I'm trying to find the best way to make a solid photo mask so that I can finally make some excellent PCB's without spending hundreds of dollars.

When I bought a lazer printer, the first few prints (for PCB masks) were perfect. After several prints, the quality starts to slowly degrade to the point where some tracks appear cut. I used translucent paper (105 gsm) because I was told the toner adheres to it better in comparison to transparencies.

Here's the killer. If I go to an office store and have them print my PCB on a transparency, it comes out perfectly twice in a row with some spots with lighter toner application but at least all spots are filled in.

I have used the darkest settings on my printer and I print at 1200 dpi and currently I use translucent paper when trying to print PCB masks at home.

What would be the best course of action for a quick mass-production of different PCB's when printers designed for home-use start to degrade after the first set of prints?

Am I better just to rely on the office store to print? They charge about $1 a page, but I'm unable to get to the store some days as it closes early, so this is the long method.

Or should I ditch all my printers and buy one specifically for PCB artwork (which I currently don't know who makes it)

Or should I buy toner and pray the artwork will print correctly? (When I tried replacing toner in my old printer, the results did not improve, plus I replaced the drum unit).

Any suggestions would help. and hopefully I won't have to resort to depending on the office store for quality prints.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Mass production of DIY boards makes no sense whatsoever. If you need a same-day prototype or two it can be worth the effort, beyond that you really should just order boards. In terms of your failure mode, it's not clear if you are using photosensitive boards or heat transfer of the toner itself. \$\endgroup\$ – Chris Stratton Aug 18 '16 at 16:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ photo-sensitive. and to clarify, mass-production here means making one or two boards a day. If I have to depend on the office store then I'd have to wait at least one week on average due to store closing time and because some days I end work later than the store closes. \$\endgroup\$ – user116345 Aug 18 '16 at 16:49
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    \$\begingroup\$ When ordering boards, the marginal cost to add more boards to an order is usually very small. Why not just order 10 or 50 or 100 from your favorite board fab and be done with it. If 2 pieces cost $100, 10 pieces could be $120 and 50 pieces $140. \$\endgroup\$ – The Photon Aug 18 '16 at 17:03
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    \$\begingroup\$ I've had quite good luck for occasional quick prototypes down to 8 mill traces with toner transfer using the cheapest personal laserjet with the original HP cartridge for quite some time; perhaps due to the heat during transfer this process is less dependent on the print opacity and more on board preparation and technique: print on machine shop sales flyer page, board abraded with a scotch brite pad, pressed from both sides, and lately toner traces post-baked with a heat gun after paper removal. \$\endgroup\$ – Chris Stratton Aug 18 '16 at 17:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ Print quality depends on paper type you set in your print dialog. This is because printer sets the fuser temperature according paper type. If toner is not sticking well, try to set the type as "bond paper", "heave paper" etc..this will increase fuser temperature. Try also on tracing paper, type shall be set as light or normal paper. You can increase the contrast later by applying some oil. \$\endgroup\$ – Flanker Aug 19 '16 at 4:05

At my university, the local geeks have a dedicated printer for PCBs. It's a completely normal SOHO desktop printer, it's always under a dust cover and you're not allowed to print anything else with it. It's used a couple of times per week, been there for many years, and always seem to give good, solid prints. We only use transparencies.

This is probably the way to go if you don't want to overdo it, and you probably don't, considering the quote from Chris Stratton in the comments: Mass production of DIY boards makes no sense whatsoever.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Good answer. I do think, reading the Mike's words, that he doesn't really mean mass in the sense many might. But instead, something more than one or two at a time. His "hundreds of dollars" says he can't afford panels. So that sets the volume limit in my mind. \$\endgroup\$ – jonk Aug 18 '16 at 21:15