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Toner transfer no-soak, high-quality, double sided PCBs at home

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Warning: There are hot surfaces, chemicals and possibly ill advised actions like you would expect in many Instructables here. You will also be running tape and un-approved paper through a laser printer. There is a very real danger of messing up your printer. If you do wreck a printer please comment so we can all learn a valuable lesson.

There are some good Instructables on using toner transfer, but after doing my own for a while I have some refinements on the process that I want to share. You should be able to create high-quality, well aligned double sided boards every time.

If you are just dealing with a basic board for 0.1" pitch through hole components this is probably overkill. A good instructable for those kinds of boards this one by pinomelean.

UPDATE: Sad because this won't work with your Brother brand printer? fmarquis to the rescue with a PCB's flamethrower style Instructable.

I have made excellent boards with 8 mill pads and 12 mill clearances.

There are a few secrets. 1. a laser printer. 2. a hot laminator. 3. (The big secret) Parchment cooking paper. 4. Careful and diligent cleaning of the board.

If you follow my directions to the letter you can get great results.
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Step 1: Gather supplies and materials

Picture of Gather supplies and materials
Ecthing supplies 1.JPG
wire eater.jpg

Tools

  • Laminator. Digikey part number 182-1031-ND. $114 at time of writing.
    • MCUman says "Harbor Freight sells a 9" laminator for 30 bucks. I've had mine for a couple of years now, I use it often, and it works GREAT! Item number 92499."
  • Laser printer. Mine is an HP LaserJet P1102w.
    • dasclown says a Dell 5100 cn laserjet did not work.
    • If you know of one that does/does not work, comment please.
  • Scissors
  • Scotch Bright sponge
  • etching "tank"
  • Leather gloves for handling the hot board (or a towel, or your shirt. It's not that hot.)
  • Multi-meter
  • Sewing needles
  • Alligator clip wires
  • Drill press or dremel and tiny drill bits needed for your design. Harbor Freight sells a cheap multi pack of tiny bits.

Supplies

  • Glass cook top cleaner
  • Acetone
  • Tarn-X tarnish remover
  • Parchment paper from the grocery store
  • heavy duty zip top bags
  • Kapton tape (1/4" is best) - no substitutions!
  • 1/2oz x 1/16th" copper board
  • Stranded copper wire. Something with fairly thin strands. Jumper wires the cat chewed in half work good. (See photo 3)

Recommended Etching Supplies

  • Rubber gloves
  • Muratic Acid (or Acid Magic from Ace Hardware)
  • Hydrogen peroxide
  • glass measuring vessel
  • plastic/wood utensils
  • ecthing "tank" - Pyrex dish
  • rinsing tank

Step 2: Pre-heat the laminator

If your laminator is brand new search for "H-220 Laminator Modification" online and swap the gears to slow it down a bit.

  1. Turn your laminator on now.
  2. Push the 5mil button.
  3. Let it run at least 25 minutes.
  4. If it goes into auto-shutoff turn it back on

Step 3: Print pattern

Picture of Print pattern
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In this step it's important not to handle the parchment paper with your hands where the printing will happen. The oils on your skin will mess up the printing. Once it prints, handle it gently. It transfers really well, but the toner is somewhat delicate.
  1. Print your top layer pattern out on a regular sheet of paper reversed.
  2. Tape down enough parchment paper to cover the pattern with a one inch or better margin.
  3. Run the paper back through the printer.
  4. Print your bottom layer (not reversed) on another piece of parchment. You can re-use the first piece of plain paper and tape for the second parchment if you are gentle.
  5. pick out the right size of copper board and cut it to size. leave at least 1/4" margin from the circuits on one or more edges to have a solid place to tape.
  6. Trim the parchment paper fairly close to the traces, but leave a 1" or better margin along on edge to allow taping them together. When you cover the board, it should stick out on 3 sides and the paper should hang over the board on the fourth.
hint: The parchment will roll back up a little, if you flip the second parchment's curl the opposite way of the first it will be easier to align the paper later. In the pictures I combined layers and folder the paper (carefully) which also works well.

Confused? Sturmy explains it really well.

Ah, now I understand. So you print onto the paper to see where and how big the image will be. Then you tape parchment onto the paper so that the paper will be the right size, but the toner will be printed onto the parchment.

Then you print again, except this time the toner is on the parchment which you can detach from the paper and transfer the toner to the copper board.

offtherails2010 has some other hints (paraphrased).

1. You can use double stick tape under the parchment paper rather than Kapton [I tried this and it works great. You can even re-use the tape and paper easily. -Dustin]
2. If the toner doesn't stick well to your parchment or "Siliconized Baking Paper" you can spritz both sides with 99.9% Isopropanol to promote adhesion. Works on the copper as well.

Step 4: Clean the board

Getting the board clean is critical. Make sure you do a good job.
  1. Put a generous dollop of the stove cleaner on your board.
  2. Using the green side of the sponge, give it a good scrubbing.
  3. Flip the board and scrub the back too.
  4. Rinse the board well.
  5. Check how the water sheets off the board. If it's not sticking evenly to the board, scrub some more. (see pictures)
Important: Once clean, keep it that way. Your fingerprints are a big danger. Only handle the board from the edges from now till it's out of the etch.

Step 5: Use the tarnish remover on the board

Picture of Use the tarnish remover on the board
tarnish remover.JPG
  1. Put the board in a clean plastic zip top bag
  2. Put about 1 tsp Tarn-X in the bag.
  3. Push out the air, seal the bag and agitate gently for 15-20 seconds.
  4. Take the board out by the edges and rinse it. (Note: water will not sheet the same way as before, don't worry.)
  5. Pat the board dry with a clean cloth or paper towel.
Keep the bag around with the Tarn-X. You can do a lot of boards with very little Tarn-X this way.

The board is now ready. Consider putting it in a plastic bag if you won't be using it right away (make sure it's really dry). Remember not to get fingerprints on it.

Step 6: Align the side and tape to the board

Picture of Align the side and tape to the board
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In this step be careful not to rub the paper with the traces against anything. The pressure can cause the traces to lift. Hold on to it by the edges and be gentle. Take your time on this step and be precise. How well your sides register will depend on this.

The Kapton tape is important. It doesn't warp, melt or stretch in the laminator. I tried all manner of other tape and was disappointed.

  1. Gently line up the two halves with the toner facing inward. If you rub the toner together too hard it will rub off.
  2. Trim the "overhang" side of the two halves so it's strait and matched on both sides.
  3. Cut off some tape strips that are about as long as each side of the paper. One for each of four sides.
  4. Fold or tape the halves so they line up exactly. It can be tricky with only two hands! Parchment is translucent so it's easy to do with any light. A tracing table makes it super easy.
  5. Tape the overhang together. Triple check your alignment now.
  6. Gently insert the board. It's easy to scrape off the traces with the edge of the board, so watch out.
  7. Starting from one corner, smooth out the paper and tape it down with the Kapton tap.
  8. Make sure the parchment is smooth and more or less tight. It doesn't stick well to the Kapton without some pressure. If it's not tight enough the last traces into the laminator will be off.
  9. Tape the other side down as well.

Step 7: Run the board through the laminator

Picture of Run the board through the laminator
Lamination 2.JPG
  1. Run the board through the laminator near one edge.
  2. Run the board through different parts of the laminator 3 more times.
  3. Let it cool.
I think it's best to use different parts of the roller each time to suck out as much heat as possible. The toner will stick to the board on the first pass, but you want it really melted on there good. Be careful near the edges not to get the board caught. However the edges press harder on the board, so don't just go in the middle.

Step 8: Examine and touch up the board

The "be super gentle" phase is finally over. The toner is well fused to the board now. Keep fingerprints off the board still.
  1. Remove the tape and the paper
  2. Examine the traces and make sure they all look good.
  3. Using a sharpy or paint pen fill in any large pads. The laser printer seems to have problems evenly filling in big areas.
  4. Check the longer traces carefully for breaks and fill them in with a sharpy.
  5. Use a sewing needle to remove any stray toner if needed.
If you were careful with the parchment up to the laminator you may not need to clean anything up at all.

Step 9: Etch the board

Use your favorite method. Here is mine. For really fine work I always do a new batch of etchant, even though you can re-use this etchant. As it ages it seems to eat the toner almost as fast as the copper which results in pitting and broken traces.
  1. Put 2 parts Hydrogen peroxide in the etch tank.
  2. Carefully add one part acid.
  3. Stir carefully.
  4. Put the board in and agitate. Flip and turn the board every 30 seconds. Try for an even etch.
  5. Once all the copper is gone on both sides, put it in the rinse water.
Picture 2 shows the etchant at the start. In picture 3 it's green from all the copper etched off the board.

Quinn Dunki on her blog Blondihacks uses vinegar, hydrogen peroxide and salt. I never tried that but it sounds pretty nice, if somewhat slow. She also has a good writeup on using photo-resist methods to make really nice boards.

Step 10: Clean off the toner

Picture of Clean off the toner
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Acetone won't eat Ziploc.
  1. Use the bag trick again and soak the board in 2 tsp or so of Acetone for a couple of minutes.
  2. Rub the board through the bag with your fingers to get the toner off.
  3. Take it out and clean it with a rag or paper and some more acetone if desired.
  4. Let it dry
  5. Optionally use another bag and some liquid tin. I don't think it's needed if you are going to solder the board right away.

Step 11: Test the traces

Picture of Test the traces
  1. Clip the alligator leads to your meters probes.
  2. Put a sewing needle in the end of each lead.
  3. Turn your meter to continuity (beeps when you touch the leads).
  4. Test each trace to see if it's complete.
  5. Test neighboring traces to make sure they aren't connected.
  6. Use another needle to scrape away any copper bridges.
  7. Use a silver pen, conductive paint or solder little wires to patch any splits. (Rare if you use fresh etch).
Take a break. Come back. Check the board all over again. Double checking now will save you many problems once the components are on the board!

Step 12: Process the through holes

Picture of Process the through holes
  1. Using a drill press or dremel to drill out the through holes.
  2. Using the stranded wire, solder a jumper through all the holes.
  3. Check the through holes with the meter.
I have experimented with a silver pen for the through holes. It worked OK, but many of the holes didn't survive the soldering phase. Conductive paint was too thick. Hopefully someone comes up with an easy process. Soldering them is time consuming but failsafe.

Update: I use liquid tin on the boards, but this Instructable shows another, cheaper DIY alternative. I'm not sure how suitable is it for fine traces like this board.

Step 13: Solder on the components and enjoy

  1. Use some Kapton tape and a sharp knife to mask of any areas of concern. For example where traces shoot the middle of under small components.
  2. Go to town with the soldering iron, or use a reflow method.
  3. Test connections with the meter.
  4. Power up and hope the magic smoke doesn't come out!
http://www.authenticinvention.com has some build diaries and other information about the open source "Red Soul" board if you are curious.

This instructable shows a great way to add a solder mask.
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dasclown2 years ago
Nice instructable. I'm always looking for a better way for toner transfer. I've had little success with other methods.
One question though. I have the same parchment paper you are using and I am using a dell 5100 cn laserjet. I run the paper through and it seems none of the toner will stick to the parchment. I have to run a couple sheets of paper through to get the toner cleaned up from the roller.

Any Ideas? I'll probably need to hunt down a different printer to try it on.
I have been looking at my laser printer which is a Dell 1320cn, I didn't have any parchment at home but tried with greaseproof paper I found out a couple of things, Dell supply toner which has a lower melting point than conventional cheaper toners. There is a setting in the printer for non Dell toners which increases the temperature of the fuser it is also possible to select toner temperature increase or decrease on a paper type basis. Putting plain paper and parchment through together may just make you fuser to cool to melt the toner to the paper. I hope this is of help, when I have bought some parchment I will experiment a bit more.
dustinandrews (author)  dasclown2 years ago
I also added your printer info to the gather supplies step. Thanks for the report. I love it when the internet makes us collectively smarter.
dustinandrews (author)  dasclown2 years ago
I suspect it is just the printer. Please consider trying some others out and letting us know what you find.
Ok so im back once again - lol !

Just wanted to say a great many thanks once again for this instructable, i now cannot live without parchment paper for all my homebrew PCB needs - AND NO SOAKING ANYMORE !!!! !!!! !!!!

Just made an SMD version of a Through-Hole PCB i made a good while back (a Low-Battery-Indicator!) where i had traces of about 1.2mm thick ( about 47 mils ) but in the SMD PCB i had made only a few traces as thin as 0.5mm Thick for testing ( about 19.6 mils !!! ) - Very Cool !

NO-WAY would i had been able to do that with the rough handling of the soak method rubbing the paper off of the board etc but i have had my 1st ATMEGA328P-AU SMD Microcontroller through today, a 32-Pin TQFP Package, so will be making another PCB with all thin traces just to see how far i can go !

Here's a few photo's !

& Once again thanks for a GREAT instrucable !!!
Low Battery Indicator 002.JPGLow Battery Indicator 006.JPGLow Battery Indicator 008.JPGLow Battery Indicator 009.JPG
dustinandrews (author)  offtherails20101 year ago
I've done chips as small as TSSOP successfully. Love to see your board with the TQFN.
NinjaCrow2 years ago
It is quite possible that I am the only one who finds it amusing that the Parchment paper states on the box "& More" and this clearly falls into the "& More " category. Arguably the best category EVER!

I've been putting off quite a few projects that need etching because I could never find a good medium for toner transfer that wasn't unnecessarily expensive. So I'll definitely be giving this a try and hope it gives my projects the kick in the pants they so desperately require :)
MCUman2 years ago
Harbor Freight sells a 9" laminator for 30 bucks. I've had mine for a couple of years now, I use it often, and it works GREAT! Item number 92499.

This is a very well done Instructable. Kudos for the insight to use a laminator vs the standard iron. Well Done!
dustinandrews (author)  MCUman2 years ago
Excellent information! I'll add it to the Instructable.
rocketman2215 months ago

I tried this with a brother dcp-7065 and it will not print on the parchment. Most of the toner ended up on the fusor roller and took it me 20 minutes to clean it all off.

I also tried my brother hl-2140, which it printed good and transfered to the pcb on the first pass in the laminator. I am almost out of toner on the hl-2140 so it was too light. I will try this again when I get more toner. I am using generic toner, I hear that brother toner does not transfer well.

Yes rocket, i have DCP 7065DN too , same happening here but not always. there has to be way out. im disappointed :(

That printer refuses to print on anything with a glossy surface. It would probably work with dextrin based transfer paper though.

sottinger29 days ago

I have an hp 4100 which is very similar to the hp 5100, they use the same actual toner in them. The biggest problem I had found was there is a difference between Parchment and Wax paper. Wax paper the toner would not stick to the one side. Parchment it stuck to fine. I did not know this. Also the Harbor Freight lamination works pretty well. I have not done a start to finish with the lamination and this printer, however it looks like it will work with HP 4100, 4000, 5000, and the 5100. I used to have a 5100 and filled my own toner cartridges, and they said the toner was the same. Hope this helps.

LeumasYrrep made it!1 month ago

Thanks for the great Instructable! I tried the toner transfer method a day ago with glossy paper and it was not fun. But today I tried this method and it was super easy and quick.

I did have one issue. It seems that my parchment paper is not smooth and caused my etching to have missing lines. As a side note has anyone tried to use vellum paper?

2014-05-29 21.12.18.jpg
JSuparman2 months ago

@guerroloco: thanks for the clear explanation. Someday I will try this.

rocketman221 made it!4 months ago

I just make my first board today using this method. It came out pretty good. I used 24 mil traces, but it would have probably worked fine with 10 mil traces.

I used a brother hl-2140 printer with a merax toner cartridge and a 4" gbc laminator.
I just cleaned the board with alcohol and steel wool, the toner stuck on just fine.

pcb2.jpgpcb1.jpg
veeDubbah2 years ago
I have the same printer and the same parchment paper as you. I am using the laminator that MCUman suggested and when I am done running it through the laminator all the traces look cracked. A bit like dried salt deserts. Any suggestions on how I can get all the toner to transfer?
dustinandrews (author)  veeDubbah1 year ago
90% of the time when i get a poor transfer it's due to not doing a good job of cleaning the board first. It's got to be super-duper clean. The other 10% of the time my laminator hadn't had time to get hot enough. Make sure to pre-heat it for at least 20 min.

I have been looking at various Instructables for PCB production as I am about to make some boards for several projects upon which I have been working. Here is a method where you can eliminate the pre-heating of the laminator. If you slow the roller in effect you are warming the roller thus getting a better transfer of the artwork. Here is a link for modifying the laminator. The project uses PIC chips however, if you use Arduino the control circuit is easy enough to modify to accept Arduino chips. Hope this helps. http://www.instructables.com/id/Modified-laminator-for-PCB-Toner-transfer/

mbeeby10 months ago
I've not tried parchment paper but I use the same kind of methodology but with self adhesive vinyl. Once cool, this peels off cleanly with 100% toner release. offtherails also uses vinyl now, after we discussed all manner of improvements during experimentation, so I can only assume it gives better results than parchment for toner transfer. I'm now moving on to photoresist as it gives muxh finer and consistent results, cutting production times drastically, although I still use laminator methods for applying photoresist dry film, dry film soldermask and silkscreen. I also tin boards and convery final tonet silkscreen to white. The finished boards (so far using toner transfer not UV photoresist) are virtually indistinguishable from ones from a fab house.
pmcquain11 months ago
I noticed a new crop of ~$100 monochrome laser printers from HP, Brother, Cannon, and Samsung at WalMart last weekend. Has anyone had any experience with these?
pmcquain1 year ago
Regarding giving the parchment paper a spritz of isopropyl, do you let it dry before trying to print, or run it through freshly spritzed?
Really cool. I used to use the toner transfer method, but ended up switching to the photo resist method. Gets excellent quality, and the stencil can be reused. This is the first time I have seen parchment paper used for toner transfer, so Ill definitely give it a shot. Thanks for the instructable.
I have tried different kinds of parchment paper, also backing papers from different kinds of self-adhesive materials, and all of those failed, as printer is unable to apply toner to them good enough. Printing comes out of printer already smeared-off, with dark trail of a toner on the remainder of a sheet.
dustinandrews (author)  foxxtrotalpha2 years ago
Thanks! My experiments with photoresist have gone poorly. I had an absolutely gorgeous looking board on one side but the other side was over developed. When etched it, random bits of the photoresist just floated off! I was using Muratic Acid + Hydrogen Peroxide. I also need a better exposure light and to dial in the timing better.
barthie1 year ago
great instructable! i have the same parchment paper. my printer is an hp laserjet 1022n. i tried printing using paper types of plain, transparency and vellum with print qualities of prores 1200 and 600 dpi. they all came out smeared. has anyone had success with this printer?
terramir1 year ago
Tried this method with my brother hl-5240 (mind you I have a generic cartridge so it works with photo paper but somehow I can't get the prints to come out right with the parchment paper go figure :S
what printer do you use? that actually works?
terramir
dustinandrews (author)  terramir1 year ago
Mine is an HP LaserJet P1102w. HP CP1025nw is known to work on "transparency setting". Other laser printers are said to work but I don't have model numbers.
pmcquain1 year ago
What's the purpose of the TarnX step if its already been cleaned well with the stovetop cleaner?
dustinandrews (author)  pmcquain1 year ago
I found the toner to adhere better when I did this step than when I didn't.
brycetron1 year ago
Parchment paper with Samsung ML-1740 has issues (toner not sticking to parchment paper). The manual states that you can open the door in the back to provide a straight paper path. This may work, if the parchment paper is taped to another piece of paper.

I will give this a try!

Currently I am trying to use laser transparencies (with some success), main problem being to much heat/pressure applied and transparency sticking :-( I've already hacked my laminator, so I think I just need to mess around with temp/timings.

P.S.
Great instuctable!
dustinandrews (author)  brycetron1 year ago
Have you tried cleaning the parchment paper with denatured alcohol first? If you are doing transparencies, have you tried photoresist?
Just today I am trying a new brand of parchment with mixed results. I think the laminator wasn't hot enough.
ollopa1 year ago
FUUUUUU!U!UU!!!!!!!

I need a cat for this!
Tur0k1 year ago
Printer comment:

I have an HP CP1025nw color laser printer. It smeared my board layouts pretty badly on default settings, but taping the parchment down well and using "transparency printing" settings gives great results.
dustinandrews (author)  Tur0k1 year ago
Excellent information. Thank you very much for sharing.
I put soldering flux on the board and use tin with clothes iron on top of the PCB after etching, but before drilling. The board is completely thinned.
You can see the process here and the next photos:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/24143380@N08/7448711054/in/photostream
dustinandrews (author)  AlexHenrique2 years ago
Consider taking some photos and make an Instructable. :)
I would also like to know what process of tinning you are talking of... it sounds rather interesting!
What sort of tin?
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