How to make a custom PCB to make your Arduino Projects permanent
About: There may come a time when you create an awesome Arduino project and want to make it permanent. Sure you can leave it on your breadboard but you will have to be careful not to touch any of the wires or drop your board or unplug any of the connections. I will show you how quickly you can design and make your own custom printed circuit boards (PCB’s). The process is easy and any one can do it. Making your own printed circuit board will make your project permanent and more durable. This does not only pertain to Arduino projects. Any project you design on your breadboard can be transformed onto a PCB. I will be showing you how to make a single sided PCB in my demonstration but you can easily make a double sides board if you line up everything correctly.
Objective: To make a custom printed circuit board at home and making our Arduino projects permanent and durable
- ATMega168/ATMega328 (Your Arduino Microcontroller)
- Laser Toner Printer – (Usually found in an office. You can buy a cheap one here)
- Laser Printer Paper – You want a decent glossy finish
- Copper PCB Boards
- Ferric Chlorite – PCB Copper Etcher
- Drill Press and Bits
Instructions: You’ll first need to design or download a schematic and design it to fit your PCB board. I use Fritzing. It’s a little outdated and I am not even sure if it is being worked on anymore but it is super easy to use and is designed to be used by hobbyists and Arduino’s. Below is what my PCB design will look like.
You will need to print this out on a laser printer and high quality laser printer paper that has a glossy finish. The reason we need to use a laser printer instead of a inkjet printer is that when the laser printer prints our design it transfers toner to the paper which doesn’t smudge and doesn’t get etched away when we etch our copper. If we used an inkjet printer we wouldn’t even be able to transfer our design from the paper to the copper.
Next step is cutting out our design and ironing it onto our PCB board. Make sure your sand your PCB board a bit to get a better grip when you transfer the design. Now just lay our paper over the PCB board and push down with your iron. Set your iron to its hottest setting and make sure you move back and forth with the iron as to not burn the paper. Apply an even pressure as you go back and forth. I usually iron the design for about 5 minutes to make sure it sticks to my PCB board. Remember the size of your board will affect the way the heat is transferred. A smaller board may be ready quicker then a larger board. I personally don’t think you can overdue this step if you iron the paper longer.
Now make sure your pick up your PCB board with some pliers as it will be hot and head on over to a sink. Just run your board under some cold water and let the paper get saturated with water. After about a minute pick up one end of the paper and slowly start peeling it back. Make sure you take your time and you will see your design will be sticking to the copper board. If a small piece doesn’t transfer to the board you can simply fix it with a black marker before etching the copper.
We are now ready to etch the copper away. You will need some kind of plastic container. I used a container I got from the dollar store. Do not use anything metal as it will rust away. Put your PCB into the container and cover it with our etching solution. The etching solution I used is from RadioShack. If you still have one around you go ahead and pick it up. You can pick some up on Amazon as well. You will only need to purchase 1 bottle of this stuff as it lasts a lifetime and is reusable. I have been using mine for about 5 years now and it still works. You will notice that it will take a little longer to etch your boards as it gets older but that’s fine with me. When you are done with the solution just pour in back into the container or dispose of it properly if you do not want to reuse it.
After you cover your board with the etching solution just keep it moving back and forth for it to work faster. You can also leave it there without agitating it but it might take a little longer. My small board took about 20 minutes to etch. You can slowly see the copper being eaten away. Keep etching until all the copper is gone.
I used a wooden dowel to check on my board. Remember that if you use anything metal it will rust and get ruined. After all your copper is etched away take it over to the sink and wash off all the solution with some cold water to stop the etching process. Pat it down with a dry paper towel when you are done. Congratulations your etched your first PCB and can make your projects permanent. However we still need to drill out some holes.
To drill my holes I use a Dremel and a Dremel Drill Press stand. I use a 1/32″ drill bit for the holes. You may get some bigger drill bits for bigger components that have larger leads. Drill out all your holes with your drill press. Make sure to drill in the center of each hole so that when you solder your components they will have an even soldering location for maximum hold and efficiency.
Once you have drilled all your holes you are ready to prep your board for soldering. To remove all the toner I use nail polish remover. You can also use acetone as well. Any paint remover will work. I use a paper towel to wipe off all the toner and then run it under some water and pat it dry.
That’s all there is to it. You can now solder your components to your board and will have a complete and permanent project and you can use your breadboard and arduino for another project. If you have any tips or tricks post a comment below.