PCB Droid Project to Reality: DIY Board Etching

PCB Droid Project to Reality: DIY Board Etching

At some point, you had an awesome idea and decided to start designing your PCB. You spent hours and hours on joyful (and sometimes stressful) work but at last it is finished! Now how to make it a reality? You basically have two choices: do it yourself (DIY) or take it (or send it) to a manufacturer. Both options have their pros and cons, but in this post we will focus on the first one.

Why choose DIY?

Creating your own board at home has its financial benefits, especially if you plan to etch different kinds of boards in a low quantity. It is also much faster than waiting for the manufacturer and the shipping. The true appeal is still in the feeling: you created your whole project, from the first placed component to the assembly-ready board. It’s the fruit of your hard work and with some luck people can see it in action. And also, who doesn’t want to hunch above some smelly chemical in a dark room with a single light on? 😀

How to begin PCB etching

Whether you used PCB Droid or some other PCB designer tool, the first step is to export your work into a printable format. In PCB Droid you can choose to export to PDF or image (JPG, PNG) format for free. When exporting to PDF or image format remember that you can only create one-sided boards at home, so only export the right layer. (Note: In this case it doesn’t really matter even if you designed the whole board on an ink layer or multiple copper layers. Nevertheless, using the layers correctly helps to keep your work nice and orderly. Also, if you change your mind and go to a manufacturer, they won’t be able to make your board. You’ll likely have to redesign it from scratch). Another important thing to remember is that the printed board will be placed face-down, so use the mirror option when exporting if necessary.

If you got this far, you can just watch this short tutorial from the Maker YouTube channel (or any other you find online) to help you complete the work.

Remember to set up the printer correctly, otherwise the margins will distort the image. You may want to contact a professional printer salon if you cannot achieve this.

If you do not have a laser printer you can also use an inkjet printer and tracing paper to create your mask, but that will be the subject of another post.

TL;DR

Export your project to PDF or image. Do it right (facing, layers). Watch a tutorial and do as it says. You need a laser printer and have to watch the margins when printing. You may want to go to a shop with professional printing services.

Now go create something awesome!