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Board Development and SMD Soldering

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thakidd:
Hey EEVBlog! I have been attempting to complete an Electronics lab setup now for the past couple of months. I now own quite a few test equipment toys which I am thoroughly enjoying. My final step is to make my man cave completely self sufficient. The two final areas I must tackle are board development/creation and SMD soldering.

I made a decision a few months back that I would be crazy not to jump onto the SMD bandwagon as there are numerous positives to this 'upgrade' from dip etc. I have spent the past few months reading anything and everything from EEVBlog, HackADay, SparkFun, to a ton of other sites and Nuts & Volts magazine.

I would like to find out what method of production would be the easiest for a hobbyist. My needs are quite simple...I build circuits for myself; not for retail. I might come up with a design idea on a prototype board and want to make three board for my personal use (at the most). Most of the things I would like to build are small. Probably start out with some breakout boards for certain SMD components that I could plug into a breadboard to test and play with...then when something wonderful happens, build a complete board to house the entire circuit.

I have tried the whole laser jet transfer method (muratic acid & hydro prox). This did not work probably due to the laser printer (could only accomplish very large...nothing small) I have started to practice with old PC motherboards to get a handle on using a soldering iron for small SMD stuff. I am thinking about buying a hot air rework station to continue this effort. I just don't know where to go from here.

I don't mind spending the money...but I would prefer to spend it in the right place instead of spending a few hundred dollars on each of the possibilities out there to find the right one.

So what are your opinions? Hot Air, Hot Plate, Toaster Ovens, Enchant Tanks, Photo Resist, Light Boxes, etc.
What methods have you found easiest and reasonably priced to build a great looking board from something like Eagle and then what methods worked best to place SMD components on said board?

Links to the methods/products you refer to are greatly appreciated.

Thx in advance for your advice.

Bored@Work:

--- Quote from: thakidd on November 06, 2010, 10:25:26 pm ---What methods have you found easiest and reasonably priced to build a great looking board from something like Eagle

--- End quote ---
To send the Gerbers out to a board house.

thakidd:
I may not have made myself clear on the OP. I know that the easiest method would be to send it off to a board manufacturer. This however would halt my creativity as I do not have any local board manufactures. I need a way to make my own boards within a few hours of time. I would consider the board manufacture the next step after I have successfully got a board working.

I.E. An AVR High Voltage Programmer: I needed one last weekend because I jacked a mega by accident with my JTAG ICE MKII. I had to wait until today to get that guy up and rolling. I had all of the parts here last weekend but no way to build the board for a week (due to SMD components). That brought my production to a halt.

I ideally need a method that works time and time again with excellent results that can be done off the cuff when its needed.

.o:0|O|0:o.:

--- Quote from: thakidd on November 06, 2010, 10:25:26 pm ---I have tried the whole laser jet transfer method (muratic acid & hydro prox). This did not work probably due to the laser printer (could only accomplish very large...nothing small)

--- End quote ---

Many people have a lot of success with this method. If you believe the printer is the problem, take a USB stick to a printshop or an office printer and see if that helps. If it does then get a better printer or get a library membership.

Otherwise, if money isn't a problem, you can get an express service from a board manufacturer or you could buy a router.

.o:0|O|0:o.

GeoffS:
A lot of people have reported success using the PulsarProFX product.
It's for laser printer though, not inkjets.
There's a step by step tutorial here including one of hacking a laminator to print to the PCB.

If you're of a mechanical bent, then you could try hacking an inkjet printer to print to PCBs directly.  Of course doing this will leave you no time to play electronics.  ;)

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