Connect with us

pcb fabrication

Discussion in 'Electronic Basics' started by Dustin Robert Kick, Feb 18, 2007.

Scroll to continue with content
  1. I have some projects I'm working on, that I would eventually like to
    have designed on pcb software, so I can send designs to a manufacturer
    in gerber format (right?) Does anyone have recommendations about how
    to go about getting ready for this? I was thinking of making some
    extremely simple circuits, and having a manufacturer print a circuit
    board as simple as just a power connection to connect an LED to, or
    similar, and only stepping up what I designs when I'm sure that what I
    think will be created is what really will be created. Would a
    manufacturer find this a waste of time? Is there some other way to
    double check designs so that I don't have to pay to have something
    manufactured that I'll probably have no use for? i.e. can I send
    gerber files to some forum willing to analyze them and answer
    questions I have, or send a gerber file to a simulator?

  2. Dustin Kick

    Dustin Kick Guest

    Are there any books on pcb design/fabrication that are particularly good
    that I should read?
  3. Puckdropper

    Puckdropper Guest

    If you're worried about board quality, find a fairly simple circuit that
    represents what you want to have made, and ask the manufacturer if they'd
    be willing to make a sample board. The worst that should happen is that
    they say "no."

    As for the formats manufacturers want, you'll have to ask. If it's a
    fairly standard format, I'd expect a manufacturer to accept it.

    If you want a board made here and there, you might consider getting a PCB
    etching kit from Radio Shack. It somes with everything you need to make
    a big mess, plus most the stuff you need to make a printed circuit board.
    (The 1/16" drill bit is way too big. You need something like a #60 bit,
    available at your local hobby shop. [Aside: I usually buy from the
    hobby shop rather than ordering something online because I like being
    able to stop in for a drill bit, can of paint, whatever and get back to
    my project.])

  4. none none

    none none Guest

    If you only wnat one or two boards of a certain small design usually the
    best way to go about it is to etch your own board using some of the various
    methods out there. Most PCB fabricators will charge you booku bucks to
    build just one or two boards. All the manufactures do (unless they offer
    testing as a service) is take the gerber file and feed it into the PCB
    machine to make the board exactly how it's described in the gerber file. If
    they offer consultation or if you try to do something that is beyond their
    machining ability they will let you know and have you submit another file
    but mostly they just make what you send them. :\
  5. Hi Dustin,

    You are correct, you normally send designs in Gerber format. Also, most
    of the PCB software I have used has electronics rules checks and design
    rules checks to make sure the board is at least sound be design. It
    might not do what you want it to, but it should manufactured correctly.

    I've just recently gotten into making my own boards, and it's coming
    along nicely. My method is to use the free layout software Eagle
    ( to design my schematic and board, then laser print the
    board onto high gloss paper, iron the paper (toner, really) onto a
    copper clad board and then etch with ferric chloride.

    There are a lot of variables that go into it, and I've messed up as many
    boards as I've made good but that has been because of experimenting with
    different line widths and pads and such.

    One of the most critical things I've found is the type of paper you
    print onto. I've found "HP Photo Paper" with the following labellings to
    be very good: Laser, Glossy, 8.5x11", 7.5 mil, 58 lb, 97 brightness, 100
    sheets. I got it at Office Max for I think around $10.

    There's a billion sites on the net that detail this method of PCB
    manufacture, just search for "PCB laser print" or some such.

    Now, while this method works find for boards with low part density and
    large line widths, the ideal (home brew) method is with photo etching
    where you use pre-sensitized boards, transparencies for your artwork and
    UV illumination to expose the board. I am in the process of gathering
    the tools to try this method now.

    I found the book "Build Your Own Printed Circuit Board" by Al Williams
    (Tab Electronics) to be pretty useful for learning the basics of Eagle
    and home PCB manufacture. After that it's a matter of honing your
    methods and learning from the Internet.

    Finally, if you would prefer to spend a little cash but get professional
    boards, check out and Both have free
    CAD software and you can send your design right from the software and
    have boards in your mailbox a few days later. ExpressPCB even has a
    "MiniBoard service" where you can get three 2.5x3.8" double sided boards
    for $51. It's a great deal, and you don't have to worry about a
    manufacturer laughing at you for testing simple designs :)

    If you'd like to see a board I recently made using the home brew
    process, check out:
    It's the first I ever made, and it works great. It's a simple AVR
    breakout board for prototyping microcontroller programs.

    And here's a few more handy links:
    Web-Tronics - Good source of PCB supplies

    Drill Bit City - Great source of cheap, tiny drill bits

    BatchPCB - Very cheap boards but long wait time. They batch their orders
    to China. They also have a design rule checking system. You can upload
    your design for free and it will email you to tell you if it's sound.

    Good luck!
    Jason von Nieda
  6. DJ Delorie

    DJ Delorie Guest

    The final steps depend on the manufacturer, but basically, you design
    the board in your favorite EDA program (mine is gEDA), have it export
    gerbers, and send them off to the fab via the web or email.
    They don't care, but it gets expensive when you do it that way. Check
    out; they're geared towards one-off tiny boards,
    although you'll have to wait a while for them to come back.
    You can make it at home with toner transfer or photoplot techniques.
  7. John  Larkin

    John Larkin Guest

    Design something moderately complex, useful or not, mixed surface
    mount and thru-hole, and have a few proper plated-through,
    solder-masked, silkscreened boards made. Assemble one. You'll learn a

    Look in the backs of the professional (and free) electronics mags...
    EDN, Electronics Design, EE Times. There are tons of ads for cheap PC
    boards, with introductory offers. You should be able to get a few
    2-layer boards for around $60.

    Don't mess with the ferric chloride thing yourself.

  8. Ben Jackson

    Ben Jackson Guest

    Download a free Gerber viewer to verify the output is what you expect.
    I just did a toner transfer board with some 0603 parts and 10/10 rules.
    I'm sure people have done 8/8 with a good laser printer and some care.
    Going much below that requires some skill even using a board house.
    I can't really recommend this to the OP, because a large part of the
    learning curve is the software. When you venture outside the world of
    LEDs driven by 555 timers, the first step in board layout is making your
    own symbols and board elements. If you learn to do this with gerber-
    capable software like Eagle, you can etch boards yourself or use almost
    any fab house. As the complexity of your work increases you can keep
    re-using parts and sub-circuits from old designs. If you start out in
    a proprietary CAD program, you will have to make a painful break at some
    The deals in PCB manufacture depend heavily on board size, how many you
    need, how fast you need them and whether you want soldermask/silkscreen.
    That's not a bad deal for "bare" boards, but if you add silkscreen their
    prices aren't as competitive. is great for small board
    sizes or low quantities, but their prices get silly if board area goes
    up, and it takes a long time. If you had a 60 sq in board they'd charge
    you $150 each, while a place like Sierra Proto Express would make you
    *three* *4 layer* boards for the same $150 and get them to you in 1/3rd
    the time. Then again, Sierra Proto Express is one of those places with
    a silly "no panelization" rule, so you're still better off with batchpcb
    if you wanted 60 1 sq in boards. You really have to shop each board
    order if you want the best deal.
    One further comment about batchpcb -- the default gerber output from
    Eagle is slightly offset from (0,0) and batchpcb doesn't detect this
    (at least in the X direction) and will charge you for the unused space.
    Check out your gerbers in a good viewer and then use the DRC setup in
    Eagle to re-export the board with a small negative offset to compensate.
    I was going nuts trying to get a 1 sq in board down to 1 sq in by their
    DRC until I figured this out...
  9. Bob Masta

    Bob Masta Guest

    For simple projects (and not-so-simple, once you get the
    hang of it) you can easily make your own hand-drawn
    boards with a Sharpie marker, some ferric chloride
    etchant, a Dremel tool, and some dental burs.
    Full details at

    Best regards,

    Bob Masta

    D A Q A R T A
    Data AcQuisition And Real-Time Analysis
    Scope, Spectrum, Spectrogram, Signal Generator
    Science with your sound card!
  10. DJ Delorie

    DJ Delorie Guest

    I've done 7/7 with 01005 parts successfully[*]. I don't think it's
    reliable enough to do large boards that way, though.

  11. JeffM

    JeffM Guest

    Open source software (Gratis and Libre):

    Freeware (Gratis only):

    Usable (limited) demo:
    Cadsoft EAGLE
    NOTE: Recent heads-up-their-asses DRM measures by Cadsoft
    have made it VERY risky to re-use
    someone else's EAGLE-compatible component symbols.

    Lock-in-ware (crippleware):
    ExpressPCB; PCB123; Pad2Pad
    These DO NOT produce Gerber files.
    The output from these apps is only useful
    when sent to the fab houses which distribute the "free" software.
    Typically. Check with your fab house for other supported formats.

    Dustin Kick wrote:
    :Are there any books on pcb design/fabrication
    :that are particularly good that I should read?
    25-page PDF (385kB)*-*-included-it-in-their-Help-system
  12. Dustin Kick

    Dustin Kick Guest

    FIrst, thanks for all the great responses, I've got a bunch of ideas how
    to procede now. Does anyone out there use the UNIX tool pcb maintained
    by Harry Eaton?

    This is the program that I'm trying to learn with, right now, on Mac OS
    X, through the fink package system. Is there a better Mac OS X
    compatible program that I should try?
  13. Dustin Kick

    Dustin Kick Guest

    Are there any books that are particularly good at explaining the pcb
    creation process that I should read?
  14. Guest

    You could try KiCad:
  15. Ecnerwal

    Ecnerwal Guest

    A certain regular poster here is also one of the developers and project
    admins of pcb, so it's pretty likely he's used it. ;-)

    Make up your own mind about better, as I haven't gotten around to
    designing anything in both programs yet, but in the tiny world of
    engineering software for OS X, I did find one other option : Look at
    Osmond. Free for designs up to 700 pins. Pay if you need to do more.
  16. DJ Delorie

    DJ Delorie Guest

    I use it all the time. And I help maintain it, too :) (although on
    Linux, not OS/X)
  17. JeffM

    JeffM Guest

  18. Eeyore

    Eeyore Guest

    By creation do you mean layout out the tracking or fabricating a PCB
    from raw materials ?

  19. Bob Woodward

    Bob Woodward Guest

    I have been using Eagle ( cadsoft ) for some years now.
    Works perfect under Linux.
    While my wife uses a MAC ( OSX ) i tried Eagle there.
    The program runs just fine but using it with the MAC-mouse is a curse.

    This is propably true for more CAD programs.
    Does a 3-button mouse work under MAC ?

  20. Ecnerwal

    Ecnerwal Guest

    Yes. I don't know if it would work the way the program expected (you'd
    have to try it and see), but in general, a 3 button mouse does work, and
    the one button mouse can mimic more buttons by using option keys on the
    keyboard to "modify" the click.
Ask a Question
Want to reply to this thread or ask your own question?
You'll need to choose a username for the site, which only take a couple of moments (here). After that, you can post your question and our members will help you out.
Electronics Point Logo
Continue to site
Quote of the day