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Etching a custom PCB

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I don't use the Toner transfer method for making prototype boards. I did try the method though years ago when those fancy transfer sheets came along, Press & Peel I think it was called, or something like that anyway. The results I obtained were pretty poor to be honest. I tried loads of recommendations on paper types, including using shiny magazine type paper, as you have shown on your blog. Still poor results were obtained, worse on small tracks or where small track spacings were involved. I did manage to obtain a few good working boards after many hours of attempts and lots of practise, but I abandoned using the method in favour of a more reliable photo process, which also took patience and practise, but was much easier to refine, for me at least.

The best advice I can give you is find an iron that has a sole plate that is completely flat and not full of holes or steam channels, funnily enough, the cheap ones work best here, keep your iron as hot as possible, place another sheet of paper, not a T-Shirt, between the iron and the board and apply a constant even pressure, do not move the iron around as you would when actually ironing your shirt, hold it steady, flat and with even pressure. If it is heavy enough and well enough balanced, you can probably just sit it on the board and leave it alone. After 5 minutes or so of applying even pressure, lift the iron away and just leave the board to sit and cool, don't touch it or the covering paper sheet. Once the board has cooled down, place the board in some warmish water, not too hot, and let it steep. At some point the paper will begin to release from the board so just gently begin to peel it away, if it is sticking here and there, leave it to steep in the water for longer, do not force it. Hopefully after the paper has fully released from the board, the Toner will be well stuck and you should be able to etch etc.

Last couple of tips, always cut your board to size first, never handle the board after you have transferred your image to it, other than to etch it. Clean the board really, really well after you cut to to size, so that you minimise any oxides from the copper surface. Print your artwork out with the darkest setting/ highest contrast your printer has that does not create spotting in your image. Practise makes perfect as they say, and it takes lots to get the Toner method working anywhere near reliably.

If you are a bit handy at making things, like a print down frame, exposure lamp setup etc, I would highly recommend a photo process method for prototyping. For larger quantities of boards, or small production runs etc, it is almost always cheaper to farm out the boards and have a higher quality end product than you will normally produce in the same time scale.

I hope that helps :)
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