Hi, I've been making electronic circuits for a while, mostly using Vero Board / Strip Board for final construction. I really wanna move on and start making my own PCBs. How expensive is the equipment for this? My boards will probably be no bigger than a few inches square. What is the cheapest way to get me started in this? Can anybody recommend any UK suppliers of equipment? What equipment do I need?
It depends on the line density of the circuit board that you want to make.
Small quantities of single-sided, low density circuit boards can be produced for an investment as little as $20-30 (spray can of photo resist, some ferric chloride etchant, and an improvised buble etcher). Double sided PCBs without through-hole plating are not much harder or costlier to produce, but if you want plated through holes, add another $1,000 to the above figure.
If you wnat to do medium density PCB that have medium width tracings connecting 16-pin DIP packages, estimate $1,000. (Everything becomes more precise.)
For high-density PCBs involving SMDs, figure on $20,000 as a minimum. (Mostly due to far more costly imaging technology).
Harry C. (Who was in the PCB business for 5 years.)
Hi Harry, Thanks for the reply. The circuits I make are typical hobbiest circuits. All will probably be one/two-off and definately single sided. However, I do use DIP packaged chips (PICs / 555s / Driver chips etc) Is the accuracy required for these possible on the lower budget? ;-)
Also, have you got any weblinks for the equipment/chemicals you have described? (particularly the bubble etcher, I understand these are expensive to buy?)
They sell just about everything you need for making single and double-sided PCBs on a budget. Their technology uses a toner transfer method that works very well if you use their equipment. If you have a laser printer (who doesn't nowadays), you can print the artwork on special transfer paper, then affix the paper with the printed circuit pattern to a blank board, and run it through the refuser, which melts the toner on the paper onto the PCB surface. You then soak the board and paper in water to dissolve the bond between teh toner and paper, leaving the toner fused to the PCB, ready for etching. See the refuser at
They can supply some software that will get you going to design the artwork also. They stock a variety of eyelets and tooling that will allow you to build double-sided boards without the expense of doing it chemically. Beware... the eyelets can become expensive if your boards have a lot of through-holes and vias that need to be interconnected. The paper is a bit expensive too, but very good results can be achieved by using premium photo-quality paper instead of the paper that Pulsar sells. The photo paper has a high content of clay, which makes it suitable for this purpose. Be sure to get paper that can be used with laser printers and copiers... The inkjet-only variety may give you trouble.
MasonDG44 at comcast dot net (Just subsitute the appropriate characters in
has a useful range of stuff, as do (at a price) RS and Farnell.
You do not need a bubble tank if you don't mind agitating by hand. The trick with DIPs etc is to etch the pads with a small hole in the center - this guides the drill bit. This is usually a cad option, or if you do it by hand, use stick down symbols.
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Don't worry about accuracy for DIP packages: I use the toner transfer method to do double sided surface mount (0.8mm pitch) and it is pretty reliable after a bit of practice. I haven't got enough time for a highly detailed description, but my basic method is:
Design circuit (eagle)
Print onto low quality coated inkjet paper with a laser printer (so it doesn't stick too hard)
Iron onto PCB. Clean the pcb thoroughly first and roughen surface with fine sandpaper.
If doing double sided, wet the paper slightly so it becomes a bit transparent, then poke the centre of the holes with a scriber and drill.
Align other side with the drilled holes and iron
Soak the board in WARM/HOT water (about 60 degrees C). This seems to stop cracks forming in the toner.
gently remove the paper when it has soaked "enough" (experiment).
etch it. I use hot ammonium persulfate in a plastic dish and rock it back and forth till its done, turning it over after a while if double sided. Putting the etching dish into another dish filled with hot water keeps it hot for longer.