PCB made using 3d printer

This question doesn’t quite fit any of the forum categories, so I’ll just place it here.

I am thinking of buying a 3D printer, to make gears, cams, etc. But it also occurred to me that perhaps a 3D printer could lay down a thin plastic layer on a PCB board to serve as an etch resist. That would work provided

  1. the plastic being used stuck to the copper well enough to last through the etching process,
  2. I could translate a PCB design file to a 3D printer build file,
  3. the printer would maintain enough accuracy to allow traces down to say, 10 mils.

If anyone has had any experience with this, I’d sure like to here from them.

Thanks in advance for any info.

What you can do is manufacturing a pen holder and using the 3d printer as a plotter

http://reprap.org/wiki/Plotting

could lay down a thin plastic layer

Interesting idea. 10 mil, you won't even get close. If you get any results of the plastic sticking, I think you will get significant under cut.

Stick with tried and true photo resist methods.

Silly idea alert, what about a twin head printer with normal PLA in one and a conductive plastic in the other? You could maybe then print the wiring into a design. To connect electronics to it you use a soldering iron to heat and melt the pins into the conductive plastic wires.

You can, of course, approach it from the other direction. Using end mills you can mill out the unwanted copper, leaving the tracks behind on your copper clad board. (it's called isolation milling)

We've got a flat bed UV cured printer at work. I've often wondered if it could be used to print circuit board traces. I know the ink is fairly chemical proof, and won't shift with general solvents (thinners, acetone, ipa etc). Not sure how it would cope with PCB etchant though.

I'll give it a try if I ever buy any enchant.

Ian.

KenF: You can, of course, approach it from the other direction. Using end mills you can mill out the unwanted copper, leaving the tracks behind on your copper clad board. (it's called isolation milling)

A conical carbide engraving bit, not an endmill - unless going for extremely coarse layout.

Heat cured pigmented inkjet resist printing directly onto blank PCBs: http://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/Inkjet_PCB_Construction/info

A collection of useful posts from Inkjet_PCB_Construction and Homebrew_PCBs about the process: http://techref.massmind.org/techref/pcb/etch/directinkjetresist.htm

If your Epson printer already has OEM pigmented inks and a CD tray, you are pretty much home free. Homebrew_PCBs list with more info on toner transfer, photo resist, milling, scratch-and-etch (if you have a pen plotter), and more: https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/Homebrew_PCBs/info

I'm listowner of those groups, fyi.

From what I've seen, 3D printers often leave behind a thin strand when they jump from one place to another. If that results in copper not being etched, you'd end up with more shorts than you can poke a stick at. Anyway, it sounds like a slow and expensive way to do it. Look into laser toner transfer using vinyl foil. It works like a charm.

ian332isport: We've got a flat bed UV cured printer at work. I've often wondered if it could be used to print circuit board traces. I know the ink is fairly chemical proof, and won't shift with general solvents (thinners, acetone, ipa etc). Not sure how it would cope with PCB etchant though.

I'll give it a try if I ever buy any enchant.

Ian. Yes there used to be custom inks for the purpose made for those machines.

RobotGrrl has successfully prited onto Pyralux and etched it, so there's good proof-of-concept right there: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HgHPleD662A

Though really I would say that KenF has the better idea. 3D printers are a pretty slow, wasteful and labor-intensive way to make PCBs compared to milling. But that of course means you have to have access to a mill :P

If you are feeling adventurous, take a look at www.shapeoko.com. Open source CNC machine that can be transformed to 3D printer, plotter, vinyl cutter, laser etcher/burner, ... one of the projects is a print miller