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How to Clone PCB Board ?

How to Clone PCB Board ?

Overview of PCB Cloning

Printed circuit boards (PCBs) are essential components of most electronic devices. A PCB serves as the physical support and interconnection between electronic components. Cloning a PCB involves making an identical copy of an existing board. This allows you to reproduce and modify circuit boards without having to go through the full PCB design process. There are several reasons you may want to clone a PCB:

  • Reproduce an old PCB that’s no longer available
  • Make modifications or improvements to an existing design
  • Copy a simple design as a starting point for a new board
  • Produce additional boards for manufacturing or repair purposes

Cloning can save significant time and cost compared to creating a PCB from scratch. However, it does require careful planning and execution. This guide will walk through the complete PCB cloning process step-by-step.

Step 1: Gather Materials and Tools Needed

Cloning a PCB starts with having the right materials and equipment. Here are the key items you’ll need:


  • PCB design software – Used for copying the PCB file and making modifications
  • Image editing software – For processing board images
  • PDF editing software – To extract documentation


  • Original PCB to be cloned
  • Blank PCB boards
  • Chemicals and equipment for etching PCBs
  • Soldering iron and solder
  • Multimeter for testing

Other Supplies

  • Transparency film for printing PCB layout
  • Chemical resistant gloves and eye protection
  • PCB handling supplies – tweezers, clamps, etc.

Step 2: Capture and Process Board Data

The next step is to capture all the data from the original board you’ll need to reproduce it. Here are three key elements to capture:

PCB Layout

The traces, pads, vias, and other features that make up the board layout must be copied. This is done by:

  • Scanning the PCB at high resolution (2400+ dpi)
  • Processing the scan in image editing software
  • Printing the layout onto transparency film

Component Placement

  • Take high resolution photos of the board from multiple angles
  • Record the type, value, and location of each component

Schematic and Documentation

  • Extract the PCB schematic and documentation if available
  • Recreate schematic from board if needed

Step 3: Transfer the PCB Layout

To clone the PCB layout, it needs to be transferred to the blank boards. This is commonly done with one of two processes:


This method uses the transparency printout of the PCB layout. The key steps are:

  1. Prepare blank copper clad boards
  2. Apply photoresist coating
  3. Align transparency printout and expose boards
  4. Develop boards to remove unexposed photoresist
  5. Etch boards to remove unwanted copper
  6. Strip away remaining photoresist

Photolithography provides a high degree of accuracy but requires chemicals and equipment.

Toner Transfer

An alternative lower-cost method is toner transfer:

  1. Print layout reversed onto toner transfer paper
  2. Press transfer paper onto blank boards with hot iron
  3. Soak boards to remove paper, leaving toner on copper
  4. Etch away unwanted copper

Toner transfer is easy to do with a household iron but can result in lower quality boards.

Step 4: Drill Holes

Once the PCB layout is etched onto the blank boards, the holes need to be drilled.

  • Align boards and tape together
  • Use original board as guide for drill locations
  • Drill all holes with a small drill bit
  • Increase bit size for larger holes
  • Deburr holes after drilling

Be sure to carefully align the boards and use the lowest suitable drill bit size. Rushing this step can easily result in misaligned and inaccurate holes.

Step 5: Populate and Solder Components

With the bare boards fully prepared, it’s time to populate them with components:

  • Insert components based on placement documentation
  • Solder components to board using soldering iron
  • Verify polarity orientation for all components
  • Check for shorts or bad joints after soldering
  • Test board to make sure components function

Take care when soldering to avoid damaging pads or traces. Having a functional original board on hand helps identify any issues.

Step 6: Test and Validate the Cloned Board

The final and critical stage is testing the cloned PCB to validate it works correctly:

  • Perform close visual inspection for any flaws
  • Test for shorts, open traces, and connectivity
  • Verify board powers up and all components work
  • Check cloned board against schematic
  • Run board through complete functional testing
  • Make sure outputs match original board

Address any issues found before attempting to use the cloned board. Comprehensive testing helps confirm the board was cloned successfully.

Troubleshooting Common Cloning Problems

Despite best efforts, you may encounter problems when cloning a PCB. Here are some common issues and how to troubleshoot them:

Problem: PCB layout doesn’t transfer cleanly

Solution: Adjust transfer process, ensure blanks are cleaned, use new transparencies and transfer paper

Problem: Holes are misaligned between boards

Solution: Tape boards tightly, drill one board and use as guide for others, redrill holes if necessary

Problem: Traces appear damaged or lifted

Solution: Avoid overheating when soldering, inspect boards for damage before and after transfer

Problem: Board functions intermittently or components heat up

Solution: Check for shorts and bad joints, resolder all joints, confirm part placements match original

Problem: Board fails functional testing

Solution: Compare against schematic, correct any detected issues, verify part orientations and values

Carefully following each cloning step helps avoid most issues. Having detailed documentation and a working original board makes troubleshooting easier when problems do occur.

Frequently Asked Questions

What type of PCBs can be cloned?

Nearly any PCB can be cloned as long as you have the original board or layout files. Simple single-sided boards are easiest to reproduce. High-density multilayer boards are more complex but still cloneable.

Is cloned board quality the same as the original?

Cloning can produce excellent quality boards when the process is executed carefully. However, certain limitations can impact accuracy of traces, holes, etc. Some cloning methods also have size restrictions.

Can I copy a PCB without the original board?

Yes, you can clone a PCB without a physical original by obtaining the layout and schematic files. This requires recreating the board based on the digital design data.

Is it legal to clone proprietary boards?

In most cases, cloning boards without rightsholder permission violates copyright and IP laws. There are exceptions for repair purposes or if original boards are no longer available. Check applicable regulations.

What should I document when cloning a board?

Be sure to thoroughly document the board layout, hole locations, component placements, schematic, board images, and any other details needed to reproduce the PCB.


Cloning a PCB provides a way to reproduce an existing board without having to undertake a full custom design. While not overly complex, it does require careful execution of each step to ensure an accurate clone. The process involves capturing board data, transferring the layout, drilling holes, populating components, and testing the finished board. With the right preparation and materials, DIYers can successfully clone simple PCBs. More complicated boards may require outsourcing cloning to a professional PCB manufacturer. But for one-off legacy boards or repairs, cloning it yourself is a viable option.

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