How to design home made PCBs?


Normally I do most of my designs on breadboards, and after I’m done with the project I either mount the breadboard in a case, or solder them onto a protoboard. On rare occasions I make a schematic in Eagle and send it off to a friend of mine who routes the board (he doesn’t like the auto router for some reason) and then I send it off to be made.

However, I’m working on a project that is too hard to work with just on a breadboard or protoboard (it has over 50 through hole RGB LEDs, shift registers, LED Drivers, and a LCD Screen + Arduino). I could get copies made at BatchPCB but I know there will be revisions needed to be made and I don’t have the money to make multiple boards.

So does anybody know of any good tutorials? I’ve heard there are multiple methods.

Also is it possible to make SMT boards as well as DIP boards? What about double sided? I don’t have a drill press or router? Any cheap solutions for drilling the holes?

How long do the processes take?

I’d also like for the solution to be fairly affordable as I’d have to buy all the parts (eg, I don’t even have a laser printer or photo paper)

Also since I am a student I travel a lot, so do you know of any portable solutions?

I know these are a ton of questions, but I’ve been researching for some time and I really have no idea which route to take, especially without a sizeable investment.

I’ve used the Toner Transfer process with good results:

I’ve also had decent luck with toner transfer.

I use the press-n-peel blue media; it’s a bit expensive at about US$2 a sheet, but it works much better (at the remove after ironing stage) than the photo paper method.

A decent copy machine will put the toner on the transfer paper, if you can get access to a copier so that you can load your transfer paper into the paper tray. Before laser printers got cheap enough for individuals to own, electronics oriented publications would supply a PCB image that could be transfered using a copier.

My favorite chemicals are HCl (available as “brick acid” aka “muriatic acid” at pool supply and some hardware store/home centers) and hydrogen peroxide (drug store, mega mart/grocery health section). Easier to get, work with, and properly dispose of than FeCl.

Single sided designs are fairly easy. SMT is even easier (unless you get to the fine pitch stuff, and forget BGA), as that just means there are fewer holes to drill. Drilling the holes is the most tedious and time consuming part of the operation.

I’ve done mixed TH/SMT, with the TH stuff on one side and the SMT and traces on the other. (TH = through-hole)

If you are very steady you may be able to drill holes by hand with a dremel tool. Buy lots of drills if you go this route, as you’ll break a bunch.

I use a dremel tool drill press adapter that works pretty well.

You won’t have plated through-holes, complex double sided traces are painful to align, boards will be larger due to the more complex routing to keep them single sided, but I still find it to be a useful process for some jobs.


You might find some of the links in the first few sections on this page helpful for PCB design/etching: Electronics


I have always used the photo etch method. Printing the layout on acitate and using a UV light box for the exposure. Develop with cotton wool swabs and feric etch.

Tip for double sided.
Align the two pieces of art work face to face and sticky tape one edge.
Then sticky tape a small piece of PCB material to one edge of the art work, cut down the other side of the art work and tape that to the PCB. Finally remove the sticky taped edge and tape you UV sensitive PCB board to the artwork in a sandwich. That way it aligns.