I figured I would document my experiences with using PCB fabrication sites like JLCPCB.
First, i had no clue where to start, not having any CAD software or anything. I settled on using EasyEDA since it interfaces with these PCB sites directly, but you can use others. This CAD software will generate a Gerber file, which is uploaded to the site for them to make for you.
Here is a screen cap of my finished VCO panel I made in the CAD program:
And here is a pic of the finished product:
If you like the way that looks (you can change the color) the details on how are to follow.
Know what dimensions you want to work with. I was going Kozmo format, so 100mm x 200mm. The price breakdown is $2 / £1.53 a piece for an order of 5 working out to be about $10.70 / £8.19. Its for this reason that the next time around i plan to design a bit more generically so I can use them all. Live and learn right? So that price works out because they charge an engineering fee to process PCB that are sized greater than 100×100mm. Another thing i was thinking is a redesign that shrinks things to 100mmx100mm. I have a few ideas, but i wanted to stick to Kozmo here since well you know why.
Thankfully, since its just a front panel, you dont have to worry too much about traces. Here are some terms:
a. Top Layer - The copper traces part. In the case of cases, I used this for accents and as part of my logo.
c. Top Silk Layer - The white lettering and stuff. On the top of the PCB.
d. Bottom Silk Layer - The white lettering and stuff. On the bottom of the PCB.
Setup the view. Right click the canvas and open canvas attributes. I set my grid size to be 10mm with a snap at 1mm. Click Update.
Tools and navigation. You use the middle click to move the work area, and mouse wheel to zoom in and out.
a. The rect tool is great for blocking out chunks of a layer. I select the tool, and the layer i want to lay down. In this case i want to drop some substrate copper traces.
Its like using a paint program really. Once you have a new object, you can select it by clicking it, then you get a bound box with green vertices. You can click and drag the center to move the object around, and you can click and drag those green points to resize. While selected, you can press the delete key to delete it.
One trick is to select the Rectangle properties when the shape is selected, and change fill to no. This will make a rectangle thats just an empty box. Set the stroke width to your liking.
b. The pad tool creates a pad. Its a bit tiny for the 3mm screws i use, so i need to adjust them. Select the pad, and on the right there will be a “Pad Properties” dialog. I adjust the hole size to fit the 3mm screws, and the width to give the metal bit some room.
c. The hole tool. This produces a hole. No really thats all it is no fancy biz. I just adjusted the properties to fit the 3mm size requirements and thats it.
d. The arc center tool helps make parts of circles centered on something. This is how i did the copper traces on the pots. Its kinda hard to explain, but here goes. You click a place, then it pulls a circle from the center of that click. then, you leave just an arc you want derived from that circle by moving the cursor around.
e. The text tool. You uh, just insert text. By default, it just stamps the word “text”, so you need to alter the properties again.
If you’s got some fancy fonts downloaded from them there internets, you have to add them using the fonts management button in the properties dialog. You can look at sites like https://www.dafont.com/. Unpack the archive, and add them. You can change the size of the text by altering the height property.!
e. The image tool. This lets you put images in with varying levels of success. You upload the image and adjust the color tolerance until you get something thats serviceable. In this case, the image is simple enough, so it can turn it into a black/transparent image ok.
Then, you can just stamp the image and adjust size with its properties.
The last thing to keep in mind is to give a bit more space for the through holes. When i received mine, i had to drill a tiny bit in the hole for the jacks and pots. When you look up the dimensions for things, allocate a tiny bit more, since apparently thats a thing.
Once you are happy with your board,save that guy as a Gerber file.
Go to https://jlcpcb.com or wherever you want to get PCBs from.It doesnt matter the dimensions, since the gerber will fill in the details for you.
To preview click the gerber viewer (there may be some rendering errors and stuff, its just a last check. there are other gerber viewers online):
Select your options as you see fit. here are some notes:
- 2 layers is fine.
- 1.6mm is thick enough.
- Select whatever color, just know green gets shipped the fastest. Green is a 24h turnaround, and other colors are 2-3 days. This is what i went with, its all mostly default.
When you are satisfied, add to your cart.
Be sure to take advantage of coupons. New customers get a couple for like $5 off.
I ordered two different panels, and spent a bit more in shipping (worth it). You can see the status of your order from the website:
As you can see the turnaround was fucking fast.