Introduction: PCB Birth Announcement Cards
With a baby daughter on the way, I took on the assignment of designing a birth announcement card and getting it printed.
Naturally, after having seen many PCB business cards over the years, this had to become a PCB birth announcement. One could of course go completely nuts and design a card with blinking LEDs or even one running Linux, if one were able to sell such an idea to one's girlfriend. Even a PCB without any traces or electronics is like a blank canvas, the various layers (copper, silkscreen, solder mask) can be shaped and combined with cutouts and and special board shapes to create real works of art.
Since we didn't really want this to obviously look like a PCB, we decided to go with a very simple board, in the shape of our daughter's name, fully covered in copper, without any solder mask or silk screen and with ENIG surface finish. We also wanted to get the edges and internal slots plated. This means the whole name tag is plated with a thin layer of real gold.
- Adobe Illustrator
- Adobe Acrobat
- Altium Circuitmaker or Kicad
- Microsoft Word & Excel
- Autodesk Fusion 360 (optional)
Step 1: Design Card
The card was designed in Inkscape and then finished and prepared for professional printing in Adobe Illustrator. Since the PCB is already a highlight, the rest of the card was kept simple, white text on a maroon background.
The font for the name had to be carefully selected to be manufacturable, it had to be a continuous script and couldn't be too thin in any places or have any sharp corners that couldn't be rounded. Leckerli One on Google Fonts seemed like a good fit.
The icons are from the Noun Project.
Step 2: Create PCB Manufacturing Files
PCB manufacturers need to get your design as Gerber files. I took a few steps to get from the font from Google Fonts to a valid set of Gerbers.
- Inkscape: Converted the text to a path, joined all characters into a single path and took a few steps (see picture) to round all sharp corners to give them at least a 0.8 mm internal radius, so that they can be reproduced by a CNC router of the same diameter. Exported the final outline as DXF.
- Altium Circuitmaker: Imported the DXF path as board outline, drew a copper rectangle (flood fill) on top and bottom layer. Exported as Gerber.
Step 2 could also be done in e.g. Kicad, I used Circuitmaker because I am more familiar with it.
Additionally, I created a 3D render in Autodesk Fusion 360 (optional), to help clarify my intentions to the PCB manufacturer. I included this render in the ZIP file with Gerber files that I sent off for manufacturing.
Step 3: Get PCBs Manufactured
I ordered the boards from PCBWay in China, a company that I can recommend.
This board is a bit unusual and so was the ordering process. It took a few tens of emails back and forth to clarify what it was all about ("yes, I know that is a dead short", "no, this had no electrical significance") and how it could be panelized (since I left panelization up to them).
It is important to note here that the PCB manufacturing process does not allow for a complete, uninterrupted edge plating because of panelization. I agreed with the production engineer (see screenshot) on three spots that would not be plated.
I got my order in, just in time to get manufactured and shipped before Chinese New Year. Unfortunately, out of 150 boards, only 70 passed quality control. The other boards were damaged during depanelization by CNC router. After Chinese New Year and some additional delay because of the Covid-19 outbreak in China, PCBWay built and sent the additional 80 boards.
Step 4: Touch Up PCB Edges
I decided to touch up the missing spots of edge plating with a gold paint marker.
Step 5: Order a Proof
The final cards can only be ordered and glued up once the baby is born. To check the design, I ordered several proofs from a few different printing companies.
A first proof from a first company was of average printing quality (maroon ink bleeding into white text) and the thickest paper they had (300 g) was still a bit flimsy, especially with a 0.8 mm PCB stuck onto it.
The second proof, from a different company, was printed on much thicker paper (600 g, almost cardboard), but the printing quality was disappointing, because of the texture of the paper.
The third and fourth proof were from a third company, a more "serious" professional printing company.
We ended up with the third company for the final order and got laminated cards, two layers of 400 g, for a total of 800 g, with a "soft touch" layer applied to both sides for a more luxurious feel.
Step 6: Print Address Labels and Stick Them to Envelopes
Labeled envelopes can be prepared before the baby arrives. I used an address list in Excel and mail merge in Word to create the labels and printed them at home.
Step 7: Have a Baby, Weigh and Measure It
Make sure to remember the measurements.
Step 8: Prepare Final Files for Printer and Order
The printing company company expects the design to be delivered as ready-to-print PDF documents, with bleeds and crop marks and in CMYK colorspace. I created the files as per their requirements using Adobe Illustrator and sent them of for printing.
Step 9: Final Assembly
So far we have used a lot of software and have made other people do the work to manufacture the PCBs and to print and laminate the cards, but the final step requires a few hours of manual labor.
Using a jig, I glued a PCB front and center on each card. Each card had to set a few minutes under a weight and then dry a few hours on a stack before being put in a labeled envelope.
Step 10: Send Out the Cards
Finally, add a stamp a bring to the local post office. All done.
Participated in the
PCB Design Challenge