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Exactly as written.

I mean using the techniques of additive manufacture to literally lay down electrically conductive traces and pads using some sort of spray, extrusion, direct transfer, etc. I have the sense that laying down a conductive layer of some thickness around 0.1mm might be possible these days. Surely it would only require a thick conductive ink in an inkjet with a modified nozzle. Allowance could be made for variations in conductivity and inductance relative to copper. Laser sintering can 3d print metal. It does not seem a million miles away to sinter a flat pattern on a substrate.

There is the issue of soldering, but that would be okay with a metal medium. There are silver conductive paints currently in existence. An who knows, you only solder pcbs because the pads are there before the components. What if it were the other way around and you formed the traces over the component leads?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Short answer, Yes, Voltera has made a printer that uses special solderable inks to 'print' circuits. It lays down a special solderable ink, dispenses solder paste and reflows a PCB... for a 'mere' $1800 \$\endgroup\$ – Sam May 15 '16 at 0:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ Has there been a glitch? Some comments seem to have gone missing without any record of their existence. \$\endgroup\$ – Paul Uszak May 15 '16 at 13:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Paul comments can be pruned for a number of reasons. This is normal. Nothing of merit is missed, this is best for all. \$\endgroup\$ – Passerby May 16 '16 at 1:23
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Yes, there is both direct to pcb solder mask printing, which requires traditional copper clad board and etching, and conductive ink printers, which use conductive ink on paper, fabric or any medium the printer can work on.

Both in commercial products designed to do this, or hacks/mods for consumer products.

Direct to pcb masking helps skip any steps adhering a mask to the board. Large scale manufacturers may be using older techniques cause they are setup for it, but smaller scale may be using this as it's very convenient.

For Conductive Ink, Soldering these circuits have the same issues as conductive ink pens. You are really gluing the parts on with more ink, by globbing it on, or sewing for fabric. And you can't do high speed interfaces. The Ink is fairly resistive. You can't do via or through hole plating. It can't deal with heat the way a copper board does.

A better option is a CNC machine with standard copper clad. No etching required, it gets milled instead.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ If conductive ink printers exist, why can't they print a circuit layout onto a fibre glass board? And if so, why aren't all small run boards made that way? \$\endgroup\$ – Paul Uszak May 14 '16 at 23:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ @paul they can print to FR4, but you would have none of the benefits of copper. Heat/current capabilities, solder able, vias and through hole plating, low resistance, etc. Small runs are done using direct to board masking and traditional etching. Or CNC copper clad. \$\endgroup\$ – Passerby May 15 '16 at 0:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ @PaulUszak The resistance of conductive ink is much higher than copper. It's not suitable for many circuits. \$\endgroup\$ – duskwuff -inactive- May 16 '16 at 8:11

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