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

First published at Wednesday, July 17 2019

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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Made with ❤️ in SYD. All prices inc GST. ABN 15 634 521 449. We're 🐥 @lbhq on Twitter.