About The Transfer Paper: What is Toner, Anyway?
Toner is made up of 9 ingredients. Some of these elements account for very small percentages of the total volume, however, pulverized plastic and iron oxide (what makes toner black) account for over 80% of the total makeup. Of greatest significance (and highest percentage) is pulverized plastic.
Plastic has the property of being charged with static electricity and made to move from cartridge-to-imaging roller-to-drum and finally to the paper by merely reversing charges applied to each of these. It's a neat trick that is used in the identical same way for both laser printers (inclusive of LED printers) and photo-copiers alike. This pulverized plastic also has the unique ability to become "sticky" when heated, a temperature that is just below its melting point called it's "fusing" temperature - a temperature that varies by the applied pressure. The more pressure, the lower the fusing temperature. Melting temperature is the point at which the image liquifies causing major distortions of the image. The important point is that the greater the pressure, the greater the temperature spread between "fusing" and "melting". If we control the temperature and pressure properly we can make the toner behave in a very predictable manner.
Fusing vs Carrier techniques:
There are two methods for transferring a toner image.
- The FUSING Technique -
The objective is to make a toner image stick to the intended location by mere heat and pressure causing the toner image to fuse to any surface that can withstand high temperatures. With the application of heat for a period of time with pressure, the toner will become tacky and stick very well to whatever it is touching; a process called “fusing”. This method is used when we want to put a “mask” on a metal surface to etch a printed circuit board or “chemically mill” a piece of brass shim.
- The CARRIER Technique -
The objective here is to transfer an image without using any heat. Instead, an external “carrier” is used to hold the image together when it is transferred using an adhesive. This technique enables you to transfer images onto materials that would not otherwise be able to withstand the heat from the “fusing” method. Our "DecalPRO" system has pioneered the words first "Do It Yourself" dry-transfer, rub down system incorporating some of the practices used for making high quality PCB's.
Images and Masks:
An IMAGE is a design that will stand on it’s own like a dry-transfer graphic or a decal. These types of graphic applications are transferred via the “carrier” technique as mentioned above.
A MASK on the other hand acts like a photographic "positive" and is "fused" to the target surface. Where ever the image is placed it serves to protect the metal beneath to prevent it from being chemically removed.
Why Use "Toner Transfer Paper" Over Inkjet "photo" Paper?
There have been several web sites dedicated to true "hobby" interests of making PCB on the "absolute cheap" and that's great, however, they will say how easy it is to use regular "coated" papers (glossy stock like inkjet "photo" papers) to make your transfers. Although this can be done, they really don't go into detail as to how hard it is to remove the paper fibers from the toner image. It takes a lot of friction and soaking time. The friction is what can very easily damage your toner traces. Do not expect to be able to do fine line capability or quickly with these techniques.
Getting great resolution requires a "zero-release" capability because traces down to .005" are extremely fragile and absolutely can not be done by these "fly by the seat of your pants" web site techniques. Yes, you can make a board their way, but the traces are going to be pitted and pretty wide to succeed. For a few bucks you can have great boards fabricated in just a few minutes using our transfer medium and GreenTRF sealing foil... even if using an iron. (The applicator make this process almost fun, but if the cost of the laminator is too expensive, there are ways to work around this by using an iron. This is documented further on in this section called "Calibrating Your Iron".
How To Handle "Toner Transfer Paper":
Notice there is a slight sheen on one side of the paper. Print on this side only! The water release coating on this paper is non-toxic, non-sticky, heat-proof and safe for use on all toner-based printers.
There are 3 precautions when using this paper:
- Print only on the shiny side!
- Handle this paper by the edges with dry hands!
- Never send a page through the printer if it got wet!
This paper will lie flat at about 70% Relative Humidity. Because the paper can give off it’s own moisture very quickly, keep the paper inside the resealable envelope until ready for use. Notice that after the paper has been run through your printer, it will have a slight curl. This is due to the hot fuser rollers removing some of the paper’s moisture. It is normal to experience some paper curling after the page exits the printer.
Why no "inkjet" printers?
There are only two types of “ink” used in our printing devices; liquid ink, (used in all inkjet printers) and a very fine powder material called toner (used in all photo-copiers and laser printers). We use toner because of two unique properties that are important to our application here:
1) Toner becomes sticky when heated - so we can refuse the image to other surfaces
2) Toner images are water-proof - a very important feature since we using a "water-slide" paper that must be wet to release the toner image from the printed page during the first half of the process.
3) Toner is primarily plastic - a necessary feature when we use specialty foils that will only stick to plastic when subjected to high heat and pressure.
Why Won't "Press 'n Peel" Work With This System?
The laminator used as the "Toner Image Applicator" for $129.95 has a specific heat that is perfect for our paper-based transfer medium. Our competitor's product "Press 'n Peel" (by Techniks, Ringos, NJ) uses a very heavy "carrier" acetate sheet which unfortunately will not allow enough heat to transfer through it fast enough to get to the copper laminate board to effect proper fusing of the toner image. Sorry! For now with their product you are limited to the hit 'n miss of using an iron or purchase their $300+, 9"x12" T-Shirt press.
Making a Color Laser Printer or Color Copier Usable As A Printer!
We get this question a lot... "What if I just use the "black" toner from my color printer? Won't that work - black is black, right? Actually no, however this needs a little bit of understanding what we're working with. The problem is with the color toners themselves. The 4 toner cartridges, (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black or commonly referred to as CMYK) are extremely thin... in fact, they are transparent! Color devices print in a different way than does a B&W printer. These thin toners do not have enough "body" (pulverized micro plastic particles) to be able to refuse to metal surfaces. However, if you were to print multiple colors at the same time, you would have enough "body" or mass in the print that will fuse to the copper surface. So how do you do this? It takes a bit of manipulation. In order to make your printer "dump" more than one color, you have two options.
1) The easiest is to set your traces and donut pads to a dark GREEN color. Green is actually an optical illusion of Cyan and Yellow, then by making it a dark color, Black is added at the same time. The total print is now 2-1/2 toner densities. Watch your orientation since some software packages do not automatically flip the artwork for the "top" traces.
2) If the above is not possible due to software limitations, the other process is to export the image to a format that is readable by a photo manipulation program like Adobe Phonoshop or CorelDraw. Iin that application, select all images (traces/pads, etc) and set them all to100% Cyan, 100% Yellow and 50% Black and print.