DIY PCB’s with Cricut and Circuit Scribe

Chris CorrellSTEM Tools & Toys, Using Circuit Scribe

Silver Ink Circuit Scribe logo with light

Today printed circuit board (PCB) fabrication technology has grown extensively. You can find printed circuit boards built on a variety of different substrates. In this blog we will show you how you can make your customs PCB designs at home with circuit scribe conductive ink. By using Adobe Illustrator, Eagle CAD, and a Cricut maker plotter with Circuit Scribe conductive ink you too can have your PCB designs come to life!

Traditional methods of PCB manufacturing use harmful chemicals and take a considerable amount of effort. Other methods of DIY PCB manufacturing require expensive and technical equipment as well as release harmful irritants. Using a Circuit Scribe conductive ink pen with a Cricut plotter, you can skip the chemicals, long lead times, and cost of PCB fabrication to create inexpensive single layer PCB’s in minutes.

This PCB manufacturing method uses non-toxic water based silver ink.  Producing paper PCB’s is quick and easy using the Circuit Scribe conductive ink pen and a Cricut machine.

1. Design your circuit in eagle, then hide all layers except the top and export as a DXF file.

Eagle Circuit design file

The first step you must take along your paper PCB journey is to design your circuit in EAGLE CAD. I love eagle cad because of all the great tutorials out there for it (link), but you are welcome to use whatever circuit design software your heart desires, just keep in mind the following design requirements:

  • The pen’s width (ie trace width) is around .6mm.
  • I have found that .6mm clearance works best but you can get away with .4mm clearance.
  • When possible, choose larger SMD packages like 1206 and 1210 when you can this makes assembly, also make sure your design has no through hole components.
  • This method currently only works for 1 layer designs, however if you are struggling to get all of your routing on one layer you can use a jumper sticker (instead of a jumper resistor) to route over lines. 
  • This method currently only works for 1 layer designs, however if you are struggling to get all of your routing on one layer you can use a jumper sticker (instead of a jumper resistor) to route over lines. 
  • The Cricut can only route paths (no solid shapes) so make sure to route over pads. Or use our Cricut eagle footprint library 
  • The resistance of the trace is around 1ohm/cm so make sure to account for this in your circuit design.
  • Make sure to select inches when exporting your DXF from Eagle (mm is default).
Make sure to export your Eagle design file correctly!

2. Clean up the DXF file in illustrator

Cricut Design Space software doesn’t play well with curves and DXF files in my experience, so I find this step necessary unless your circuit is angular. Much of the work can be automated using java script!

Clean up your dxf in Illustrator
  • Delete anything that isn’t a trace in your DXF file (if you didn’t hide all layers except the top you will have to do this)
  • Change stroke width to .25 so you can see all the weird curves you will have to delete 
  • Delete the curves and pads from the components I find this easiest to do by running the script here and choosing .012” as the smallest length (the length of the caps of the traces if routing .6mm traces in Eagle)
  • Select all Object > Compound Path> Make (if you do not do this step the Cricut design space software will split up your SVG).
  • Save the cleaned up file as an SVG file (do not export as SVG file for some reason this messes up Cricut software upload).

3. Go to design.cricut.com > canvas and upload the svg you saved

Upload your design for printing!
  • Click the uploaded image>insert image
  • Make sure its the same size and place it at the origin (x y to 0 0)
  • Select all, change line type to draw, right click attach
  • Click the green make it button (make sure you are connected to the printer)
  • Double check and make sure the print looks good, the pen is working correctly, and the design is placed at the origin click continue 
  • Choose your substrate. I like to use medium card stock.
Make sure to attach all of your design, otherwise you will see a mess of lines in the print preview.

4. Prepare your Circuit Scribe silver ink pen

  • Test to make sure pen writes well
  • Load the pen into the Cricut pen holder. Make sure the pen tips sticks out ~.68”-.7” I use a pair of digital callipers to measure from the base of the holder to the tip of the pen. 
  • Place your paper or substrate on the sticky mat and load it into the tray (I make sure to apply a little pressure on the mat while loading so it grips it the first time or else the print will be off)
  • Print it!

After your circuit is printed remove the pen and cap it to prevent it from drying out. You can use the Cricut for simple circuits with LEDs however you are encouraged to use your imagination and create different complex single layer board designs. You are only limited by your imagination and the trace width (.6mm) of the pen. We will be testing impedance values of the traces, but at this time we would not recommend using this method of PCB manufacturing for time sensitive applications. 

The assembly process is easy when you use super glue and the Circuit Scribe pen to attach components. Stay tuned for more information on how to assemble your paper circuit as well as preliminary tests with multilayer designs. Check out an example of  paper circuits as well as an Eagle design rule check file on our Github.

Enjoy your assembled DIY custom PCB!