Converting An Inkjet Printer To Print PCBs

Anyone involved with electrical systems tackles with PCBs (Printed Circuit Boards) daily. Two types of PCBs are present – dotted PCBs and Layout PCBs. Both require to be printed onto copper clad boards before getting to the soldering and component attachment part.

Now, as you could have guessed, copper clad boards are harder than your usual paper; this gives most people a headache regarding printing using an inkjet printer. If you are one of these people, then you should give this article a read as by the end you will know all about converting an inkjet printer to print PCBs.

Converting An Inkjet Printer To Print PCBs

How To Convert An Inkjet Printer To Print PCBs

Things You Will Need

  • An inkjet printer (one from the Epson C80 series)
  • Mis Pro yellow ink
  • Empty ink cartridge
  • Hot glue and hot glue gun
  • Some 4 – 40 screws that are ½ inch in length
  • Nuts that will fit your screw
  • Brackets
  • 9 x 14.5 inches steel or aluminum sheets
  • Aluminum rail of length 4 feet bent at an angle of 90 degree
  • Printer drivers
  • 2 x 4 plywood scraps
  • Screwdriver
  • Heat gun
  • Drill
  • Pliers
  • Dremel tool

Step One: Removal Of Outer Parts

Start by removing the back paper feeder of your printer and then detach the front paper trays. Keep them aside safely and then using a screwdriver, take off all the screws so that the side panels and casing can be undone. Set all these pieces aside safely so you can utilize them in the future for storage purposes of your printer.

Once you are done, you will probably have all the inner machinery parts of the printer left to deal with. This will require further modification so that it can print on copper clad boards.

Step Two: Removal Of Some More Parts

Now is the time to remove some parts and store them away for later usage!

Seek the paper feed sensor that is likely to be located behind the inkjet printer and draw it out; disconnect it from your printer’s circuit board carefully. You do not want to damage the paper feed sensor as you will be using it later on in the process.

Afterward, you have to look for the pressure wheels present at the core of the printer. Three sets of pressure wheels are likely to be present and you should only remove the middle one so that your circuit boards don’t have a hard time being rolled in.

Lastly, you will have to deal with the printer head cleaning station; this part should be done with extreme care as the tubing system needs to be kept intact during the removal process. The printer head cleaning station will click out of the connectors and you need to take some time to carefully have it removed from the tubing system.

Step 3: Some More Removing

Now you need to buckle yourself up for some serious work and alterations. Gear up with all your safety equipment like goggles, gears, and gloves, and make sure you maintain complete focus to avoid severely hurting yourself while carrying out the process.

In this process, we will be using the Dremel tool so make sure to check out some videos in case you are a beginner. Sparks are likely to be flying, so as we mentioned before, keep your eyes shielded.

Initially, you will start with simple straightforward tasks; using a screwdriver, unscrew the two screws that you are likely to find on the front rails so that they can be taken off. Once the front rail has been removed, keep it away for later use and move on to unscrewing the screws close to the printer head cleaning mechanism. Once these screws are undone, your printing assembly will feel like it is demountable but do not be fooled as there is more work left to be done.

The printing assembly is attached to a large chunk of metal using a tiny tab so you will now have to unpack your Dremel tool to get some work done!

Observe the metal piece properly and in your mind, design a clear route for cutting; make sure to keep the route as small as possible as using the Dremel tool is no easy task.

Start by slicing through the interior tab so that the assembly is loosened up towards the right and then proceed to cut out the metal chunk on the left. You will now be able to draw out the printer head from the printer’s base without any hassle.

Once this step is over, you are likely to be left with three parts of your printer.

Step 4: Some Necessary Cleaning

Although this part is optional, you should carry it out to be left with the best possible outcome.

With your printer head assembly now separated from your printer, you can take this moment as an opportunity to give the printer head some proper cleaning.

Using cotton swabs, wipe off as much dried ink off of the printer head as possible and once you are done, take a clean cotton swab and dampen it using some cleaner. You can now use this damp cotton swab to give your printer head a better scrub. Use any many cotton swabs as necessary and then let the printer head air dry (this is not likely to take a lot of time).

After your clean printer head, when you attach and use it again, you are likely to get excellent quality print output.

Step 5: Reinstallation Of The Printer Head Assembly (I)

Once all the removal and cleaning processes have been accomplished, you need to start the printer head’s reinstallation process. How you intend to carry out this process will gravely rely on what type, thickness, and weight of the material you intend to print on in the future.

We will go ahead and use a metal carrier tray with a copper-clad board attached to it for printing purposes. To have prevented the printer head from clashing with the metal carrier and copper-clad board, you can uplift the printing head assembly by a couple of inches.

Once you have decided on a height for your printing assembly, you can get yourself some spacers to get the job done. Just how we started step 3 with the removal of the front rail, we will begin the reinstallation here in step 5 with it too!

Using two 4 – 40 screws and their nuts, secure the front rail down properly before moving on to the next step.

Step 6: Reinstallation Of The Printer Head Assembly (II)

Now, we will move on to a task that will seem more confusing to carry out. If you haven’t already purchased some corner brackets after seeing our list of required materials, you better run ahead to buy some from a hardware store.

With your brackets ready, place them on their designated spots and mark the places where you need to drill in to hold the brackets together.

Start with marking the bottom section, drilling the holes in, and then screwing in the brackets into position using screws and nuts. For the upper section, place in two spacer bolts next to the part where two screws attach to the base and then carefully line the brackets into position, you can use a ruler to make sure it is straight. Once you are sure your brackets are in the right position, mark the holes and drill them in.

After all the brackets have been installed, you can now position the printer head assembly and have it fixed using the necessary number of screws, bolts, and nuts.

Step 7: Raising The Printer Head Cleaning Station

As you have raised the printer head assembly by a couple of inches, you should now also spend some time raising the printer head cleaning station. The printer head cleaning station seals the mouth of the nozzle when the printer is not in use to make sure the ink does not dry out and it also performs very necessary cleaning tasks.

You must be aware of how much you had raised the printer head assembly, so now put on the cleaning station in the original place and then mark exactly that many inches above. Once you are done, place the brackets, mark the holes and get on with the task of fitting it to the printer body using screws and nuts.

Step 8: Getting The Feeding System Ready

With step 7 done, you are mostly done assembling the inner machinery and taking care of the printer’s operation. However, looking back you will identify that the printer is missing the things that we first removed from its body, i.e., the feed tray and feeding sensor.

Without a proper spot for feeding, you cannot get any work done so now, we will focus on creating a feeding part for your printer. As later on the PCB needs to be worked on using hot glue and many other materials that you should avoid touching, you need to create a system that will eliminate the need to hand feed the copper-clad boards.

We will now start with attaching the sensor as, without it, the printer will not operate. The feed sensor will help in identifying where the copper clad board is, in turn helping the printer know where it should print.

As the sensor needs to be in line with the carrier in such a way so that the carrier can pass through it, you can stick it onto the decking area with hot glue; this is the perfect spot as the carrier pieces always pass through the decking area.

Now – using the scrap plywood pieces – make sure to level the deck area with the printer’s back. Keep on pasting on scrap pieces onto the waste ink reservoir until the height matches with the decking area and then, you can finally cover the entire part with one piece of scrap plywood.

After you are done leveling, you can proceed to scrape off the corner of the top layer and attach the feed sensor to it so that whenever the carrier metal passes through, it is immediately detected and the printer is triggered to start the printing process.

Another important purpose that the decking area serves is the attachment of support rails which will allow your printer to completely assist you with the printing process. To make the support rails, you should take the piece of aluminum that is bent at a 90-degree angle and cut it so that it will properly allow your carrier pieces to pass through in between. Using hot glue, stick them onto the decking and your feeding system is now ready!

Step 9: A Little Testing

With your feeding system and inner machinery ready to roll, you should now run a test to see how your little experiment is doing. Cut the carrier material into the length that will pass through the rail, tape a piece of paper onto it, and place it in the feeding area.

Install the printer’s driver onto your computer, open a document and draw a simple rectangle and then give the print command. If your printer does manage to get the job done, you can now smile a little cause you are on the right track!

Step 10: Managing The Ink Cartridges

Through this step, you will identify why we need to use an Epson printer specifically.

Regular ink cartridges are an unsuitable choice for printing on PCBs as they do not react properly with the chemical ferrous chloride that you use in the etching process. Instead, you need to use the Mis Pro yellow ink which is only which only functions well with the print head system found on Epson printers.

Now, fill the printer cartridge with the Mis Pro yellow ink using syringes and then reset the chip on the cartridge so that the printer can identify it has been refiled.

Step 11: Some More Fun Testing!

Using the right software (like Proteus), design a PCB, add all the components you need to your circuit design and then go ahead with the printing. With your Mis Pro yellow ink set, your printer will now be able to make prints on the copper clad board without any hesitation.

Step 12: Etching

For the etching process, you will find that only ferric chloride is compatible with the Mis Pro yellow ink and so, you can dip your boards in a ferric chloride solution. However, the board needs to be 1 ounce per square foot as otherwise; the ink cannot withstand the process.

If your etching process doesn’t seem to work that well, you can heat the boards using a heat gun before passing it through the printer (you can now see why a feeding system is essential) so that the ink sits on the copper boards better. Afterward, try the etching process and you will notice that overall, the result has improved.

With everything functioning as intended, you can probably guess that we have reached the end of the article! Hopefully, with the help of our tutorial, you can now think of converting an inkjet printer to print PCBs by making all the right modifications. Printing PCBs are now definitely easier!