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PCB ink jet printer hack


Hacking an ink jet printer to print on PCB copper clad board

I have been cutting PC boards on my CNC machine for quite a while, but it's a ton of work
It takes a long time to do the CAD and CAM designs and then cut the boards
Expensive 1/32" bits that break easily are a bummer
The bits clog up as they cut and then the cut quality sucks.
I was looking for a way to make PC boards faster.

I had experimented with some Pre sensitized copper board using a positive mask printed on clear material.
That method was ok, but it involves several steps, and the board is expensive.

I had also read about people using laser printers to make iron on transfers.
I don't have a laser printer and so I dismissed that method.

Then I read about people using ink jet printers to print directly onto regular copper clad board.
You spray on the ink which is the resist and then remove the copper with regular Ferric chloride etchant.
The board has to be pre heated so that the ink spray on nice and clean
Then you have to use some heat to bake the ink dry
So, now I am hacking an ink jet printer to be able to print directly onto copper clad board.

You have to use pigment based inks, you cannot use dye based inks because they don't spray right
And dye based inks are not tough enough to stand up to etching.

The printer you use has to be able to squirt pigment based inks
Seems that many Epson printers are able to shoot pigment inks.
Yellow and Magenta Mis pro pigment inks have been found to be the best inks to spray.
This place sells the Mis Pro ink for Epson's
http://www.inksupply.com/index.cfm
Using spongless cartridges with reset chips that you can refill seems to be the way to go
The site above sells all of that.

There's lot of info on the web about people hacking ink jet printers and so I set out to do one myself.
I grabbed a cheap Epson C84 printer off ebay for $9.00
It was actually new but the guy could not get the print head unclogged.
I can fix that later with some special ink jet head cleaner I have. (I hope)


Here's are some of the pages on the web that I found useful on printer hacks

This page has tiny pictures, but lots of great info and links
http://techref.massmind.org/techref/pcb/etch/c84-st.htm

This thread is huge with many good pics and lots of info
http://www.cnczone.com/forums/showthread.php?t=30951

Click on the images for a larger image
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A stock Epson C84 printer Here's a shot of all the junk I removed from the printer
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The first thing I needed to do after tearing the printer down to bare bones is to raise up the print head.
In order to print on copper clad PC board, which is thicker than paper, you need to raise up the print head.
I installed a couple frame supports on both sides of the printer frame before doing any cutting.
Then I removed the supports and cut the metal frame
The cuts are on the other side of the frame supports.
Some printers have the ability to raise up the print head, which would avoid the cutting I had to do.
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This shot shows the very small area I had to cut on the motor side of the frame
I also bent over that metal piece where it says Bend Here
I did that so I would have some place to attach my frame support
This side has a much longer cut
You have to cut around the corner above the white plastic drive wheel
I used a Dremel tool with a fiber cut off disk to make the cuts
Not super pretty to look at, but it works.
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Front view Rear view
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Click play to watch a movie of the printer firing up Here's a shot of the ink, the chip resetter and two of the cartridges
The cartridges do not have sponges so they hold more.
Also, the chips can be reset after you refill them
This page is a Work in progress

That's as far as I am in my printer hack.
The next step will be to make a guide/feed bed so that the board feeds into the printer in a straight line

I am still waiting for another couple empty cartridges to show up before I can fire up and do a test print.
The printer only came with a couple black ink cartridges.
I cannot do any test until all four ink cartridges are in place and full.
I will be using yellow in the yellow cartridge and magenta in the Magenta and Cyan cartridges.
Supposedly, this give the best results if you print black, matte and photo quality.
All 3 of the colored ink cartridges get used to make black.
Cyan will squirt Magenta
That's the plan so far, more to come
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