PCBs Without a Printer!




Ever felt tired of veroboard or perfboard and wanted to do your own PCBs?

Here's where I was just recently, having failed numerous times with toner transfer and unable to find printable film, to do the photoresist trick.

I came up with a solution and also made photos for this very instructable, while testing it out.

What you will need:

  • Blank copper clad PCB
  • Veroboard or perfboard at least the same size as your project
  • Drill and a 1mm drill bit
  • CD marker
  • Etching supplies(will not go into detail, lots of tutorials out there)
  • Double sided tape(normal tape will probably do as will blu-tac
  • Sandpaper
  • Your favourite beverage such as coffee or beer.

Step 1: Plan Out Your Board

First, using your favourite editor such as eagle (or use EasyEDA, a browser based and free schematic and PCB editor, check it out, it's awesome! www.easyeda.com), draw your PCB to be, keeping it all on a 2,54mm(1/10 inch for the metrically disabled;) ) grid or whatever hole spacing your veroboard is at.

Step 2: Glue and Mark

Now take the double sided tape or whatever you planned on using and fix the blank PCB to the Vero, aligning one of the corners

IMPORTANT: Make sure it's fixed tightly or you will have hole misalignment like I did.

When fixed, mark all the holes/Vias to be drilled.

Step 3: Drill the Holes.

Sit the assembly on top of a piece of scrap wood and drill all the holes you marked.

To preserve your self esteem, double check and then triple check, that you have marked and drilled every last one, before you proceed to the next step or you will feel stupid like I did.

If you didn't, yet, here's a good chance to see if your components fit!

Step 4: Prepare for Drawing

Remove the Veroboard and gently deburr the newly drilled holes with fine sandpaper.

Step 5: Draw It!

Now using the CD marker, draw your traces according to the plan, you made in the first step.

Step 6: Etch It!

Now make sure the girlfriend/wife/mother is not home, get a glass bowl from the kitchen, heat it up with running hot water, pour in 50/50 boiling water/FeCl3 and etch away. Do not overdo it, like I did or you will etch away your finer traces.

When finished wash the board and remove the marker with acetone or scrub it away.

Or use whatever etch method you have, there's tons of tutorials.

Step 7: Enjoy Your Product!

I overetched mine, left it unattended for too long and thus got a cut trace and the fine print got etched away too, but all in all I am happy. Small cut traces can be fixed with extra solder.

Feels MUCH better to complete it, than a project on vero :)



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    16 Discussions


    3 years ago

    Nice article. My favorite editor is also EasyEDA. I satisfied with this tool and use it very much. It's free EDA tool integrating powerful schematic capture, mixed-mode circuit simulation and PCB layout function. It can run on windows , mac , linux or android platform, as long as there is one browser on the OS and connecting to network, which is convenient to me. Work on https://easyeda.com/ can be kept private, shared or made public. Schematics and libraries can be imported from Altium, Eagle, KiCad and LTspice. Files can be exported in a number of formats including JSON. Low cost PCB fabrication is also offered as an option.

    1 reply

    Reply 3 years ago

    Thanks for feedback, yeah, while I simulate on other software it's a really nice place to have access to all your stuff all over the web :)


    4 years ago

    Before I tried the toner-transfer method, I used carbon-copy paper to put the image on the board (carbon copy paper used to be in everybody's checkbook... you might still be able to get it at an office supply store).

    I just printed the circuit on regular paper using a lighter gray ink (not reversing the image), then taped it to the board with a piece of carbon paper between, image facing out. Then, just trace the outline of the traces with a pencil, and drill the holes before you take the paper off. Once you remove the paper, you have nice lines to just fill in between with the resist-ink.

    For double sided, do exactly as above for the first side, flip over, and shine a flashlight under the board. Put the next printed image and carbon paper on the second side, and use the light shining through the holes onto the paper to align the pins on the image to the holes, tape fast, and trace again.

    1 reply

    I guess, I don't have sharpies in my country, but I guess they work as well. Test with a tiny piece of pcb first to be sure!


    4 years ago on Introduction

    I use to make a lot of PCBs when I was a teenager and apart from using CD marker pen, this is about the same process I used. The only things I'd suggest to improve overall quality is to build a small rectangular frame around your PCB such as the frame is slightly thicker than the thickness of your PCB then place a metal ruler over the frame and use it to guide a jeweller's grave or hobby knife to clean up your traces. I'd also suggest using a better resist ink. I'd be willing to try paraffin or bees wax if I was going to use the grave. I'm currently working on a similar solution but I'm using spray paint and I'm building a CNC device to manage the grave position, driven by my gerber file. Remember, you only have to remove the copper you don't need, not all of the copper except your traces. Leave the rest and save your FeCL3.

    Hope this helps.

    3 replies

    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    Just a few clarifications. If you choose the jeweller's grave as I do, remember that it's not for cutting away the copper. The copper between traces can be used for a sacrificial layer but definitely stay away from the fibreglass. My adaptation is only meant to cut through the paint (or wax if you want to give this a go).

    IC pin layouts (either SMT or through-hole) are challenging. The best I've been able to do by hand used rub-on stencils which I applied before the spray paint. As long as the paint is applied properly you should be able to see the stencil work as it will be proud of the rest. This is difficult and time consuming work thus my efforts towards automation. Automation also opens the door to double sided PCBs which is very difficult to do by hand.


    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    Hmm, interesting idea. Aligning DIP holes was one of the main problems I had in mind, thinking about this, predrilling the holes through the vero as template eliminates this problem and also makes double sided much easier :)


    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    Your process almost certainly works but not for SMT. You will have to rely on indexing holes in unused space to get your artwork right and even at that it will be tedious.

    We have a laser cutter at our local makerspace. I wonder if it would ablate the paint but leave the copper. It has a 100 nm kerf so the quality would be adequate.


    4 years ago

    Hi I have perfected the toner transfer method over many years, and now I don't bother with transfer paper which I use to buy off Ebay. Believe or not I get perfect results using glossy magazine paper. My track widths can be as thin as 0.5mm and clearance between tracks as low as 0.4mm, yes you read that correctly. As for the paper I use "Next" , the shop their catalogues paper quality is just perfect and not too glossy. The catalogue will cost you £2.00. The schematics are drawn in Diptrace and best of all its free to download as long as your component pin count is less than 300, ample for what I need. I highly recommend this software when compared to others.Hope some of this info helps. But your alternative solution is sound, thanks for sharing.


    4 years ago

    Great instructable, however my CDO (OCD) is kicking in here. I myself prefer clean crisp ABSOLUTELY STRAIGHT lines. have you given thought to using tape or a ruler to mark out nicer lines? was just a curious thought. not meant to be condescending. great project. I might just do this myself!

    1 reply

    Great idea! It was my first try at this, basically had the idea and did it next day. Surely there's room for improvement, I didn't even think of using a ruler, will for the next one :)


    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks! since I will be using that method from now on, I will probably make a new one, once I improve it with experience