a finished PCB made with laminator and toner transfer

Electronics

Make PCBs with toner transfer: the laminator method

12 Oct , 2012  

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.

Step 1: prepare the artwork on your PC.

PCB artwork ready for production

Prepare your artwork with a PCB CAD program. In the picture I prepared an adapter for an SMD chip with Eagle CAD.

Step 2: print the artwork

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).

Laser Printer and Ikea Paper : toner transfer success

Step 3: toner transfer the printed artwork on the PCB with a modified laminator

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.

laminator guts and position of the termal switch to be replaced

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).

 PCB and artwork run into the laminator

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.

Step 4: dissolve the paper in water

PCB on water while starting to peel off the paper

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.

Toner successfully transferred after paper has been removed

Step 5: etch and clean off toner

PCB etched. Very thin traces.

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!

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2 Responses

  1. Coda says:

    >with some nail polish.
    You mean nail polish remover?

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