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gsm is even better but harder to find. Itis cheap and easily available from officeor art suppliers.
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.
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 theartwork’s 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.
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-