Making Printed Circuit Boards at or Near Home: a Comprehensive Overview, Almost a Guide

Introduction: Making Printed Circuit Boards at or Near Home: a Comprehensive Overview, Almost a Guide

About: For now see me at:

There is a bit of controversy over making your own printed circuit boards, many makers think that professional boards are so inexpensive now that they are the way to go. Others want to have more control and hopefully short turn around time that comes with making their own. This instructable assumes that you buy into the "make your own point of view" and will not argue the point.

Near Home is bit of a new idea. What does “near home” mean? There are getting to be more and more hacker spaces ( and similar spaces ) which give makers access to more advanced and expensive equipment than most can afford at home. This instructable assumes such a hacker space is near by. And therefore considers more expensive equipment may be present than in the usual home lab. One such space is now investigating a number of these methods and is hoping to recruit local expertize in developing optimal techniques. For more information on this see the website of AS220 Labs ( ). If you are near Providence RI consider participating in the project. Results will be posted back here.  We hope other hacker spaces also become centers for board fab.

This instructable will give an overview of most of the popular methods, describe how the steps come together and provide links ( mostly to other instructables, but some offsite ) to material on making boards.  Many of the instructables cover only one or a few steps I list them with the step, and then at the end have links to instructables covering more complete processes.  Note that I am planning to update this instructable for awhile yet, add your suggestions to the comments.

Making boards breaks down into a set of somewhat distinct steps. We will assume you have solved the circuit design stage and are starting on the fabrication stage.
Step 1:  * Draw the schematic in a PC design tool.
Step 2: * Layout the components ( or choose the position of the components on the board ) and Route the traces ( this means determining the path the traces take on the circuit board )
Step3: * Output Files describing the board to the next step in the chain, this could be a set of gerber files, an image file, or perhaps some other file(s)
Step 4: * Transfer the file to the board ( in some cases like a milling machine you are then done )
Step 5 *  If etching: etch the board.
Step 6: * Drill the holes.
Step 7: * Done.

Note that steps overlap somewhat and are often applied iteratively.

At each step there are a host of choices you can make, each may have consequences on quality and future steps. In this overview we will mention the choices but may not follow up on each of them. We will also bias our answers somewht to free or low cost solutions.

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Step 1: Draw the Schematic in a PC Design Tool

Eagle, the free version, ( ) is a frequent choice. Non intuitive, hard to use, but all the tools seem to be this way. Biggest problem may be that board size is quite limited in the free version. Other tools include Kicad ) and gEDA ).

Instructable Links:

* How to make a custom library part in Eagle CAD tool --

* Eagle --

* Make hobbyist PCBs with professional CAD tools by modifying "Design Rules" – Eagle --

* Turn your EAGLE schematic into a PCB --

* Draw Electronic Schematics with CadSoft EAGLE --

Step 2: Layout the Components and Route the Traces

Layout the Components is positioning the components on the board and routing the traces is determining the path the traces take on the circuit board.

Eagle will then support your layout and routing of the board. It has an auto router, but many people seem to think that manual routing is the way to go. Other tools have different but similar features.

Instructable Links:

* Turn your EAGLE schematic into a PCB. --

* Circuit Board Layout Tips & Tricks – Tips and tricks for laying out your circuit board in Diptrace with this video tutorial.

* Lay out a Circuit Board – This is a brief video tutorial on PCB layout in Diptrace.

Step 3: Output Files

Produce a file(s) describing the board to the next step in the chain, this could be a set of gerber files, an image file, or perhaps some other file(s).  Sometimes the image goes direct to the printer.

Eagle has several different ways to proceed at this step, the simplest may be to print the board for the toner transfer method. This involves hiding/viewing some of the layers, and selecting other printing options some in eagle some in your printer preferences.

You can also export your board as a graphic file. This is similar to printing, but has its own set of options, Since it produces a file you can also manipulate this file for board optimization, or convert the file format if needed.

If you need gerber files eagle has ulp () to produce these. Sometimes these files go directly to further steps, or you can convert the gerbers back to graphic files ( may be useful for some file formats ).

Instructable Links:

Automating Eagle export and preparing it for printing. --

Step 4: Transfer the File to the Board

If you are using a milling machine to produce the boards you may have the files you need at this point, or you may have some file manipulations to do first. But when the board comes out of the milling machine it is done ( assuming the milling machine does the drilling as well, and of course you may need to trim the board to size as well )

But maybe you are using “toner transfer”. In this case you print the image of the file on paper and then use heat to transfer the design to the board. There are a bunch of different ways to do this, at the simple end just a clothes iron, at the work well end us a lamina tor. The board is then placed in a chemical enchant to remove the unwanted copper.

Somewhat like toner transfer is using special boards coated with an optically sensitive etchant resist material. You print a negative of your design on a clear material and expose the negative and board to the right kind and amount of light. The board is then developed and ready to go into the enchant. If you mess up this step you can clean up the board and have a bare board, perhaps you can re coat with the optical resist.

You can also use spray paint as a resist. Remove it by using a laser cutter in etch mode.

Instructable Links:

* Two sided PCB using toner method –

* Cheap and Easy Toner Transfer for PCB Making –

* How to make 2-sided Printed Circuit Boards --

* How to make a printed circuit board (PCB) using the UV light LED method. --

* UV LED Exposure Box –

* Simple UV lightbox for PCBs –

Step 5: If Etching: Etch the Board

In principal take a bowl of enchant and put in the board. In practice some details matter. Since it etches it is nasty stuff. You have several different chemicals to choose between. In addition to choosing based on how well they work, you need to consider safety, availability, storage and so on. Also a bowl does not work that well. You often want to warm the enchant and circulate it.

If you are not etching, perhaps you are using a milling machine or.....

Instructable Links:

* DIY PCB Bubble Etch Tank --

* Etch PCBs in One Minute! -- Sponge + Ferric Chloride Method

* DIY Etch Tank --

* Stop using Ferric Chloride etchant! (A better etching solution.) --!--A-better-etc/

* PCB etching machine from scratch -- VERY VERY VERY easy to build --

* Build your own PCB bubble tank! --!/

* Vertical Etching Tank for DIY PCB etching --

* PCB Etching Machine. Save money and time....

Step 6: Drill the Holes

Easy, until you try. Drills so small, so easy to break, so hard to see. A small drill press really helps. Easier to drill the holes if you use surface mount parts ( because they do not use holes), but then everything tends to be smaller.

Instructable Links:

* $30 High-Speed PCB Drill Press --

* PCB Drill Press Using Salvaged Door Hinges --

* DIY Pcb Hand Drilling Machine --

* Homemade Foot Pedal For PCB Drills --

Step 7: Done -- That Was Easy

( That is skipping plating, vias and some other stuff )

Links to instructables covering multiple steps

Laser Cutter

* Custom PCB Prototyping using a Laser Cutter – Does not include the design and routing process --

Toner Transfer

*  Complete Circuit Board Lab & POV Business Card – toner transfer method --

*  (Mostly) easy PCB manufacture – toner transfer method --

* DIY Printed circuit board – toner transfer –

Photo Resist

* How to make a printed circuit board (PCB) using the UV light LED method. – a photo sensitive method --

 * Creating Printed Circuit Boards with a INKJET Printer – Photo Resist --

Other processes

 * Quickie PCB Production (with Bonus NiCd Battery Charger) – Draw resist right on board and then etch. --

 * How to make circuits with a Roland CAMM sign cutter --

 * Killer PCBs – a photo sensitive method, but with a twist --

* Printed Circuit Boards (PCB) using the Laser Cutter

Misc Notes and steps

 * Cut Circuit Boards with a Paper Cutter --

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    17 Discussions


    2 years ago

    Hi and thanks for your help
    I have a problem with finding the right paper for this project . Do you have a brand or model number of paper you have used that works well. I am using the Iron on method with MG Chemicals Ferric Chloride etch


    5 years ago on Introduction

    Nice 'ible'

    The problem with any on-line supplier/manufacturer, it still takers at least 48hrs to get boards from time of order (overnight shipping is exorbitant cost wise so finsihed part isn't cheap)

    For impatient or frugal, Fritzing is good layout software, plus, it's free. You can design on a 'breadboard' and it will convert to a PCB schematic

    I think you should place order for your required PCB at and I m sure you will get your job done quickly on affordable
    price. It provides professional PCB with Free shipping and big discount price.
    Good luck!


    6 years ago on Introduction

    Really nice work,

    Looking for more information from you....



    7 years ago on Step 6

    Although I drill holes with a dremel in hands or even with a vertical stand, most of times I make holes with a punch tool like this. My punch tool has 1mm and 0.6mm diameter tips and works great with single face phenolite boards.


    7 years ago on Introduction

    Great work.!! Now that you have your board why don't you try the dry film solder mask? The green stuff. Is very easy to use and your boards will be comparable as the professional pcb makers.

    Is very useful for boards that use smd components, after you apply the green coat soldering is very easy

    you can buy it at ebay here:


    7 years ago on Introduction

    Love this! Great work Russ! I agree with Mr. Moose, we should have a DIY PCB symposium at AS220 Labs.

    Just a question, in etching, do you just put the design on the PCB, and then put it in the etching material? I'm interested in doing Arduino projects, and would like to be able to make a cheap board.

    Da Person who plays paintball.
    Da Person who plays paintball.

    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    Oops, didn't read the whole thing now I get it. Except, tinning, is that the metal plates around the connector and where the processor/microprocessor sits?


    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    Not quite sure I get the question, most of the boards here do not have a microcontroller. In any case I am not sure what the "metal plates" are, you may be referring to the "copper pour" area. In this technique the conductors are more or less formed by small areas where the copper is removed to insulate the conductors rather than just put coper to make the conductors.


    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    Tinning is adding metal over the copper to protect it against corrosion and make it accept solder more easily. Usually a chemically deposited layer of tin. Some people also add a layer called solder mask which stops solder from adhering where you do not want it.

    The area around connections are called "pads".


    7 years ago on Introduction

    DesignSparkPCB ( is the hobbyists answer to the free version of Eagle.
    It is freeware, and has a lot of nice features that Eagle lacks, with none of the free version constraints. If youre familiar with Eagle youll have no trouble finding youre way around it.


    8 years ago on Introduction

    Nice overview, I like the idea of hackerspace fabrication.


    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    We are working on that. Anyone who thinks they might like to attend should contact me either thru instructables or the link at as220.


    8 years ago on Introduction

    Nice work Russ. Do you think AS220 could have a symposium on this so others could share their experiences?