It’s not an easy job to print the Printed Circuit Boards (PCBs) without professional help. But there’s an alternate and cheaper way to do so by converting an inkjet printer to print PCBs.
First, you need to gather the materials and necessary equipment. Then disassemble the covers and all the inner parts, including the cleaning station and print head assembly. Clean the assembly before reinstalling them. Now go through the feed system and fill the ink cartridge to print the circuit and take notes about etching.
If the results are not adjusted accordingly, you should revisit the etching again and again. Then you can expect some good results.
Steps By Steps Method Of Converting An Inkjet Printer To Print PCBs
The process of conversion might sound complicated at first. But if you know the basic rundown, it will feel like a breeze. Follow these step-by-step methods of converting an inkjet printer to print PCBs.
Step-1: Gather The Materials And Equipment
You need to gather a lot of necessary tools and materials. In the material checklist you need, an inkjet printer, metal or aluminum sheet (9×14.5 inches), aluminum rail of 4 feet and half-inch bend with 90-degree corner piece, 40 pieces of half-inch long screws, hot glue, ink kit, scrap plywood (small one of 2 × 4 inches).
And as for tools, you will need a Dremel tool to cut the metals, screwdrivers, pliers, drills to attach the brackets, a glue gun, a heat gun.
The first thing to do is remove the paper feeder and toss it aside. Then you disassemble the side panels, front trays, and the main casing.
But you can keep the main casing for storage purposes if you want.
Step-3: Go For Deep Removal
Once you are done with the outer layer, you need to dig inside.
At first, locate the feeder and take out the paper feed sensor from the top rear to stop the primary function.
Then unplug the circuit board of the printer. You will find the pressure wheels at the center of your printer. Remove the roller of the wheels to create a clear passage for the circuit board.
And lastly, you need to locate the print head cleaning station and remove it.
Step-4: Separation Of Print Head Assembly
Now you need to focus on the print head assembly. Unscrew the front rails and keep them aside. Go to the print head cleaning mechanism and gently remove the screws. And it’s cutting time.
But first, you need to decide the specific area where you would cut and then use the Dremel tool. You need to cut the small interior tab first and release the right side.
Then gradually cut the entire metal corner. Now lift the assembly and remove it from the base.
Step-5: Checkout The Dirt Of Print Head
It’s not a must to check out the dirt but keeping your machines clean is an excellent habit to have.
As you will use the printer in an open place, a lot of dirt will get stuck in it. If the machine is too old, you must clean the printhead before reassembling it. A lot of ink gets stuck on the print head. You can use a few cotton swabs to clean it.
But if your printer isn’t very old, you don’t have to go through this process so frequently. Well, there’s no harm in checking the print head, though!
Step-6: Reassemble The Print Head
You can now adjust the height of the print assembly. Just insert the spacer to get the desired height. You can use the rail system to attach the print head to a new height.
Now you need some hardware to hold the corner section together. A couple of bracket pieces is suitable for that. Use the drill and bolt to make space for the bracket pieces at the bottom section.
When the brackets are in place, reattach the whole assembly back together. Make sure you don’t forget any pieces.
Step-7: Go Through The Print Head Cleaning Station
Most of the time, we forget to lift the cleaning station while lifting the other parts from the bottom. But the issue shouldn’t be overlooked.
When the printing goes off, the print head goes to the cleaning station and prevents the ink from drying. It also clogs the nozzles. So, you need to lift the cleaning station. Any measuring method is applicable to calculate the exact height.
The best way is to count 3/8’s of an inch screw drilled at the bottom of the printer body. Attach the cleaning station according to this height after tightening the brackets. Then you can turn on the printer to check the cleaning cycles whether they are working or not.
Step-8: Now The Feed System
It’s time to modify the feed system. So, you need to find an appropriate place to attach the feed sensor. That’s because the sensor will know what type of materials is passing through and fix the time of rollers to print over the feed paper.
We would suggest making a deck area of plywood to mount the sensor in such a place where the carrier can easily pass through. And the best option for placement is over the rear panel of your printer.
You shouldn’t also forget to line up the feed sensor with carried material so that it can easily pass through.
Step-9: Fill The Ink Cartridge
And now, the final modification is to fill the ink cartridge. But you need to be aware of the fact that not every inkjet printer can handle the specific chemical etching process when you replace the ink.
You can fill the cartridge in two different ways. Either you buy a new empty cartridge or make the old one entirely empty. Then use the injecting tool (syringe) to fill up the cartridge.
Before you turn on the printer to print, you need to reset the cartridge chip, or else it won’t show any ink inside the cartridge.
Step-10: Test The Printing
Now it’s testing time. Remember to keep spare boards to print because initial test runs may come out messy.
The best option is to run three different tests of different designs to measure the printer’s progress. If any problem appears, you can quickly fix them without ruining your main design.
Step-11: Keep An Eye On The Etching
Etching is a very crucial step after completing the printing. It gives the PCBs a smoother finish.
Ferric chloride is the most common chemical to etch PCBs. But most people don’t agree to use it for some environmental issues. That’s why a second option is to use a mixture of hydrogen peroxide and hydrochloric acid. It works way better than ferric chloride.
Another crucial fact is the thickness of the copper layer over the circuit board. If the coating is 2 ounces in every square foot, the etching process will be lengthy, and some junks may appear after the first wash. So, it’s best to use a thinner layer of one inch per square foot of copper layer over the board.
Step-12: Checkout The Results
When the etching is done, check out the ultimate result whether the print stays on the board or not. It’s pretty normal for the first time that the printed layer might get washed away with green-colored junk.
But don’t lose hope. You need to set the layer portion of copper properly and use the etching mixture with exact proportions.
Sometimes the printed board gets demolished just because of the improper mixture of etching chemicals. So, use your spare boards to fix the result, and then you can print your PCBs.
Making your own PCBs may sound tough but trust us – the method we discussed is very efficient and cheaper. Besides, you can print as many boards as you want and even experiment on various designs.
You can also send several prototypes to the manufacturing companies to test them. So, converting an inkjet printer to print PCBs is complicated but not with our guidelines. Follow them stepwise, and you will have satisfactory results in no time!