As a good electronic hobbiest tradition I started to design a businesscard from PCB material. Downside of all the businesscards (and PCBs in general) is the limited number of colors you can use: FR4, soldermask (with or without copper behind it), silkscreen or bare copper. Since the soldermask is fixed for both sides that was an extra limiting factor.
An out of the box solution I found was decal slide paper. This is a printable plastic film that is used to decorate ceramics or glass. There are clear and white versions and they can be found in most hobby stores. They are easily printed on by an inktjet or laser printer and have thus an infinite range of colors. For this experiment I bought clear film and designed the PCB with black soldermask (needed that color for the front side) and white silkscreen.
This is my first time designing a PCB for MSP430. I really like the NRF24L01+ booster pack but I would like something smaller to use for remote temperature sensors. With that in mind I’ve designed a 24.5 x 50 mm PCB (2 on a 5×5 cm prototype) featuring MSP430G2553 and an adapter for a 8-pin NRF24L01+ module using essentially the same pinout, with the intention of using the Spirilis library. There’s a jack socket to connect a 1-wire sensor (e.g. DS18B20), a 4-pin header to connect a temperature/humidity sensor (SHT22 or similar), a programming header that gives serial access, and 3 other general purpose I/O pins.
Today came in a new batch of PCBs from DirtyPCB.com, of which one is a new revision of the BlackMagicProbe. This revision is almost the same except it has a polyfuse in its powersupply to the target, a dedicated voltage regulator instead of P-FET, its programming header on the 90 degree on the side and a jumper for entering DFU mode. All this goodness is contained in less 5×2 cm PCB space, so quite a bit of PCB estate is left for other purposes and I used panelizing in EAGLE to try another brainfart of mine.
In most DIY projects where pogo pins are used people solder them directly to a wire or pad on a PCB. Despite it looks like it is the way to go, it isn’t. Pogo pins tend to wear out relative quickly as they are only rated for a couple of hundred ‘compressions’, also solder can sip into the pin and ruin its spring.
For the last few years, Hackaday has really been stepping up our game with marketing materials. Our t-shirts and swag are second to none, and last year we introduced the ‘Benchoff Buck’ (featured above), a bill replete with Jolly Wrencher EURions that is not yet legal currency. At least until we get a sweet compound in the desert, that is.
[Andrew Sowa] created the Benchoff Nickel. It’s a visage of yours truly emblazoned on a PCB, rendered in FR4, silkscreen, gold, and OSHPark’s royal purple. In doing so, [Andrew] has earned himself a field commission to the rank of lieutenant and can now reserve the dune buggy for a whole weekend.
The Benchoff Nickel was created in KiCad using the Bitmap2Component functionality. Planning this required a little bit of work; there are only five colors you can get on an OSH Park PCB, from white to gold to beige to purple (soldermask on top of copper) to black (soldermask with no copper). Luckily, the best picture we have of me renders very well in five colors.
The Bitmap2Component part of KiCad will only get you so far, though. It’s used mainly to put silkscreen logos on a board, and messing around with copper and mask layers is beyond its functionality. To import different layers of my face into different layers of a KiCad PCB, [Andrew] had to open up Notepad and make a few manual edits. It’s annoying, but yes, it can be done.
The Benchoff Nickel can be found on Github and as a shared project on OSH Park ($22.55 for three copies). One little curiosity of the OSH Park fabrication process presented itself with [Andrew]’s second order of Benchoff Nickels. OSH Park uses at least two board houses to produce their PCBs, and one of them apparently uses a lighter shade of FR4. This resulted in a lighter skin tone for the second order of Benchoff Nickels.
This is truly tremendous work. I’ve never seen anything like this, and it’s one of the best ‘artistic’ PCBs I’ve ever held in my hands. It was a really great surprise when [Andrew] handed me one of these at the Hackaday Unconference in Chicago. I’ll be talking to [Andrew] again this week at the Midwest RepRap festival, and we’re going to try and figure out some way to do a small run of Benchoff Nickels.
Most of us who have dabbled a little in electronics will have made our own printed circuit boards at some point. We’ll have rubbed on sticky transfers, laser-printed onto acetate, covered our clothing with ferric chloride stains, and applied ourselves to the many complex and tricky processes involved. And after all that, there’s a chance we’ll have ended up with boards that were over or under-etched, and had faults. For many the arrival of affordable online small-run professional PCB production from those mostly-overseas suppliers has been a step-change to our electronic construction abilities.
[Fran Blanche] used to make her own boards for her Frantone effects pedals, but as she admits it was a process that could at times be tedious. With increased production she had to move to using a board house, and for her that means a very high-quality local operation rather than one on the other side of the world. In the video below the break she takes us through each step of the PCB production process as it’s done by the professionals with a human input rather than by robots or ferric-stained dilettantes.
Though it’s twenty minutes or so long it’s an extremely interesting watch, as while we’re all used to casually specifying the parameters of the different layers and holes in our CAD packages we may not have seen how they translate to the real-world processes that deliver our finished boards. Some operations are very different from those you’d do at home, for example the holes are drilled as a first step rather than at the end because as you might imagine the through-plating process needs a hole to plate. The etching is a negative process rather than a positive one, because it serves to expose the tracks for the plating process before etching, and the plating becomes the etch resist.
If you’re used to packages from far afield containing your prototype PCBs landing on your doorstep as if by magic, take a look. It’s as well to know a little more detail about how they were made.