Splashing Some Colour - Colourful Printed Circuit Boards (Colourful PCBs)

Splashing Some Colour - Colourful Printed Circuit Boards (Colourful PCBs)

Since Printed Circuit Boards were first described by Albert Hanson in 1903, aesthetically speaking, they've remained rather boring. 

Brian Benchoff's PCB color swatches from Seeed
PCB colour swatches from Seeed created by Brian Benchoff.

Even the most creative are largely restricted to a mono-tonal (ok sometimes bi-tonal) colour pallet.

In 2019, such a colour gamut deprived life is not good enough, especially as Little Bird is an Australian manufacturer of Maker and STEM Electronics (hear our products need to be fun and engaging)!

The solution that we landed on was to create a UV printing technique that allows us to apply any graphic directly onto printed circuit boards.

The process involves creating a jig to hold our PCBs, and printing directly on them.

Depending on the product dimensions, we can apply the graphic before or after the SMD (surface mount device) baking process. If a graphic needs to be applied before baking, we can adjust the colours so that the correct colours are on the board after the baking cycle is complete.

One of the first products we tried this on was the ShakeUp, an Australian made STEM board that lets you connect everyday objects to your computer. As you can see below, the results are eye-popping!

ShakeUp the Australian made STEM and Maker Board

One thing we now have to consider is that information previously found in the silkscreen layers (aka ident layers of PCB CAD software), now needs to be contained in the graphic being applied. 

Having said that, we've also found that if you choose your colours correctly (and by adjusting the density of the print), it is possible to get the original silkscreen layers to show through the applied graphic.

Testing the printing process on EagLED e-textiles board

Surprisingly the colours still look great even when we print on a PCB that originally was red in colour.

Some time ago we filed a provisional patent for the technology/process and are happy to license it to other open-source Makers. We are currently looking into a license similar to the CC Public Patent License, but have yet to decide on a specific license.

We'd love to hear your thoughts on what we've created. Please hit us up on Twitter (@lbhq) or leave a comment below.

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Rob Holland - November 10, 2020

I can see this catching on. Colourful PCBs can introduce an artistic edge to PCB design and bring these sometimes complex boards out into the open, and making STEM more interesting to those more inclined toward the arts rather than the scary STEM sciences, especially when used in clothing and jewellery design.

Michael - November 10, 2020

Looks very cool, this might be something people making badges for defcon or other cons would like to know about.

Check out the kind of things they make: https://twitter.com/hashtag/badgelife

Robert Murphy - November 10, 2020

It may engage more of the, ahem, non male demographic into designing. Or those looking for a bigger response from the non hobbyist at a project.
It may have some other aspects that some of us that may self describe as old fuddy duddies can’t yet envision.
Lids to jiffy boxes does come to mind.
Anyhow jolly good luck 😀

Laurence Crew - November 10, 2020

I think this is awesome.

@Mike Duffy have you not seen the trend of bare pcb products, for example the Pocket Operator series from Teenage Engineering?

Steve Roberts - November 10, 2020

Wonderful idea for those who like the exposed PCB approach.

Sean - November 10, 2020

I love it! Great concept.

David Woodbridge - November 10, 2020

I can see this being used as a case/enclosure panel where all components (surface mount) are on the inside side of the board with vias restricted to internal layers so completely blank on the outside. Otherwise perhaps good for full colour logos. Or just for laughs print pictures of failed/burnt components in strategic places.

Steven Greenfield - November 10, 2020

I’m curious, which part of this is patentable? UV ink printing on various surfaces isn’t new. Inkjet printing on PCBs isn’t new, both for the purpose of acid etch resist and for printing silkscreen and other patterns.

Split off from Homebrew_PCBs on July 23, 2008 (since moved to Groups.io):

Website detailing experiments from 2009 (not my site):

Mike Duffy - July 19, 2019

Great novelty item but given most PCBs are hidden within enclosures I don’t see how you can make money on it – unless you use clear plastic cases.
You didn’t mention cost.
With PCBs from China costig $2 each i can imagine your process would be comparable or more which might also inhibit sales.
Anyhow best wishes for an innovative product.

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