Pulsar Laminator PCB Transfer Method

Frequently asked question on the subject of designing, creating, producing printed boards, veroboards or perfboads and on point-to-point construction techniques.

Pulsar Laminator PCB Transfer Method

Postby phibes » 28 Apr 2011, 22:10

warning: I can tend to ramble so the wording may be a bit much but I'm just doing my best to explain this stuff in the easiest way I can. You can get a good idea from the pictures. It looks like a complicated process but really, it isn't and takes about 10 minutes to do. There website kinda sucks at explaining things.

Like everybody else I started doing boards with the ol' iron. Some people are really good at it, I just got lazy, and I think a lot of people can relate to that. I then switched to doing the UV thing which worked great but has some flaws. Your stuck buying the special material until you want to attempt to apply the coat yourself. Then you gotta mix more chemicals yadda yadda yadda. I had always read about the laminator thing but always made excuses because jeese, something really couldn't be that easy! Then a birthday came up and family members asked me if I wanted something so I was like, fuck it, and gave em item numbers for the laminator, paper and foils. The laminator isn't cheap but it's money well spent. When I gotta do a board I don't go "ugh" anymore. Also, doing huge ass complicated boards is super easy and turns out 99.9% awesome every time. My biggest fear was switching to using a thinner fr4 because I used to using the super thick shit. The thinner stuff is actually way nicer to work with. You can cut it with a good pair of shears rather then needing a break or hacksaw. Etches easier. Way nicer on your drill bit. Oh yeah, also cheaper which is good. So here we go!

This method is question is here.
http://www.pcbfx.com/main_site/pages/direct_etch/the_8min_pcb.html

Here's what your gonna need...

* Copper Clad (I get mine from Ebay seller "amt33461", he's got a decent checkout system in his shop but I find it easier to just shoot him a message to order direct) I've also used stuff from Ebay seller "ABCFAB." Just make sure you get the right thickness and that's it 1/2oz.
Here are the specs on the stuff I use.
    Type: FR4
    Copper Cladding: 1/0 Singled Sided (1/2 oz)
    Thickness: 1/32" 0.031

If you were gonna do a double sided board, obviously you'd buy double sided with the same specs. Here's a photo comparing the stuff I use (will be on the right) compared to standard thicker stuff that seems to be the norm (will be on the left)

lam-img-01.jpg


* Laminator I got mine from Digikey. It's probably a good idea to get the one they recommend so avoid fuck ups.

lam-img-05.jpg


* Chemicals These are what I like to use but I think everyone has their own preferences.

lam-img-06.jpg


* Latex Gloves You want to keep them oily fingers from smearing the copper yo!!!!

lam-img-07.jpg


* Bowl 'o' Water This is for throwing the copper in after lamination. The laminator activates a glue, the water releases it.

lam-img-08.jpg


Alright, that's the stuff, now lets get er' dun!!!

Let's rock!

* Step One: Print your artwork to the TTP

I obviously didn't take a photo of me printing the stuff but there are some key things to remember when printing your artwork. You have to use the Pulsar branded Toner Transfer Paper. A 10 sheet pack is like 15 bucks, but you can do a lot of boards with 10 sheets. I'm pretty wasteful with the stuff but if you want to conserve you can do what you would do with the other stuff with the cutting a piece out to size and then taping it to the piece of paper before printing. One thing they'll mention on their site is this stuff hates Brother toner and they ain't fucking around when they say it. If you use a Brother printer the toner will not fuse to the copper and it prints to the paper like shit. Also set the resolution to the printer at the highest setting and set the toner density to it's darkest. Also if possible, choose the option to print BLACK. This sounds complicated but it really isn't. You could do this stuff at a copy shop like Kinkos or else just find a good black and white laser printer to use. My friend has a HP printer in their office at work I use. I swing by, hook my laptop up, print and go. I also prefer to use vector files because once you switch to this method, you get flawless transfers and you can't get any sharper than a vector image. If I'm serious enough about a pedal to make a board, I have no problem redrawing the layout in expresspcb to print it to adobepdf as a vector. I'm pretty compulsive though, gif's and those types of images will work fine. Once you figure out a printer source the rest is a breeze.

lam-img-09.jpg


I used a pretty big design to show good this stuff works. The big board is for the 9V Electric Mistress. I never would of attempted it with an iron and I woulda been sketchy with the UV method as etching can pit pretty quick something like that. I used a different copper in these photos as well. I don't like the stuff nearly as much as the stuff I use now. Same size and all though so just pretend your looking at the good stuff!

* Step Two: Trim your copper down. The advantage of the cheaper copper is you don't need to salvage it nearly as much. I go pretty gracious on the initial trim. I go bout a 1/2 to 3/4 inch off the borders.

lam-img-02.jpg

lam-img-03.jpg

lam-img-04.jpg


I use a shear break I got a good deal on at Harbor Freight. Another good tool to have around. Makes cutting this stuff super simple, also works great on trimming vero and other boards. Bends shit good too! With the thinner copper you can tin snips, heavy duty kitchen shears, some paper cutters (use your bosses, just don't tell em!) and I'm sure there's other stuff.

* Step Three: Trim your design off the TTP if you haven't already. Also, nows a good time to super clean the copper. I like to use a green kitchen scubbie with some Bar Keeper's Friend under the kitchen faucet. If the copper is real gnarly, I'll get out the Tarn-X. Just make sure she's clean so you get a good fuse. Wear gloves too!

lam-img-10.jpg


Place the paper face down on the copper and feed er into the laminator. (You've had the laminator plugged in and warming up for 20 minutes and the go lights on right?) After it's first pass the paper will glue onto the copper. Don't try peeling it off at this point and you'll only screw up the paper. The toner doesn't fuse until it hits the water. The first time I did a board I didn't know about the water so I had a pretty shitty night! So after the first pass grab the copper by the sides and feed it through a few more times. I usually feed her through about 6 more times, rotating each time. It's probably over kill but I like to make sure she's got a good bond.

lam-img-11.jpg

lam-img-12.jpg


* Step Four: Bath time. As you can see I had to upgrade to a bigger dish!! After the last pass, simply take the board and drop her in some water and walk away. After a few minutes, come back the glue will have released from the copper and all the toner will be fused. Yes, seriously, all the toner. No smears, no monkey business.

lam-img-13.jpg

lam-img-14.jpg


After the bath your going to want to run it under a faucet for a minute or two to get all the glue off. Don't worry, that toners fused on there tighter than a stripper is fused onto a millionaire! Don't go scrubbin it with anything though. I'll make sure the waters turned up to full pressure just to be safe though. If any glue remains on it'll mess up the foil. Once rinsed, I simply pat with a paper towel and then push it face down onto a few more to make sure she's dry.

lam-img-15.jpg


Bitchin! At this point you'll have a better transfer than you can get with a Iron or the UV method. If your doing a board with super thin traces, you'll be amazed to see that the traces are fully there. No more fucking around with a sharpie fillin in missed spots too! Once dry you can either move onto using the foil or you can go etch. She'll stand up to an etch the same, though she will be prone to pitting and such, the same as the other methods, which is why I go with the foil too. The purpose of fusing the foil to the toner is that it makes an etch resistant seal. When the board is foiled you can throw it into the etchant and take the dog for a walk without having to worry about the etchant eating into the toner. It also leaves full, super sharp traces that look, well, shiny and sexy!!! Like I said, the foils not a requirement. If your good at etching, you probably won't need it. For those of you who crave adventure, let's foil this way...

* Step Five: The green TRF. Fun stuff. Bout 9 bucks for a roll and the roll will last for boards and boards. Now this stuff can be tricky. This is the hardest step. The other steps are pretty hard to fuck up, this step I'm about 90 percent with. Basically you cut a piece big enough for the board but 2 inches longer. You then fold that two inches over so when you feed er in, she grabs. I cut the pieces wider than the boards in the pics which probably wasn't a good idea. You wanna go about dead even width wise. Once she's feed into the laminator, you want to pull the foil towards you and against the board to prevent wrinkles. Wrinkles aint the end of the world but the foil can't fuse where it wrinkles. I forgot to take pics of the larger board but I got pics of the smaller board I did.

lam-img-16.jpg

lam-img-17.jpg


Once out the laminator, set er down and let er cool off. I've heard that people feed it through a second time to make sure the foil fused but from my observations, it either does on the first shot or it doesn't. After a minute or two check er out. If you see a lot of wrinkles, you'll probably have to use another piece. Let's see how she turned out... no visible wrinkles so far...

lam-img-18.jpg

lam-img-20.jpg


As you can see she transferred pretty damn nicely. I'll get results like this on 9 out of 10 boards. It's normal for the foil to stick to some of the copper where there wasn't toner. You simply just take a pencil eraser and rub over those areas and the loose foil will rub off while the rest of the foil will stick to the toner. I read about that tip after I did these photos. Now if you had bad wrinkles and have open spots don't sweat it. You can leave it be or you can cut another piece and send it through the laminator again. If the spots are small that might be over kill. From here, we etch...

* shit, I hit my limit on photos, I'll make another post! Don't reply until I do!
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Re: Pulsar Laminator PCB Transfer Method

Postby phibes » 28 Apr 2011, 22:28

* Step Six: Etching. I'm not gonna go into this too much as there are so many ways to do it. The advantage with the foil is you can sponge etch. You simply pour about a shots worth of etchant into a sponge and then wipe over the board. With the copper being 1/2 oz and the foil protecting a small board will etch in about 2 minutes. I didn't try that method until after I did these photos. Wiping the sponge takes a bit of work but shit, all you gotta do when done is throw the sponge out. Beats dumping and cleaning up a dish full of a few cups of sick ass etchant. For these photos though, I used my super cool DIY etch tank! I probably wouldn't of tried the sponge on a board this big though, sometimes you just gotta splurge a bit.

lam-img-21.jpg


As you can see, I've made a good bit of Bongs in my days so making this was easy. The pump I got at the local pet shop. I then cut a hole in a cheap ass piece of tupper-ware from Walmart and then fed the tube through it. I then used silicon to seal the hole and to make an air-tight seal. I then poked holes inside the tubing that was inside the tupperware. So basically, you dump your hot etchant in, plug in the pump and bam, you got bubbles! No more having to rock the dish back and forth. With the light weight material to, the bubbles will make the board float and move around so you don't gotta worry bout that either. Since this board was foiled I just dropped it in and walked away. I had a few minutes to burn so I grabbed my camera and wen't upstairs.......

lam-img-22.jpg


and took an upside-down shot of the Dog!!!!!!!! He didn't mind, I promise! Ok, I smoked a cigarette too. Now, back down to the bat cave...

lam-img-23.jpg


Now that's what I call a nice board! Notice how none of the foil ate away. The traces are 100 percent intact. Pretty good results for something that took about eh, 22 minutes? It's taken me longer to type all this then it did to do the board. Now, like the other methods, acetone is all you need to wipe er off.

lam-img-24.jpg

lam-img-25.jpg


These final shots kinda look crappy due to my shitty photographer skills. In person though, the copper was real dense, sharp, and all out spot on to what I printed. Some spots look a tad gnarly but that was due to the copper oxidizing afterwards, not pitting. As you can see though, it's a pretty easy procedure and it's extremely effective.

You can do a silk screen from here. I didn't on these boards but I did on some fresh fuzz boards I did a few weeks ago. You simply do the same steps. I use a cheap ass light table I made, eye ball the TTP over the board and run er through the laminator a few times. You can use the white trf foil is you please or you can just leave the black toner. I like how the black toner looks on FR-4. I also find the foil to be really hard to get right on the slickness of the fr-4. Now on colored clad, the white foil transfers beautifully. Something I gotta work on more as I've only attempted it a few times. Anyway, here are some really crappy photos of the fresh fuzz boards I took with my blackberry.

freddy-silkscreen-1.jpg

freddy-silkscreen-2.jpg


Anyway, there ya go! There's probably a million typos and grammar errors but I think I got the point across. Feel free to discuss or ask questions. I gotta smoke half a pack after writing all that shit!
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Re: Pulsar Laminator PCB Transfer Method

Postby coldcraft » 28 Apr 2011, 23:30

great tutorial! I will have to switch to this!


do you think you might explain your etch tank? I feel like that's a better method than stirring or rocking the etching bath like i do....
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Re: Pulsar Laminator PCB Transfer Method

Postby phibes » 28 Apr 2011, 23:40

Yeah, I'll try to draw a diagram up tonight. I'd take photos of it but I threw that one out after the last time I used it. I've been meaning to make the new and improved version two! It was really easy to make. I too got sick of sitting and babysitting the board so that's when the old stoner in me took a trip out to the hardware shop, followed by the pet shop. The bubbles agitate the etchant more than rocking can so you get way faster etch times.
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Re: Pulsar Laminator PCB Transfer Method

Postby rocklander » 29 Apr 2011, 00:12

phibes wrote:Yeah, I'll try to draw a diagram up tonight. I'd take photos of it but I threw that one out after the last time I used it. I've been meaning to make the new and improved version two! It was really easy to make. I too got sick of sitting and babysitting the board so that's when the old stoner in me took a trip out to the hardware shop, followed by the pet shop. The bubbles agitate the etchant more than rocking can so you get way faster etch times.

since seeing this tutorial I've been checking out the price of air pumps :lol:
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Re: Pulsar Laminator PCB Transfer Method

Postby DrNomis » 29 Apr 2011, 00:21

I've gotta try this method one day...cheers... :thumbsup
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Re: Pulsar Laminator PCB Transfer Method

Postby phibes » 29 Apr 2011, 00:31

rocklander wrote:
phibes wrote:Yeah, I'll try to draw a diagram up tonight. I'd take photos of it but I threw that one out after the last time I used it. I've been meaning to make the new and improved version two! It was really easy to make. I too got sick of sitting and babysitting the board so that's when the old stoner in me took a trip out to the hardware shop, followed by the pet shop. The bubbles agitate the etchant more than rocking can so you get way faster etch times.

since seeing this tutorial I've been checking out the price of air pumps :lol:


For etchin or for smokin!?!?! :shock:
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Re: Pulsar Laminator PCB Transfer Method

Postby rocklander » 29 Apr 2011, 00:34

phibes wrote:
rocklander wrote:
phibes wrote:Yeah, I'll try to draw a diagram up tonight. I'd take photos of it but I threw that one out after the last time I used it. I've been meaning to make the new and improved version two! It was really easy to make. I too got sick of sitting and babysitting the board so that's when the old stoner in me took a trip out to the hardware shop, followed by the pet shop. The bubbles agitate the etchant more than rocking can so you get way faster etch times.

since seeing this tutorial I've been checking out the price of air pumps :lol:


For etchin or for smokin!?!?! :shock:

killing two birds to get one stoned?
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Re: Pulsar Laminator PCB Transfer Method

Postby phibes » 29 Apr 2011, 18:53

Ok I tried drawing up a diagram but they all kinda turned out like crap so I'll more or less just explain it. Get yerself a decent plastic tupperware container. Thicker the better. Also pick a size length and width wise that will suit the boards your gonna do. If you go huge, your gonna waste etchant. If you go too small, your just gonna have a mess. Height wise though, try to go tall. The bubbling needs room to rise. The only other crucial thing is the fish tank pump. You can get em anywhere. You could probably find em at a thrift store for super cheap if your feeling thrifty. Get the hose to fit with the pump or else bring the pump to a hardware store and buy the right size small rubber hose. It's crucial that it fits super snug if you go the hardware store route. When I got mine at petco I bought the huge ass tube that comes with it there and cut it up into 3 hoses. So once the tupperware gets too gnarly, I just chuck the fucking thing and make a new one. Also, you going to need to plug the end of the hose so see if you can find a rubber stopper that fits. Hobby stores usually got em. Or else you can just gob a bunch of silicon over the end and let it dry or I'm sure there's a million other ways to do it.

Construction wise, drill a hole for the tube, closer to one of the sides. Try to make it as close to the hose diameter as possible. Now here's where you can get creative, there are no rules but this is what I do. I push the tube through and kinda make a coil across the bottom like this...

bad-diagram.jpg


The x signifies sealing off the end. I use a rubber stopper from the local geek hobby store. They got a huge chemistry section. The red dots signfy where to poke some holes. I do that last though. Once I get the tube in I seal it off to where the hole in the tupperware is. I buy a big ass tube of silicon for this. Now to get the tube to stay to the bottom you can get creative. What I do and it's kinda messy is I just fill the bottom with silicon then push the tube into and let it set. Once it's set I go back over with more until it's kinda leveled out and you can barely see the top of the tube anymore. I do this because silicon is cheap and it kinda levels the bottom out so you don't have to use as much etchant. It's not pretty but it works! Give the stuff time to set though, a few days at least. Once it's nice and set, poke the holes, plug in the pump and you should get some nice air movement. Test it out with some water first and you should get good even bubblage and as long as your boards aren't too heavy, they will float. We all float down here Georgie!!!! Clean up, well do what you would do before. Just make sure you turn the pump off and tilt the hose up first! You won't get a lot of seapage since the holes are small.

Oh yeah, I use ferric cloride too. At the geek store I mentioned above, they have access to a lab and they make the stuff up for me in lump form by the pound. A pound goes a long way. Especially since it's coming in lump form, I can control how potent I want it. It doesn't eat away the silicon but after a bunch of uses, it can start getting ugly. That's why I get the extra tubing so I can chuck it from time to time.

I wanna see pictures of some creations!!!! If you couldn't tell, I watched a lot of Mr. Wizard and Bill Nye the Science guy when I was younger!
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Re: Pulsar Laminator PCB Transfer Method

Postby phibes » 29 Apr 2011, 18:56

rocklander wrote:
phibes wrote:
rocklander wrote:
phibes wrote:Yeah, I'll try to draw a diagram up tonight. I'd take photos of it but I threw that one out after the last time I used it. I've been meaning to make the new and improved version two! It was really easy to make. I too got sick of sitting and babysitting the board so that's when the old stoner in me took a trip out to the hardware shop, followed by the pet shop. The bubbles agitate the etchant more than rocking can so you get way faster etch times.

since seeing this tutorial I've been checking out the price of air pumps :lol:


For etchin or for smokin!?!?! :shock:

killing two birds to get one stoned?


A bird in one hand and the other hand in the bush!!! :whappen:
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Re: Pulsar Laminator PCB Transfer Method

Postby Barcode » 29 Apr 2011, 19:43

I don't understand the purpose of the foil step. The toner will resist etchant without any foil over it...
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Re: Pulsar Laminator PCB Transfer Method

Postby phibes » 29 Apr 2011, 20:10

The toner on it's own will resist, but not completely. Any kind of toner is porous and prone to pitting. Etchant can also work it's way into the sides of the toner. The pitting is pretty minimal and with thicker traces, and it's not really a big deal. The foil can be overkill but if you would take a board that was etch'd with the foil and place it next to a board that was etched without it, you would see the difference. I think they developed it more or less for people who are making boards with extremely thin traces, all the way down to .006" which is thin! A .006" trace even transferred flawless wouldn't fair up against etchant too well and would be even harder to transfer with an iron. Most boards for simple 9V effect pedals are between .03" to .02". I rarely ever seen anything below .02". The larger traces will pit but with the wider trace, it won't make it all the way through. See the attached PDF so see the difference in sizes. The foil seals all the pores to insure no etchant gets in at all. It also leaves are the traces and pads perfectly sharp and the copper nice and dense, which I like for sex appeal!

But yeah, to anyone reading this, the foil is definitely not needed for effect boards. Don't let that step scare you away. All though I still do recommend the laminator simply for ease and you'll be able to transfer all the toner effortlessly. It's really as easy as just print, put paper on board, feed through laminator, drop in water, then etch.
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Re: Pulsar Laminator PCB Transfer Method

Postby coldcraft » 05 May 2011, 14:51

what model laminator are you using?
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Re: Pulsar Laminator PCB Transfer Method

Postby phibes » 05 May 2011, 15:21

I got the old blue one. Looks like their already recommending a newer one. I'll have to look on the machine to see if there's a model number but from googling quick it looks like mines just simply called, GBC "Personal" Laminator. I got mine about 3-4 years ago so I'm not surprised there recommending a new one. It looks like the new ones black. If you shop around online enough I'm sure you can find a good deal.

I have read articles online from guys using cheapy laminators from local office shops with good results.

I printed out an article about a year ago on how to hot rod the blue ones. I still gotta do that. Maybe I'll air brush some bitchin' flames on er to while I'm at it!
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Re: Pulsar Laminator PCB Transfer Method

Postby mysticwhiskey » 06 Dec 2011, 12:26

I've recently been using a modified laminator to do PCB transfers. I used the laminator and modifications in this tutorial: http://ultrakeet.com.au/index.php?id=ar ... perFuserV2

For those in Australia, this laminator (Lowell LOOL280) is $20 from Officeworks. The replacement thermal fuse and thermostat are another $10 or so from RS Electronics. It does 1.6mm thick PCBs with no problems (just do two passes through the laminator). This really does beat the iron-on transfer method hands-down. The PCB transfers are consistently good, and only require the very occasional touch-up using a sharpie marker.

I've also taken to doing my etching using a bit of FeCl etchant in a couple of ziplock bags (one inside the other) and rubbing the etchant over the board whilst in the ziplock bags. This has reduced the etching time to about 7 minutes rather than the 15 minutes it was taking using the agitated tray method. And uses far less etchant too.

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