The first step is to replicate the pattern in the fabricator's CAM system on a protective mask on the copper foil PCB layers. Subsequent etching removes the unwanted copper. (Alternatively, a conductive ink can be ink-jetted on a blank (non-conductive) board. This technique is also used in the manufacture of hybrid circuits.)
Silk screen printing uses etch-resistant inks to create the protective mask.
Photoengraving uses a photomask and developer to selectively remove a UV-sensitive photoresist coating and thus create a photoresist mask. Direct imaging techniques are sometimes used for high-resolution requirements. Experiments were made with thermal resist.
PCB milling uses a two or three-axis mechanical milling system to mill away the copper foil from the substrate. A PCB milling machine (referred to as a 'PCB Prototyper') operates in a similar way to a plotter, receiving commands from the host software that control the position of the milling head in the x, y, and (if relevant) z axis.
Laser resist ablation Spray black paint onto copper clad laminate, place into CNC laser plotter. The laser raster-scans the PCB and ablates (vaporizes) the paint where no resist is wanted. (Note: laser copper ablation is rarely used and is considered experimental.[clarification needed])
Laser etching The copper may be removed directly by a CNC laser. Like PCB milling above this is used mainly for prototyping.
The method chosen depends on the number of boards to be produced and the required resolution.
Silk screen printing – Used for PCBs with bigger features
Photoengraving – Used when finer features are required
Print onto transparent film and use as photo mask along with photo-sensitized boards, then etch. (Alternatively, use a film photoplotter)
Laser resist ablation
Laser-printed resist: Laser-print onto toner transfer paper, heat-transfer with an iron or modified laminator onto bare laminate, soak in water bath, touch up with a marker, then etch.
Vinyl film and resist, non-washable marker, some other methods. Labor-intensive, only suitable for single boards.