Oct 25, 2023

PCB Laminator Is Its Own Project

One of the easiest ways to make PC boards at home is to use the toner transfer method. The idea is simple: print the artwork using a laser printer and then use a clothes iron to transfer the toner from the paper to a clean copper clad board. The toner is essentially plastic, so it will melt and stick to the board, and it will also resist etchant.

There are several things you can do to make things easier. The first is the choice of paper. However, the other highly variable part of the process is the clothes iron. You have to arrange for the right amount of heat and pressure. If you don't do a lot of boards, you’ll probably have to make several passes at getting this right, scrubbing the reject boards with acetone and scouring pads to clean them again.

[Igor] had enough of the clothes iron and knew that other people have used lamination machines to get the toner off the paper and on the blank board. He started with a commercial laminator but hacked it for PID control of the temperature and made other improvements.

The laminator now sports an ATmega8, a type-K thermocouple (with an IC to read it), and an LED display. The finished product looks great and–we hope–gives [Igor] better PCBs. If you haven't seen the laminator method for doing toner transfer before, you can watch the video below (but note, that's not [Igor's] laminator).

We’ve covered upgrading laminators before. Before you hack up a laminator, though, you might consider trying the heatless transfer method we covered a few weeks ago.