Heatless (cold) Toner Transfer for PCB Making

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About: Music: my profession for over 40 years... Electronics: my beloved hobby always.

Toner transfer method for making PC boards is very practical and economical. The use of heat for the transferring is not. Large boards expand with heat (more than the laser print) and heat is applied to the top of the toner and not to the bottom contacting the copper layer. Too much heat melts and deforms the toner, too little heat and it won't adhere uniformly. In this Instructable I will describe a very simple technique I've been using for over 15 years. It is very fail-proof and involves the use of only 2 common chemicals : Ethyl Alcohol and Acetone. You can replace the Acetone with Toluene or Xylene, but you will have to experiment with the proportions.

Step 1: Toner Is Inert to Alcohol

Alcohol is volatile but neutral to toner or paper. Its purpose is to dilute the Acetone.

Step 2: Acetone Reacts With Toner

Acetone, (pure, not nail-polish remover) dissolves the toner immediately.

Step 3: The Formula

Experimentally I found the best alcohol-acetone proportion is 8:3 (8 volumes alcohol + 3 volumes Acetone) Acetone will "soften" the toner just enough to make it "sticky" but not dissolve or blur.

Step 4: Storage

You can store the preparation for a very long time but the container must be absolutely airtight. Acetone is much more volatile than Alcohol so exposing to air will degrade acetone concentration. The container should also survive the action of acetone. If plastic, it should be HDPE(high density polyethilene, often used in kitchenware)

Step 5: Cleaning

This step is the same you would do for any other toner tranfer method.

Step 6: Procedure

Pour the solution on the board (not on the print) and quickly spread to cover all its surface (quick!, acetone is volatilizing). Place the print on the board and center it in place without pushing down. Now press gently down, fully contacting the solution. Wait 5-10 seconds before finally pressing down to adhere to board (only perpendicular pressure). During those seconds, acetone is reacting with the toner rendering it "sticky". Use some kitchen paper to spread pressure evenly and absorb excess liquid. Let dry, and dip in water.

Step 7: Release the Paper

After a few minutes (don't be anxious) peel the paper off starting from a corner. There should not be any toner on the paper. Rinse the board in water to remove any remaining paper particles.

Step 8: Etching

Step 9: Large Boards

For larger boards, I place board and print between two blocks of wood and press together with a C-Clamp. Place a layer or two of kitchen paper between print and wood to distribute pressure and allow for evaporation.

Step 10: For More Details, Watch the Video. Thank You

11 People Made This Project!

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191 Discussions

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Velvetblaze

2 hours ago

I made it! It required some fine tuning though. I used 70% ethyl rubbing alcohol and 100% acetone I found at CVS pharmacy here in the states.

I tried once following the instructions exactly with an 8 to 3 alcohol to acetone ratio but there were some parts of the toner that did not transfer. I hypothesized that was because of variations in toner composition and variations in porosity of the glossy photo paper used. Also, I thought that maybe the acetone-alcohol mixture did not react completely with the toner during the " put it on the plate but don't press down/ get the toner sticky phase"

So, I changed the ratio to 7 parts alcohol and 4 parts acetone. Then, i poured the acetone-alcohol mixture over and completely covered the paper with my toner design ( as it was sitting face/design up next to my metal) and let it sit for about a minute to give it more time to react with the toner and get it sticky. Then I pressed it on the metal. The toner transferred completely and the paper came right off in the water wash bath, although some paper did stick on to the toner and that is why it looks white. I am hoping that using a different ( hopefully a little less porous glossy photo paper will result in a cleaner transfer )

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BhupendraS22

Question 4 weeks ago

Why mixing with alcohol is required? I am trying with only acetone but toner is not transferring to copper clad completely.

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NagyV

6 months ago

Perfect work! :) Thank you. Im used the 8/3 mix as well and it worked for me. "100% Aceton" and 96% Methyl Alcohol (it was a nightmare to get some in urope without recipe -.- but not impossible). On the pictures is my first try and its completely fine (need to experience it

how strong i have to pust the paper, but...hey :D its ok.)

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mduvigneaud

8 months ago

I think the toner in my printer (I'm using a Brother HL-1440) must be a
little bit different. I've tried 8 times using different ratios of
acetone and ethanol and a few different types of paper and have gotten
0% toner transfer (+/- 0%, looking under a 120x power microscope). I
just refilled an old toner cartridge with a different brand of toner and
I'll try that. Using the hot transfer process I've had about 70 to 90%
transfer using the same toner (meaning it's still 100% failure!)
Hopefully I'll get one of these processes down soon. :)

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doski90z

9 months ago

Amazing one

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CostantinoC

Question 9 months ago on Introduction

Hello
Congratulations to the semplicity !
I would like to find on the Web a site with drawings of various printed circuits but I found
little stuff (hi-fi). Can you please help me ?
Thanks a lot

Costantino

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AvoR1

10 months ago

I did this to improve the results:

#1 Make the printer output more toner (thicker layer) on the paper (making black really black) by setting max contrast and min brightness in the printer settings in Windows. That prevented the etchant getting through the toner layer.
#2 I use MEK thinner in ratio of 60% alcohol and 40% MEK. The more MEK, the faster I have to work, because toner will get spongy really fast.
#3 Running the water directly on/through the paper also seemed to help better separate the toner from the paper. And the glossy laser paper is absolutely necessary. If you use regular white copy paper, the toner won't come off the paper properly and gets caught in the pores of the paper.

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ajayre

10 months ago

I'm pulling my hair out with this. I have tried different ratios, different types of paper, pressing with hands, pressing with clamps, soaking for different lengths of time, etc. and the result is always the same. The toner has patches where it flakes off and also once the paper has been removed the toner turns white and the copper gets a white deposit on it that I can't remove unless I scratch it, but then I risk damaging the very fragile toner.

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haq3013

10 months ago

This solution work great for me although it take some time to master.

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andrea biffi

1 year ago

I will try that for sure! Thanks!

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charliemyers

1 year ago

This system works for me consistently! I make a sandwich of: wooden block, 1/2" foam rubber, copper clad board, acetone mix, circuit printed on magazine paper, paper towel, another 1/2" foam rubber, wooden block on top. Compress it together with enough clamps to distribute the pressure evenly, and wait a couple hours.

After removing the clamp, let the board sit until the paper no longer smells like acetone. Soak it in soapy water for a couple hours and the paper almost falls off by itself. PERFECT results each time so far for me. I'm not in that big of a hurry, so the extra clamp & soaking time doesn't bother me. But 100% success is well worth the wait! Better than under 10% success using the iron on method.

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pjs2020

1 year ago

I tried this will great transfer results but bad etching results. For the transfer I did everything as instructed except used 99% isopropyl alcohol. I did the transfer twice using a Brother laser printer on glossy paper and both times it looked perfect on the board. I was very excited by this, but when I etched it, using 3 parts hydrogen peroxide + 1 part muriatic acid, like 30% of the copper under the toner was evenly removed as well. I've done it 100s of times with the hot iron and same etching solution with perfect results, but with this I can't seem to get the same final result.

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pedja_bgpjs2020

Reply 1 year ago

Your solvent is too strong. I am using 10ml of muriatic acid 26% and 1ml of hydrogen 30%. Hydrogen will speed up the process, but final result will not be that good. You need to be patient, use only muriatic acid and slowly add hydrogen, when you see the bubbles stop adding hydrogen and always move the solution or the board.

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pjs2020pedja_bg

Reply 1 year ago

Hey thanks for the reply! I went ahead and weakened the etchant and did get better results, but in testing out a bunch of things I noticed the problem. It just wasn't obvious. On one of the tests, when I followed the toner transfer method and wiped the print with alcohol, little bits of the toner came off from the traces. This led me to print another one and look very closely at it under magnification. The printer wasn't actually printing with full toner coverage on the glossy paper I was using. So there were very tiny holes here and there which ended up allowing the etchant to get in. I tried printing with max density and other printer setting and also tried a method I saw to even the toner out by using acetone vapor, but the results still weren't as good as using the hot iron. I also did try a different laser printer on the same paper and it had near perfect toner coverage, but it wouldn't transfer. I'll have to play around with that more to see if I can get it to work.

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changeumans

1 year ago

I did try it with a HP4100 laserjet, no succes, the toner do not stick at all, maybe wrong alcohol, did use 70 procent denaturalized alcohol. hae original toner cardridge.

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silvaenr

1 year ago

I've done this as follow:

1. HP laserjet P1109w printer with original HP toner cartridge.

2. Glossy paper used is couche paper bought at a stationery store. I found two-sided, 72cmX102cm, 130g, couche paper sheets. They cut the sheets for me to letter size.

3. 50% acetone, 50% ethyl alcohol. Ethyl alcohol bought at a drugstore and the acetone at a hardware store.

4. I followed the procedure described in this instructable to step 6, but waited a couple hours for the solvents to dry, then dipped the pcb in water. At this point, continued with procedure as described.

5. Before etching, as someone mentioned here, white vinegar helps to remove any traces of paper left between the tracks.

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SaturdayScience

1 year ago

I'm about to experiment with this method - I've bee meaning to make my own PCBs for years. Your transfer method is inspiring me to give it a go - thanks. A couple of points:

1) Acetone is very much 'healthier' than toluene or xylene.

2) I see some folk have substituted 70% Alcohol and the blend changed to 70%Ethanol 5: 2 Acetone. Interesting that in the 8:3 mix the acetone is 27% and in the 70% Ethanol blend the acetone is 28%. I guess with greater water content of the 70% alcohol mix evaporation will be rather slower so more paper towels or longer time required before putting the sandwich into the water bath.

My first experiment will be to test ratios for my (Brother) printer toner.

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JamesW440

1 year ago

I tried this several times on a fairly complex board. I used acetone and denatured alcohol from Home Depot. I used the exact mix of the two, but I had little success getting the right amount onto the board. I might have hurried too much?! Anyway less than half of the toner stuck as many times as I tried and putting weight on it caused straight lines to go wiggly.

I was almost able to get it to work with 100% acetone by putting the paper on first and pouring the acetone over the paper. The pressing boards caused it to squish out.

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abhinnkp

1 year ago

Can I use Isopropyl alcohol instead of Ethyl Alcohol and what will be the ration of mixture?

1 reply
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abhinnkpabhinnkp

Reply 1 year ago

I've tried it with Isopropyl alcohol with the same ration and it worked. Thanks for the Instructable.