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.