There are a few different ways to put together circuit boards for do-it-yourself (DIY) projects, each of which comes with its own benefits and drawbacks. Perfboard and other similar products can be used for DIY circuit board projects that do not require a professional look, and breadboards are good for building prototype circuits. When a project calls for a more professional appearance, it is also possible to make DIY printed circuit boards (PCBs) with the right materials and equipment. The best way to build this type of DIY circuit board is to print the design onto magazine paper with a laser printer, iron that onto a piece of copper laminate, and then etch the laminate with a ferric chloride solution. Similar results can be achieved with a PCB mill if one is available.
Circuit boards are designed to provide electrical connectivity and a supportive base for electronic components. They typically use copper to electrically connect the components, and a number of non-conductive substrates are used. Commercially produced circuit boards are typically etched, though some are constructed by adding copper traces to a non-conductive substrate. There are a few ways to make DIY circuit boards, including a method that can result in etched boards that have a fairly professional appearance.
In order to make the best DIY circuit board, the specific project should be taken into account. The easiest option for building DIY circuits is to just use a commercially produced "breadboard," as these devices are designed to allow the rapid prototyping of new circuits. Perfboard is another option that can allow DIY circuit boards to be rapidly put together, though the results typically lack a professional appearance.
One way to make a professional looking DIY circuit board is to use a PCB mill. These are typically computer numerical control (CNC) devices that use computer-aided design (CAD) instructions to automatically mill a circuit pattern on a piece of copper laminate. If a PCB mill is not available, it is also possible to use an etching process to create a professional looking PCB.
The materials and equipment that are needed to etch a DIY circuit board include a laser printer, glossy paper, an iron, copper laminate, and a ferric chloride solution. This process involves printing a mirror image of a circuit design and transferring it to a piece of copper laminate with the heat from an iron. The paper can then be removed with water, and the copper laminate can be placed into the solution of ferric chloride, which will eat away at the exposed copper. One important tip for making this type of DIY circuit board is to find glossy paper that is not waterproof. Magazine paper is usually a good choice, since magazines are typically printed with ink instead of toner.