There's always a "bad apple" or two in the bunch!
After 17 years of making PCBs we have never run across a "bad" printer... until recently.
There have always been a few printers over the years that needed a little "tweeking" to get them to print with a high DENSITY of toner, but never a printer that just wouldn't work!
Well, the gig's up. We now have a few problem printers!
Let's do a quick review of the 3 basic types of printers and which ones can't be used with the "DirectEtch" technique for making "instant" PCBs:
Inkjet Printers are completely out because they don't use waterproof inks and more importantly, they don't have any plastic property about them to facilitate refusing an image to a new surface. Nothing new here.
Color Laser Printers
(and color copiers) are a "no go". Color toners are not usable because even though they are waterproof, they are all extremely "thin" so much so that they are transparent. These toners just don't have enough "body" (or powdered plastic) in the image to enable re-fusing properly to any surface.
B&W Laser Printers are ideal, however...
the entire BROTHER printer line does not work with our PCB process. They use a non-standard toner formulation that does not work well with our process. There are other printers that have been reported as being problematic. Please refer to the listing at the bottom of this site page for the most up to date status of printer that have either been black-listed or are very suspect. Keep in mind that we rely on feedback from users to discover printers that have caused problems with our process so we only blacklist after a lot of trouble-shooting has been done with the user to rule out any user setting problems. Thanfully though, there are very vew "bad actors".
Conventional Electrostatic "Copiers": Now, if by chance you have one of these problem children and don't want to buy another printer, there is a simple solution. Canon makes an inexpensive briefcase-sized copier called the "PC" series. At the time of this page writing, the current model is the PC-170 at 600dpi resolution which is pretty good. We havenoticed that in their evolving series, the older PC-150 seemed itentical to the later produced PC-160 which were about 360dpi. We think the PC-170 hasnow made a solid hardware jump in resolution to 600dpi. The older PC series can be had for dimes on the dollar on eBay, Amazon, etc.
Note: Any link we put in text will always open that page on top of the one you're currently reading. Just close that newly opened page when done reading it and you'll be back to the current page.
This "PC" series copier idea works great to reproduce YOUR printer's output (from inkjet, Brother, etc) on white paper to our transfer paper ready to then transfer to your circuit board or solid metal in the case of chemical milling. It's also very handy to have around the office or house for a myriad of other generic uses which helps justify going this route vs. buying another printer and putting it next to an otherwise perfectly goood printer! Just seems to make a lot of sense. We've been using an old PC-150 unit for many many years now and is a great solution if you fall into the "bad printer" list below. Be aware of one other little pesky thing. These electrostatic copiers do not have the resolution equal to that of the standard 1200dpi printers of today. The older copiers normally range from 300 to 600dpi. If you are doing PCB images with trace pitch of .010" or larger this solution will work well for you. Simply put... if you are planning on doing SMT work, you'll want 1st generation printing from a 1200dpi laser printer direct! You can also opt for the services of any "copy house" in town. It's the worst of all the ideas, but it can do in a pinch. The problem is you don't have things under your control (ie. maintenance of the machine, quality fo the toner being used, etc.) If you do use their machines, please be sure to read the "How To" HERE because you will need to do a simple "calibration" of the particular machine you plan to use. Definitely use the "SELF SERVICE" area... don't let them screw with it our they'll probably wind up printing on the wrong side of the paper or put finger prints over the surface or who knows what! Keep as much as possibly under YOUR control!
The Term "COPIER" Has A Double Meaning These Days...
We need to clarify what is really meant now a days when we say "copier". Not too many years ago, manufacturers put an optical scanner and an inkjet printer under the hood and called it a "coper". Ok, it can "act" like a copier and do it in color. But what we mean by a copier is an electostatic (photo-static) copier that uses a big toner cartridge and can only print black! (Yes, color copiers use toner carts too, but for the same reason mentioned earlier, color printers and color copiers are not usable for our process!)
Most of our infomation on what is good and what is not so good comes from our users. It's difficult at best to try to get our hands on every printer on the market so realistically, we have to go by the "exception" by performance comments from our customers. Sometimes its not accurate so we normally wait until we have several similar bad reports before "black listing" a manfuacturer and/or particular model.
We'd appreciate any and all info you can pass our way about the printers you have used with our process to help educate others contemplating which printer to buy. We get that question a lot! Personally, we've always been biased towards HP since they use Canon engines which we have loved for the past 20 years without a single fault... until recently with their introduction of their "3-digit" model printers. Hmmmmm. We'll be researching that one.
VERIFIED Problem printers as reported by users:
- BROTHER: All models manufactured after 2001 (all 4-digit model numbers)
- ALL COLOR PRINTERS! All color toner is much different than B&W toner. (Yes, even if only printing black). These toners are very thin, actually transparent in nature and can't lay down enough toner to refuse to the metal surface. (However, if you jump through some hoops, you can make a color printer work. See menu item: "TECH SUPPORT > Miscellaneous"
- SHARP: AL-800
- HP "3-digit"models (The HP-400 series has been shown to be problematic)
OUR RECOMMENDATION? Take a look at the HP-2300. We've found this printer to be a real workhorse with exceptionally dark toner density capability. The only minor problem is that it's out of production, but they can be found in your local used computer stores, eBay or Amazon for next to cheap (under $100). HP made a ton of these years ago. Originally, this printer was in the $350~$400 price range. The toner cartridge used for this unit DOES need to be a new HP branded "Q2610A" - no aftermarket cartridges!