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Instructable on electroplated circuit boards? Answered

I managed to plate a copper trace onto piece of acryllic today, to test out a process for easily and cheaply making (and possibly editing/repairing) custom PCBs.

The adhesion appears to be good for surface preparation used so far, and a nice thick track has formed.

So, would it be worth uploading an instructable once the process has been refined a little (or enough to make simple boards properly)?

Any questions, feedback or comments would be appreciated.

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PKM (author)2011-09-15

I'm definitely in- any way of making PCBs without fiddly toner transfer, nasty etchants et al would be welcome. How do you mask it? Where normal PCBs use a mask to stop the etchant dissolving copper where you don't want it to, how do you make this solution only plate track where you want it to be? Or is this just a way of making your own copper-clad which you then have to etch into an actual circuit?

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The Skinnerz (author)PKM2011-09-16

At the moment, I'm drawing the patterns free-hand, using a soft pencil to put down a thin layer of graphite over the areas where the copper needs to go. Where the graphite builds up thick enough to conduct is determined by whatever roughness is on the surface.

So far, I have two different ways of doing it. Fine traces can be done neatly and accurately with lines engraved in the surface with a scribe, although attempts to make lines over 1mm wide are messy at best.

Alternatively, texturing the whole surface allows anything to be drawn, although the lines tend to be wider, and not as neat. (it also gives a bad finish to the un-plated areas)

Currently looking into sand blasted surfaces, and graphite/solvent paste, which can be painted on, leaving a layer of graphite stuck onto a rough surface.

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PKM (author)The Skinnerz2011-09-16

That's.. a very cool, and as far as I know novel, idea. You should definitely post an instructable on it!

To get this straight, you scratch the surface where you want tracks to be, providing a rough surface for the graphite to stick in, then scribble over it with a pencil?  (Or roughen the whole surface and draw in tracks with the pencil) 

I'm immediately curious what else I can electroplate with this technique.  I'm imagining sanding, pencil-ing, electroplating and polishing my phone case to get a shiny copper phone :)

If you haven't already, you might be interested in reading Jake von Slatt's notes in copper plating and electrochemical etching at Steampunk Workshop.

Lastly I notice you're UK-based too- where do you get your copper sulphate?

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steveastrouk (author)PKM2011-09-16

This is "electroforming", and its great, provided you can get a complete circuit throught the track - you're stuffed if all your tracks aren't connected together, which makes it s pretty useless technique for real PCBs.

Steve

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user

I agree that for even moderately sized or complex layouts there are far more practical alternatives. Although I can see this having applications for relatively quick construction of simple circuits as well as novelty projects.

For non connected tracks, joining them with locking wire through the holes should make it work better.

Thanks as always for sharing your knowledge.

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The Skinnerz (author)PKM2011-09-16

You've pretty much got it there. As far as I can tell, this should be possible on almost any insulating surface that will withstand copper sulphate for 1/2 to 2 hours.

The level of detail possible is actually very high, as each individual scratch on a sanded surface can be seen around the edge of the tracks.

Thanks for pointing out that article, I'll have a look later when I get chance.

I actually got my copper sulphate from my schools physics department a couple of years ago, although it can be made easily from battery acid and copper.

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The Ideanator (author)Conker-X2011-09-15

Don't you mean laws? IIRC there's more than one, which brings up the question of which. Are you referencing the zeroth law?

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Kiteman (author)The Ideanator2011-09-16

Yes, "he" was.

It's the one that came first, the others sort of got added later.

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The Skinnerz (author)Conker-X2011-09-14

What exactly is Kiteman's Law?

Also, I just cleaned up the sample piece I plated earlier, and it looks even better, so an instructable should be on its way some time soon.

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thelandofthedave (author)2011-09-14

I would love to see this Instructable.

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Thanks for showing an interest.

I just pulled it out of the plating solution and cleaned it up, and the polished copper on black acryllic looks pretty awesome.

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lemonie (author)2011-09-14