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Picture of PCB etching using laser printer
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The goal of this instructable is to share my experience in making PCBs using a Laser Printer
If you are really into electronics and robotics, then you must MUST make your own PCB's.

Introduction to PCB etching using toner transfer method

In the following technique, I use a solution of hydrochloric acid (Muriatic acid) and Hydrogen peroxide and drop my copper board into it. Within a blink of an eye, you find that the board has etched and your circuit is ready to conquer the world.
If you feel that the instructable is summerized, feel free to check out the complete documentation and a video tutorial in my site:

http://www.robotplatform.com/howto/pcb%20etching/pcb_etching_1.html

Materials required:

Copper Board
Laser printer
Fine sand paper or Kitchen Scrubber
Muriatic Acid / Hydrochloric Acid (HCL)
Hydrogen Peroxide (H2O2)
Thinner / Acetone
Plastic container
Circuit diagram
Electronic or Hand Driller
Fine Drill Bits (0.5mm and 1mm)
Hacksaw

 
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Step 1: Paper and Printer selection

Picture of Paper and Printer selection
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Paper selection

Selecting an appropriate paper is your first step in making a right selection. Glossy photo quality paper or even a glossy thick magazine sheet would do wonders

Printer selection

I have used a printer to transfer the circuit diagram onto the copper board. If you are using a sharpie or a marker, go ahead with it. I haven't tested it, but I guess it should be OK.
Set your printer to output maximum toner and printer your circuit on the glossy paper

Step 2: Preparing the board and transferring toner

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Preparing the Copper board

Normal Copper board availabe at your radio shop would be good enough. Use a kitchen scrub or a fine sand paper and rub surface until you feel it is clean. DO NOT over do it. Once done, clean it with water and a clean cloth and avoid touching the surface

Transferring toner to board

This step is not as complicated as the title says. Switch on your cloths iron and turn it to its highest setting. Place the printed paper over the board and start moving the iron over it for 2-3 minutes. Now drop the board into a mug of water and peel off the glossy paper.
we should use only glossy photo paper?? cant we use ordinary a4 size paper..??
Glossy paper is used so that the ink would melt on heating and get transfered on to the board.I seriously doubt if you could achieve the same with ordinary A4 paper.

You most certainly can use plain A4 paper, I've had lots of success with it.

That's weird because it never worked for me.The ordinary paper absorbed the toner so well that it didn't melt on heating.

I've tried the cheapest paper from Coles with lots of success. To be fair, the paper alone isn't all of the answer. I've had more success by changing the toner settings on the printer (Brother HL-2130) to a darker print-out and my iron to Cotton setting (the hottest setting). I am lazy and have a short attention span, so I only iron for 2-3 minutes ... but I move the iron around a lot. Also, I am a bit obsessive with cleaning the copper thoroughly first - hot water and mild soap, rub until dry, rub-down with isopropyl alcohol, rub until dry ... then iron. I would certainly recommend persisting with cheap paper because it's, well, cheap.

Points noted.Thank you baelza.bubba! and yeah,cheaper the paper,the better it gets .But for me it is because of the ease with which cheap paper can be peeled off the board,once the toner is transferred.The costlier ones require greater time and effort since the paper's quality tends to be better.So it's a win-win situation for cheap papers.Yay!

I thoroughly agree, Ardash_tronix, I once tried with some expensive heavy GSM paper that was supposed to be the ducks guts, it turned out that the paper had a thin layer of plastic on it which made it impossible to remove from the PCB without acetone ... I learned my lesson that day

"There is no better teacher than experience "

kshitizv33 months ago

hey, can i use inkjet printer instead of laser printer?

nfarrow1 year ago

Just wondering if it's possible to use electrolysis process rather than acid for the etching?

In my experience, using the electrolytic process rather than acid etching is a short path to frustration. The copper would need to be connected to the anode for each separate pad and trace ... when the copper has gone into the solution, there will be gaps in the design where positive voltage wasn't passing through it.

ezhilabhi7 months ago

Can we use magazine paper which has already been printed on?

ezhilabhi7 months ago

Can we use magazine paper which has already been printed on?

batmat3 years ago
Very well.
I don't fink way form (Glossy photo quality paper can be used for etching.)
I never thought could be done this way. Pretty simple. Too bad I do not own a laser printer, but as was thinking of buying one, as my epson are already getting old, so I'll try the business with pleasure. I will test with someone who has a laser and then I will buy a certain one or exchange. Who knows ...
Robotplatform (author)  batmat3 years ago
That is exactly what I did before purchasing one. I tried it from other printers and once I was confirmed that it worked, got one.
thanks.
tomc53 batmat11 months ago

Rather than buying a laser printer, consider an office supply store to print (<10 cents per page) or your local library. Unless you are going into mass production, of course... ;)

batmat tomc5311 months ago
Thanks.

One Chinese eBay seller offers "10 Sheets SZ A4 Heat Thermal Transfer Paper For PCB Circuit Board Iron Prototype" for about $5 USD shipped in buy it now auctions. With patience you may win an auction for as little as $0.06 USD shipped. The sample results look encouraging.

mykiscool1 year ago

Hey guys, another etchant that works that's safe and cheap is

100ml of vinegar

100ml peroxide

7ml salt

mix those, dip in board, and it will etch. Add salt as needed as a catalyst to speed the reaction/ get it going.

mykiscool1 year ago

So, can you use glossy paper from magazines that already has print since the ink is dry, or do you need fresh paper? Your picture shows a magazine with print.

jensenr301 year ago

what diameter drill bit do you recommend for drilling holes for through-hole components like resistors, capacitors, and DIP ICs?

nodoubtman1 year ago

After the iron,under the copper it's all black, is it possible that my
iron is too hot, the iron settings is before steam. What do you suggest?
thank you!|

Is there any reason in particular for avoiding Ferric Chloride for etching?
Great instructable thank you! I wish I had listened about the magazine paper. I tried using expensive photo paper first and it took serious effort to scrub all the left behind paper. The old magazine paper just lifted right off after a min soak. No problem. Kicking myself for not trying it first.
Could you just use a etching solution from RadioShack instead of doing all that 2:3 mixing?
Robotplatform (author)  Adambowker982 years ago
By the way, visit the site www.robotplatform.com and you would understand what  I mean with all those simple and easy for anyone to do tutorials :)
Robotplatform (author)  Adambowker982 years ago
I could have, but I did not. The intention of my site www.robotplatform.com is to show everything from scratch. I could get an arduino and get away with all the mess. I can get the boards printed with a manufacturer and keep cool. But that is not the intention of the site.

I guess you would have got the point by now. :)
Todd Gehris2 years ago
"Mix Hydrochloric acid to Hydrogen peroxide in a ratio of 2:3" What concentration of HCl and H2O2? Do you use 3% hydrogen peroxide?
Robotplatform (author)  Todd Gehris2 years ago
Generally, consumers get anything between 3% to 6% concentration. If someone gets anything *higher* than that, then they are sure of what they are doing. Even 6% can be used while adding 1 part of water.
Be sure to flush the board with water before using acetone on it and do not mix the waste chemicals. Not sure how much of a risk it is but you don't want to accidentally make Acetone Peroxide.

From Wikipedia:

Accidental byproduct

Acetone peroxide can also occur accidentally, when suitable chemicals are mixed together, for example when methyl ethyl ketone peroxide is mixed with acetone while making fiberglass composites, and left to stand for some time, or when a mixture of peroxide and hydrochloric acid from printed circuit board etching is mixed with waste acetone from cleaning the finished board and allowed to stand. While amounts obtained this way are typically much smaller than from intentional production, they are also less pure and prepared without cooling, and hence very unstable.

It is also a hazardous by-product of isosafrole oxidation in acetone, a step in the synthesis of MDMA.
although I think that the amounts of H2)2 used are a bit tiny to form any substantial amount of acetone peroxide, it is good to know that etching PCB's could get me on the Gitmo watch list
Robotplatform (author)  Swishercutter3 years ago
Thanks for the comment Swishercutter. Updated the instructable to reflect the same :)
panic mode3 years ago
i use variation of same process whenever in need of quick prototype.

supposedly not every laser is suitable because toner may have different melting point. i used OKI and Samsung with no problems.

as paper i normally use glossy paper for grapics/photos. it works but it is thick and takes few minutes to soak, i'll try magazine paper next time.

as etchant i normally use ferric chloride. advantages are that it is cheap, reusable, easy to use and safe.

when i say safe, i mean it is not aggressive, it is very mild oxidizer,(also used in water treatment) so it will not burn your skin etc.(unless you swallow or swim in it) but since it is brown it easily stains everything so it is still strongly recommended to use gloves. any contact with skin should be washed right away or skin will be retain dark stain for several days.

easy to use means there is nothing to mix or dispose of (at least for a while, one bottle can be used to make many boards). just pour the bottle into plastic or glass container, drop in PCB, when done remove and wash pcb, return etchant into bottle and wash the container.

main downside is slow etching (takes up to couple of minutes) and dark color makes it harder to see board. operation can be sped up by warming up etchant and using bubbler. inspection is usually done by taking out or flipping board. one can use (preferably plastic) tool or just adding piece of tape as "dorsal fin" before etching.