Vinyl Sticker PCB - How To

So this Lazy Old Geek (LOG) is getting in to making PCBs. I’ve already done one Instructable:
I still like to use Eagle CadSoft but my friend, OffTheRails2010 told me about a better toner transfer method using vinyl stickers. Well, I don’t know why they call it vinyl stickers but it works better than glossy paper. Much of this Instructable comes from this website:
It’s probably just me but I found this hard to follow and used CAD software, I’m not familiar with.
Here’s an ebay source for the vinyl:
There’s probably better ones and you should also be able to buy locally in sign shops.
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Step 1: Laminator

So along with vinyl stickers, I also decided to use a laminator to make PCBs.
Now this is probably optional as you should still be able to use an iron. But for me, it’s a lot easier to use a laminator.
The one I bought is an Apache AL9.
 Mostly because it was the cheapest I could find.
I found three problems with this laminator:
Problem: This laminator will not take the more standard 0.062” thick copperclad.
(Copperclad is what they call the board with a thin layer of copper on it used to make PCBs.)
Solution: Well I happened to have some 0.031” and got it at a pretty good price.
For many people, this is not a good solution. I’ve read that some people have modified the rollers to take the thicker copperclad, but I don’t want to do this. Also, apparently, there are other laminators that will take the 0.062” copperclad.
Problem: This laminator will not get hot enough to toner transfer PCB traces.
Solution: This is pretty common for cheap laminators. Typically, there are two bimetallic thermal switches that control the temperature. See picture.
Procedure: Now mine were pop riveted in so I had to drill them out. Some people suggest sticking a piece of copperclad between the switches and the aluminum plate. This will probably work. But I decided to replace the switches.
Most of the ‘experts’ on the Internet suggest the ideal temperature for vinyl toner transfer is 170C. Mine were originally 110C and 135C. I think there is a good reason for two different values but I replaced both with 165C. I chose 165C instead of 170C mainly because I could get them cheaper.  
Apparently these are all labeled as KSD301s, so you can search on ebay for KSD301s and look for the temperature you want.
Warning: Many people said they had to replace the thermal fuse also to accommodate the higher temperatures. I didn’t have to. My fuse is rated at 192C.
Warning: This modification will run the laminator at hotter temperatures then it was designed for. I make no guarantees that this will work or how long it will last.
Problem: When toner transferring small pieces of copperclad, it is hard to feed and extract them through the laminator.
Solution: I decided to cut big slots in the feed and return side of the laminator top cover. See picture.
This makes it easier to work with small pieces of copperclad. It also allows the laminator to vent off some of the extra heat.
Minisoft8 months ago
1 Question , are the switches N.C "Norm Closed" or N.O "Norm Open".. im thinking N.C but making sure before i buy this stuff.. thank you
msuzuki777 (author)  Minisoft8 months ago
Yes, the thermal switches are N.C.

aclark329 months ago
so do you leave the vinyl on the board then etch it?? I have access to a professional vinyl sticker plotter.. it could easily print and cut my trace pattern... do I just print the pattern I want and stick it to the board then etch it? I haven't etched a board yet, but Im planning on doing so real soon.. If I stick the vinyl sticker to the clad and soak it it will the solution eat away the vinyl sticker too???
msuzuki777 (author)  aclark329 months ago
I don't understand what you mean by 'cut my trace pattern.' Does that mean it's like a stencil? I think I've heard of somebody doing this but don't know how it works. I think what you may be talking about is something like this Instructable:

My method is a toner transfer method. If the plotter uses a laser to print then it should work. What I do is print traces on vinyl with a laser. Then tape the printout to the clad. Run it through the laminator to transfer the toner to the PCB. Then remove the vinyl sticker. Then etch.

what I mean is print the traces where I want the copper traces to be on vinyl and stick it to the clad and put it in the etch solution to remove the rest of the copper that I don't want on the board. the plotter prints and cuts with lasers. It would be very easy for me to print and cut the pattern in the second picture in step 2 where the traces are black and the rest white and stick just the black parts on the clad where the traces are. My question is after I print and stick just the black lines could I put it in the solution and remove all the copper around it without it eating the vinyl away also? We have a large professional laminator I could use to transfer the way you stated also, but I was wondering if I could just put the lines on the clad and soak it that way... for that matter we also have an iron on transfer machine where I could just print the trace pattern on an iron on and use the transfer machine to stick it to the clad that way also... Ive just never made a printed circuit board before but will have the need to real soon and just want to do it the easiest way possible.. thanks
msuzuki777 (author)  aclark329 months ago
I don't know what would happen if you put the vinyl in etchant. I've never tried it.
In that other Instructable I referred to, it sounds like the vinyl won't dissolve in etchant but I'm not sure if you're using the same stuff.
Not sure about the iron on either as I've never used it.
About all, I can suggest is try various mehods and see if they work.

agreed,, I will just have to try it.. It just seems like that would make it very easy to make my boards... after my last comment I got to thinking, and we have a sandblaster at the shop designed to etch glass around vinyl designs,, so the media doesn't hurt the stickers when its blasted in there, so I could just print the trace stickers, stick them to the clad and blast the copper off the clad around them too.. easy enough and no harmful chemicals at all.. might be a new instructable coming up..
msuzuki777 (author)  aclark329 months ago
Wow, I didn't know vinyl could withstand sandblasting. I'm not sure if sandblasting would eat away the copper though. But it might be worth a try.

glorincz1 year ago
A DIY bubble etch-tank reduces the etching time to few minutes and etches evenly. I built one under £20 using a Tupperware jug, aquarium tube and an air pump. I even added a plastic valve so the acid wouldn't flow back to the pump. If you place a section of the flexible tube on the bottom and make tiny holes on it, you'll get lots of bubbles (the more the better!). Pic here.
msuzuki777 (author)  glorincz1 year ago
Thanks, I've heard of this and might try it.

MikB1 year ago
"Mine were originally 110C and 135C. I think there is a good reason for two different values"

If there are two settings on the laminator for different plastic types, there's obvious answer #1.

Less obvious answer: However, it could be they are used as a pair to sense the temperature RANGE, as the sensors only give an above/below indicator. So they are wired to keep the temperature above 110'C but below 135'C with a "hysteresis band" to stop the heater cycling madly on and off. If that's the case, replacing both with the SAME sensor may cause the heater to cycle on and off faster than normal. Or maybe not come on/get stuck on, depending on your degree of bad luck. Just a thought :)
MikB MikB1 year ago
Or even: the 110'C on lights the "Ready" light, to show "hot enough to use", and the 135'C one cuts off the heater as it's too hot, cutting back in before it falls too far.
msuzuki777 (author)  MikB1 year ago
Correct. I did go into more detail in the above comment.

I donno about your laminator, but I know in dryer's and electric heaters, they have 2 temperature sensors, one opens at a certain temperature, and closes at anything below that. the other, usually a fuse, is at a higher temperature. It's designed so that if the lower temperature switch fails, the 'fuse' pops and shuts things down, requiring someone to physically change the fuse, and hopefully figure out why the lower temperature switch didn't do it's job.. Again, I don't know about your laminator....
msuzuki777 (author)  bac5121 year ago
I kind of reverse engineered this laminator. Along with the two thermostats, there are two heater circuits. When cold, they're both heating, when the first threshold is reached, one is heating and one isn't, when over the higher threshold both heaters are off.

In addition there is a thermal fuse that I assume opens up if the temperature is over it's limit.

msuzuki777 (author)  MikB1 year ago
Your are basically correct. I drew out a wiring diagram/schematic. The heating elements are AC but each thermal switch is connected through a diode so will only be connected 1/2 of the AC 60Hz. So both heaters are on up to about 110C. From 110 to 135, one is on and both are off above 135C. So it is hysteresis. In addition the thermal switches have hysteresis themselves.
So my using two 165Cs, I would guess that the temperature is going to be more consistent but the thermal switches will 'switch' more often and probably wear out faster.

DermagraFX1 year ago
Nice Ible. Thanks.
Have you tried photo exposure copperclad and acetate (clear plastic/transparencies) with laser printer? All you have to do is lay the transparency on top of the copperclad under UV light for 5 mins, then etch as usual.
msuzuki777 (author)  DermagraFX1 year ago
I haven't heard of that one. It sounds interesting, though. Have you had good luck with it?

Orngrimm1 year ago
The process as it is not new to me since i use it since a long time (with special toner transfer-paper, but none the less).
But what resulted in a facepalm (in my own direction!) was the idea of the second printing onto the finished (etched) board as silkscreen.

The simplicity and cleverness of that are (for me) still mindboggling... Soooo simple and yet soooo nice to have! I feel ashamed to etch since a longtime and never tought of that one... Ahwell. :)
Thanks a lot!
msuzuki777 (author)  Orngrimm1 year ago
The Good: Silk screen makes it so much easier to stuff the components with the right values. The vinyl makes very clear text and outlines.
The Bad: It's only laser toner so it will rub off pretty easily. This is okay for me as I generally only use it to stuff the PCB.

fpuccetti1 year ago
Wow, I have been making PCBs for over 30 yrs..... I started out using light sensitive coated boards or spray on light sensitive materials with UV lighting , then etching.
Then 20+ yrs ago I progressed to Iron-on pcbs from "techniks" - I still use that today .
Print your image, the solder side (a xerox copy) on the "blue" coated sheets then cut the image out and Iron it on the cleaned PCB. let cool then etch SOOOOOOOO SIMPLE
msuzuki777 (author)  fpuccetti1 year ago
I'm glad it works for you. I've never heard of it before.
Question: Do you have to use a full sheet of the blue when you want to make a PCB?

I have been using this "techniks" blue material since the 1990's - they're from Scottsdale Az. originally. Unfortunately when you run the paper thru a copier it prints the whole sheet. So what I do is plan on the projects I have and make 2-3 or more images on one sheet before I use the "blue" that way I can make several boards from one sheet. The material is not that expensive, and it also comes in "white" iron on sheets that after you iron on the image you soak the entire board until the white paper floats off - leaving the image on the board. But it takes a lot more heat to transfer the image. So I use "blue". And dont crank the iron on "Hi" it will melt the plastic material;
start off on low and slowly turn the iron up, you will find the right transfer temp that doesn't deform the plastic. Note that setting, the image turns blue black when ironed on. And peels off real easy after it cools
msuzuki777 (author)  fpuccetti1 year ago
I guess that's one advantage to the vinyl sticker. I only need to cut a piece slightly larger than the PCB. Saves some cost.
Although it's possible you could do something similar. Print to plain paper, Cut a piece of Blue slightly bigger and double sticky tape it to the printed paper, then reprint onto Blue.

Thanks for the info. For now, I think I'll stick with my vinyl as I have a lot and don't see any advantages of switching to 'blue.'

studleylee1 year ago
Very nicely done and well explained. -Lee
msuzuki777 (author)  studleylee1 year ago

The easiest method that actually works is just using a laser printer with normal paper. I have done it and all you have to do is iron and press for about 5 minutes with a lot of pressure.
msuzuki777 (author)  simplebotics1 year ago
Never heard of just using plain paper before! Does it take more pressure than glossy paper?

Yes, but just a couple more minutes of pressure. Removing the paper is really easy. Just run it under water and scratch it off.
Ahh yes but with normal paper you have to SOAK the PCB in order to remove the paper !

With This Vinyl approach theres absolutely no time wasted soaking, just lift the vinyl off of the copper clad board as soon as it cools down from coming outta the laminator and hey-presto, the artwork is on there !!!

No more messing around with soaking/paper pulp removal/broken traces from scrubbing the paper pulp off the board, no more collecting magazine paper/finding the right magazine paper or getting magazine paper jams in the laser printer and just beautiful boards perfecto everytime lol ;-)

But then we had to start somewhere for our homebrew PCB's lol !
Now were evolving lol !!!

Dead simple Vinyl approach, LOVE it !!!!!

Ive tried quite a few ways too and HIGH Praise to L.O.G for this instructable !!! Once again another Darn Great How-To for us !!!
msuzuki777 (author)  offtherails20101 year ago
This is definitely my favorite method of making PCBs.
And thank you for the tip.