For simple and few PCBs, building them at home is the first option for makers. Meanwhile, outsourcing to PCB makers like JLCPCB or Seedstudio is considered for more complex boards with high numbers. But with the emergence of the 3D printing industry, it is now entirely possible to create complex boards right at your own maker lab. This is through PCB printers.
How PCB Printing Works
A true PCB printer “prints” the circuit tracks on a substrate using copper-based ink. The concept is very much like how 3D printers work but is only limited to two dimensions.
But rather than describing it, it’s better that you see the printer in action. Here is a video by Jonny Bergdahl demonstrating the Voltera V-One PCB printer:
As you can see from the video, a special board with solder resist is needed to work with the PCB printer. After printing, the board is baked into a heat plate to harden the conductive ink. For the Voltera V-One, the ink is 90% silver which means it has a higher conductivity compared to copper. This printer can create single and two-layer boards.
Here is the rest of the printer specifications of the V-One:
Meanwhile, BotFactory’s Squink not only allows you to print PCB, it also has the ability to apply solder and even place SMD components. Here’s a product demonstration video:
Similar to the V-One, the Squink also uses silver-based ink and is cured through a heating plate. This PCB printer can produce single (5″x 5″) and two-layer (3.35″ x 5″) boards.
Noticed the green paint on the board for the Squink? that is insulating ink that acts like a solder mask. This means you can use ordinary FR-4 boards with the Squink PCB printer.
Maker revolution has truly empowered hobbyists to create their own production-quality prototypes right in their homes. What is left is for these PCB printers to reach favorable prices similar to what is happening to most 3D printers.