Quick, accurate, cheap and easy PCBs using the toner transfer method with the aid of a laminator and the ikea catalog.
Making PCBs at home hasn’t to be an hassle anymore: with few simple steps you can pass from an artwork on your PC to a finished board in less than an hour. This is how it’s done.
Prepare your artwork with a PCB CAD program. In the picture I prepared an adapter for an SMD chip with Eagle CAD.
Print with a LASER PRINTER on IKEA CATALOG PAPER.
The real secret here is ikea paper. It’s glossy and thin. Everybody who has tried toner transfer knows that finding the right kind of paper is crucial to the success of the operation. Many have tried countless kind of papers before finding one that sort of works for them. This paper is perfect and everybody has some at home (if not request the catalog here).
Most toner transfer methods suggest using a clothes iron to fuse the toner onto the copper: it’s very unreliable and imprecise! The best solution is to use a MODIFIED PAPER LAMINATOR, an office appliance normally intended for paper plastification, here used to transfer the artwork on stock PCB.
The modification needed is to replace a thermal switch inside the device in order to boost the maximum temperature it can reach. The switch to be replaced is found in household appliances stores: you need a 180C switch, normally closed, so that the two rubber rolls inside can get hotter and fuse toner. It’s easy to see where the switch has to be replaced inside the laminator (mine is a geha brand starter pack).
Run the paper and the stock PCB through the laminator 3 or 4 times at full temperature, which should be around 180C thanks to the modified thermal switch.
Then just dunk the PCB in water and wait a few minutes for the paper to become moist and mushy. Paper will start to come off pretty easily, leaving perfect toner traces onto the board.
After transfer etch the PCB with your favorite method (I use HCl + H2O2) and strip away the remaining toner with some nail polish remover.
Just a final note to the process: the PCB I used is very thin (0.8 mm, half of the common ones) so that there is the right amount of pressure in the laminator. A thicker PCB would raise the pressure and spread the toner too much, making shorts and compromising the artwork. The ideal setup would be an adjustable laminator capable of regulating the thickness of the accepted stock material, but for now I chose to use this special pcb.
This toner transfer method can be used reliably, even instead of photolitography, to produce semi-professional PCBs at home. Give it a try: it is so fast and accurate that you’ll never go back!