Toner Transfer issues

Discussion in 'General Electronics Chat' started by pdavis68, May 29, 2016.

  1. pdavis68

    Thread Starter New Member

    Nov 27, 2013
    I'm trying to do my first toner transfer and I'm getting inconsistent results. I bought HP Everyday Photo Paper (Glossy). Printed on that with my laser printer (it's actually for inkjet, but didn't melt or cause any problems in the printer). To prepare the board, I sanded it lightly all over with 150 grid sandpaper. I then scrubbed it pretty thoroughly with steel wool. After that, I used acetone on a paper towel, again scrubbing pretty thoroughly, to clean the board.

    I was careful not to touch the copper surface of the board or the print side of the PCB layouts, with my fingers.

    I turned our iron on full blast. The first time I did 3 minutes. The second time I did 4 minutes and added some steam at the end. It was slightly better the second time. I've attached a photo.

    Can anyone give me some hints on this? Most of it transferred, so I'm thinking there's still hope with this paper. I just don't want to spend a lot of money experimenting (neither the paper, nor the boards, are particularly cheap). I'm not sure how many more times I can sand the transfer off the board before the copper is gone, so I'd like to get this resolved.

  2. dl324

    AAC Fanatic!

    Mar 30, 2015
    It doesn't look like you're getting good toner transfer/adhesion. Is any toner coming off while you're trying to remove the paper? Some toners don't work well and some require more heat to melt.

    I use the hand iron technique with inkjet transparencies run through a laser printer. I'm pretty sure I iron more than 4 minutes; but I just iron until it looks like all of the toner has melted (this is easy to check with a transparency and difficult with paper). With a transparency, I can lift a corner and if I see toner still adhering to the transparency, I just iron until it doesn't.

    You can try using wax paper as someone posted in the Completed Projects forum. It has the advantage of being inexpensive and I think you just iron until the wax melts.
  3. djsfantasi

    AAC Fanatic!

    Apr 11, 2010
    I used to make my PCBs this way and have had some success. Even without photo paper. I still use toner transfer to "brand" my woodworking projects.

    First look at your printer. Does its print driver have settings for toner density? Mine did and I set them for maximum density.

    Second, how much pressure are you ironing with? Other than an initial pass or two to warm up the toner, I usually only use the tip of the iron, pressing hard and 'painting' the paper with slow strokes, covering the entire image. You want to press the plastic toner onto the copper. It looks like you are not getting even heat transfer. That's why people like to use laminators.

    Third, let it cool before moving the paper. Trying to move the paper too soon will peel the toner off the copper. In fact, wash the paper off instead of peeling. I find lightly sanding the paper back allows the water to penetrate better an separate successfully from the board.

    Finally before etching, if there are minor errors they can be touched up with a permanent marker like s Sharpie.

    And if you want to start over, you should be able to take the toner off without sanding heavily by using acetone.
  4. DickCappels


    Aug 21, 2008
    You might consider "Heatless" toner transfer.

    It takes a different set of skills. By the way I have only used iron-on but found that some magazine pages give superior performance in the area of separating the toner from the paper.
    Dr.killjoy likes this.
  5. pdavis68

    Thread Starter New Member

    Nov 27, 2013
    Thanks for all the comments. I did discover that I can dissolve the toner using acetone. I did a test on a failed transfer to see if it would help remove the paper and lo and behold, it helped to remove everything :) A little steel wool and it was good to go for another round.

    I decided that I probably wasn't getting very even heating. I made a couple of adjustments. First, I was using a folded paper towel between the photo paper and the iron because the back of the photo paper melts a little bit. I unfolded the paper towel. I also put a stiff board under the PCB instead of doing it on the soft ironing board.

    I put it in the freezer after about 5 minutes of ironing (I put a lot of pressure on it. I was kind of worried about breaking our ironing board). When I was done, I soaked it in boiling water and then peeled off the photo paper in layers (did about 3 layers).

    Then I took my pocket knife and cut lines between traces and used it to generally break up the paper where there weren't traces. Now I'm just working with my thumbs to remove the rest of the paper. Probably have another 15-20 mins of rubbing, I'm guessing.

    I'll need to do a bit of touch-up with a sharpie, but for the most part, this transfer went much better than the previous two.

    For the next one, I'll try to iron even longer and use the tip more as djsfantasi suggested.

    Thank you guys for the suggestions. We'll see how this one turns out after I get the rest of the paper off. What a pain! Someone needs to come up with a simple solution for removing the paper without messing up the toner!
  6. bertus


    Apr 5, 2008
  7. dl324

    AAC Fanatic!

    Mar 30, 2015
    With transparencies, I just let the toner cool so it's not hot to the touch and remove it. No soaking and rubbing.

    I read somewhere that heating the toner with a heat gun after transfer helps with pin holes. It seems to make more of a difference on fills - which I recommend you do to reduce etching time. I'd also enlarge pads and make traces wider than necessary; helps with undercut and minimizes the need for touch up.
  8. dl324

    AAC Fanatic!

    Mar 30, 2015
    Some have used a dowel under the board while ironing to increase contact pressure. I iron on a block of wood on my work bench with a paper towel to prevent the transparency from melting.
    shortbus likes this.
  9. pdavis68

    Thread Starter New Member

    Nov 27, 2013
    Got my board etched. It's not perfect. I'll probably have to make at least 2 jumpers to handle breaks, but I'm okay with that. I think I have it down well enough to do a better job next time.

    One thing I discovered that makes removing the paper easier. After getting most of the paper off the usual way, I use a plastic scouring pad and just lightly, but quickly scour the surface under running water. It's enough to remove most of the paper without removing the toner. Once I got all the paper out from between the traces (there was still a little on some of the traces and pads), I went ahead and etched it.

    Now I've discovered that what I thought was a tiny drill bit (1/16") is not tiny enough, so my wife's going to pick me up a 1/32" or 3/64" bit at the hardware store shortly.

    Thanks for the help. I think I'm on the road to making my own PCBs now.
    DickCappels likes this.
  10. dl324

    AAC Fanatic!

    Mar 30, 2015
    I used a worn out tooth brush when I tried paper; it seemed to work well with little risk of removing toner. You'll use less water if you use a pan instead of running water...
    You're going to need a variety of sizes. I use 0.029" for most things, 0.035" for square headers, and 0.041" for trim pots. If the bits are carbide, you're going to need a drill press with low runout. sells some assortments

    Harbor Freight sometimes has assortments; sizes are hit or miss, but the price is right.
  11. shortbus

    AAC Fanatic!

    Sep 30, 2009
    I'd be worried with the 150 grit paper, still pretty coarse for a board. It will leave lows/valleys in the copper and the toner may not fill them. A Scotch brite pad is a better thing than the 150 sandpaper or steel wool, it will remove tarnish but not much copper.
    cmartinez likes this.
  12. cmartinez

    AAC Fanatic!

    Jan 17, 2007
    Sure!, check this post. Cheers!
  13. Robin66


    Jan 5, 2016
    I bought a Brother laser printer and have been battling to get toner transfer to work. I've finally had a break through tonight with the dirt cheap photo paper in the link. The method was the quickest I've tried but the results are fantastic. I've attached photos of my double sided board after the 6 steps below. I'll etch tomorrow. A thin layer of the gloss has come off with the peel. This should improve the etch quality

    The method was simple:
    1. Rub down pcb with wirewool to remove oxide and provide a key. Ensure there are no burrs on the cut edges (1-2 minutes)
    2. wipe briefly with a tissue dabbed with alcohol (10secs)
    3. place print-out on board and rest hot iron (max setting) on top (1 minute)
    4. iron briefly ensuring all parts of the board have experienced pressure (30secs)
    5. leave to cool to room temp. I grew impatient so put the board with paper attached in the freezer (2 minutes)
    6. peel off paper (5secs)

    PS. this was <£3 when I originally posted. Now it's ~£8. Cheaper elsewhere

    IMG_4602.JPG IMG_4600.JPG
    Last edited: Aug 17, 2016
  14. markdem

    Active Member

    Jul 31, 2013
    I could never get the iron method to produce any good results. Invest in a cheap lamenting machine and modify it to allow the temperature to go up to about 190C. The rollers will provide a perfect constant pressure and the results will be perfect every time.
    The other tip is try some magazine paper. Not sure what you guys in the US use, but down here is AUS KMART catalogues are made from really cheap but coated paper. What you are looking for is something that falls apart when wet.

    Have Fun
  15. DickCappels


    Aug 21, 2008
    I have found that pages from Vegetarian Times, a glossy magazine works wonderfully with the thermal toner transfer method -much better than the photo inkjet papers I've tried.