Toner Transfer No-soak, High-quality, Double Sided PCBs at Home

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"If you want to build a ship, don't drum up people to collect wood and don't assign them tasks an...

Warning: There are hot surfaces, chemicals and possibly ill advised actions like you would expect in many Instructables here. You will also be running tape and un-approved paper through a laser printer. There is a very real danger of messing up your printer. If you do wreck a printer please comment so we can all learn a valuable lesson.

There are some good Instructables on using toner transfer, but after doing my own for a while I have some refinements on the process that I want to share. You should be able to create high-quality, well aligned double sided boards every time.

If you are just dealing with a basic board for 0.1" pitch through hole components this is probably overkill. A good instructable for those kinds of boards this one by pinomelean.

I have made excellent boards with 8 mill pads and 12 mill clearances.

There are a few secrets. 1. a laser printer. 2. a hot laminator. 3. (The big secret) Parchment cooking paper. 4. Careful and diligent cleaning of the board.

If you follow my directions to the letter you can get great results.
Follow @dustin1970

UPDATE:

Sad because this won't work with your Brother brand printer? fmarquis to the rescue with a PCB's flamethrower style Instructable.

UPDATE #2:

mosaicmerc:
Some brands of Parchment must be cleaned with 99% isopropyl alcohol for the toner to stick when printing. My HP1102W needs this or else the toner flakes.

Step 1: Gather Supplies and Materials

Tools

  • Laminator. Digikey part number 182-1031-ND. $114 at time of writing.
    • MCUman says "Harbor Freight sells a 9" laminator for 30 bucks. I've had mine for a couple of years now, I use it often, and it works GREAT! Item number 92499."
  • Laser printer. Mine is an HP LaserJet P1102w.
    • dasclown says a Dell 5100 cn laserjet did not work.
    • If you know of one that does/does not work, comment please.
  • Scissors
  • Scotch Bright sponge
  • etching "tank"
  • Leather gloves for handling the hot board (or a towel, or your shirt. It's not that hot.)
  • Multi-meter
  • Sewing needles
  • Alligator clip wires
  • Drill press or dremel and tiny drill bits needed for your design. Harbor Freight sells a cheap multi pack of tiny bits.

Supplies

  • Glass cook top cleaner
  • Acetone
  • Tarn-X tarnish remover
  • Parchment paper from the grocery store
  • heavy duty zip top bags
  • Kapton tape (1/4" is best) - no substitutions!
  • 1/2oz x 1/16th" copper board
  • Stranded copper wire. Something with fairly thin strands. Jumper wires the cat chewed in half work good. (See photo 3)

Recommended Etching Supplies

  • Rubber gloves
  • Muratic Acid (or Acid Magic from Ace Hardware)
  • Hydrogen peroxide
  • glass measuring vessel
  • plastic/wood utensils
  • ecthing "tank" - Pyrex dish
  • rinsing tank

Step 2: Pre-heat the Laminator

If your laminator is brand new search for "H-220 Laminator Modification" online and swap the gears to slow it down a bit.

  1. Turn your laminator on now.
  2. Push the 5mil button.
  3. Let it run at least 25 minutes.
  4. If it goes into auto-shutoff turn it back on

Step 3: Print Pattern

In this step it's important not to handle the parchment paper with your hands where the printing will happen. The oils on your skin will mess up the printing. Once it prints, handle it gently. It transfers really well, but the toner is somewhat delicate.
  1. Print your top layer pattern out on a regular sheet of paper reversed.
  2. Tape down enough parchment paper to cover the pattern with a one inch or better margin.
  3. Run the paper back through the printer.
  4. Print your bottom layer (not reversed) on another piece of parchment. You can re-use the first piece of plain paper and tape for the second parchment if you are gentle.
  5. pick out the right size of copper board and cut it to size. leave at least 1/4" margin from the circuits on one or more edges to have a solid place to tape.
  6. Trim the parchment paper fairly close to the traces, but leave a 1" or better margin along on edge to allow taping them together. When you cover the board, it should stick out on 3 sides and the paper should hang over the board on the fourth.
hint: The parchment will roll back up a little, if you flip the second parchment's curl the opposite way of the first it will be easier to align the paper later. In the pictures I combined layers and folder the paper (carefully) which also works well.

Confused? Sturmy explains it really well.

Ah, now I understand. So you print onto the paper to see where and how big the image will be. Then you tape parchment onto the paper so that the paper will be the right size, but the toner will be printed onto the parchment.

Then you print again, except this time the toner is on the parchment which you can detach from the paper and transfer the toner to the copper board.

offtherails2010 has some other hints (paraphrased).

1. You can use double stick tape under the parchment paper rather than Kapton [I tried this and it works great. You can even re-use the tape and paper easily. -Dustin]
2. If the toner doesn't stick well to your parchment or "Siliconized Baking Paper" you can spritz both sides with 99.9% Isopropanol to promote adhesion. Works on the copper as well.

Step 4: Clean the Board

Getting the board clean is critical. Make sure you do a good job.
  1. Put a generous dollop of the stove cleaner on your board.
  2. Using the green side of the sponge, give it a good scrubbing.
  3. Flip the board and scrub the back too.
  4. Rinse the board well.
  5. Check how the water sheets off the board. If it's not sticking evenly to the board, scrub some more. (see pictures)
Important: Once clean, keep it that way. Your fingerprints are a big danger. Only handle the board from the edges from now till it's out of the etch.

Step 5: Use the Tarnish Remover on the Board

  1. Put the board in a clean plastic zip top bag
  2. Put about 1 tsp Tarn-X in the bag.
  3. Push out the air, seal the bag and agitate gently for 15-20 seconds.
  4. Take the board out by the edges and rinse it. (Note: water will not sheet the same way as before, don't worry.)
  5. Pat the board dry with a clean cloth or paper towel.
Keep the bag around with the Tarn-X. You can do a lot of boards with very little Tarn-X this way.

The board is now ready. Consider putting it in a plastic bag if you won't be using it right away (make sure it's really dry). Remember not to get fingerprints on it.

Step 6: Align the Side and Tape to the Board

In this step be careful not to rub the paper with the traces against anything. The pressure can cause the traces to lift. Hold on to it by the edges and be gentle. Take your time on this step and be precise. How well your sides register will depend on this.

The Kapton tape is important. It doesn't warp, melt or stretch in the laminator. I tried all manner of other tape and was disappointed.

  1. Gently line up the two halves with the toner facing inward. If you rub the toner together too hard it will rub off.
  2. Trim the "overhang" side of the two halves so it's strait and matched on both sides.
  3. Cut off some tape strips that are about as long as each side of the paper. One for each of four sides.
  4. Fold or tape the halves so they line up exactly. It can be tricky with only two hands! Parchment is translucent so it's easy to do with any light. A tracing table makes it super easy.
  5. Tape the overhang together. Triple check your alignment now.
  6. Gently insert the board. It's easy to scrape off the traces with the edge of the board, so watch out.
  7. Starting from one corner, smooth out the paper and tape it down with the Kapton tap.
  8. Make sure the parchment is smooth and more or less tight. It doesn't stick well to the Kapton without some pressure. If it's not tight enough the last traces into the laminator will be off.
  9. Tape the other side down as well.

Step 7: Run the Board Through the Laminator

  1. Run the board through the laminator near one edge.
  2. Run the board through different parts of the laminator 3 more times.
  3. Let it cool.
I think it's best to use different parts of the roller each time to suck out as much heat as possible. The toner will stick to the board on the first pass, but you want it really melted on there good. Be careful near the edges not to get the board caught. However the edges press harder on the board, so don't just go in the middle.

Step 8: Examine and Touch Up the Board

The "be super gentle" phase is finally over. The toner is well fused to the board now. Keep fingerprints off the board still.
  1. Remove the tape and the paper
  2. Examine the traces and make sure they all look good.
  3. Using a sharpy or paint pen fill in any large pads. The laser printer seems to have problems evenly filling in big areas.
  4. Check the longer traces carefully for breaks and fill them in with a sharpy.
  5. Use a sewing needle to remove any stray toner if needed.
If you were careful with the parchment up to the laminator you may not need to clean anything up at all.

Step 9: Etch the Board

Use your favorite method. Here is mine. For really fine work I always do a new batch of etchant, even though you can re-use this etchant. As it ages it seems to eat the toner almost as fast as the copper which results in pitting and broken traces.
  1. Put 2 parts Hydrogen peroxide in the etch tank.
  2. Carefully add one part acid.
  3. Stir carefully.
  4. Put the board in and agitate. Flip and turn the board every 30 seconds. Try for an even etch.
  5. Once all the copper is gone on both sides, put it in the rinse water.
Picture 2 shows the etchant at the start. In picture 3 it's green from all the copper etched off the board.

Quinn Dunki on her blog Blondihacks uses vinegar, hydrogen peroxide and salt. I never tried that but it sounds pretty nice, if somewhat slow. She also has a good writeup on using photo-resist methods to make really nice boards.

Step 10: Clean Off the Toner

Acetone won't eat Ziploc.
  1. Use the bag trick again and soak the board in 2 tsp or so of Acetone for a couple of minutes.
  2. Rub the board through the bag with your fingers to get the toner off.
  3. Take it out and clean it with a rag or paper and some more acetone if desired.
  4. Let it dry
  5. Optionally use another bag and some liquid tin. I don't think it's needed if you are going to solder the board right away.

Step 11: Test the Traces

  1. Clip the alligator leads to your meters probes.
  2. Put a sewing needle in the end of each lead.
  3. Turn your meter to continuity (beeps when you touch the leads).
  4. Test each trace to see if it's complete.
  5. Test neighboring traces to make sure they aren't connected.
  6. Use another needle to scrape away any copper bridges.
  7. Use a silver pen, conductive paint or solder little wires to patch any splits. (Rare if you use fresh etch).
Take a break. Come back. Check the board all over again. Double checking now will save you many problems once the components are on the board!

Step 12: Process the Through Holes

  1. Using a drill press or dremel to drill out the through holes.
  2. Using the stranded wire, solder a jumper through all the holes.
  3. Check the through holes with the meter.
I have experimented with a silver pen for the through holes. It worked OK, but many of the holes didn't survive the soldering phase. Conductive paint was too thick. Hopefully someone comes up with an easy process. Soldering them is time consuming but failsafe.

Update: I use liquid tin on the boards, but this Instructable shows another, cheaper DIY alternative. I'm not sure how suitable is it for fine traces like this board.

Step 13: Solder on the Components and Enjoy

  1. Use some Kapton tape and a sharp knife to mask of any areas of concern. For example where traces shoot the middle of under small components.
  2. Go to town with the soldering iron, or use a reflow method.
  3. Test connections with the meter.
  4. Power up and hope the magic smoke doesn't come out!
http://www.authenticinvention.com has some build diaries and other information about the open source "Red Soul" board if you are curious.

This instructable shows a great way to add a solder mask.

3 People Made This Project!

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111 Discussions

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dasclown

6 years ago on Introduction

Nice instructable. I'm always looking for a better way for toner transfer. I've had little success with other methods.
One question though. I have the same parchment paper you are using and I am using a dell 5100 cn laserjet. I run the paper through and it seems none of the toner will stick to the parchment. I have to run a couple sheets of paper through to get the toner cleaned up from the roller.

Any Ideas? I'll probably need to hunt down a different printer to try it on.

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ArifSaedasclown

Reply 1 year ago

glossy and parchment dont go along well with printer, causing remains on toner roller.

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kasibarndoordasclown

Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

I have been looking at my laser printer which is a Dell 1320cn, I didn't have any parchment at home but tried with greaseproof paper I found out a couple of things, Dell supply toner which has a lower melting point than conventional cheaper toners. There is a setting in the printer for non Dell toners which increases the temperature of the fuser it is also possible to select toner temperature increase or decrease on a paper type basis. Putting plain paper and parchment through together may just make you fuser to cool to melt the toner to the paper. I hope this is of help, when I have bought some parchment I will experiment a bit more.

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dustinandrewsdasclown

Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

I also added your printer info to the gather supplies step. Thanks for the report. I love it when the internet makes us collectively smarter.

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dustinandrewsdasclown

Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

I suspect it is just the printer. Please consider trying some others out and letting us know what you find.

Ok so im back once again - lol !

Just wanted to say a great many thanks once again for this instructable, i now cannot live without parchment paper for all my homebrew PCB needs - AND NO SOAKING ANYMORE !!!! !!!! !!!!

Just made an SMD version of a Through-Hole PCB i made a good while back (a Low-Battery-Indicator!) where i had traces of about 1.2mm thick ( about 47 mils ) but in the SMD PCB i had made only a few traces as thin as 0.5mm Thick for testing ( about 19.6 mils !!! ) - Very Cool !

NO-WAY would i had been able to do that with the rough handling of the soak method rubbing the paper off of the board etc but i have had my 1st ATMEGA328P-AU SMD Microcontroller through today, a 32-Pin TQFP Package, so will be making another PCB with all thin traces just to see how far i can go !

Here's a few photo's !

& Once again thanks for a GREAT instrucable !!!

Low Battery Indicator 002.JPGLow Battery Indicator 006.JPGLow Battery Indicator 008.JPGLow Battery Indicator 009.JPG
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NinjaCrow

6 years ago on Introduction

It is quite possible that I am the only one who finds it amusing that the Parchment paper states on the box "& More" and this clearly falls into the "& More " category. Arguably the best category EVER!

I've been putting off quite a few projects that need etching because I could never find a good medium for toner transfer that wasn't unnecessarily expensive. So I'll definitely be giving this a try and hope it gives my projects the kick in the pants they so desperately require :)

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MCUman

6 years ago on Introduction

Harbor Freight sells a 9" laminator for 30 bucks. I've had mine for a couple of years now, I use it often, and it works GREAT! Item number 92499.

This is a very well done Instructable. Kudos for the insight to use a laminator vs the standard iron. Well Done!

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BenjaminJ23

Tip 4 months ago

[Note to anyone using brother printers]

I have got it to work by using glossy and thing flyer paper. You put it in some tin foil so it doesn't get stuck to your iron. then you set your iron to max temp and rub the board for 3 minutes and 30 seconds. Then peel it off in some water and you are done!. Here are some of the results from some of my more complex boards:

also in kicad I use 0.5mm traces for thin sections and 0.7 mm traces for less crowded parts. For the jumpers I just use vias with 0.7mm drill and 1.2mm pads. Also I have got mixed results from the insert paper from an old dvd.

FullSizeRender (2).jpgFullSizeRender (4).jpg
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BenjaminJ23BenjaminJ23

Reply 4 months ago

Also I use ferric chloride on a sponge because the hcl and h2o2 method does'nt work in the winter and seems to get wrecked when stored below 0c

"Brother" brand printers do NOT work, they use a toner that needs to get wayyy too hot for the laminator or even an iron to transfer.

Scotch makes a $25 laminator (TL-901) that I've seen at walmart, walgreens and target. I use it and it works perfectly for me if I make about 7 passes through it. It only needs to warm up for 5 or 10 minutes. It acts like it doesn't want to take the board, it will sortof pop it out at the end but that hasn't caused any problems yet and I've done a few dozen boards with it. Always double sided, all sorts of sizes.

I use magazine paper and I'm pretty happy with it. It only needs to soak in water for a minute and it peels right off. I then scrub it with the soft side of a sponge to make sure its all gone.

I use a $70 drill from harbor freight. It's pretty overkill but it doesn't wobble enough to cause a problem and it doubles as an enclosure hole drill.

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rocketman221

4 years ago on Introduction

I tried this with a brother dcp-7065 and it will not print on the parchment. Most of the toner ended up on the fusor roller and took it me 20 minutes to clean it all off.

I also tried my brother hl-2140, which it printed good and transfered to the pcb on the first pass in the laminator. I am almost out of toner on the hl-2140 so it was too light. I will try this again when I get more toner. I am using generic toner, I hear that brother toner does not transfer well.

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BenjaminJ23rocketman221

Reply 9 months ago

Glossy magazene paper works well if you tape it onto regular paper. just make sure that there is no air bubbles and that the tape is flat. Also make sure the tape is stuck on well.

That printer refuses to print on anything with a glossy surface. It would probably work with dextrin based transfer paper though.

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pmcquain

5 years ago on Step 5

What's the purpose of the TarnX step if its already been cleaned well with the stovetop cleaner?

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dustinandrewspmcquain

Reply 5 years ago on Step 5

I found the toner to adhere better when I did this step than when I didn't.