PCB Peel and Press Transfer Paper Review


#1

There comes a time in every makers life where you have to transfer that mess of wires from the breadboard into a copper clad board of awesomeness. This is both an exciting and frustrating time and normally doing it manually can take a couple of hours. Most of us start with the press and peel technique and some of us that are older than laser printers started of using permanent markers and technical drawing skills. Insert nostalgic flash back here…

While I would have loved to have gone with the exposure method it is not practical at this time for me. So I revisited the whole press and peel method over the last few months. Essentially you will need some type of paper which will have a bit more plastic than normal paper in. These can be acquired either by recycling old magazines or by buy some commercial PCB press and peel papers.

Well I tried the magazine route and my printer jammed so much I eventually renamed the printer to Bob Marley(We’re jammin’, we’re jammin’, we’re jammin’, we’re jammin’). Since I did not have more time to find more magazines I decided to buiy some of the blue press and peel papers I saw for sale at Jaycar and Altronics here in Sydney. See what I am talking about at this page from Jaycar.

So took the plunge and bought a pack. Holy crap $35.00 for 5 sheets of paper? I was seriously stumped to as why this is so expensive. Worst of it all was that your normally don’t get a perfect PCB on your first try. You might end up using $15-$20 worth of paper for the transfer. The blank PCB’s I am using are cheaper than that. However once you master the iron settings and pressing this stuff is really great with some fine detail. I have done some really fine traces with it and it works like a dream every time if you do the ironing bit long and proper. The copper fills masks are solid with no defects and the lines are crisp and clear. However the price tag can be likened to paying for a really good proctology exam.

I then came across something similar on eBay. It is a yellow press and peel paper from Hong Kong and they are $10 for 100 papers. Certainly more affordable and I thought well let me order some and try. Check out this eBay item for an example. Two weeks later they arrived and I went straight at it. The paper is very similar to wax paper used in cooking on the plastic/shiny side. Its a thick paper though not as flimsy as they cooking variety. So I printed the circuit and ironed it on.

The results were not as good as the blue paper but not terrible or poor in any way. There was some tiny defects here and there. Some of the traces show small warping, and the copper fills are not always defect free. The warps in traces are extremely small and I suspect it might be related more to me pressing to hard with the iron when melting it on than the quality of the product. Also after printing handle the prints with care as you can scratch the print off. Essentially you will get an almost ready to mask on your PCB which you can then just fix using a decent marker(I have used sharpies, permanent markers and special PCB pens they all work really). to remove imperfections in the copper fills and fix traces with problems.

So after about two weeks the winner is both of these. The yellow paper is worth it for prototyping and trail and error. Once you get your prototype to a working state the blue paper can be used on that demo model for really fine and intricate traces etc.

However if you are just going to prototype and then get the demo boards made professionally stick to the yellow paper it certainly has bang for buck. Even if they charged me $35 for 100 of these it makes sense for prototyping.

The only down side is that it takes two weeks for the stuff to arrive and there are no local stockists… hint… hint… so order a lot cause if you run out it is going to be expensive to replace.


#2

I recently picked up a 3D printer and then saw an article about someone using them to create PCBs. I was thinking of trying something similar where I print a layout on the printer and then using a silver trace pen to put in the tracks. In the 3D print I would put in groves so that I get nice straight lines. I could also include the holes for the components to go through easily enough. Then I just need to figure out the best way of soldering them into place on the board (without melting the plastic too badly).


#3

I’ve never etched my own board before but I think it would be a worthwhile endeavour to learn. I’ve only ever ordered my boards from seeedstudio.com. I can’t really fault their system… They supply their own DRC and CAM files for Eagle so you know your design will be compatible with their PCB mill. It’s fairly cheap, depending on the size of your board and the color you want. I’ve had 10 copies of my design manufactured and delivered to my door for about $25. From order to delivery usually takes about 3 weeks but you end up with a professional looking product with drilled holes, through-hole plating, stop masking, and silkscreens.

Has anyone used an Australian fab house before? I’d like to support a local manufacturer but haven’t found anywhere as easy as seeedstudio yet.


#4

I’ve heard Hackvana is Australia based, but not sure where fabrication occurs.

I’m also pleased with OSHPark.

Dave Jones of EEVblog has mentioned Australian fabricators. Would be good to see a list somewhere.


#5

There is a open source project where the guys use an old blu ray laser and scanner with photo-resist boards to laser the mask onto it. This seems nice but once again photo-resist is not viable for me now.

I thought about using a 3D printer for this as well. If you could get the ABS plastic to stick to the PCB you could use simple gcode and send this to the printer. I was thinking if you could mix a bit of glue in with the abs as it leaves the printing head so it binds to the copper surface. Considering that 3d printers can do such small traces this might be an awesome mod.

For those that think you can use a laser to melts the copper off I have some bad news. You will need a huge freaking laser to remove the copper. I am talking a big bad pulse laser costing thousands of dollars. Even my 500mW laser which cannot be used without serious eye protection barely heats up a piece of metal.


#6

Dirtypcbs aren’t too shabby, they have a pretty good turn around time. I have always wanted to roll my own PCBs but honestly for the price of getting it done professionally (silkscreens are a big help for non trivial boards) it just doesn’t seem worth it.


#7

I also got a good result from Seeed Studio PCB prototype service.
10 boards, up to 10x10 are only 4.9.
All the color choices are also free.
I’ve ordered about 100 PCB from then recently.


#8

I use this technique

http://www.pcbfx.com/main_site/pages/start_here/overview.html

Now they go one further with the standard Toner Transfer. Toner is porous and so there is a chance that the etchant can seep through the toner and start to etch under the trace.

The additional step is to use some of their foil and so a second run with the transfer heat source. This puts a solid barrier on to the toner and so protects it.