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How to Make Good Homemade Pcbs?

How to Make Good Homemade Pcbs?

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Published by: unaibmyfriend on Sep 25, 2009
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ELECTRONICS FOR YOU
 
 
NOVEMBER 2000
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H
ere is a guide to produce high-quality PCBs quickly and effi-ciently, particularly for profes-sional prototyping of production boards.Unlike most other PCB homebrew guides,emphasis is placed on quality, speed, andrepeatability rather than minimum ma-terials cost, although the time saved bygetting good PCBs every time usuallysaves money in the long run.With the method described here, youcan produce repeatedly good single- anddouble-sided PCBs for through-hole andsurface-mount designs with track densi-ties of 40 to 50 tracks per inch and 0.5mmSM pitches. Only photographic methodshave been dwelt in depth because othermethods such as transfers, plotting oncopper, and ‘iron-on’ toner transfer arenot really suited for fast, repeatable use.The problem with toner transfer sys-tems is that the ‘expensive partis thefilm, and you cant really feed much lessthan an A5 sheet through a laser printer,so you waste a lot on small PCBs. Withphotoresist laminate and cheap trans-parency media, you only use as much of the expensive part (the board) as youneed, and offcuts can usually be usedlater for small boards.
 Artwork generation
You need to generate a positive (copperblack) UV translucent artwork film. Youwill never get a good board without goodartwork, so it is important to get the bestpossible quality at this stage. The mostimportant thing is to get a clear sharpimage with a very solid opaque black.Nowadays, artwork is drawn usingeither a dedicated PCB CAD programor a suitable drawing/graphics package.It is absolutely essential that your PCBsoftware prints holes in the middle of pads, which will act as centre markswhen drilling. It is virtually impossibleto accurately hand-drill boards withoutthese holes.If you’re looking to buy PCB soft-ware at any cost level and want to dohand-prototyping of boards before pro-duction, check that this facility is avail-able. If you’re using a general-purposeCAD or graphics package, define padsas either a grouped object containing ablack-filled circle with a smaller con-centric white-filled circle on top of it,or as an unfilled circle with a thick blacline (i.e. a black ring).When defining pad and line shapes,the minimum size recommended for vias(through-linking holes) for reliable re-sults is 50 mil, assuming 0.8mm drillsize; 1 mil = (1/1000)th of an inch. Youcan go smaller with smaller drill sizes,but through-linking will be harder.65mil round or square pads for normalcomponents and DIL ICs, with 0.8mmhole, will allow a 12.5 mil, down to 10mil if you really need to. Centre-to-cen-tre spacing of 12.5mil tracks should be25 mil—slightly less may be possible if your printer can manage it. Take careto preserve the correct diagonal track-track spacing on mitered corners; gridis 25 mil and track width 12.5 mil.The artwork must be printed suchthat the printed side is in contact withthe PCB surface when exposing, to avoidblurred edges. In practice, this means thatif you design the board as seen from thecomponent side, the bottom (solder side)layer should be printed the ‘correct’ wayround, and the top side of a double-sidedboard must be printed mirrored.
Media
Artwork quality is very dependent onboth the output device and the mediaused. It is not necessary to use a trans-parent artwork medium—as long as itis reasonably translucent to UV, its fine-less translucent materials may need aslightly longer exposure time. Line defi-nition, black opaqueness, and toner/ink retention are much more important.Tracing paper has good enough UVtranslucency and is nearly as good asdrafting film for toner retention. It staysflatter under laser-printer heat than poly-ester or acetate film. Get the thickestyou can find as thinner stuff can crickle.It should be rated at least 90 gsm; 120
HOW TO MAKE GOODHOMEMADE PCBs?
INDRANI BOSE
Do not use sodium hydroxide for developing photoresist laminates. It is completely a dreadful stuff for developing PCBs. Apart from its causticity, it is very sensitive to both temperature andconcentration, and made-up solution doesn’t last long
 
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gsm is even better but harder to find. Itis cheap and easily available from officeor art suppliers.
Output devices
Laser printers offer the best all-roundsolution. These are affordable, fast, andgood-quality. The printer used must haveat least 600dpi resolution for all but thesimplest PCBs, as you will usually beworking in multiples of 0.06cm (40 tracksper inch). 600 dpi divides into 40, so youget consistent spacing and line width.It is very important that the printerproduces a good solid black with no tonerpinholes. If you’re planning to buy aprinter for PCB use, do some test printson tracing paper to check the quality first.If the printer has a density control, set itto the blackest. Even the best laser print-ers don’t generally cover large areas well,but usually this isn’t a problem as longas fine tracks are solid.When using tracing paper or draftingfilm, always use manual paper feed andset the straightest possible paper outputpath to keep the artwork as flat as pos-sible and minimise jamming. For smallPCBs, you can usually save paper by cut-ting the sheet in half. You may need tospecify a vertical offset in your PCB soft-ware to make it print on the right part of the page. Some laser printers have poordimensional accuracy, which can causeproblems for large PCBs. But as long asany error is linear, it can be compensatedby scaling the printout in software.Print accuracy is likely to be a no-ticeable problem when it causes mis-alignment of the sides on double-sidedPCBs—this can usually be avoided bycareful arrangement of the plots on thepage to ensure the error is the same onboth layers; for example, choosingwhether to mirror horizontally or verti-cally when reversing the top-side art-work.
Photoresist PCB laminates
Always use good-quality, pre-coated pho-toresist fibreglass (FR4) board. Check carefully for scratches in the protectivecovering and on the surface after peelingoff the covering. You don’t need darkroomor subdued lighting when handling boards,as long as you avoid direct sunlight,minimise unnecessary exposure, and de-velop immediately after UV exposure.Instagraphic Microtrak board devel-ops really quickly, gives excellent resolu-tion, and is available in thin (0.8mm) andheavy copper flavours. On using spray-onphotoresist, you will always get dust set-tling on the wet resist. So it is not recom-mended unless you have access to a veryclean area or drying oven, or you onlywant to make low-resolution PCBs.
Exposure
The photoresist board needs to be ex-posed to UV light through the artwork,using a UV exposure box. UV exposureunits can easily be made using stan-dard fluorescent lamp ballasts and UVtubes. For small PCBs, two or four 8-watt, 30.5cm tubes will be adequate. Forlarger (A3) units, four 38cm tubes areideal. To determine the tube-to-glassspacing, place a sheet of tracing paperon the glass and adjust the distance toget the most even light level over thesurface of the paper.Even illumination is a lot easier toobtain with 4-tube units. The UV tubesyou need are sold as replacements forUV exposure units, ‘black light’ tubesfor disco lighting, etc. These look white,occasionally black/blue when off, andlight up with a light purple. Do not useshortwave UV lamps like EPROMeraser tubes and germicidal lamps thathave clear glass, because these emitshortwave UV which can cause eye andskin damage.A timer that switches off the UVlamps automatically is essential, andshould allow exposure times from 2 to 10minutes in 15- to 30-second increments.It is useful if the timer has an audibleindication when the timing period hascompleted. A timer from a scrap micro-wave oven would be ideal.Use glass sheet rather than plasticfor the top of the UV unit, as it will flexless and be less prone to scratches. Acombined unit, with switchable UV andwhite tubes, doubles as an exposure unitand a light-box for lining up double-sided artworks. If you do a lot of double-sided PCBs, it may be worth making adouble-sided exposure unit, where thePCB can be sandwitched between twolight sources to expose both sides si-multaneously.To find the required exposure timefor a particular UV unit and laminatetype, expose a test piece in 30-secondincrements from 2 to 8 minutes, develop,and use the time which gave the bestimage. Generally speaking, overexpo-sure is better than underexposure.For a single-sided PCB, place theartworks toner side up on the UV boxglass, peel off the protective film from thelaminate, and place its sensitive side downon top of the artwork. The laminate mustbe pressed firmly down to ensure goodcontact all over the artwork.To expose double-sided PCBs, printthe solder-side artwork as normal and thecomponent side mirrored. Place the twosheets together with the toner sides fac-ing, and carefully line them up, checkingall over the board area for correct align-ment, using the holes in the pads as aguide. A light box is very handy here,but exposure can also be done with day-light by holding the sheets on the sur-face of a window.If printing errors have caused slightmis-registration, align the sheets to av-erage the errors across the whole PCB,to avoid breaking pad edges or trackswhen drilling. When these are correctlyaligned, staple the sheets together ontwo opposite sides, about 10 mm fromthe edge of the board, forming a sleeveor envelope. The gap between the boardedge and staples is important to stopthe paper distorting at the edge. Usethe smallest stapler you can find, so thatthe thickness of the staple is not muchmore than that of the PCB.Expose each side, covering up thetop side with a reasonably light-proof soft cover when exposing the underside.Be very careful when turning the boardover, to avoid the laminate slipping in-side the artwork and ruining the align-ment. After exposure, you can usuallysee a faint image of the pattern in thephotosensitive layer.
Developing
Do not use sodium hydroxide for devel-oping photoresist laminates. It is a com-pletely and utterly dreadful stuff for de-veloping PCBs. Apart from its caustic-
 
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ity, it is very sensitiveto both temperatureand concentration, andmade-up solutiondoesn’t last long. Whenit’s too weak it doesn’tdevelop at all, and whentoo strong it strips allthe resist off. It is al-most impossible to getreliable and consistentresults, especially when making PCBs inan environment with large temperaturevariations.A much better developer is a sili-cate-based product that comes as a liq-uid concentrate. You can leave the boardin it for several times the normal devel-oping time without noticeable degrada-tion. This also means that it is not tem-perature critical—no risk of stripping atwarmer temperatures. Made-up solutionalso has a very long shelf-life and lastsuntil it’s used up. You can make thesolution up really strong for very fastdeveloping. The recommended mix is 1part developer to 9 parts water.You can check for correct develop-ment by dipping the board in the ferricchloride very briefly—the exposed cop-per should turn dull pink almost in-stantly. If any shiny copper-coloured ar-eas remain, rinse and develop for a fewmore seconds. If the board is under-ex-posed, you will get a thin layer of resistwhich isn’t removed by the developer.You can remove this by gently wipingwith dry paper towel, without damag-ing the pattern. You can either use aphotographic developing tray or a ver-tical tank for developing.
Etching
Ferric chloride etchant is a messy stuff,but easily available and cheaper thanmost alternatives. It attacks any metalincluding stainless steel. So when set-ting up a PCB etching area, use a plas-tic or ceramic sink, with plastic fittingsand screws wherever possible, and sealany metal screws with silicone. Copperwater pipes may get splashed ordripped-on, so sleeve or cover them inplastic; heat-shrink sleeving is great if you’re installing new pipes. Fume ex-traction is not normally required, al-though a cover over the tank or traywhen not in use is a good idea.You should always use the hexahy-drate type of ferric chloride, whichshould be dissolved in warm water un-til saturation. Adding a teaspoon of tablesalt helps to make the etchant clearerfor easier inspection.Avoid anhydrous ferric chloride. It cre-ates a lot of heat when dissolved. So al-ways add the powder very slowly to wa-ter; do not add water to the powder,and use gloves and safety glasses. Thesolution made from anhydrous ferricchloride doesn’t etch at all, so you needto add a small amount of hydrochloricacid and leave it for a day or two.Always take extreme care to avoidsplashing when dissolving either typeof ferric chloride, as it tends to clumptogether and you often get big chunkscoming out of the container and splash-ing into the solution. It can damage eyesand permanently stain clothing.If you’re making PCBs in a profes-sional environment, where time ismoney, you should get a heated bubble-etch tank. With fresh hot ferric chlo-ride, a PCB will etch in well under fiveminutes. Fast etching produces betteredge-quality and consistent line widths.If you aren’t using a bubble tank, youneed to agitate frequently to ensureeven etching. Warm the etchant by put-ting the etching tray inside a larger trayfilled with boiling water.
Tin plating
Tin-plating a PCB makes it a lot easierto solder, and is pretty much essentialfor surface mount boards. Unless youhave access to a roller tinning machine,chemical tinning is the only option. Un-fortunately, tin-plating chemicals are ex-pensive but the results are usuallyworth it.If you don’t tin-plate the board, ei-ther leave the photoresist coating on(most resists are intended to act as sol-dering fluxes) or spray the board withrework flux to prevent the copper fromoxidising.Room-temperature tin-plating crystalsproduce a good finish in a few minutes.There are other tinning chemicals avail-able, some of which require mixing withacid or high-temperature use.Ensure that the temperature of thetinning solution is at least 25
o
C, but notmore than 40
o
C. If required, either putthe bottle in a hot water bath or putthe tinning tray in a bigger tray filledwith hot water to warm it up. Putting aPCB in cold tinning solution will usu-ally prevent tinning, even if the tem-perature is subsequently raised.For a good tinned finish, strip thephotoresist thoroughly. Although youcan get special stripping solutions andhand applicators, most resists can bedissolved off more easily and cleanly us-ing methanol (methylated spirit). Holdthe rinsed and dried PCB horizontal,and dribble few drops of methanol onthe surface, tilting the PCB to allow itto run over the whole surface. Wait forabout ten seconds and wipe off with apaper towel dipped in methanol.Rub the copper surface all over withwire wool until it is bright and shiny.Wipe with a paper towel to remove thewire wool fragments and immediatelyimmerse the board in the tinning solu-tion. Don’t touch the copper surface af-ter cleaning, as finger marks will im-pair plating. The copper should turn sil-ver in colour within about 30 seconds.Leave the board for about five minutes,agitating occasionally; do not use bubbleagitation. For double-sided PCBs, propthe PCB at an angle to ensure the solu-tion gets to both sides.Rinse the board thoroughly and rubdry with paper towel to remove any tin-ning crystal deposits. If the board isn’tgoing to be soldered for a day or two,coat it with either a rework flux sprayor a flux pen.
Drilling
If you have fibreglass (FR4) board, youmust use tungsten carbide drill bits.Fibreglass eats normal high-speed steel(HSS) bits very rapidly, although HSSdrills are alright for odd larger sizes(>2 mm). Carbide drill bits are expen-sive and the thin ones snap very easily.When using carbide drill bits below 1mm, you must use a good vertical drillstand—you will break drill very quicklywithout one.Carbide drill bits are available asstraight-shank or thick (sometimes calledturbo’) shank. In straight shank, thewhole bit is the diameter of the hole, andin thick shank, a standard-size (typi-cally about 3.5 mm) shank tapers downto the hole size. The straight-shank drills are usually preferred because theybreak less easily and are usuallycheaper. The longer thin section pro-

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