Introduction: DIY PCB Production With a UV Printer (and Get Help From the Local Mall)

You want to make a PCB but you don't want to wait weeks for it from China. DIY seems like the only option but you know from experience most options suck. Toner transfer never comes out right does it? Doing photolithography at home is so complex... what's left? UV printing!

Pssssst: if you have no clue what a PCB is you can try taking a look at some explainer videos

Step 1: Step 1: Prepare Your PCB Design

For this tutorial we're going to use Laen's etch test pattern because it has all the things we need to test a new process.

Of course you can use any PCB design. Make it a vector file. PDF is fine.

If you don't know how to design one check out some tutorials on Kicad or Fritzing. Those are PCB design software packages.

Step 2: Step 2: Print Your Design

Wait what? I don't have a UV printer! You may not have one but these printers, that polymerize ink with ultraviolet light, became widely available a few years ago. They’re mostly being used to customize objects. Pens, Phone cases, plaques and all sorts of knick knacks. You’ve probably seen a kiosk at your local mall that will mark objects for you. Look for any store that says "personalized gifts" or "customized phone cases".

Basically they attach ink to anything. It might not stay on that well on certain surfaces but you can bet it will remain there for a few hours at least.

Let me guide you step by step through the process so you can understand it:

  • You take one copper clad laminate.
  • If it doesn’t have a protection foil scrub it down really well to clean it.
  • Prepare a vector file with the design you want to etch onto the plate. (PDF is fine)
  • Go down to the mall kiosk with a UV printer and tell them you want to print a design on your copper plate.
  • They might tell you it won’t hold. That’s fine. Tell them you just need it for a few hours. Instruct them to print it directly onto the board with black ink.
  • Some will offer to put down primer paint or laquer on the board so the ink will stay on better. Refuse it!
  • It is imperative that it’s only your design in basic UV ink on the copper. It shouldn't cost too much. Take your inked board. Be careful. Although the ink is polymerized copper is not the ideal material for them to stick to. I wrap my boards in sandwich foil to protect the ink on the drive home.

Step 3: Step 3: Etch the Board

Etching is really easy. You just grab some ferric chloride and drop the board inside it. The warmer the ferric chloride the faster the etching works. You can buy the stuff at any electronics store or online.

The chemicals will eat away any copper that is not covered by UV ink.

Step 4: Step 4: Clean the Ink Off the Board

Your board is all nice and etched but the black ink is still on your traces.

To clean it get some strong rubbing alcohol and a cotton pad. A little rubbing will get the ink right off. It's funny because it falls off in pieces.

Step 5: Done!

Admire those cool clean traces!

I haven't found any method that works this well to make a one off PCB fast. Hope it helps!