3D Printed PCBs— Additive Manufacturing

What is a 3D Printed PCB?

In the realm of electronics manufacturing, 3D printing has emerged as a transformative technology, offering unprecedented flexibility and efficiency in the creation of Printed Circuit Boards (PCBs). Traditionally, PCBs have been manufactured through subtractive methods involving etching and drilling processes. However, the advent of additive manufacturing techniques has revolutionized this field by enabling layer-by-layer construction of PCBs directly from digital designs.

3D Printed PCBs Vs. Traditional PCBs Manufacturing

Decisive distinctions:

  • Traditional Methods: Conventional PCB manufacturing involves subtractive techniques such as etching, drilling, and plating, which remove excess material to form circuit board structures.
  • 3D Printing Method: Additive manufacturing enables layer-by-layer construction of PCBs directly from digital designs. This method eliminates the need for subtractive processes by adding material only where needed.

Advantages of 3D Printed PCBs:

3D printing PCBs is ideal for the development phase, enabling developers to swiftly refine and adjust their designs. Once the design is finalized, traditional manufacturing methods are better suited for large-scale production, seamlessly transitioning from prototyping to mass production.

1. Rapid Design Iterations:

  • One of the most significant advantages of 3D printing PCBs is the ability to rapidly iterate on designs. Changes can be made quickly, and prototypes can be printed within hours, not days or weeks. This accelerated iteration process enables faster problem-solving and optimization, ultimately reducing the time to market.

2. Flexibility and Customization:

  • 3D printing technology allows for unparalleled flexibility in PCB design. Designers can easily customize the layout to fit specific requirements, creating unique shapes and configurations that are difficult to achieve with traditional methods. This flexibility is particularly useful for specialized applications and one-off projects.

3. Support for Complex Designs:

  • 3D printing supports the creation of complex, multi-layered PCB structures and intricate designs that traditional manufacturing methods struggle to achieve. This capability includes embedding components within the PCB, creating three-dimensional circuit paths, and integrating advanced functionalities directly into the board.

4. Reduced Development Costs:

  • Although the initial investment in 3D printing technology can be high, the overall development costs can be significantly lower. The ability to quickly prototype and test designs reduces the need for multiple costly iterations. Additionally, material waste is minimized, and the need for specialized tooling is eliminated, further driving down costs.

Applications of 3D Printed PCB

Medical Devices:

  • Customized Medical Devices: 3D printing PCB technology enables rapid customization of medical devices such as hearing aids and implantable medical instruments to meet specific patient needs.
  • Rapid Prototyping: Allows quick manufacturing and testing of medical device prototypes, accelerating product development and market application.
  • Embedded Sensors: Integrates multiple sensors and electronic components for real-time monitoring and analysis of patient physiological data.

Luft- und Raumfahrt:

  • Lightweight Design: Manufactures lightweight, flexible PCBs to optimize aerospace structures, reducing overall weight and improving fuel efficiency.
  • Complex 3D Structures: Adapts to complex three-dimensional spaces and special shapes required for aerospace applications, providing flexibility in design and manufacturing.
  • High Reliability: Maintains stability and long-term reliability in extreme environments such as high temperatures, low temperatures, and high vibrations.

Education & Research:

  • Experimentation and Teaching Tools: Provides powerful tools for experiments and teaching in universities and research institutions, aiding in understanding circuit design and manufacturing processes.
  • Research Innovation: Facilitates rapid development and testing of new circuits and sensors, driving innovation and progress in research fields.
  • Academic Projects: Supports academic projects and research experiments, fostering interdisciplinary collaboration and technological exchange.

Common Methods of 3D Printed PCB

Conductive ink printing

conductive ink

Conductive ink printing is an innovative technology that uses inks containing conductive materials such as silver, copper, or carbon nanotubes to print circuits on various substrates. This technology offers a high degree of flexibility, allowing circuits to be printed on a wide range of materials, including paper, plastic, glass, and ceramics, making it suitable for diverse applications and requirements. 

Conductive ink printing can employ several techniques, such as screen printing, inkjet printing, and flexographic printing, each with its unique advantages to meet different production needs. Screen printing is ideal for batch production, offering high precision and consistency; inkjet printing is suitable for rapid prototyping and small-scale production, providing high flexibility; and flexographic printing is used for manufacturing circuits on flexible substrates.

The simplicity of the conductive ink printing process makes it especially suitable for small-scale production and rapid prototyping, facilitating easier and more economical development of new products and innovations. Compared to traditional circuit manufacturing methods, conductive ink printing involves lower initial investment costs for equipment and materials. Moreover, this technology is environmentally friendly as it uses fewer chemicals, reducing the generation of harmful waste and minimizing environmental impact.

Laser Direct Structuring(LDS)

LDS process

Laser Direct Structuring (LDS) technology is an advanced manufacturing method that directly writes circuit layouts on three-dimensional plastic components, creating Molded Interconnect Devices (MIDs). It finds widespread application in areas such as smartphone antennas.

LDS involves the following key steps:

  1. Injection Molding: Special thermoplastic materials are used for injection molding, shaping plastic parts into predetermined forms.

  2. Laser Activation: A laser beam writes conductive paths directly on the plastic surface. This process activates additives within the plastic, enabling it to adhere to metals required for subsequent electroplating.

  3. Beschichtung: Parts are immersed in chemical solutions where metals like copper, nickel, and gold are deposited via electrochemical reactions in the laser-activated areas. These metals form conductive pathways essential for circuit functionality.

  4. Montage: After circuit manufacture, electronic components are mounted onto LDS parts using standard Surface Mount Technology (SMT), achieving the final integration of electronic functions.

The main advantages of LDS technology include its design flexibility, enabling the creation of complex three-dimensional circuit structures, and significantly reducing development cycles. It also reduces component weight and size by eliminating the need for traditional circuit boards and cables. LDS facilitates rapid prototyping and cost-effective batch production and is compatible with standard SMT processes. LDS enhances product functionality and manufacturing efficiency and is widely applicable across automotive engineering, telecommunications, medical devices, and general electronics.

3D print PCBs steps

  1. Design Circuit Diagram and PCB Layout:
    • Designers use Electronic Design Automation (EDA) software such as Altium Designer or Eagle to create circuit diagrams and PCB layouts. These software tools allow components to be placed, connections to be routed, and PCB design files (e.g., Gerber files) to be generated.
  2. Prepare Printing Files:
    • Export the PCB design files into a compatible 3D printing format, such as G-code. These files contain information about the print head paths, printing temperatures, and other printing parameters.
  3. Prepare the Printing Equipment:
    • Ensure the printing equipment (such as the V One 3D printer) is in good working condition. Load the printing material (typically conductive ink or other specific materials), set up the printing platform, and calibrate the print head as needed.
  4. Printing Setup and Preprocessing:
    • Use the control software of the printing device to load the G-code file and set printing parameters such as layer thickness, print speed, and printing temperature. Before starting the actual printing, preprocessing steps may include printing a base or bottom layer.
  5. Start Printing:
    • Initiate the printing process, where the print head precisely deposits conductive material layer by layer onto the substrate according to the programmed paths. These devices often use liquid conductive inks or other specialized materials.
  6. Component Placement and Soldering:
    • The 3D printer automatically dispensing solder paste onto the PCB’s solder pads. Electronic components are then carefully placed onto these pads manually. Following this, automatic reflow soldering takes place, applying controlled heat to melt the solder paste and establish reliable electrical connections.
  7. Printing Completion and Post-Processing:
    • Once printing is finished, remove the printed PCB. Perform post-processing steps as necessary, such as cleaning, curing, or applying protective coatings to enhance the electrical performance and durability of the PCB.


Nano Dimension DragonFly IV

Nano Dimension DragonFly IV

Introduced in 2015, Nano Dimension’s DragonFly was promoted as the world’s first desktop-sized 3D printer for professional-grade PCB production. The latest model, the DragonFly IV, is a powerful solution for Additively Manufactured Electronics (AME) production.

The DragonFly IV deposits two specialized inks onto the printing bed. The first, AgCite, is filled with conductive pure silver nanoparticles, providing PCBs with predictable conductivity even at a 75-micron layer height. The second ink is a dielectric polymer that offers structure and insulation for the PCB with layer heights as small as 18 microns.

These inks are deposited simultaneously and cured using infrared and ultraviolet light. The printer is capable of creating high-performance devices and circuits with complex three-dimensional shapes. Nano Dimension’s Flight software integrates seamlessly with DragonFly IV, managing everything from data preparation and printability verification to the actual printing process.

DragonFly IV is powered by DeepCube, Nano Dimension’s proprietary AI solution for additive manufacturing. DeepCube uses AI principles similar to those in speech or image recognition to enhance part quality and output by detecting and correcting printing errors in real time. Connected to 3D printers worldwide, DeepCube becomes more efficient and accurate with each print run.

Voltera Nova & V-One

Voltera NOVA
Ontario-based Voltera launched its latest 3D printer for electronics in October 2022. The new Nova is designed to print on both soft, stretchable, and conformable electronics as well as rigid boards. It’s an evolution of the company’s previous V-One 3D printer. The Nova allows users to create smart devices on their benchtop and features a modular design for expansion. Voltera also continues offering its popular V-One PCB 3D printer, emphasizing ease of use and fast production. It’s an affordable machine within the budget of small and medium-sized businesses. The V-One provides an all-in-one PCB production package capable of dispensing conductive ink, drilling holes, and heating and curing ink and solder paste. Each task is performed by a different head, which can be easily swapped thanks to magnetically mounted heads that snap on and off without any tools. Instead of printing the entire board, the V-One relies on either pre-fabricated or pre-printed boards. Users can choose the material freely as the V-One is substrate agnostic. Voltera offers both standard and flexible conductive inks, allowing for PCBs to be printed for various applications. After placing the board into the printer, the V-One aligns the print head height and begins depositing the conductive ink, finally curing it. The machine works quickly, producing a simple single-layer PCB in 2-3 hours. While the V-One can currently produce two-layer boards, Voltera hopes to add further multi-layer support in the future.

LPKF Fusion3D 1200

LPKF Fusion3D 1200

The LPKF Fusion3D 1200 is a cutting-edge laser direct structuring (LDS) system designed to produce 3D mechatronic integrated devices (MIDs) efficiently, suitable for both small and large-scale manufacturing. This system is equipped with a high-quality rotary indexing table, which significantly enhances production efficiency by allowing simultaneous processing and loading/unloading of components, thereby reducing non-productive times.

Supporting up to three processing units (PUs), each containing a laser source, optical components, and a scanner, the Fusion3D 1200 shortens cycle times and ensures smooth and efficient production processes. Additionally, the system offers an optional vision system, which enhances structuring precision and quality control, making it highly adaptable to various production requirements.

In terms of technical specifications, the Fusion3D 1200 provides impressive accuracy and speed, with a structuring precision of ±25 μm and a structuring speed of up to 4000 mm/s. The structuring area can accommodate different sizes of 3D substrates, offering a range of 200 mm x 200 mm x 80 mm (with a 100 μm laser spot) or 100 mm x 100 mm x 40 mm (with a 50 μm laser spot). The system operates using LPKF CircuitPro 3D software, streamlining the structuring process.

The design of the Fusion3D 1200 also prioritizes ease of maintenance. Its maintenance-friendly design features centralized electrical connections at the rear of the device, facilitating easier access for maintenance personnel. The inclusion of a large monitor and USB port enhances operational convenience. Safety is ensured through the use of light curtains, while the modular structure allows for easy customization and adaptation to diverse needs. These design features collectively improve production efficiency and reduce the complexity of operation and maintenance.

3D Printed PCBs and Industry 4.0

Data-Driven AI Training

  1. Data Accumulation and Analysis

    • Print Data: Each 3D printing session generates valuable data (e.g., speed, temperature, material usage, product quality) that serves as rich training material for AI models.
    • User Behavior Data: Design modifications and user feedback are recorded, helping AI systems continuously optimize the design and printing processes.
  2. Continuous Optimization

    • Model Improvement: With accumulating data, AI models keep learning and improving, identifying and optimizing key factors that affect print quality.
    • Predictive Adjustments: AI uses historical data to predict potential issues during printing and preemptively adjusts printing parameters to avoid defects.

Process Adjustment with Additive Manufacturing and AI

  1. Real-Time Monitoring and Feedback

    • Instant Adjustments: AI systems monitor printing parameters and environmental conditions in real time, making instant adjustments to ensure print quality.
    • Defect Correction: AI utilizes sensors and machine vision to detect printing defects and adjusts the printing path or parameters in real time to correct them.
  2. Adaptive Manufacturing

    • Dynamic Parameter Adjustment: AI dynamically adjusts printing speed, layer height, and other parameters based on real-time data, ensuring optimal print results.
    • Material and Design Optimization: AI selects the most suitable material combinations and printing strategies, optimizing both materials and structure.

Interconnectedness and Automation

    1. Smart Factories: 3D printers are interconnected with other smart devices, forming an automated and interconnected manufacturing system that shares data in real time for comprehensive production monitoring and optimization.
    2. Adaptive Supply Chain: The combination of AI and 3D printing allows production systems to quickly respond to market demand changes, automatically adjusting production schedules and supply chain management.

Flexible Production

    1. Rapid Iteration and Innovation: Designers can quickly generate and evaluate multiple design prototypes through 3D printing and AI analysis, accelerating the product development cycle.
    2. Customization at Scale: AI analyzes market demands and customer feedback to generate personalized design solutions, and 3D printing enables flexible production for mass customization.


3D Printed PCBs represent a pivotal advancement in electronics manufacturing. The capability to quickly iterate designs, achieve intricate geometries, and lower development costs positions this technology as essential for modern industries such as aerospace, medical devices, and education. As additive manufacturing progresses alongside AI integration and smart factory concepts, the potential for innovation in PCB design and production is limitless. Embracing 3D Printed PCBs not only streamlines product development cycles but also paves the way for customized and efficient manufacturing solutions in the era of Industry 4.0. Looking for exceptional PCB and PCBA services? Look no further than FS PCBA! Our seasoned team specializes in crafting bespoke, high-quality PCBs tailored for various industries. We prioritize flexibility, timely delivery, and stringent quality assurance to escort your project. Kontaktieren Sie uns today to enhance your manufacturing capabilities with confidence!

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