Tonerless PCB Etch Resist (Direct to PCB Method)

Etch resist using easy to find materials and no toner or laser printer, just a cheap laser and a 3d printer, cnc machine, or craft cutter!

Similar projects worth following
A method to apply an etch resistive layer to PCBs without a laser printer. Using a 3d printer, cnc machine, or craft cutter and a $15 laser from eBay.
This method applies the etch resist directly to the board in the pattern for your PCB and skips the photoexposure...good for smaller runs of boards..

The idea...

If you're like might need to make one or two boards quickly every once in a while.. and you don't care for the toner transfer method or any derivative...

The Reason...

I like this method, it's quick, easy, clean, gets good results and fast... doesn't cost much at all....has fewer steps and just makes a better board in my opinion... you don't have to worry about the crappy toner coverage and pitting, etc... this eliminates that entirely..

The Method....

It's really pretty straight forward and super easy...

Basically, you take a blank PCBoard... some craft or sign vinyl from amazon or ebay.... put the layer of vinyl on the board... and cut the circuit pattern with the laser attached to your cnc machine, craft cutter or even your 3d printer... Peel off the middle pieces and Boom, etch the board and it's done..!

The Results...

If you like this work, you should check out the UV Templates and UV Oven I'm working on...!!

So, to rehash... that's...

1. Create your PC Board in your favorite software... I use Eagle...

2. Export your PC Board to gcode... I now use's Eagle BRD Import feature.... The speed setting will depend on your laser power..Mine is 1W@445nm. These are also based on using 0.4064 width traces.. So, depending on what you're doing you can play around with the inflate milling path number..

Inflate Milling Path By:
    positive 0.1

Advanced Inflating
    Inflate SMDs By
        positive checked        0
    Clip wires
    Remove Undefined SMDs
    Inflate Pads By
        checked        0
    Inflate Vias By
        checked        0

Depth of Milling Traces
Feedrate for Milling Traces
Feedrate for Plunge into Copper

Clearance for Z Axis Moves

Depth of Cutting Out Dimensions
Step Down for Cutting Dimensions
Feedrate for Cutting Dimensions

3. Take a blank PC Board and stick a sheet of adhesive vinyl to the side of your PC Board you want to etch.. (This method will work with double sided boards, I'll explain more on that later..)

4. Place your PC Board with its vinyl coating on your machine... and send the gcode to the machine to cut the vinyl... I use ..

I'll explain here about the modified process I use for the Chilipeppr Eagle BRD Import......

First, I import the .brd file.. use the settings above.. Then I copy the gcode from the window, paste it into a txt file.. run a custom python script on it to insert M3 and M5 to toggle the laser where the Z Axis would normally have moved and then I import the resulting tap file back into Chilipeppr...

(Make note: cutting vinyl with a laser produces noxious and disgusting fumes and might harm you and/or end your days on this planet..make your family hate you and destroy your life.. Using this method means you understand the health risks and the nasty nature of the chemicals involved and their effects on your well being and peace of mind.....mostly, just make sure you do it in an extremely well ventilated area and don't expose yourself to unnecessary risks... and wear eye protection....!!! Also....most of all, understand that I won't be responsible for you losing an eye or a lung or a family member from misuse of anything involved with this project... =D )

5. When it's done, pull your board out... peel the middle pieces out (the bits that you want to be etched away) and discard them.. I use some pointy tweezers...

6. Use some alcohol to clean the surface very well.. Don't rub too hard.. But make sure you get all the gummy glue goop and residue from the vinyl off and the surface is super clean... I use a PCB microscope, but you can use the camera on your cellphone to look super close and make sure it's all gone...

6. Next, just etch the board in your favorite chemical bath like you normally would... I used to use ferric chloride, but now I've switched to the hydrogen peroxide/muriatic acid mix.. Either works.

7. Wash it very well... Then remove the remainder of the vinyl.... and BAM... there's your board...! Drill if you need to...(Soon, I'll be covering...

Read more »

  • 1 × UV Laser Diode Module
  • 1 × Blank PC Board
  • 1 × Craft or Sign Vinyl

  • More progress...

    fl@C@04/13/2015 at 03:50 0 comments

    So, here's a test board I did using vinyl, chilipeppr and my 1watt laser at 400mm/sec... TQFP32 ATMega328P...

    The vinyl etch resist before etching.....

    And after etching... I could probably do better with the etching, but I was in a hurry.. =)

    I'm pretty happy.. I'll do more documenting on how I achieved these results soon...

  • More

    fl@C@03/09/2015 at 13:17 5 comments

    Ok.. so I have been spending a LOT of time getting this process hammered out... and tweaking my shapeoko2 to do it, etc.. Not to mention I just bought the shapeoko and had to build it and get it working.. lol.. Maybe I'll make a writeup for the special case I made for the power supplies and everything.. I tricked it out pretty well, with a TFT display and a microcontroller just for handling everything including the laser/spindle pwm, etc...

    Anyway... Here's where I'm at pictures...

    A board that was exported to gcode from eagle with pcb2gcode.... loading into


    A pcb in the shapeoko2 with the laser going to town on it... (don't do this at home... vinyl produces nasty chemicals while being cut... you might get sick or worse.. it's not my fault if you do this in a non ventilated area and so on..)

    The board after the laser has made its cut..

    The board after you've peeled back the parts you don't want...


    The same board after being etched.... (I'm not good at this yet... haha... and I want to switch from ferric chloride to h2o2 and muriatic acid soon)

    The same board again but plated...


    And now being reflowed with the LEDs on it.... (This is just a test board... )

    And a closeup after being reflowed... :)

    And.... powered up connect to a micro....!

    Works great..! =D

View all 2 project logs

Enjoy this project?



Similar Projects

Does this project spark your interest?

Become a member to follow this project and never miss any updates