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Use a 3d printer for etching PCBs? Answered

Here's an idea - would it be possible to use a 3D printer to lay out the etch resist on a PCB?  It would likely only need to print a single layer.  Of course you'd need to use a material that would resist the ferric chloride but could also be removed without leaving a residue.




2 years ago

I used this method many years ago and it was very successful.

I used a Versatronics robot arm, EasyPC software, Gerber files and the whole lot ran on an IBM XT compete with 5.25" floppies, which tells you how light and basic it was.

In a nutshell, the arm drew tracks etc using a standard drafting pen, waterproof ink (single-sided and two-sided). The pen was swapped for a mini drill with carbide drills and mills. The rest was standard etching (no need for UV deveolpment).

The pen and drill fell by their own weight, the pens have a valve in the tip.

Turned out loads of prototypes and short runs.

I had access to a Roland plotter which could also do the etch resist, but obviously not the drilling.

You should be able to use a 3D printer to lay down ink resist on a PCB. You only need one layer so that is only one pass to complete all the tracks.

You'd need to find a way to deliver the ink resist through some kind of delivery nozzle (ink is available in bottles), pen (ink resist pens are available).

An old plotter will draw PCB lines. If you can change the pen for another that holds an ink resist pen then you can draw your PCB layout direct to copper.

All you do then is etch the board in ferric chloride, clean, drill and solder up.

I am a bit confused as to why this would be needed or advantageous also. Since most PCB's are printed, quite literally, in pretty much 2 dimensions, the only time I can see an advantage would be if you were printing on a 3-d object, like a cube.

The reason is that the 3D printer is able to lay down a layer of (presumably) acid-resistant plastic with a reasonable amount of accuracy, without any extra hardware or steps. Just place the bare copper board in the machine, hit print, then dump the board in acid.

Ok, I suppose that doesn't sound too difficult, if the "ink" can be made the proper viscosity, and yet not need special "treatment" once laid down...

How about milling the PCB with a CNC tool? I've seen it work at MakerFair.
I've got myself a 3D printer recently, and have been planning to add a milling head, so that I can mill PCBs. No etching. Just mill and done.

Then if I can also add a drill head...


Yep, that would work great for though hole boards! It's probably the route I'll take eventually. I've got plans to build a nice precise CNC machine, now all I need is the money and time to do it. :)

Make yourself a UV exposure unit, and do it the proper way ;-)

It gives much better results than TT or Inkjet methods.


That's my go-to method right now, but it's more expensive due to the presensitized boards and extra chemicals. It's what I use for surface mount boards, but I'd like to use something cheaper and easier for boards that are just through-hole.

For the most part, I was just wondering if it was possible. :)

Why a 3d printer?

That is already possible with both laser printers and inkjet printers.

Having said that, I'd think that you could print a single layer of ABS onto the board as a resist, no problem, and then peel the plastic layer off afterwards.

Ugh, I've tried toner transfer and it just isn't great. Maybe I need different paper or a different printer. However, that inkjet printing method sure looks nice, especially with the refinements made to the process.