After etching I applied some black Speedball block printing ink and spread it over the surface, pushing it into the etched areas. I then wiped it off the top surface with toilet paper… Just kidding! I used paper towel. (That joked will not age well.)
Thank you for reading this post, meatbag… also, bite my shiny, metal plastic ass!
Since I’m etching my own boards, there’s a number of steps in the process. I’ve covered it all in the photos below, and I’ll add in a bit of text to explain things.
I start with cutting vinyl on a Silhouette Cameo. Any vinyl cutter will do, this just happens to be the one I have at home. (We have the same model at Milwaukee Makerspace, and the DCRL has a much larger vinyl cutter.)
The vinyl after being cut. I’m using old scraps of various sizes, and I’ve got an old blade, and an old cutting mat, and sometimes it cuts almost all the way through the vinyl, but for this application it all works out fine.
Next is weeding, or removing all of the bits of vinyl we don’t need. I tend to use an X-ACTO knife to pick and grab off the pieces. It works well for tiny things like this.
The vinyl is all weeded and we’ve got a piece of transfer paper ready to apply. (The transfer paper sticks to the top of the vinyl just enough to pull it from the backing sheet.)
Once the transfer paper is down on the vinyl I press hard and rub it on good so it’ll adhere to all the tiny pieces.
Peeling back the transfer paper is best done slowly, checking to see if any vinyl doesn’t get pulled up. Occasionally you have to press it down again to grab a piece of vinyl that didn’t stick properly.
Here’s the transfer paper with all the bits of vinyl stuck to it. At this point we can stick it down onto the copper board that will be our PCB. (I usually give the copper board a light scrubbing with steel wool before sticking the vinyl on.)
Once again we press hard and rub the transfer paper onto the copper board, and then peel back slowly making sure we don’t lose any tiny bits of vinyl in the process…
And here’s our copper board with the vinyl resist in place. The vinyl works as a mask to protect the copper from being etched away. Anywhere you don’t see vinyl you won’t see copper when we are done.
Over to the PCB etching machine! It’s what we might call “janky” because I constructed it very quickly to etch some PCBs and it worked well enough that I never built a better one. I did upgrade from a servo to a DC gear motor at some point, but the bearings are still riding on smooth rods much smaller than they should be. Again, it works, so I don’t mess with it.
After adding equal parts hydrogen peroxide and vinegar to the tank (which is a food container from Noodles & Company) I put the copper board into the solution…
The board tends to float at first so I push it down with a brush. (I also use the other end of the brush to wipe away the solution while the board is etching.)
Yes, my chemical mix is hydrogen peroxide and vinegar, with a dash of salt. There are other things you can use, but this combo isn’t really dangerous, and can be easily disposed of by pouring down the drain with plenty of water. If I can avoid harsh acids, I will. It does take a bit longer to etch, but that’s where the salt comes in.
Once I start the agitation process to keep the board and liquid moving back and forth, I throw a bit of salt into the mix, which activates things and tends to foam up a bit. The foam means it’s working!
This is about 45 minutes into the etching process. You can see that the copper is nearly gone all around the edges, but not as much in the middle.
Here’s the 50 minute mark after adding a pinch more salt to the mix. It’s mostly etched but still has more copper to eat.
At about an hour and ten minutes the board is fully etched. Time tends to vary depending on if I reuse the solution or start fresh. I’m typically not in a hurry and tend to reuse solution a lot, which does take longer, but means I’m wasting less solution.
Once the board is done I pull it out and use a razor blade to gently remove the pieces of vinyl. They tend to come off fairly easy, but they are wet and stick to everything, including fingers, razor blades, the board, and anything else within 50mm of the work area.
After the vinyl is removed I wash and rise the board and then dry it and give it another quick scrub with steel wool.
We’ve now got a PCB, or a “Printed Circuit Board” as they are commonly known. (Somehow almost everything I do revolves around “printing” somehow…)
That covers the etching, so the next steps are to drill all the holes and to cut the boards apart.
Oh, you’ll also want to check out this mesmerizing video featuring the PCB Etching Machine in action. Agitation is the name of the game!
This is just one post in a series, check out the other posts as well:
Some of the folks I know at UWM are putting on a symposium called Zoom Milwaukee, which will focus on craft, culture, innovation and making. They’ll also have a Maker Plaza which they described as a sort of “Mini Maker Faire” environment. They also asked if I could do a hands-on make-and-take workshop, so I decided to do a Learn to Solder activity. I’ll attempt to walk through my process for developing it in this and future posts.
Since I’ve been using Fritzing to design PCBs I thought I would play around with some ideas. The basic Learn to Solder kit tends to revolve around an LED or two, a battery, and maybe a pin of some sort. They are typically wearable badges. (Here’s a prototype and final board from Milwaukee Makerspace. Maker Shed has some nice ones as well.)
Oh, and ignore than second resistor, that was just to determine some spacing issues. Same with the battery. Fritzing isn’t the greatest tool for PCB design, but it (mostly) works and it’s simple to use. I did end up checking a version of this board with OSH Park to determine pricing and specs, but eventually I decided that this isn’t the board I wanted fabbed, and with a deadline quickly approacing I decided to go another direction.
I did use the work from Fritzing as the basis of the design I did in Inkscape though… And why Inkscape? Because my plan was to create this kit as cheaply as possible, which meant I’d be etching my own boards. I visited my friends over at ebay.com and started searching for components. I’ve ordered blank copper boards before so I got a bunch of those, and some LEDs and the appropriate resistors, and some batteries.
The evolution of design. The nice thing about etching your own boards is that you can do a few, test them out, and make some changes, and do it all again. You can do these revisions fairly quickly and very cheaply. Here’s a number of my design tweaks as I etched boards. Some things got larger, some got smaller. I needed something I could easily cut from vinyl using a Silhouette Cameo, so super-small pieces had to be avoided. The minus sign caused the most problems. You can see it change in size as we go. (The outline around each board is to assist with cutting them out.)
Here’s the design 6-up so I could fill a blank copper board for etching. Weeding the vinyl wasn’t a nightmare, but pulling all the tiny pieces off the final board wasn’t fun.
The copper boards I used are about 4″ x 3″ so the 6-up layout I did was loaded into the Silhouette Studio software to cut the vinyl. This worked well as I tend to have a lot of little scraps from bigger jobs to use up. (I did mention doing this on the cheap, didn’t I?)
Here’s a shot of one of the earlier design revisions with the vinyl applied to the copper board pre-etching stage. Once the etching is done all the copper you can see will be gone, leaving copper just where the vinyl is. The vinyl is the resist in this process.
This is just one post in a series, check out the other posts as well:
I started with the word DRINK in Inkscape as text. I wanted something big and bold, so there would be a lot of etched area.
When exporting any text it’s a good idea to convert the text to art, or outlines. This changes it from editable text to vector artwork consisting of lines. Once this is done, you cannot edit the text anymore. Often I’ll save my original file with text, then make a duplicate I can convert to outlines.
I then grabbed one of the new logos Mike has been working on. There was some stitching lines inside of the shape, but testing indicated that the Silhouette did not cut it very well at the size I was using. (I should try various sizes, and perhaps a new blade.)
If I ever need to quickly check my DXF files I use Solidworks eDrawings. Typically I don’t need it, but it’s handy for troubleshooting.
Once I have good DXF files I load those into the Silhouette Studio software for cutting, like I usually do.
After the vinyl is cut, I use transfer paper to attach the vinyl to the glass, and then mask off the rest of the glass to protect it in the sandblaster. (Oops! Photo not available!)
Sandblaster… here we come!
The logo turned out well…
…as did the “DRINK”.
A fine looking glass!
Close-up of the etch. Looks good!
Combining the vinyl cutter with the sandblaster can produce some great results! It’s a pretty simple process, really. I’ve had a few members ask me about this so I may end up doing a demo or a short class showing how it’s all done.
Disclaimer: You should never drink alcohol while operating power tools. Also worth noting is the only beer I really care for is root beer. I got this mug from the dollar store for… one dollar! I just wanted to see how it would look etched.