Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Toner transfer

This is a technique that I used to use to manufacture PCBs (Printed Circuit Boards), but I realised when I read this that it could be used for other things too. The basic concept is this: A laser printer melts stuff called toner onto the page, if you're careful, you can then re-melt the toner, onto something else! The wonderful thing about toner, is that it's both acid resistant, and electrically non-conductive. This allows you to use it for a mask on either electro etching or acid etching. If you want to create your own one-of-a-kind, hand drawn plate, you can use a soft ground, which is a thick oil based ink (the one I've got is at least). You paint it on, wait a couple of days for it to dry, then just scratch your picture on. But I'm using the toner transfer method.

Here's what you need:
As pictured, you need an ironing board, with a cloth on it so I don't burn the cover, a sheet of copper, which I'm using for practice, a nibbling tool, steel wool,
isopropyl alcohol, scotchbrite, an iron and a block of wood.

Print your image onto a page from a glossy magazine (I used
New Scientist), make sure the image that you are etching is printed in black and white (the colours on the magaine page don't matter at all) , and the exact opposite of the picture you want to have at the end. Ergo, the colours (all two of them) are inverted, and the picture is mirrored.

Cut out your image, and a piece of copper that the image will fit on. That's what the nibbling tool's for, but you can use anything that works.
Now you have to clean it REALLY well. Scrub it with isopropyl and steel wool until it gleams, you can use the scotchbrite instead of the steel wool if you want. Make sure there is no dust, dirt or oil on the surface, that includes fingerprints.

Once it's clean, wrap your image around it, with the picture over the cleaned surface, and the edges of the paper behind it. Now iron it. Put the iron on its highest setting, dry of course, and press hard, moving the iron around a little. It sometimes helps to rub it with a roller or the back of a spoon or something. This can take around 2 minutes, but practice will tell you exactly how long. Because ironing boards are padded, I always put a block of wood under the copper, but if you're ironing on your workbench, there's probably no need. But it might still help.

Once the ironing is done, put the copper and paper in some hot or warm water. Let it soak for about 10 minutes, then gently peel the top layer of paper off. Soak it again, and take more paper off. Continue this until there's almost no paper left, then you can rub the rest of the paper off. You want tho be left with a piece of copper with only toner and empty space on it. Nothing else. And that's the toner transfer method.

You should be left with something like this:

My technique wasn't great on this one. Decent, but not fantastic. I missed the wing tips and the bottom tooth of the gear, and I think that I accidentally ironed some of the blue from the magazine page onto the copper too. If you have an etch resist pen, sold in electronics stores, you can go through and touch up bits that are missing, and you can carefully scrath lines out of the toner when bits that shouldn't be there are there. (By the way, don't be fooled by the shaky lines, they're actually very sharp, my camera's not great is all.)

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