I'm currently working on my first PCB prototyping by using some pre-sensitized PCB board, purchased from Maplins UK. However, I'm having terrible trouble exposing and developing the board, it just never seems to turn out right. I haven't even reached the etching stage yet because I'm not happy with the presensitized developing results. I'm looking for general tips and tricks, and how to follow the right 'path' to success — I seem to be getting worse at it for some reason! ;-)
I am using inkjet transparency sheets with the darkest tone applied for the mask, and after noticing you can see light thru the printed areas on the mask, I decided to double up, and sellotaped two identical transparencies aligned on top of each other. You can hold it up to the light and still see a kind of dull purple glow, but it is mostly opaque. I acknowledge this may be one of the causes of my troubles!
I started off using a normal 100 watt lightbulb, with little success; exposures seemed to take 40 minutes and beyond to have any effect at all, and got very warm. I used to hold the mask down onto the board using glass, but after realising glass blocks a lot of UV light, I decided to switch to a sheet of clear acrylic.
I then found a cheap portable UV sterilizer, which actually claims to emit UV-C light; I know UV-A is the type required to expose the board as far as I can work out but it seems to be having a much quicker effect, I see an effect even after just two minutes exposure. The manual states it uses a "Long life 4 watt germicidal UV lamp", and yes, it's not what you'd call bright. The longest exposure I have done so far is about six minutes, and I still saw the same problem (see below).
According to their site, the boards are supposedly developed using a caustic soda solution.
On all of my attempts, I am seeing the circuit pattern appear, but the developed copper which is to be etched away ends up nowhere near as shiny as I'd expect it to be — I am expecting the photoresist layer to completely dissipate resulting in exposed shiny copper, going by a lot of those reference PCB etching sites on the internet. Instead I end up with varying degrees of random areas of shiny copper but mostly dull copper (partially disolved photoresist), and other areas complete bluey greeny photoresist layer. I haven't tried etching yet, but its not difficult to see why I expect such a poorly exposed and developed board to poorly etch too. I can't imagine the 'mostly dull copper' areas will etch at all given the photoresist is only partially dissipated.
I'm cutting off small areas of my two medium sized pre-sensitized boards for testing purposes, and I'm running out quickly!
So I am unclear and am proceeding very slowly because of all these variables:
- Not sure about exposure time (for my lamp).
- Not sure about UV light position and height required.
- Not sure if my mask pattern is opaque enough (to UV light).
- Not sure about correct proportions of caustic soda to water.
- Not sure about time to leave the board in the caustic soda — whether I'm going too far developing.
- Not sure about dipping in water to stop the development — Can you put it back in the caustic soda to continue development if you didn't leave it in long enough? Also how can you tell!?
- I also don't know whether a developed pre-sensitized board stays so, and won't fade as its left in daylight over time. How long before normal daylight affects a pre-sensitized developed board?
Any help anybody could give me would be appreciated. I haven't kept a decent log of my activities, to learn effectively, because I thought I'd have nailed it by now! However I can provide pictures of my efforts so far, if need be.