Introduction: Two Sided PCB Using Toner Method

This describes an easy method to make professional looking two-sided printed circuit boards at home.

Step 1: Get Ready

This instructable assumes that you know how to generate a layout file using Eagle PCB or similar layout program. I use the toner transfer method of making PCB's (printed circuit boards) much like many others. The basic idea is to use a glossy paper, print the PCB design on the paper using a laser printer, and to use a hot iron to transfer the toner to the copper. I use the glossy paper that they have behind the counter at Kinko's. Go to Kinko's and ask for some sheets of their glossy laser paper, which is really cheap (about 5 cents a sheet). Some people advocate using glossy inkjet photo paper, but I think this is a waste and the cheap glossy laser paper comes off easier.

Anyway, once you have your design and paper, you will need to print the design. The key here is to mirror the top layer so that it will come out correct once transferred to the copper board. It can also help to include alignment marks (the T shaped things in the pic) beyond the edge of your PCB to help you align the two layers. See below.

Step 2: Align Layers

The next step is to cut out the top layer and bottom layers, and to place a small loop of scotch tape on one corner of the top layer to allow you to tape the top and bottom layers together once they are aligned. You want to cut the top piece smaller than the bottom so that you can stick the top to the bottom. Leave some room around the edge of the design so that no copper will be visible. See pic.

Now, take the two paper pieces with the top and bottom layers printed on them and go to a window or patio door. It needs to be daytime since you will be using the backlight from outside to see through the paper. Place the bottom layer on the glass, and then taking care not to stick the top piece down yet, align the two paper sheets using the alignment marks, your vias, features or other method. When aligned, stick the top to the bottom. Carefully lift another corner of the top piece and add another roll of tape to keep the layers aligned. The key is to make sure the tape will not interfere with the copper board being placed between the sheets. See pic.

Step 3: Iron It On

With the two paper sheets taped together, turn on your iron to the highest setting. Also make sure there is no water in it if you have a steam type iron. Now, take your sheet of copper board and slide it carefully between the two sheets. See pic below. Position the copper clad board as desired, and once the iron is hot, place the iron on the paper and press hard. It takes some practice to get the hang of ironing on the toner, but just press hard and wiggle the iron over the whole board while taking care not to move the paper relative to the board. Once one side is ironed to your satisfaction, then carefully flip the whole thing over and iron the bottom layer. One thing to remember is to clean the board carefully with a cotton ball or old sock soaked in isopropanol (rubbing alcohol) before ironing to remove any finger prints or grease.

Once you are done ironing, cut the paper around the board if desired, and drop the paper and board into a container of water to soak the paper. Let this soak for about 10 minutes. With the cheap glossy laser paper from Kinko's the time is much shorter than the high quality inkjet photo paper. Once the paper is soaked, peel the paper off both sides. This should leave the toner and a thin layer of the paper along with the glossy stuff on the copper board. Using your thumbs or an old toothbrush, carefully rub off the extra paper pulp and junk on the board. See pic, below showing a board with half of the pulp rubbed off.

Once the paper pulp is rubbed off, carefully inspect the traces and features on the board for small imperfections and stuff that will cause problems later. Key areas to pay attention to are closely spaced traces and pads where it is easy for paper or glossy coating to bridge and keep the copper from etching. Also, you can achieve very fine pads for doing TSSOP, QFP, and other fine pitch packages using the toner method if you carefully scrape between pads using an Xacto knife or similar prior to etching. During ironing, the toner tends to smear slightly, so very fine pitch pads tend to mush together. Using the knife, you can scrape between the pads or traces to make sure the copper will etch between. If you are careful, there is no reason you can't get 800 micron or even 500 micron pitch pads.

Step 4: Etch and Clean

When you are satisfied that the critical small features are ready, then put your board in a plastic or glass container and pour enough PCB etchant over it to cover it. I use the Ferric Chloride etchant sold at Radio Shack. Gently swirl the dish with the board and etchant until it is finished. Careful not to spill on anything metal and chromed since the etchant will mess up the finish with a quickness. In most cases, where the bottom layer has a few traces and a ground plane, it is not necessary to flip the PCB during etch. Just make sure to get the board moving around the container so that the bottom etches too. If you have detailed delicate features on the back, you may want to lift the board repeatedly during etching with a plastic fork in order to help the back etch without scratching it. See pic.

When the board is done etching, you need to get the board out and rinse it with lots of water. Dump the used etchant in your toilet and flush it as recommended by the manufacturer on the bottle. As you can see from the pic, you should be able to hold the board up to a light and see through the board at this point to verify the alignment of the top and bottom layers.

Cleaning off the toner is a pain in the butt. The easiest way is to use an aggressive solvent such as brake cleaner or acetone (nail polish remover) and a rag to rub the toner off. Using your preferred method, scrub the toner off the copper and get out your multimeter to test if any of the traces are shorted together. I find that long parallel traces often have small shorts between them if you don't get all the paper off prior to etching. A toothbrush helps. If you find that some traces or pads are shorted, then using an Xacto knife or similar, scrape or cut the copper until the circuit is open. Once all the circuit is verified in this manner, you can start soldering down the parts. I find that putting the fine pitch components down first is key, so that you can verify each pad as you go. Since the toner smooshes the pads of QFPs and TSSOPs and the like together, it is easy to form a solder bridge between pins. Take your time and have your solder wick handy.

Happy building!

Comments

author
bogdansebastian made it!(author)2012-02-10

See the images.
You can get good result easy.
Just use FAIRY (dishes cleaner) and a kitchen sponge with a abrazive green part
to clean well the copper board. after that just dry well with paper towels and
put your pice of paper from the printer. use the iron, mine is PHILIPS AZURE 2400W(cheap one, normal one).Press with iron for 5 to 10 minutes(moving and pressing), after that pull the paper, soak in water for 10 min or so.
start rubbing with your finger and with toothbrush until traces clean withouth paper.
then use feric cloride to etch.
that's it.
sory my bad english.
want to know more just send private message.
or also leave here a message.
bye.

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Wianv made it!(author)2015-12-07

samsung clp-365w doesn't work, toner doesn't stick to the coper. Also don't use inkjet photopaper because you will not get it of the pcb

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mgonzalez1 made it!(author)2014-08-04

Wow, those look beautiful! I just purchased a high resolution laser printer. I will have to try to find the same paper you used. It came out so nice!

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adamhca made it!(author)2015-02-19

Hi Bowtie41,

Print your schematics, go to Photocopy Shop / Copy and Printing Services Shop nearest and you bring your own Inkjet Printer or clean used Calender Paper... Give it to them... Cheap ±$0.05 USD services...

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adamhca made it!(author)2015-02-19

*Print your schematics to standard / blank / white or colored paper...

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Bowtie41 made it!(author)2015-02-16

I have a inkjet but want to make my own PCBs so I've been looking at used laserjets.I need some info before I buy one please?Are there any known brands of printers and/or toners that WON"T work?Also,does the toner image have to be black ink?I found a nice used Dell 3000cn that was low on black and yellow,but comes with 5 new cyan cartridges!Thank You for any input you can provide!

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jmengel made it!(author)2015-02-17

My understanding is that it is the "fusing" of the toner to the PCB that is important to the PCB etching. So color should not impact performance and cyan should work. I have not had any experience with a laser printer or toner that did not work, nor have I kept track of ones that did work, they all did, but YMMV. Good luck.

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splud made it!(author)2014-10-02

May I suggest that you take a hole puncher and punch a few holes in the un-printed perimeter of the "top" sheet (in the non-image area). Align over the other print as described over a window or lightbox, and when things are aligned, apply tape over the holes, which will hold the sheets together sufficiently for you to then tape a more durable seam (which can be made by setting both pieces of paper on a paper cutter, preferably a rotary type

An alternative is to just print the two masks alongside one another with alignment marks on the "outboard" sides of each and a centreline between them -- then gently fold while over a lightbox/window, get the alignments right and smooth out and flatten the loop of paper to fold, which should crease right along your centreline. Look ma, no tape.

I print my transfers on small pieces of transfer paper taped down to a carrier sheet, which is passed through the printer once as plain paper, then I tape working size pieces of transfer paper down and print it a second time. This conserves the (slightly) more expensive transfer paper.

Owing to slight variations in the paper feed, the transfer sheets may not precisely align to the original prints -- it's easy enough to then fold the original paper as above, and re-position the transfers over the sheet using the lightbox.

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jmengel made it!(author)2014-10-03

Great ideas. Thanks!

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achand8 made it!(author)2014-04-20

How did you add the alignment marks in Eagle?

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jmengel made it!(author)2014-04-21

I made a dummy part with the desired shape, but since it is also nice to have the alignment marks outside the PCB area so you can verify the layers are still aligned after inserting I've had to add marks manually to the PDF. This is due to the size limits placed on the free version of Eagle. If your PCB is small you can add marks in Eagle directly. In the pictured PCB I am fairly sure I had to do it manually. So I'd export the PS/PDF and open it in a drawing program (such as inkscape or illustrator) and add the marks manually.

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gentry made it!(author)2013-01-21

Don't flush ferric chloride down the toilet. You can easily save it in a jar for later reuse! I use glass baking style pans for etching, and just snap a cover on, and I'm ready for the next etch later.

A) Unless you have all-plastic pipes, it's not good for them, B) it's a strong acid, and even if you neutralize it with baking soda or lye, C) it contains copper after you're done, and copper is difficult to remove at the treatment plant, and toxic to marine life, and D) it's illegal in many places in the U.S. As someone else mentioned, if you have a septic system instead of a public wastewater system, you might create a multi-thousand dollar problem for yourself.

I don't know a good thing to do with used up ferric chloride, but mine lasts a really long time, partly because I fill my designs with big areas of ground/power plane so I don't need to etch away much copper. For the couple of batches I've eventually disposed of, I neutralize it with baking soda, evaporate it, and take the residue to our local hazardous waste disposal along with batteries, paint and fluorescent lights.

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achand8 made it!(author)2014-04-20

Nice of you to do that. Why not use HCL and H2O2, its really effective and fast.

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gentry made it!(author)2014-04-20

That is a great idea, and exactly what I do now! I used up my last batch of ferric chloride and started following this instructable: https://www.instructables.com/id/Stop-using-Ferric-...

You still eventually end up with some (very toxic to marine life) copper-containing waste, but it takes a lot longer, and you could probably even extract pure copper from the solution yourself if you were dedicated. http://www.docbrown.info/page04/Mextractc.htm#Puri...

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lee321987 made it!(author)2012-10-19

Just a tip...
I have successfully used an ultra fine point Sharpie to draw traces that were scrubbed off or didn't stick.
I don't recall, but i may have applied more than one layer of sharpie ink.
(my etchant was was muriatic acid)

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nodoubtman made it!(author)2012-08-02

J:\Électronique Marc\PIC\A faire

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cijokizhakooden made it!(author)2012-02-17

it's cool

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bogdansebastian made it!(author)2012-02-10

I made a board for STM32F103C8T6 ARM CORTEX-M3
48 pins, TQFP.
Just post comment if you want to know what paper and iron to use.
I get good boards like this in half hour.

Just check the fingerprint for that microcontroler, to see how small shoult be.
Always get good result.
I can't let the mail here because I will receive a lot spam in it.
So just leave message here.
I don't need money or anything!
See the photos for what I use.
The iron is PHILIPS AZURE 2400 WATT( normal one).

also get the board for the STM(NOT THE ONE I USE, AN OLD DESIGN ONE BUT GOOD), just for testing.
OK. Now you have it all!

but the most important is cleaning the surface of the board.
with FAIRY(yes dishes cleaning for kitchen and a sponge with a green abrasive face. use the green abrasive face)
I use the Paint from windows to draw!

OK. if some of you think I should put a tutorial just send me messages.
Thanks.

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rayshobby made it!(author)2011-12-13

Consider using a laminator instead of a hot iron. I've used hot iron before and it's a pain. As soon as I tried laminator, I never want to use a hot iron again. For example, a GBC pouch laminator from amazon works just fine.

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jmengel made it!(author)2011-12-14

Good tip. Thanks.

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qwertyboy made it!(author)2011-08-14

For cleaning, I just use some fine steel wool. It takes the toner off quickly, removes any tiny shorts, and shines everything up. After that, I usually wipe the board off with some acetone to get rid of any oils or other nasties and spray a light coat of clear onto the board. It keeps everything shiny and kind of acts as a flux.

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jmengel made it!(author)2011-08-15

When you say clear, do you mean clear coat spray paint? It doesn't interfere with soldering at all? I've had some of the boards I've made get pretty corroded after being in use for a long time in my basement (high humidity). No failures but the corrosion is ugly. Thanks!

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qwertyboy made it!(author)2011-08-15

Yes, clear coat spray paint. As far as I can tell, it doesn't interfere with soldering.

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clabrecque made it!(author)2011-07-23

I did this and it worked great..I get digikey catalogs and the paper out of them works well.glossy and dissolves in water.HA now i have a use for all them stacked up! and this instruction is great..i never thought of binding the tow sides together first then sliding my bored in between..brilliant...Thanks

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jmengel made it!(author)2011-07-25

Glad to hear it worked for you. Enjoy!

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teche made it!(author)2011-06-18

its called pad2pad...... i think? Download it here http://www.pad2pad.com/download/index.htm
to do that click the download button :-)

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INELEC made it!(author)2011-06-16

HI FRIENDS? COULD ANY ONE OF YOU TELL ME ABOUT SOFTWARE THAT MAY HELP ME CONVERT SINGLE SIDED PCB INTO DOUBLE SIDED ONE? THANK SO MUCH

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lee321987 made it!(author)2011-03-13

I just did my first board. I had my design printed by Fedex Office (formally "Kinko's") on their laser printer.
Acetone (Klean-Strip brand from Home Depot) removed all the toner with VERY minimal effort.

I can't comment much on the Fedex Office paper/printer/toner because I have nothing to compare it to.

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AJC894 made it!(author)2011-01-02

How did you get the alignment marks in Eagle CAD

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jmengel made it!(author)2011-01-02

I just drew it in using the drawing tools (line, circle, poly, etc.) Make a copy of whatever you draw on the top and bottom layers and you are good to go.

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dan+mihalciuc made it!(author)2010-11-30

Hi
You know, I did a few of these PCB boards, one or two sided, and I was never happy when compared with the “professional” ones. The latest one I’ve tried to do (better) was using the “hot iron” technique. So, I had this glossy paper (I’ve even used those transparent plastic sheets made special for this purpose), I’ve printed my design on and, with a hot iron (as recommended) I pressed.
Well, if not hold enough, the ink will not melt and nothing will be achieved. If hold too long, then the ink melts but the strait, clean lines become smudged. And as each board is different in size and number of lines, it is almost impossible to extrapolate a “good” timing for all the other ones. And you cannot experiment with 20 for only one.
Any suggestion?
Thanks,
DAN

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jmengel made it!(author)2010-11-30

Certainly these methods do not match professionally made boards. They are useful for one-off type quick and dirty boards though. If you need more than one, and want them to look good, I would suggest using the bare-bones service at www.4pcb.com. It is cheap and quick, and will get you a double sided PCB with tin plating, no silkscreen, no solder mask. Works great for me, both on the hotplate and hand soldered.

-Jon

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saone made it!(author)2010-09-28

can this work if i use an injekt printer...NOT A LASER ONE?thanks...

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jmengel made it!(author)2010-09-28

No. The laser toner is a solid that can be transferred as described. This is not possible with the ink printed from an inkjet.

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saone made it!(author)2010-09-29

ok!thank you! by the way....great instructable!

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hintss made it!(author)2010-11-04

you can have kinkos copy it onto the glossy paper, though.

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saone made it!(author)2010-11-05

kinkos is a print shop or something?

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hintss made it!(author)2010-11-05

pretty much

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MrSillyGuns made it!(author)2010-09-19

ok im lost

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hondaman900 made it!(author)2010-04-17

I found the best way to clean off toner is to use non-acetone (acetate) nail polish remover. Wet a wad of paper towel the same size as your PCB with the acetate, and leave it to soak on the board for about 5 minutes. It should then wipe off easily with that piece of paper towel or another wetted with the acetate.

Bigger question for homemade double-sided boards is how to solder the pins under sockets and relays on the component side of the board without a bunch of extra vias to keep the component pad connections all to the bottom layer?

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cdvs made it!(author)2010-08-12

This is my solution: http://DiyPcbVias.com

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jmengel made it!(author)2010-04-19

The answer is more heat and more solder.  Or you can cheat the components up from the board enough to get an iron underneath.  I prefer the first method.

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Foxtrot70 made it!(author)2010-04-19

Excellent Instructable!  One word of caution.  I live in a rural area and have a Septic System for my house.  To protect the system ( in particular the the bacteria in the septic tank, the bacteria break down the toilet paper and solid matter or the #2 stuff) pour your chemicals into separate containers and take them to a Hazardous Waste Facility for disposal.  There is nothing more unpleasant than spending thousands for a Septic System repair or the smell.  Just thought you should know. 

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jmengel made it!(author)2010-04-19

Good tip!

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shimniok made it!(author)2010-03-08

Thanks for the fantastic instructable!!  I guess ironing correctly is the real trick... I have the hardest time figuring out when to stop ironing. Too much and the traces and pads smudge.  I can't seem to get the resolution you are getting... :(  I can do through hole, but until I get the ironing figured out SMT is a lost cause. :(  Any tips welcome.  Meanwhile, being able to do 2-sided would be awesome.

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jmengel made it!(author)2010-03-08

Fine pitch SMT can be a challenge.  The key is to clean the board well, using a scotchbrite and some solvent or similar.  Getting good iron pressure without smearing is also important.  I find that using the smooth "magazine" type paper is critical for fine pitch SMT while regular printer paper is adequate for through-hole.  Even so, when scrubbing off the paper, you need to be careful not to scrub too hard.  Leaving some of the smooth paper residue behind is OK on the bigger features, and on the fine SMT pads and traces I will scrape between the pads with an X-acto knife to ensure that they will not short after the etch.  This can be a pain if you have a lot of high pin count SMT ICs, but if that is the case you should be using a commercial solution like "4PCB.com".  Their bare-bones 2-sided board service works great and is pretty cheap.

For toner two-sided, the key is to have the paper sheets larger than the PCB and to tape them together in alignment outside the edge of the PCB so that the iron doesn't have any bumps to go over or will melt the tape.  Holding the two sheets up to a window will allow you to align them, but don't expect super tight tolerances for your vias.  I'd say make your vias pretty big (at least 1mm) since you will have to drill them yourself and small via pads tear off the board pretty easily during drilling.  Also, be sure and DO NOT fill the vias in Eagle or similar since the drill bit will skitter off the copper via or pad when drilling if there isn't a center mark from the etch process.
Good luck.

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sarubin made it!(author)2008-10-29

Great idea and good instructions. I have one suggestion with respect to improving the "alignment marks." For circuits that include small components, like ICs, it is very important to have exact alignment of the two sides of the circuit. I aided this alignment by punching small holes (pin holes actually made with a pin or needle) in some of the pads on the laser print. I made these holes around both the periphery of the circuit and particularly included a small number of holes inside the pads of the ICs (required very precise alignment because the pins were only 2 mm apart in my circuit). Then, when the two facing laser prints are held up to a window (or, in my case, I have a backlit illuminated table) the light shining through the pin holes of one side of the circuit really helps precisely align the circuit printed on the facing page.

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jmsaltzman made it!(author)2010-01-03
Sound like a great way to line them up.  Old thread, I know, but I found it trying to figure out vias-- awesome advice re: fluxing the pads and lead!  Off to get flux in a few minutes and try...

I've had good 2-sided transfering results with this simple method:
  • I put both sides of the board (one flipped) into a single pattern image, with a space between them for the thickness of the board, printing from Photoshop with "crop marks" turned on.
  • I gently curl the paper over (with no creasing) to align the crop marks, then tape those edges together and press the paper together to get a soft fold.
  • Then I insert a blank pcb strip at the fold, pressing it in to get a square crease to hold the edge of the final pcb.
  • Folding it again at its end, perpendicular to the first fold, I end up with a nice corner pocket to drop my pcb blank into.
To laminate, I put the blank into the pocket and feed it through my laminator.  After one pass, I cut off the folded over side of the pocket (to keep the peper thickness even) and laminate another ten times or so.  I've been getting very nicely aligned layers.
author
stuart57 made it!(author)2009-11-30

This has been an absolute education for me and i cannot wait to give this a bash. I do however need to know where I can purchase all of the needed equipment  mentioned, As I live in London,England the small village across the pond.  
            Hope you can help? Many thanks Stuart and Emma

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krusty made it!(author)2007-02-25

I never had much luck with the iron-on toner with regular paper :( The few goes I had at it, I ended up with 50% of the board with no toner. I've now used the Press-N-Peel blue with great results. I did find, however, that to get a really good result I had to iron the design for a little over 10 minutes (the packet says 1 to 4 minutes). Thanks for the great instructable! I've always been a little hesitant to try double sided boards, but the big registration marks do look like a good idea!!! Super!!