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DO - IT -YOURSELF

HOW TO MAKE GOOD


HOMEMADE 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 and
concentration, and made-up solution doesn’t last long

H
ere is a guide to produce high- image with a very solid opaque black. but through-linking will be harder.
quality PCBs quickly and effi- Nowadays, artwork is drawn using 65mil round or square pads for normal
ciently, particularly for profes- either a dedicated PCB CAD program components and DIL ICs, with 0.8mm
sional prototyping of production boards. or a suitable drawing/graphics package. hole, will allow a 12.5 mil, down to 10
Unlike most other PCB homebrew guides, It is absolutely essential that your PCB mil if you really need to. Centre-to-cen-
emphasis is placed on quality, speed, and software prints holes in the middle of tre spacing of 12.5mil tracks should be
repeatability rather than minimum ma- pads, which will act as centre marks 25 mil—slightly less may be possible if
terials cost, although the time saved by when drilling. It is virtually impossible your printer can manage it. Take care
getting good PCBs every time usually to accurately hand-drill boards without to preserve the correct diagonal track-
saves money in the long run. these holes. track spacing on mitered corners; grid
With the method described here, you If you’re looking to buy PCB soft- is 25 mil and track width 12.5 mil.
can produce repeatedly good single- and ware at any cost level and want to do The artwork must be printed such
double-sided PCBs for through-hole and hand-prototyping of boards before pro- that the printed side is in contact with
surface-mount designs with track densi- duction, check that this facility is avail- the PCB surface when exposing, to avoid
ties of 40 to 50 tracks per inch and 0.5mm able. If you’re using a general-purpose blurred edges. In practice, this means that
SM pitches. Only photographic methods CAD or graphics package, define pads if you design the board as seen from the
have been dwelt in depth because other as either a grouped object containing a component side, the bottom (solder side)
methods such as transfers, plotting on black-filled circle with a smaller con- layer should be printed the ‘correct’ way
copper, and ‘iron-on’ toner transfer are centric white-filled circle on top of it, round, and the top side of a double-sided
not really suited for fast, repeatable use. or as an unfilled circle with a thick black board must be printed mirrored.
The problem with toner transfer sys- line (i.e. a black ring).
tems is that the ‘expensive part’ is the When defining pad and line shapes,
film, and you can’t really feed much less the minimum size recommended for vias Media
than an A5 sheet through a laser printer, (through-linking holes) for reliable re- Artwork quality is very dependent on
so you waste a lot on small PCBs. With sults is 50 mil, assuming 0.8mm drill both the output device and the media
photoresist laminate and cheap trans- size; 1 mil = (1/1000)th of an inch. You used. It is not necessary to use a trans-
parency media, you only use as much of can go smaller with smaller drill sizes, parent artwork medium—as long as it
the expensive part (the board) as you is reasonably translucent to UV, its fine-
need, and offcuts can usually be used less translucent materials may need a
later for small boards. slightly longer exposure time. Line defi-
nition, black opaqueness, and toner/ink
retention are much more important.
Artwork generation Tracing paper has good enough UV
You need to generate a positive (copper translucency and is nearly as good as
black) UV translucent artwork film. You drafting film for toner retention. It stays
will never get a good board without good flatter under laser-printer heat than poly-
artwork, so it is important to get the best ester or acetate film. Get the thickest
possible quality at this stage. The most you can find as thinner stuff can crickle.
important thing is to get a clear sharp It should be rated at least 90 gsm; 120

ELECTRONICS FOR YOU ❚ NOVEMBER 2000 37


DO - IT -YOURSELF

gsm is even better but harder to find. It Instagraphic Microtrak board devel- sided PCBs, it may be worth making a
is cheap and easily available from office ops really quickly, gives excellent resolu- double-sided exposure unit, where the
or art suppliers. tion, and is available in thin (0.8mm) and PCB can be sandwitched between two
heavy copper flavours. On using spray-on light sources to expose both sides si-
photoresist, you will always get dust set- multaneously.
Output devices tling on the wet resist. So it is not recom- To find the required exposure time
Laser printers offer the best all-round mended unless you have access to a very for a particular UV unit and laminate
solution. These are affordable, fast, and clean area or drying oven, or you only type, expose a test piece in 30-second
good-quality. The printer used must have want to make low-resolution PCBs. increments from 2 to 8 minutes, develop,
at least 600dpi resolution for all but the and use the time which gave the best
simplest PCBs, as you will usually be image. Generally speaking, overexpo-
working in multiples of 0.06cm (40 tracks
Exposure sure is better than underexposure.
per inch). 600 dpi divides into 40, so you The photoresist board needs to be ex- For a single-sided PCB, place the
get consistent spacing and line width. posed to UV light through the artwork, artwork’s toner side up on the UV box
It is very important that the printer using a UV exposure box. UV exposure glass, peel off the protective film from the
produces a good solid black with no toner units can easily be made using stan- laminate, and place its sensitive side down
pinholes. If you’re planning to buy a dard fluorescent lamp ballasts and UV on top of the artwork. The laminate must
printer for PCB use, do some test prints tubes. For small PCBs, two or four 8- be pressed firmly down to ensure good
on tracing paper to check the quality first. watt, 30.5cm tubes will be adequate. For contact all over the artwork.
If the printer has a density control, set it larger (A3) units, four 38cm tubes are To expose double-sided PCBs, print
to the blackest. Even the best laser print- ideal. To determine the tube-to-glass the solder-side artwork as normal and the
ers don’t generally cover large areas well, spacing, place a sheet of tracing paper component side mirrored. Place the two
but usually this isn’t a problem as long on the glass and adjust the distance to sheets together with the toner sides fac-
as fine tracks are solid. get the most even light level over the ing, and carefully line them up, checking
When using tracing paper or drafting surface of the paper. all over the board area for correct align-
film, always use manual paper feed and Even illumination is a lot easier to ment, using the holes in the pads as a
set the straightest possible paper output obtain with 4-tube units. The UV tubes guide. A light box is very handy here,
path to keep the artwork as flat as pos- you need are sold as replacements for but exposure can also be done with day-
sible and minimise jamming. For small UV exposure units, ‘black light’ tubes light by holding the sheets on the sur-
PCBs, you can usually save paper by cut- for disco lighting, etc. These look white, face of a window.
ting the sheet in half. You may need to occasionally black/blue when off, and If printing errors have caused slight
specify a vertical offset in your PCB soft- light up with a light purple. Do not use mis-registration, align the sheets to av-
ware to make it print on the right part of shortwave UV lamps like EPROM erage the errors across the whole PCB,
the page. Some laser printers have poor eraser tubes and germicidal lamps that to avoid breaking pad edges or tracks
dimensional accuracy, which can cause have clear glass, because these emit when drilling. When these are correctly
problems for large PCBs. But as long as shortwave UV which can cause eye and aligned, staple the sheets together on
any error is linear, it can be compensated skin damage. two opposite sides, about 10 mm from
by scaling the printout in software. A timer that switches off the UV the edge of the board, forming a sleeve
Print accuracy is likely to be a no- lamps automatically is essential, and or envelope. The gap between the board
ticeable problem when it causes mis- should allow exposure times from 2 to 10 edge and staples is important to stop
alignment of the sides on double-sided minutes in 15- to 30-second increments. the paper distorting at the edge. Use
PCBs—this can usually be avoided by It is useful if the timer has an audible the smallest stapler you can find, so that
careful arrangement of the plots on the indication when the timing period has the thickness of the staple is not much
page to ensure the error is the same on completed. A timer from a scrap micro- more than that of the PCB.
both layers; for example, choosing wave oven would be ideal. Expose each side, covering up the
whether to mirror horizontally or verti- Use glass sheet rather than plastic top side with a reasonably light-proof
cally when reversing the top-side art- for the top of the UV unit, as it will flex soft cover when exposing the underside.
work. less and be less prone to scratches. A Be very careful when turning the board
combined unit, with switchable UV and over, to avoid the laminate slipping in-
white tubes, doubles as an exposure unit side the artwork and ruining the align-
Photoresist PCB laminates and a light-box for lining up double- ment. After exposure, you can usually
Always use good-quality, pre-coated pho- sided artworks. If you do a lot of double- see a faint image of the pattern in the
toresist fibreglass (FR4) board. Check photosensitive layer.
carefully for scratches in the protective
covering and on the surface after peeling
off the covering. You don’t need darkroom Developing
or subdued lighting when handling boards, Do not use sodium hydroxide for devel-
as long as you avoid direct sunlight, oping photoresist laminates. It is a com-
minimise unnecessary exposure, and de- pletely and utterly dreadful stuff for de-
velop immediately after UV exposure. veloping PCBs. Apart from its caustic-

38 ELECTRONICS FOR YOU ❚ NOVEMBER 2000

CMYK
DO - IT -YOURSELF

ity, it is very sensitive drate type of ferric chloride, which with hot water to warm it up. Putting a
to both temperature should be dissolved in warm water un- PCB in cold tinning solution will usu-
and concentration, and til saturation. Adding a teaspoon of table ally prevent tinning, even if the tem-
made-up solution salt helps to make the etchant clearer perature is subsequently raised.
doesn’t last long. When for easier inspection. For a good tinned finish, strip the
it’s too weak it doesn’t Avoid anhydrous ferric chloride. It cre- photoresist thoroughly. Although you
develop at all, and when ates a lot of heat when dissolved. So al- can get special stripping solutions and
too strong it strips all ways add the powder very slowly to wa- hand applicators, most resists can be
the resist off. It is al- ter; do not add water to the powder, dissolved off more easily and cleanly us-
most impossible to get and use gloves and safety glasses. The ing methanol (methylated spirit). Hold
reliable and consistent solution made from anhydrous ferric the rinsed and dried PCB horizontal,
results, especially when making PCBs in chloride doesn’t etch at all, so you need and dribble few drops of methanol on
an environment with large temperature to add a small amount of hydrochloric the surface, tilting the PCB to allow it
variations. acid and leave it for a day or two. to run over the whole surface. Wait for
A much better developer is a sili- Always take extreme care to avoid about ten seconds and wipe off with a
cate-based product that comes as a liq- splashing when dissolving either type paper towel dipped in methanol.
uid concentrate. You can leave the board of ferric chloride, as it tends to clump Rub the copper surface all over with
in it for several times the normal devel- together and you often get big chunks wire wool until it is bright and shiny.
oping time without noticeable degrada- coming out of the container and splash- Wipe with a paper towel to remove the
tion. This also means that it is not tem- ing into the solution. It can damage eyes wire wool fragments and immediately
perature critical—no risk of stripping at and permanently stain clothing. immerse the board in the tinning solu-
warmer temperatures. Made-up solution If you’re making PCBs in a profes- tion. Don’t touch the copper surface af-
also has a very long shelf-life and lasts sional environment, where time is ter cleaning, as finger marks will im-
until it’s used up. You can make the money, you should get a heated bubble- pair plating. The copper should turn sil-
solution up really strong for very fast etch tank. With fresh hot ferric chlo- ver in colour within about 30 seconds.
developing. The recommended mix is 1 ride, a PCB will etch in well under five Leave the board for about five minutes,
part developer to 9 parts water. minutes. Fast etching produces better agitating occasionally; do not use bubble
You can check for correct develop- edge-quality and consistent line widths. agitation. For double-sided PCBs, prop
ment by dipping the board in the ferric If you aren’t using a bubble tank, you the PCB at an angle to ensure the solu-
chloride very briefly—the exposed cop- need to agitate frequently to ensure tion gets to both sides.
per should turn dull pink almost in- even etching. Warm the etchant by put- Rinse the board thoroughly and rub
stantly. If any shiny copper-coloured ar- ting the etching tray inside a larger tray dry with paper towel to remove any tin-
eas remain, rinse and develop for a few filled with boiling water. ning crystal deposits. If the board isn’t
more seconds. If the board is under-ex- going to be soldered for a day or two,
posed, you will get a thin layer of resist coat it with either a rework flux spray
which isn’t removed by the developer.
Tin plating or a flux pen.
You can remove this by gently wiping Tin-plating a PCB makes it a lot easier
with dry paper towel, without damag- to solder, and is pretty much essential
ing the pattern. You can either use a for surface mount boards. Unless you Drilling
photographic developing tray or a ver- have access to a roller tinning machine, If you have fibreglass (FR4) board, you
tical tank for developing. chemical tinning is the only option. Un- must use tungsten carbide drill bits.
fortunately, tin-plating chemicals are ex- Fibreglass eats normal high-speed steel
pensive but the results are usually (HSS) bits very rapidly, although HSS
Etching worth it. drills are alright for odd larger sizes
Ferric chloride etchant is a messy stuff, If you don’t tin-plate the board, ei- (>2 mm). Carbide drill bits are expen-
but easily available and cheaper than ther leave the photoresist coating on sive and the thin ones snap very easily.
most alternatives. It attacks any metal (most resists are intended to act as sol- When using carbide drill bits below 1
including stainless steel. So when set- dering fluxes) or spray the board with mm, you must use a good vertical drill
ting up a PCB etching area, use a plas- rework flux to prevent the copper from stand—you will break drill very quickly
tic or ceramic sink, with plastic fittings oxidising. without one.
and screws wherever possible, and seal Room-temperature tin-plating crystals Carbide drill bits are available as
any metal screws with silicone. Copper produce a good finish in a few minutes. straight-shank or thick (sometimes called
water pipes may get splashed or There are other tinning chemicals avail- ‘turbo’) shank. In straight shank, the
dripped-on, so sleeve or cover them in able, some of which require mixing with whole bit is the diameter of the hole, and
plastic; heat-shrink sleeving is great if acid or high-temperature use. in thick shank, a standard-size (typi-
you’re installing new pipes. Fume ex- Ensure that the temperature of the cally about 3.5 mm) shank tapers down
traction is not normally required, al- tinning solution is at least 25oC, but not to the hole size. The straight-shank
though a cover over the tank or tray more than 40oC. If required, either put drills are usually preferred because they
when not in use is a good idea. the bottle in a hot water bath or put break less easily and are usually
You should always use the hexahy- the tinning tray in a bigger tray filled cheaper. The longer thin section pro-

ELECTRONICS FOR YOU ❚ NOVEMBER 2000 39


DO - IT -YOURSELF

vides more flexibility. other and insert a 0.8mm track pin in


Small drills for PCB use usually two opposite corners, using the pins as
come with either a set of collets of vari- pegs to line the PCBs up. Squeeze or
ous sizes or a 3-jaw chuck. Sometimes hammer the pins into the boards, and
the 3-jaw chuck is an optional extra and then into the remaining holes. The two reheating the joint on the solder side.
is worth getting for the time it saves on PCBs are now ‘nailed’ together accu- For vias, holes which link sides with-
changing collets. For accuracy, however, rately and can be drilled together. out components, use 0.8mm snap-off
3-jaw chucks aren’t brilliant, and small linking pins. These are much quicker
drill sizes below 1 mm quickly form than using pieces of wire. Just insert
grooves in the jaws, preventing good
Cutting the bottom of the stick into the hole
grip. Below 1 mm, you should use A small guillotine is the easiest way to and bend over to snap off the bottom
collets, and buy a few extra of the small- cut fibreglass laminate. Ordinary saws pin. Repeat the process for other holes
est ones, keeping one collet per drill (bandsaws, jigsaws, and hacksaws) will and then solder both sides.
size, as using a larger drill in a collet be blunted quickly unless these are car- If you need ‘proper’ through-plated
will open it out and it no longer grips bide-tipped, and the dust can cause sink holes—for example, to connect to inac-
smaller drills well. irritation. A carbide tile-saw blade in a cessible top-side pins, or for underneath
You need a good strong light on the jigsaw might be worth a try. It’s also surface-mount devices—Multicore’s
board when drilling, to ensure accuracy. easy to accidentally scratch through the Copperset system works well, but the
A dichroic halogen lamp, under-run at protective film when sawing, causing kit is very expensive. It uses bail bars
9V to reduce brightness, can be mounted photoresist scratches and broken tracks consisting of a rod of solder, with a cop-
on a microphone gooseneck for easy po- on the finished board. A sheet-metal guil- per sleeve plated on the outside. The
sitioning. It can be useful to raise the lotine is also excellent for cutting boards, sleeve is scored at 1.6mm intervals, cor-
working surface about 15 cm above the responding to the PCB thickness. The
normal desk height for more comfort- bar is inserted into the hole using a
able viewing. Dust extraction is nice, special applicator and bent over to snap
but not essential—an occasional blow off the single bail in the hole. It is then
does the trick! A foot-pedal control to punched with a modified automatic cen-
switch the drill ‘off’ and ‘on’ is very con- tre-punch, which causes the solder to
venient, especially when frequently spray over the ends of the plated sleeve
changing bits. Avoid hole sizes less than and also pushes the sleeve against the
0.8 mm unless you really need them. side of the hole. The pads are soldered
When making two identical boards, on side to join the sleeve to the pads,
drill them both together to save time. and then the solder is removed with
To do this, carefully drill a 0.8mm hole provided the blade is fairly sharp. braid or a solder sucker to leave a clear
in the pad near each corner of each of To make cut-outs, drill a series of plated hole.
the two boards, getting the centre as small holes, punch out the blank, and Fortunately, it is possible to use this
accurate as possible. For larger boards, file to size. Alternatively, use a fretsaw system for plating standard 0.8mm holes
drill a hole near the centre of each side or small hacksaw, but be prepared to without buying the full kit. You can buy
as well. Lay the boards on top of each replace blades often. With practice it’s the bail bars separately as refills. For
possible to do corner cutouts with a guil- the applicator, use a 0.9mm automatic
lotine but you have to be very careful pencil that works much better than the
that you don’t over-cut! original applicator, as you get one bail
for every press of the button. Get a small
automatic centre-punch and grind the
Through-plating tip off to make it completely flat—this
When laying out double-sided boards, works fine for punching the bails. For an
give some thought to how top connec- anvil, use a thick flat piece of metal. Plate
tions will be made. Some components, all the holes before fitting any compo-
such as resistors and unsocketed ICs, nents so that the bottom surface is com-
are much easier to top-solder than oth- pletely flat. Holes must be drilled with a
ers (radial capacitors). So, try to make sharp 0.85mm carbide drill to get the
the top connection to the easier compo- hole size right for the plating process.
nent. For socketed ICs, use turned-pin Note that if your PCB package
sockets, preferably the ones with thick draws pad holes of the same size as that
pin section under the socket body. Lift of drill, the pad hole can come out
the socket slightly off the board, solder a slightly larger than the drilled hole,
couple of pins on the solder side to tack causing connection problems with the
it in place, and adjust so that the socket plating. Ideally, the pad holes should
is straight. Solder all the solder-side pins, be about 0.5 mm, regardless of hole size,
and then the required top-side pins by to make an accurate centre mark. ❏

40 ELECTRONICS FOR YOU ❚ NOVEMBER 2000

CMYK