Intro: Vinyl Etch Mask
I have recently decided to teach myself some basic electrical design, coupling a few books and the wonderful information I gleaned from some good Instructables, I wanted to create my own circuit boards.
One thing about the circuit board design process that did not excite me was the notion of getting my old HP 4M laser printer down, finding drivers and cables, and making the beast talk to my newer computers.
Having a vinyl cutter that I use for another project, I imagined that the vinyl would make an excellent mask for etching; I had to try.
The first etch test did not need to be a circuit design, so I borrowed one that was created by my daughter Olivia; it was perfect for the job, she calls this character Sean-John and it is one in a series which she is making into stickers and graphics for t-shirts.
Creating a design for cutting is simple and can be accomplished with any structured drawing programs like Corel Draw, Illustrator, InDesign, etc. Along with the cutter I purchased, I received two programs to plot the designs out to the cutter; one works as a plug-in and the other is a stand-alone program. I used Corel Draw with the plug-in making the job of design and cutting seamless.
Step 1: Creating the Design
Once the design is cut, the next process is to weed the mask. Weeding is the name for the process of removing the negative areas from the design. Weeding can be tricky if the design is small because small objects lift up as you try to weed the work. A trick I discovered that helps reduce the problem is to add lines through the negative space allowing easier weeding of small intricate designs.
Once the design is weeded the process of transferring the mask to the copper clad board requires the use of a transfer tape. This tape has a higher tact than the release paper behind the vinyl, but is weaker than the glue on the back of the vinyl.
Step 2: Finish
Prepare the clad board for etching by lightly sanding the board with fine sandpaper, wipe clean without touching the surface with your bare hands and apply the mask.
Once the design mask has been applied and transfer tape removed, place the board into the etching bath according to your etching solution instructions.
After the board has been etched, use a hard plastic edge to remove the mask from the board. Any residual glue can be removed with rubbing alcohol.
If there is any interest, I might write another Instructable that covers the first circuit design I made using this process. Here are images of the first circuit design.