Best Low-Cost Home PCB Prototyping Method?

Thread Starter

johnyradio

Joined Oct 26, 2012
208
Hi

Looking for best low-cost home PCB method.
(not mail-order service)

What's your recommendation?

My Requirements:
  • Cost: About $100 or $200 ish ($300 is pushing it, but would consider. $500 is too high).
  • Gear Size: Desktop, small footprint.
  • PCB size: at least 5" per side.
  • Volume: Low (approx 10 PCB's per day, not 100's or 1,000's).
  • Activity: Just for PCB's (eg, if you say "you can get laser-cutting, 3D printing, vinyl-cutting, milling, etc etc for only $1,000!", thx but too expensive.).
  • Fiddliness: Minimal. Should not require a lot of annoying extra steps.
  • Finickiness: Minimal. Should not depend too much on "getting it right".
  • Turnaround: an hour max per board.
  • Proven: not "maybe you could try...".
  • Precision: can easily make SMD pads and traces.
  • Chemical etching: acceptable (and you don't have to include etching instructions-- just method to prep the copper. That's the challenging part).
  • Trace style: If it matters, my style is to remove very little copper.
  • Quality: Reliable precision, accuracy. Clean traces.
  • 2-sided: Nice to have, but not required.
  • Availability: Current. (Kickstarter products are ok if they are actually shipping now).
  • Links to actual parts, specific brands, instructables, etc.
  • If DIY (eg modding an inkjet printer):
    • 10 hours max build-time (a week or two, in evenings/weekends. A month is too long).
    • No hard-to-find parts.
    • No fancy shop equipment needed to build it.
    • Well-validated, documented, kinks worked-out, no "experimenting".

Possible Options:
(does not have to be any of these)
  • Mill: remove copper (but cheapest mill i can find exceeds my budget).
  • Laser cutter: remove resist (there are $100 laser cutters on ebay, but do they suck?)
  • 3D printer: print copper? (not sure this exists).
  • Inkjet: print resist (but, must be strong method-- most inkjet methods i've seen are too fiddly, finicky, and/or sloppy).

Thx!
 

AlbertHall

Joined Jun 4, 2014
9,047

GopherT

Joined Nov 23, 2012
8,012
Hi

Looking for best low-cost home PCB method.
(not mail-order service)

What's your recommendation?

My Requirements:
  • Cost: About $100 or $200 ish ($300 is pushing it, but would consider. $500 is too high).
  • Gear Size: Desktop, small footprint.
  • PCB size: at least 5" per side.
  • Volume: Low (approx 10 PCB's per day, not 100's or 1,000's).
  • Activity: Just for PCB's (eg, if you say "you can get laser-cutting, 3D printing, vinyl-cutting, milling, etc etc for only $1,000!", thx but too expensive.).
  • Fiddliness: Minimal. Should not require a lot of annoying extra steps.
  • Finickiness: Minimal. Should not depend too much on "getting it right".
  • Turnaround: an hour max per board.
  • Proven: not "maybe you could try...".
  • Precision: can easily make SMD pads and traces.
  • Chemical etching: acceptable (and you don't have to include etching instructions-- just method to prep the copper. That's the challenging part).
  • Trace style: If it matters, my style is to remove very little copper.
  • Quality: Reliable precision, accuracy. Clean traces.
  • 2-sided: Nice to have, but not required.
  • Availability: Current. (Kickstarter products are ok if they are actually shipping now).
  • Links to actual parts, specific brands, instructables, etc.
  • If DIY (eg modding an inkjet printer):
    • 10 hours max build-time (a week or two, in evenings/weekends. A month is too long).
    • No hard-to-find parts.
    • No fancy shop equipment needed to build it.
    • Well-validated, documented, kinks worked-out, no "experimenting".

Possible Options:
(does not have to be any of these)
  • Mill: remove copper (but cheapest mill i can find exceeds my budget).
  • Laser cutter: remove resist (there are $100 laser cutters on ebay, but do they suck?)
  • 3D printer: print copper? (not sure this exists).
  • Inkjet: print resist (but, must be strong method-- most inkjet methods i've seen are too fiddly, finicky, and/or sloppy).

Thx!

I use the UV photoresist method.

Sensitized PCBs are available from various eBay sellers for $3 per 4 x 6". Cheaper if you order 5 or 10 at a time. "UV" is an overstatement. More like bluish ("cold") fluorescent tubes.
 

Thread Starter

johnyradio

Joined Oct 26, 2012
208
hi y'alls

thx for replies. i also posted this to https://www.electronicspoint.com/threads/best-low-cost-home-pcb-prototyping.286312, where it turned into a much longer thread than here.

To clarify: not trying to manufacture for sale. Not trying to prepare a board layout for factory production. Just trying to get a functional circuit off the socket-board and onto a PCB. These are one-offs.

my current preferred method: This printer/UV method, using transparencies (also reported to work with a normal fluorescent bulb). Seems much cleaner and nicer than messing with ripped-out magazine pages and a clothes iron, or feeding the board through a laminator over and over. i'd rather leave the board under a lamp and go play on Facebook for 15 minutes. :)

I prefer this:


to this:

Seriously, if you're messing with a clothes iron and a rolling pin, you need to treat yourself better :D

+ sponge etching:
  • consumes less consumables
  • handling much less quantity of toxic chemicals in an open container.
  • throw less gunk into the environment
  • faster
  • small setup. No tanks, bubblers, or heaters
  • "Undercutting is practically non-existent"

+ mild etchant:

Such as vinegar, hydrogen peroxide, and salt. Some recipes use lemon juice. Ingredients are less dangerous, kinder to the environment, and cheaper and easier to find locally than muriatic acid and Ferric Chloride. (3am? No problem, go to Walgreens). True the milder etchants take longer to etch, but that's compensated by the sponge method, which speeds things up.

The whole setup is basically a cheap home printer, printer transparencies, photo-sensitive pcb's (cheap on ebay, and there are some cheaper alternative methods), my desk lamp with a CFL or UV bulb (for small boards), a coffee cup, and a small bit of sponge. All low-cost, small footprint, and (except the photo-pcb's) easy to find locally. Turnaround time is prolly about 30 minutes (including setup/cleanup).


Other options:
I looked into a variety of mills, which i'll post below for those interested. So far, the best decent-seeming OTS mill i found so far was around $400, so that's over budget. Only way to get a cheaper mill is to build one. I found very few promising $200-ish builds, and a lot of janky-looking builds. But even the decent-looking builds seem to have gray areas in the build-plans. I also realized a mill will take up more room on my workbench than my printer (already here), my lamp (already here), or a coffee cup (already here :D . Also, a mill means potentially copper dust all over the place, which is not so great for a bedroom workbench. And my roommates might not appreciate the loud grinding noise at 3am.

My favorite DIY mill (for amusement factor), built from plumbing supplies :D

https://www.instructables.com/id/Easy-to-Build-Desk-Top-3-Axis-CNC-Milling-Machine/

Also looked into laser-cutters to remove resist, but again the cost/size can't compete with my desk lamp.

cheers!
 
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