Modified Laminator for PCB Toner Transfer





Introduction: Modified Laminator for PCB Toner Transfer

If you use the toner transfer method for your PCB, this hack is for you.

Toner transfer is my favorite method for rapid PCB prototyping down to 10 mil traces. The basic steps are already described thoroughly, you can find some good tutorials on the net :

  1. Laser print the drawings on an appropriate paper (inkjet printing on a very glossy paper then spraying toner powder on wet traces and dusting off excess toner is a method I’ve tested with success too, very convenient since it works with any home inkjet)
  2. Iron the paper on PCB’s copper faces
  3. Soak in water to remove the paper
  4. Etch

Step 2 may be very frustrating using an iron. I’ve tried it many times but even with clever tricks like toner transfer with dowel , my success rate is rather low.  With a laminator, results are much much more reproducible but you have to laminate the PCB several times to fuse the toner solidly on the copper, « several » meaning « until you’re sick and tired » (15 to 20 passes).

Step 1: Principle

So I decided to hack the laminator by slowing down its rolls’ motor using a triac controller. Instead of laminating the PCB in 10, even 20 passes, the motor is switched on 1/2 second then off 10 seconds (off-times of 3s  & 6 s can also be selected). That’s about the right amount of heat for the toner to fuse and stick to the copper. So you can feed once and attend to something else until the transfer is finished, the result will be consistent and perfect.

Step 2: Circuit Board

The laminator I hacked is bought new for 15 euros at the supermarket, it’s supposed to be used on thin films & paper but can be fed no problem with 1.6 mm FR4 PCB. I’ve used a friend’s much more expensive laminator with no better results so if you can buy a dirt cheap machine, I presume you should.

The triac controller is a slightly adapted design from a light dimmer kit I made in another project. The circuit is powered from the mains voltage (220V/50hz in France) through a capacitance. Schematics and microprocessor’s code are provided below. Compiled codes are for Microchip’s 16F84 and 16F628. 16F628s have an embedded 4 Mhz oscillator so the external 4 Mhz resonator can be omitted.

The source code is forked from an existing (tried and thoroughly tested) project , I haven’t tested this circuit on 60 hz mains but it should work.
BTW, I have some PCBs left, if anyone want one, please, let me know.

Step 3: Controller Board Integration

There is free space in the laminator, so I decided to put in the controller board, just below the laminator’s buttons.

I disconnect the laminator’s on/off switch and the red led and reroute them to the controller (see circle in the picture). Since the on/off switch is no more, you have to switch on/off with the mains plug. Otherwise, you’ll have to connect the controller the conventional way : drill a hole and add switch & led to the laminator or put the controller in an external box.

Controller’s switch modes:

1. ON : motor always on, this is equivalent to the original laminator mode (without controller)
2. OFF : motor 1/2 s on, 10s off
3. ON/OFF (switch is used as pushbutton): change the off duration of mode 2. The default is 1/2 s on+10 s off but you can change to more rapid speeds 1/2s on + 3 s off and 1/2s on+ 6 s off. On my laminator, the default speed has been the most suitable for a correct fusing in one pass, on higher temperature laminators, maybe

Now that all is connected and tested, the controller board is inserted into the laminator’s free space.

Step 4: Reassembling and Try a First Transfert

Laminator’s back cover is closed, no hole has been drilled and there is no visual difference after the hack.

Now it can be used to transfer PCBs. I can still use it as a standard laminator with the switch in ON position (motor in continuous mode). It works flawlessly in both modes.
An exemple of what I get from this hack after etching with hcl & H2O2, the double-sided pcb is for an ATMega168 in TQFP.

Step 5: ! Warnings !

Disclaimer : you’re dealing with a system not isolated from the mains voltage. No big deal if you know what you’re doing (I’ve started hacking PICs on this board, so you can too). But if your material, dog or self is damaged or dead, please don’t sue me.



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    it damaged and or deaded my neigbor's cousion's milkman's imaginary moon dog. He was very attached and I will be filing suit on their behalf. :D

    1 reply

    mort chien imaginarie! /s thanks for the great tutorial!

    This is a great contribution, hobby16!! I have been fumbling around with triacs to
    slow down my laminator, to no avail up to now (electronics is not my field of
    expertise, but I truly enjoy this). Then
    I’ve just found your instructable as light in a tunnel. I
    wonder if you would still receive this message. If you do, I would very much appreciate your
    help with the schematics, assembler and hex codes.

    Thanking you in advance for your help,

    Amitiés du Mexique,

    Does Someone have updated links?

    Thanks for the great guide. I'd like to give this a go as I now need to etch images that are far more complex than ones I've been making (an ongoing art/band project which involves making books from untreated steel and etching the covers using a template and rubber paint spray as the resist and the water/salt/battery charger method for the etch). The links aren't working for me either so if you wouldn't mind sending the schematics, assembler and hex codes that would be really, really appreciated. Email: Cheers!

    Download links do not work unfortunately :(

    Good stuff!.

    I made a more advanced mod. to handle synchronous AC motors for the Apache AL13P heavy duty laminator as well as thermal protections and a cool down sequence.

    The same warning happens with Firefox. Since I'm a Xubuntu user, I risk to enter and the links are down anyway.


    Your links pop up a Chromium window saying the page contains malware. Could you send me the Schematics and the Assembler & hex codes?


    Would you kindly send me the schematic, and both assembler & hex files.

    The links seem to be down again.

    Kind Regards

    Could you please send me the schematic, assembler and hex . I always get error if I click your link. Thank you very much.

    My email address

    This method gives great results; thank you for this excellent Instructable. I am using the Harbor Freight laminator (part number 92499). I accomplished the pulsed power to the motor with an Arduino and a mechanical relay instead of a PIC and a triac.  I got the Arduino and the relay from Vetco Electronics in Bellevue, WA.

    1 reply

    Did you do a thermostat mod to it to make the temperature higher?


    Thanks so much for this! I can't say enough how awesome this works me. I made a small pcb to fit inside the Harbor Freight laminator. I'm on 120v 60Hz for those wondering if it works or not. Finally, successful pcb and top silkscreen EVERY time now!!!!

    I usually only pass my boards through twice, different model though. Worked great from the start, no modifications needed.

    Look for a laminator, that will handle thick pouches. Use thinner PCB material. Unless you are doing some high power boards, with large, heavy parts, you really don't need the thick stuff. You'll most likely find a case for you project eventually.

    Another bonus point with thin board, it's easier to cut (paper cutter), and drill.

    2 replies

    You must have a higher temperature laminator.
    I initially tried the temperature hack (shorcut the internal thermostat and use an external regulator for testing) but since the machine started to smell bad, I didn't try further.
    Where do you buy thin PCB ? - their scissor-cut copper clad is very thin, no thicker than photo paper.


    Anyone have the schematic and hex file for this project? Really like to built it but download aren't available anymore

    1 reply

    Problem with the provider htaccess file, fixed now. Links are ok again.