Mini PCB printer

Melting toner (as etch resist) directly onto copper clad board using a laser moved by a DVD drive XY system.

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My 2016 Hackaday Prize entry. Based off the PCB fab ideas of my described here: with all sorts of improvements.

Here's the deal...

So, you've got a couple spare DVD drives sitting 'round...

And an office down the street is throwing away an old ("empty") laser-printer toner-cartridge...

And you'd like to make Printed Circuit Boards!

So, briefly:

  1. coat your regular-old copper-clad board with a mixture of toner and alcohol
  2. use your old DVD-drive's laser to melt that toner wherever you want traces
  3. clean off the unmelted toner
  4. (Heat the board to set the traces)
  5. etch your PCB

This technique can also, likely, be used for e.g. silkscreened labels on instrument panels, and more!

Here's some early proof-of-concept experiments!

  • Isolation-Routing?

    Eric Hertz08/01/2016 at 11:06 0 comments

    Strange accident resulted in the idea that maybe there's another way to do this... what about isolation-routing, instead?

    My results, so far, have been that wiping up the excess (unmelted) toner takes a steady-hand and a lot of patience... Makes one feel a bit like an archaeologist looking for fossils. Maybe I haven't got the slurry-density and feed-rates quite figured out... But I did a *really light pass* with the laser in one experiment, and it resulted in "traces" that melted together, but not to the copper... so they wiped away really easily, leaving the unmelted-toner behind:

    So, instead, maybe do isolation-routing, where the traces will be the portions that *aren't* lasered, the unmelted toner that would later be adhered to the copper in an oven... Hmmm... I don't think many PCB-mills can isolation-route TSSOPs, right? That'd be a teeny-tiny cutting-bit!

    More ramblings over at:

  • esot.eric overthought it again + grbl abstracted + first G-coding

    Eric Hertz07/16/2016 at 10:13 1 comment

    Alright, so, those last two logs might've been just a wee bit overthought. Here's the new setup:

    I dunno how I didn't see it before, DVD drives come in nice boxes with darn-near perfectly-square sides. Gravity can be your friend, too! Remove that focusing-lens altogether, and the focal-length is darn-near perfect.

    Also: weeks of hard work, and grbl 0.9j now runs on PIC32, and more, including: it has been abstracted for porting to other architectures with relative ease, and now can directly-drive H-bridge inputs (rather'n step/dir) with single-stepping or PWM-micro-stepping.

    With 16x microstepping, the HaD logo takes just about 1 minute to etch.

    Next steps: design a mini PCB, laser-toner, etch!

  • esot.eric's random over-thinking on zeroing

    Eric Hertz06/01/2016 at 02:49 0 comments

    Contemplating my first PCB to be made on this device, which will most-likely be the actual controller *for* my mini-pcb-printer. (Whereas for the first-runs, it'll be done on breadboard). The thought occurred to me, I'll most-likely need double-sided in order to fit two motor-driver-chips and my uC. But how to align those sides...? And some other overthinking on alignment.

    Read more »

  • esot.eric's upper axis

    Eric Hertz05/30/2016 at 12:45 2 comments

    Hello! It's been a minute...

    So here's where I (@esot.eric) am at with the ol' #Mini PCB printer

    Click that "Read-More" link, below!

    Read more »

  • Summary for round one, THP 2016

    johnowhitaker04/22/2016 at 19:26 1 comment

    Here's a summary of the project so far, to save you judges (and anyone else interested) from having to dig through all the old logs just to get an idea of what this project is about. Here goes:

    The goal was to make a small laser engraver, and figure out a way to use it for making PCBs. After trying to cut away tape, or use a permanent marker to outline traces, we came up with a rather novel way of doing it.

    A 'toner paint' is made by mixing toner powder from a laser printer with alcohol. A copper clad board is coated with a layer of this toner slurry. A laser attached to the XY system is used to selectively melt the toner in the desired pattern. The un-melted toner is removed, leaving a nice etch resist.

    I burnt out my laser(s) messing around, and deleted some photos of the latest progress (!!). Nonetheless, the basic idea is sound, and the technique does work. However, I am interested to see how far it can go. The next logical step is to use melted toner as a silkscreen as well, but beyond that I'd like to try a technique similar to the light-scribe method for making capacitors. Except that by adding alternating layers of toner (as dielectric) and graphene we could potentially get caps with more surface area (and thus greater capacity). All that will have to wait until I can scavenge a new laser or buy one with the seed money :)

    Read more »

  • Better test-bed my side

    johnowhitaker04/06/2016 at 21:48 0 comments

    Just a quick update - mainly photos of progress.

    I made a proper frame to keep the axes perpendicular, and control the height of the laser. I'm currently using an IR laser I bought, with adjustable focus. The laser driver circuit is controlled by a relay module (I was in a hurry), and the rest of the system is still the same - two easydrivers and a bare-bones arduino with GBRL. The test pattern below is the first usable output!

    It took some trial and error to get the traces durable - the first few tries brushed off too easily. The trick was getting a thin regular coating of toner (very runny slurry of toner in alcohol - it should dry in a few minutes) and making sure the laser was focused properly.

    Read more »

  • esot.eric's first attempt at johnowhitaker's Toner-Lasering Technique... GO!

    Eric Hertz04/06/2016 at 08:56 0 comments

    If you haven't seen it already, over at #CD/DVD mechanisms and cartesian thinggie[s?] @johnowhitaker came up with a technique to laser-melt toner directly onto materials such as copper-clad board!

    (That description and link will likely become a bit redundant, as this project-page progresses!)

    Here's a log of my (@esot.eric) attempts. Result: VERY PROMISING.

    See More about my experiments... Click below!

    Read more »

  • Starting out

    johnowhitaker04/06/2016 at 06:48 0 comments

    My #Mini Laser Cutter was disassembled and broken, so I'm starting again and focusing on the PCB fabrication aspect. To that end, I pulled the DVD drive from my PC (don't need a drive THAT much) and took it apart to see what I have to work with.

    The drive:

    Removing two screws reveals the innards:

    A few more and I have it in pieces - the eject mechanism and main board, the brush-less motor and the slide/pick-up mechanism:

    I spent a while checking pin-outs and following the PCB traces, but gave up my idea of using the built in drivers because a) I have a test today and don't need more diversions and b) I couldn't find this chip anywhere (if you know it, yell):

    Anyway, I soldered some cable to the stepper and laser pins, and fired it up for a test:

    Yaay, it's a red laser! BE VERY CAREFUL - sometimes you get IR lasers which can easily blind you. Red is still dangerous (this can burn paper and retinas with equal ease) but you at least know when it's on, and your blink reflex should save you especially when it's focused so that it spreads out (as in the image above). To drive the laser, I'm using the following circuit. I start with the current set resistance at 100 ohms, and moved down to ~16 ohms for now. I will find it's limits later - for now this looks bright enough and is well below the max so everything stays nice and cool and I don't burn it out accidentally.

    So the plan is to use one of the stages from my old set-up, and use the built in laser for the toner melting process. I may also experiment with controlling the coils for focus, but that's for later.

    One final thing: This is a team project! @esot.eric is also trying this out, so we'll collaborate and hopefully between us come up with something useful :)

View all 8 project logs

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Foxmjay wrote 06/18/2016 at 17:25 point

Did try  by any chance applying the laser to a PCB coated with  permanent marker or a etching ink carbon ? .  i'm wondering if it will carve away or stick more .

  Are you sure? yes | no

johnowhitaker wrote 06/24/2016 at 05:46 point

I didn't, and won't be able to for a while :p good idea though - if we could find something that could be burnt off that would be very useful.

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Tom Meehan wrote 04/20/2016 at 04:17 point

I love this idea, smaller and quieter than any CNC router machine.  Wish I thought of it.

  Are you sure? yes | no

Malhar Deshmukh wrote 04/11/2016 at 12:50 point

Hey, No any design files ??

How do you drive the steppers and the laser ?

Can I be a part of it ?

  Are you sure? yes | no

johnowhitaker wrote 04/11/2016 at 15:24 point

Hi! I wasn't expecting to be featured - this is still a work in progress. I am going to be writing up detailed build instructions over the next few weeks.

I drive the steppers with two easydriver modules, and use the following circuit for the laser:  ( describes it well). As for being part of it, PM me and we can chat :)

  Are you sure? yes | no

K.C. Lee wrote 04/06/2016 at 09:52 point

Have  to be careful with handling toner as there are health issues with breathing in the fine particles.

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Eric Hertz wrote 04/06/2016 at 10:02 point

Having a cat can cause toxoplasmosis, as well. ;)

But, good point, it's probably wise to advise folks not to stare into the laser with their one remaining eye, etc.

I wonder when/if HaD will be implementing a "Caution" section to go along with details, logs, instructions, etc.

  Are you sure? yes | no

Leonard wrote 04/06/2016 at 10:51 point

I'm for a feature request to be able to turn on a yellow warning triangle with an exclamation mark (or dragons) sign on projects :)  You may as well submit your project visual with said triangle sign embedded!

  Are you sure? yes | no

johnowhitaker wrote 04/06/2016 at 10:24 point

Since team replying looks like it's going to be a thing, I'll add that the toner is in its dry powder form for just as long as it takes you to mix it into a slurry with alcohol (a once-off job). Exposure should be minimal, but thanks for the warning - I'll add it in when giving step-by-step instructions so someone doesn't snort the toner accidentally :)

  Are you sure? yes | no

helge wrote 04/06/2016 at 07:36 point

while you're at it, try using the 405nm laser diode of a bluray DVD writer to expose photo resist - you can use the red LED for focus feedback. You're welcome ;-)

  Are you sure? yes | no

Eric Hertz wrote 04/06/2016 at 08:05 point

Hah, this was being discussed just yesterday... In fact there's a project here on HaD that does just that: #Hacking the PHR-803T blu-ray pickup

That one's... amazing work.

  Are you sure? yes | no

helge wrote 04/06/2016 at 15:09 point

the one thing I really hate about this platform is that the stockpile of existing projects actively discourages traveling the path yourself just for the fun of it.

  Are you sure? yes | no

johnowhitaker wrote 04/06/2016 at 09:17 point

Good idea, although I have neither UV sensitive photo-resist or a UV laser. There are some great projects doing just that (see @esot.eric's reply).

  Are you sure? yes | no

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