PCB fabrication

An introduction to getting printed circuit boards (or FR4 front panels) fabricated.

First someone needs to design the PCB. Let’s assume that’s done already. Then they have to produce the files known as Gerbers that describe the PCB for the fabricator. Let’s assume that’s done already too. You’ve found a repository that has Gerbers for a PCB you want; what do you do?

Pretty much you just need to compress the Gerbers to .zip format, go to wherever you’re having the fabrication done (see below), upload the .zip file, choose a color and specify a quantity, and open your wallet. There are other options they give you but most you can ignore. Most places have a minimum order of 5 copies of each board, and if you want more it has to be a multiple of 5.

For front panels there are a couple of extra bits. If there’s an option to skip electrical testing, choose it. (At JLCPCB uncheck “flying probe test”.) Also add a note like:

This is a front panel. There is no circuit, only copper fills. Ignore any electrical errors.

Fabricators usually want to silkscreen an order number on the product, and you probably don’t want that on the front of your panel. Request that they omit the order number or put it on the back of the panel. At JLCPCB you can check “Remove Order Number: Specify a location” but for this to work, the PCB design must include “JLCJLCJLCJLC” somewhere on the panel silkscreen to mark where the order number should go. You can tell them not to place the order number at all, but that costs extra.

As for which fabricator to use, it depends on what you’re looking for. Generally JLCPCB has the lowest prices, by a lot in many cases. Then again, several places offer a discounted price — around $5 for five boards — for anything less than 10 cm on a side (and no special options) that renders price considerations minor. PCBWay offers more options including more colors. OSH Park has a good reputation if you want to use a US based company (but at a significantly higher cost than most of the Asian companies, and with few color options). If you want to check prices at a variety of companies you can use https://pcbshopper.com/ . Fill in the form with your PCB’s dimensions, how many you want, what color, and so on, and it does the comparison shopping for you. There also are reviews of various companies, and some get very low ratings, so it’s worth looking at this site before choosing a fabricator.

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Some company links (see more at pcbshopper.com):

JLCPCB (EasyEDA) China
Elecrow China
Smart Prototyping China
PCBWay China
AISLER Netherlands, Germany, USA
Bittele (7pcb) Canada
Eurocircuits Belgium
OSH Park USA

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AISLER is in Europe (Germany, iirc).

EDIT: According to their imprint/impressum (a very German thing), company is Dutch but with logistics in Germany and maybe in the US, not entirely clear. They ship from Germany, but have 2 day delivery to the US so odds are they have some operations in the US as well.

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Been using JLC since march and well happy.

pcbshopper.com says USA for Aisler, FWIW. This suggests production facilities in Germany and USA.

I once had a couple of orders from JLCPCB with some defective boards (1 out of 5 for three designs)




I’ve had numerous other orders with no similar problems.

I’ve also done business with PCBWay and been satisfied with their quality.

If I were ordering only small (<10 cm on a side) boards I’d go with PCBWay. But usually I save up several boards to order at once, and if any are much more than 10 cm, it becomes so much more expensive at PCBWay (or anywhere else with a decent rating) that for my purposes — hobbyist stuff — JLCPCB’s prices win out over the occasional bad board. If I were producing for commercial sales, it’d be different.

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One photo of the fault to jlbpcb and they replace or refund. They take their qc very seriously.

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Yes, they scratched a big order of panels I made. Replaced within 3 days, and the replacements were stunning.

I find that if I pay for “paper between pcbs” in the packing (adds about $3) they pay far more attention to handling.

I tried PCBGOGO because they can do aluminum core boards…it was 4x the cost, and the silkscreens were wonky on every one. Thankfully they refunded my money when I sent pix, but stated that they could not meet my QC goals. Disappointing because they are the only outfit I’ve found that does matte black soldermask on aluminum core boards.

FYI black soldermask on 2 sided boards is now the same price as green at JLC.

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Nice thread to start into Dan. Welcome.

I’ve tried to get PBCs made from gerbers before but I’ve always run into some problem or another.

So it’s nice to see that it can be done by mere mortals - I know…“RTFM, MArc” :slight_smile:

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I had not done PCB work since doing photo resist and etching at school in the late 80’s

But Feb/March time I had AO’s MikroKosmo and one of my own very simple designs made up and have flown from there.

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Except that if you’re in the US they offer free USPS shipping, and their $5 per square inch (for 3 boards) price doesn’t bottom out at $5 (so for instance 0.5" by 1.0" is $2.50), so teeny boards smaller than about a square inch are cheaper from them than anyone else.

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I’d love it if somebody could write up a JLCPCB how-to guide, there are lots of options and I don’t want to make any mistakes for my order!

Specifically:

  • What are castellated Holes and do I need them?
  • Do I submit the front panels as separate "PCB"s?
  • Are all of the default (cheap) thicknesses okay?
  • What are stencil “Electropolishing” and “Framework”?
  • Do I have to order 5 of every PCB? What are you guys doing with all the extras?
  • Would it be cheaper to just jam a bunch of modules (like the 2.5s) together rather than making lots of individual ones?

Cheers from a noob!

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Several of your questions are covered by:

Google for the answer on castellated holes if you like, but the answer is, you don’t need them.

Every individual object (panel, PCB) is a separate submission.

Default thickness is fine.

I don’t know what stencil “Electropolishing” and “Framework” are but am confident they are not needed.

If I have leftover PCBs/panels of my own design I sell them on Tindie (see BST topic). If it’s someone else’s design it depends on whether they made it open source or more generally how they feel about it. Trading for others’ extras is also an option.

(I even order more sometimes if I think others will want them. For small boards, under 10 cm each way, ten boards cost only a dollar more than five.)

JLCPCB will charge you extra if they think a “board” you submit is really two or more boards to be cut apart. It might still be cheaper.

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Castellated holes : NO (that’s the holes at the bottom of these : https://fr.aliexpress.com/item/32264795859.html)

Front panels are separate PCBs.

Defaults are OK, but you may want to change :

  • PCB Color (obviously !)
  • Surface Finish (your choice… lead is bad, but if you can’t touch it because it’s hidden behind the knobs…)

No need for any stencils

Yes, 5 of everything… (I keep one unbuilt just in case I need another one, and maybe try sell the others at cost)

Cheaper for many modules ?
It depends… usually what you want is called panelling, so the PCBs are easy to take appart, but that costs extra. So you have to try both every time and compare, it may be cheaper, or not…

For the panels, you can “Not test” the “Flying probe test” because there is nothing to test…

Also, for panels (not regular PCBs), you don’t want the order number right in the middle of it !
For “Remove Order Number” you want “Yes” (or “Specify a Location” IF the panel (gerbers) are designed to support it (you’ll have to check with the author for that…)). Yes is $1.5, “Specify…” is free.

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Thanks guys!

Is that true? Isn’t that the labels on the PCBs for which parts are which? I think I’ll want those.

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To be more definite, last night I ordered some boards and panels. For each PCB I uploaded, glanced at the Gerber viewer to make sure nothing was grossly wrong, changed the solder mask color, changed the quantity for the ones I wanted 10 of, and clicked Order. Everything else was default.

For the panels I also clicked “Not test” for Flying Probe Test and “Specify a Location” for Remove Order Number (both panels had the requisite “JLCJLCJLCJLC” on the rear silkscreen), and added a note, “This is a front panel. There is no electrical circuit, only fills. Ignore electrical errors.” Otherwise, again, everything else was default.

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No. Stencils are actual stencil sheets for SMD reflow assembly.

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Ooooh, okay, great. That lowers the cost significantly.

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And, remember, you’ll get at least 5 of the bunch of modules…
That’s so many more to find a home for…

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Right, if you’re jamming together several of the same board, but if you’re paneling a bunch of different ones, like the 2.5 cm set, then either way you end up with five of each.

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