Art and technology meet in PCB design at BLUEGRioT

Introduction

Not all circuit boards are alike!

The printed circuit board, or PCB, is often perceived as a purely functional component in the world of electronics: it's a green rectangle with components on it. At BLUEGRioT, we have a different vision. For us, the PCB is an opportunity for artistic and technical expression. Using concrete examples, we demonstrate that the PCB can be much more than just a support for components.

The union of art and technology in PCB design at BLUEGRioT :

At BLUEGRioT, PCB design is an art form that requires a unique approach combining technical expertise and creativity. This philosophy enables us to transform ordinary PCBs into aesthetic and functional objects, pushing back the boundaries of the conventional in the world of printed circuit boards.

Composition of a PCB!

Let's start with a simple 2-layer ☺️ PCB.

A PCB is a stack of materials and layers, each with a specific role. 

[1 ] The base is often FR4, a fiberglass-reinforced epoxy resin chosen for its strength and thermal stability, to which copper layers [2] are applied (for the tracks), followed by a colored varnish [3] (very very very often green, but other colors are also possible, as shown in the photo below) and, finally, a silk-screen print [4] (usually white) which, for example, allows R1 or R2 to be written to identify resistors, or to outline a zone, or to show a logo .

Example of a two-layer PCB design

Let's do something simple: a business card!

For our PCB business card project, we opted for a simplified approach, focusing primarily on aesthetics. Playing with the different layers of the PCB, we explored four distinct colors, but the possibilities don't stop there, as we'll see below. Although the board is primarily intended for visual use, we added a single component: a small 1kΩ SMD resistor. Although discreet, this component plays a key role, appearing as a design element on the character's shirt. This choice illustrates our ability to blend design and functionality in our PCBs. Indeed, it would be entirely possible to integrate advanced functionalities, such as Bluetooth communication, LED light emission or NFC technology, simply by adding a power source. The potential of an electronic board is vast, and we're ready to explore all these possibilities.

Play of Light and Transparency and shades of color :

In classic PCB design, the varnish applied plays a key role in the product's visual appearance. Take, for example, the green varnish used in our project. This unique shade is not limited to a single green. In fact, the color varies subtly depending on what's underneath: either copper or the FR4 substrate itself. We exploit this variation to create visual effects, such as the reflections in the character's hair on our card. In the illustration, we can see that the copper layer (shown in yellow) has empty spaces in the hair. However, the green varnish covers the entire area, creating a slight shade of green. This subtle interplay of colors and materials contributes to the overall aesthetic effect of the card.

The exploitation of transparency is a distinctive element in our PCB designs. By deliberately choosing not to apply copper, varnish or screen printing to certain parts of the board, we open the way to fascinating plays of light, enriching our creations with an innovative visual dimension.

In our specific "business card" design, we took care to leave the character's face completely exposed, without copper, varnish or silkscreen, thus leaving the FR4 raw. The slight translucency of FR4 offers us a unique opportunity: by also preserving the opposite face of the card, we can create light effects through the card. And that's exactly what we've achieved. On the reverse side of the card, the oval surrounding the figure is also left bare in FR4, producing a striking visual effect and demonstrating the versatility of PCB in the creation of artistic effects.

The Art of PCB at DEF CON

In the DEF CON community, the art of PCB badges is an emblematic practice that perfectly illustrates the fusion of technology and creativity. Far from being mere identification tools, these badges embody a unique culture, valorizing innovation and ingenuity in printed circuit board design. 

DEF CON, with its focus on the hacker community and technological creativity, offers an interesting parallel with the INCYBER Forum, a major European event focusing on cybersecurity. Located in Lille (that's where we live), the INCYBER Forum takes place from March 26 to 28, and covers similar topics, including cybersecurity. I'll be there with my super badge 🤓.

Conclusion

Other examples, and limits 😔

When it comes to designing PCBs for products in the industrialization phase, innovation in design, particularly the creative use of copper tracks, must be approached with caution 😬 . 

Indeed, routing rules are strict to guarantee product reliability and longevity, while complying with European standards for CE marking. But this doesn't mean the end of creativity. In fact, screen printing offers a playground where artistic expression can flourish without compromising product performance. At BLUEGRioT, we fully embrace this opportunity, allowing our PCBs to stand out for their aesthetics without sacrificing efficiency and compliance.

The design video!

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