Learn how the team at Elkei Education is inspiring young Australian girls and boys with engaging electronics.
Meet the Team:
If you have been following DIYODE for some time, you may have read our staff writer Steph Piper’s articles on Australian Hackerspaces, Survival Skills for Australian Makerspaces, and more recently, Hacking for the Homeless.
As well as her day job managing the Library Makerspace at the University of Southern Queensland, Steph also teaches STEM workshops as a freelancer, writes for DIYODE, and co-runs Elkei Education that brings electronics skills and role models to young girls.
When Steph offered to write an article on how Elkei is getting more kids into electronics, we gladly said yes. As you’ll read, Steph not only tells us what motivated her to start Elkei but also explains how to design your own PCB art.
Like many DIYODE readers, I love the challenge of learning electronics. It’s almost like a kind of magic, flick a switch and something happens. I often try to get others excited about the potential for projects, inventions and ways to automate things, but it’s not easy. To the uninitiated, electronics can have an air of something that is boring, complex and too hard. Trying to sit down and learn electronics from a blank slate, without a mentor, can be tricky and humbling. Many soldering kits don’t come with instructions and expect you to understand LED polarity and circuit basics. It’s also hard to find something that looks different from the standard green aesthetic.
Helping the next generation of young girls get excited about electronics and digital fabrication has been a long-term goal of mine. If we want our young girls to have the freedom to choose some of the most challenging and rewarding careers out there, we need to set them up for success.
I began Elkei Education with my co-founder, Andrea, to help tackle this problem. We’re working on making electronics learning experiences that are fun, positive and look great to show off.
Just a few months ago we launched our first soldering kit. I am so proud of this first product for its simplicity and aesthetic. It features LED RGB colour cycling in a kit, and teaches basic soldering skills to then create a pin that can be worn on clothing or on a bag. We also found a PCB house to manufacture with two different soldermask colours for a two-toned effect.
HOW TO MAKE YOUR OWN PCB ART
One of my other favourite designs is our Elkei PCB business card, featuring Andrea and I. It’s been a great way to earn “maker street cred” and people love to receive them at networking events.
This tutorial will walk you through how to create your own PCB Art business card. You’ll need KiCAD, GIMP, Notepad++ and, optionally, some kind of vector software such as Inkscape or Adobe Illustrator. This tutorial is aimed at those who are familiar with KiCAD and image editing software (or those who have watched a few video tutorials prior).
This won’t include adding functionality to the board, just the artwork. There are lots of great examples of RFID functional or light up PCB business cards (my personal favourite is one that can run Linux) but this tutorial will just cover the basics of the artwork.
Circuit boards are made up of layers, and on a standard one-tone soldermask board, you can achieve 5 different colours.
These include the silkscreen, soldermask, metallic surface finish, surface finish under soldermask and the raw fibreglass base.
Here’s a table summarising the standard colour options for each.
Here’s an example of one of our ‘role models’ circuit boards we’re working on featuring collectable women in STEM with the colour breakdowns.
To learn more about Louise Hardman and her fantastic Plastics Recovery Shredder & Extruder (Shruder) check out our Going Pro article from Issue #16.
To start, pick a well-lit photograph to use. There’s a few different ways to clean this up ready for KiCAD circuit board software.
The easy way is to pay someone on fiverr.com to create a vector portrait caricature of your photo.
You can also use Inkscape or Adobe Illustrator to create your own clean version of the image. Rather than trace around the original image, import it into GIMP and skew the brightness/contrast settings for an easy line to trace around.
Alter the image in GIMP, Illustrator, Photoshop or Inkscape to be the exact size you’d like the artwork to be, as KiCAD does not have a scaling feature as yet. Export each colour separately to its own image, changing the main colour to white and the background colour to black. You should end up with a set of images like this:
You won’t need to export a ‘soldermask’ colour because the software assumes that it’s there unless you have a ‘mask’ layer to remove it and reveal the fibreglass board underneath.
You can also skip this step and just feed the raw photo into the ‘import bitmap’ option in KiCAD and fiddle with the sliders for the desired effect on each layer, but the result will not have clean lines.
Feed these four images into the KiCAD ‘Bitmap to Component’ Converter, using the ‘Black and White Picture’ tab. Export all images as ‘Front Silk Screen’.
As KiCAD does not have an option to select which layer the image will be on (as yet) we need to import the exported .kicad_mod file into Notepad++ and change the layer in the code. Use the ‘Find and Replace’ tool to change every instance of ‘F.SilkS’ with the right layer designation (see earlier table), for example, ‘F.Cu’ or ‘B.Cu’. The ‘F’ will stand for ‘front’ or ‘back’ of board.
Make sure to make a copy of the metallic finish layer as you’ll need a copy for F.Cu and the F.Mask layers. To bring it all together, copy and paste all final layers into a single text file (using a text editor of your choice, such as Notepad++), and export as a .kicad_mod.
Using the footprint editor, you’ll be able to import your artwork footprint into your circuit board design. Add an edge outline to the board and you’re ready to export for fabrication.
Lastly, if you are adding a functional circuit to the design, make sure that the artwork will not interfere with its functionality. A gold layer underneath an LED will short out the connection or the current will bypass its destination.
ELKEI IN 2020
This year at Elkei Education we’re working on some exciting new designs, including snap-out 3D soldering kits and more. If you’re interested in our kits, you can find them available on Little Bird electronics and our website www.elkei.com.au
We’re also planning to return to China, Shenzhen and host a ‘Hardware Mission’ open to anyone who is interested in hardware manufacturing. We’ll be visiting factories, the electronics markets and local makerspaces. Sign up to our newsletter to stay in the loop with the tour and new product releases.