Choosing the right laser printer for making PCBs.

Thread Starter

Ivan Ivanov

Joined Apr 23, 2015
17
Hi All :)

A several years back, I found about the technology of making PCBs using a laser printer. Since I was so excited that the days of painstaking manual drawing of tracks were over, I proceeded to buy a brand new laser printer and try it out. However I quickly realized that the printer I bought wasn't good for that purpose. I could barely transfer the toner from the photo paper to the PCB because there was so little toner... Even with maximum possible settings for toner density the printer wasn't releasing enough toner. I COULD make PCBs but it was hard, and there was a failure rate, I mean there were wholes in some tracks, interrupted tracks, rough edges and track sides etc... You get the idea.

I had to stop making electronics for a while but I'm going to be back soon, so I'll be needing a new printer.
But considering my previous experience I thought I should watch out this time...

Now I know that standard laser printers nowadays are not good for making PCBs since all manufacturers aim at saving toner (print maximum number of copies per toner cassette)(I learned that soon after I bought the printer, I wish I knew it before that :). My other options are: to buy a second hand printer of old (not economic) model that would have a thicker print, but I don't like this because I want the thing to be reliable and also there are connectivity and driver issues with these old devices and newer computers. Also I could use a service but that is out of the question too, because of sheer inconvenience, I just need the thing to be at hand.

So I'd to go with buying a new printer that I can be sure is suitable for making PCBs.

1. My specific question regards those laser-colour-photo printers. Since a printer like that is going to be used for printing images it needs to print a solid black, right? Or I'm not right on that one?
I'm looking at those:
- HP Color LaserJet Enterprise M553dn;
- XEROX P6600DN;

2. Or how about high end/professional printers. Would those be able to produce thicker prints, or have more settings for that purpose?
HP LaserJet Ent 600 M601dn?
I'm open for other suggestions too. :)

Now I should mention that I'm willing to spend some extra cash for a printer that I know would do the job so price isn't much of a problem...

Well that's it. :)
Thanks a lot, in advance!
 

blocco a spirale

Joined Jun 18, 2008
1,546
You will get better results (and for less money) if you go the UV route and use photosensitive copper clad board, you can then use a standard inkjet printer to make the transparencies.
 
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Thread Starter

Ivan Ivanov

Joined Apr 23, 2015
17
Can you tell me more? (I'm vaguely aware of the "home at make" friendly version of the photo method)
So I would need:
- UV Light;
- Do I need a special transparent foil to print on, or transparent paper?
- And photosensitive copper clad board;
Is that right?
My problem is that some of the prerequisites may not be available in my country. Particularly the board. I'll check, I hope things have changed since the last time I heard about this product (the photosensitive copper clad board).
Thanks :)
 

Kermit2

Joined Feb 5, 2010
4,162
anything that uses ink is not going to work well with the tranfer process. You need one that uses black toner, not ink. mostly found in large commercial units. smaller units are almost universally ink jet(liquid) types.
 

MrChips

Joined Oct 2, 2009
22,878
Maybe you are mistaken on how laser printers are used to fabricate PCBs.

The laser printer is used to print on photographic transparency. This film is then used to expose the UV sensitive photo resist.
 

blocco a spirale

Joined Jun 18, 2008
1,546
Can you tell me more? (I'm vaguely aware of the "home at make" friendly version of the photo method)
So I would need:
- UV Light;
- Do I need a special transparent foil to print on, or transparent paper?
- And photosensitive copper clad board;
Is that right?
My problem is that some of the prerequisites may not be available in my country. Particularly the board. I'll check, I hope things have changed since the last time I heard about this product (the photosensitive copper clad board).
Thanks :)
I have made many PCBs using this process and always with very good results. The copper clad board can be bought with the photosensitive coating already applied or the coating can be applied to plain board using an aerosol. I would print the image twice onto transparent film (standard stuff from an office supplies retailer) and overlay the two images to get the necessary density. I used a home-made lightbox to expose the board, it only takes a few minutes, then the board can be etched in the ususal way.
 
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jpanhalt

Joined Jan 18, 2008
11,088
Maybe you are mistaken on how laser printers are used to fabricate PCBs.

The laser printer is used to print on photographic transparency. This film is then used to expose the UV sensitive photo resist.
Not quite the whole story. Laser printers can be used that way, but another method using them is called "toner transfer" in which the laser print is made on a substrate from which it is released easily onto bare PCB and forms the resist.

John
 

Kermit2

Joined Feb 5, 2010
4,162
yes. the original 'toner tranfer' method I was shown used a reversed image printed on glossy paper. turned face down and tranfered onto the bare copper using a clothes iron.
 

MrChips

Joined Oct 2, 2009
22,878
Not quite the whole story. Laser printers can be used that way, but another method using them is called "toner transfer" in which the laser print is made on a substrate from which it is released easily onto bare PCB and forms the resist.

John
True. I have laser transfer paper but have never been able to use it successfully.
 

Thread Starter

Ivan Ivanov

Joined Apr 23, 2015
17
Not quite the whole story. Laser printers can be used that way, but another method using them is called "toner transfer" in which the laser print is made on a substrate from which it is released easily onto bare PCB and forms the resist.

John
Yes, that's the method I'm referring to! It's my method of choice since you only need a printer, glanced paper (with some printers you can even use regular paper) and standard copper foiled board.
P.S. Oh and clothes iron too, for the actual toner transfer form the paper to the board.
 

jpanhalt

Joined Jan 18, 2008
11,088
Like Mr Chips, I have tried toner transfer on a few occasion dating back to the mid-1990' s with poor results. Boards were usable, but not pretty. I went to the photo process and had very good results.

Now, with the passage of time one thing has become quite clear: Not all laser printers are the same. Some give good results with toner transfer, others don't. Some work better with the photo process too.

One constant I have not seen change is that using the photo process with a high quality, ink jet transparency will give results that are hard to beat. For many years, I used a transparency film made by Pictorico for artists and a HP color ink jet printer. The film had a microfine, inorganic coating that held the ink perfectly. So well in fact, that artists use it of museum quality exhibits. It has become much harder to find. I used another common brand that also worked well, but I don't have it here to tell you exactly what it was. With very cheap brands, the ink will tend to bead up and blur resolution. By the way, you don't need black for the transparency. The colors used in ink jets block the near UV light enough. When examined with a microscope, the colors form a more continuous coating.

John
 

dl324

Joined Mar 30, 2015
12,447
Most use paper for the toner transfer method. Using paper, you have paper fibers that you can't remove before etching and you can't observe the quality of the transfer. I experimented with many types of transparencies and settled on an HP inkjet type. I get 100% toner transfer and I can observe the process and apply more heat where needed. That being said, some inkjet transparencies wouldn't release the toner at all (e.g. CompUSA brand).

There's also some special transfer paper that costs around $1/sheet (IIRC). I bought my transparencies in bulk and my per sheet cost is much lower than $1.

I use a Lexmark Optra E+ laser printer with good results. I've used OEM and aftermarket toner. I tried a variety of laser printers at a company I worked at and didn't find any that wouldn't work. Some toners have a higher melting point, but I use an iron (vs laminator) and keep applying heat until I get good transfer. Unlike the paper and/or laminator methods, I can lift a corner of the transparency and see how well toner is transferring. I iron until the toner smears which starts to fill in pad holes which serve as a pilot hole for drilling.

I never got a good transfer using any type of paper; and I tried many types before settling on transparencies.
 
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Thread Starter

Ivan Ivanov

Joined Apr 23, 2015
17
Not all laser printers are the same.
John
Yes, my words exactly.
Also as you mentioned the good paper has became harder to find. This is one of the reasons why I prefer toner transfer method. It simply has fewer elements to it, fewer things that my become less available over time, fewer special things like the paper for example, as you said it has became harder to find, I'm not sure I can find such paper (or equivalent) at all.
But indeed, once all the things are right, the photo method does provide far better results. :)
 

dl324

Joined Mar 30, 2015
12,447
Here's a picture of a small board (2"x2") showing (counter clockwise from upper right): transparency, transfer to copper clad, transparency after transfer, and etched board. Traces are 10mil, copyright is 8mil.
 

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Thread Starter

Ivan Ivanov

Joined Apr 23, 2015
17
Most use paper for the toner transfer method. Using paper, you have paper fibers that you can't remove before etching and you can't observe the quality of the transfer. I experimented with many types of transparencies and settled on an HP inkjet type. I get 100% toner transfer and I can observe the process and apply more heat where needed. That being said, some inkjet transparencies wouldn't release the toner at all (e.g. CompUSA brand).

There's also some special transfer paper that costs around $1/sheet (IIRC). I bought my transparencies in bulk and my per sheet cost is much lower than $1.

I use a Lexmark Optra E+ laser printer with good results. I've used OEM and aftermarket toner. I tried a variety of laser printers at a company I worked at and didn't find any that wouldn't work. Some toners have a higher melting point, but I use an iron (vs laminator) and keep applying heat until I get good transfer. Unlike the paper and/or laminator methods, I can lift a corner of the transparency and see how well toner is transferring. I iron until the toner smears which starts to fill in pad holes which serve as a pilot hole for drilling.

I never got a good transfer using any type of paper; and I tried many types before settling on transparencies.
Back when I was making PCBs I used to immerse in water until the paper very soft and easy to tear, so as I remove it part of the paper remains on top of the transferred toner. Have you ever tried that?
 

Thread Starter

Ivan Ivanov

Joined Apr 23, 2015
17
Here's a picture of a small board (2"x2") showing (counter clockwise from upper right): transparency, transfer to copper clad, transparency after transfer, and etched board. Traces are 10mil, copyright is 8mil.
That looks good! OK you guys start to convince me to go with the photo method. :D
 
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