy as etched ones
Traces limited to minimum of around 1/16" wide - not suitable for SMD
Soldering smaller (DIP) components can be a bit finicky

More details at www.nothinglabs.com

Comments

searx (author)2013-02-07

This is very similar to the process I used in my
https://www.instructables.com/id/DIY-MP3-to-Cassette-or-Instrument-to-Cassette-Adap/
I used a piece of clear plastic and copper tape, then drilled holes through it for the wires

DIY-Guy (author)2013-01-23

Dear Author (NothingLabs),
If steel shim material is not conductive enough for some circuits, it may still be possible to use copper foil tape for traces. [I don't have a laser cutter yet and cannot test this myself.]

One commercial CO2 laser company advises the use of a thermal coating to absorb the IR wavelength and mark metal. This might be possible with black Sharpie permenent marker or some sprayed on coating like black wax or paint.

Has anyone tried this yet with the copper foil sticky tape which is used by stained glass artists?

nothinglabs (author)DIY-Guy2013-01-23

Yes - have tried copper tape / foil / leaf.

It's virtually impossible to cut. Had a little luck spray painting it black - but its too difficult to get through to be practical.

Copper is both very reflective of infrared and conducts heat very well. Both of these make it hard to cut.

Tomdf (author)nothinglabs2013-01-27

I have a 4" strip of sticky copper tape that I intend to try this with. My idea is to use a vinyl cutter or similar craft cutter to cut the circuit traces. I think with some tweaking of the blade depth it would totally work, I just haven't found anyone with a cutter that is willing to let me try yet.

nothinglabs (author)Tomdf2013-01-28

I know someone who's taken this approach with some good results:

http://fab.cba.mit.edu/content/processes/PCB/vinylcut.html

Tomdf (author)nothinglabs2013-01-28

Wow look at that! That is exactly like I envisioned it! It's going to be much easier to convince a local sticker shop to stick copper in their cutter with proof that it will work.
Thanks :D

About This Instructable

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Bio: Hi, I'm Rich Olson (nothinglabs.com). I sell cloud chambers for viewing radiation, make robots and dev software. If you need something prototyped - I ... More »
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