Let's Make Robots!

Cheap PCB's

You know, I just gotta plug Sparkfun again...

So I finished designing Walter's new main board (now set-up like a 28x board with all servo connectors) and was shopping around for cheap "only-one-board" PCB people. Once again, Sparkfun rocks! --They do 2 sided boards with all the trimmings for only $2.50 a sq. inch. There is a $10 set-up fee but I just got an email back and learned that is per order... You can have as many different designs per order as you want!!! Hell yeah!

By the way-- Here is Walter's new brain(s)


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I use Express PCB, (free program), to draw my schematics but have never used their PCB service.

Anyone have any experience with them?

The biggest problem with them is that if you want to go into production, you are screwed because your schematic is locked into their proprietary format.

That is the catch with pcb software without limitations, it is usually always stuck in a proprietary format.  With PCB artist (better software than PCB express) you must purchase your initial board from Advanced Circuits.  From what I hear you can get the gerber files after paying for boards.

I have yet to import DipTrace schematics into LTspice (free simulation software), but I'm sure I will in the coming months.  After designing a board with DipTrace I would suggest trying it out because it is decent, fairly easy to use software that generates gerber files with a 500 pin limitation.  You can import sparkfun's library into diptrace if you download eagle and convert the library to diptrace ascii format.

I have ordered a board from ExpressPCB and was happy with the board.  The software and PCB manufacturing is fairly limited and prices are average for what I need.  I do have to say that I picked up the use of the program fairly fast, and was able to verify my PCB design matched my schematic using netlists.

CtC do you have a link?


I want to make one for myself :(

Grog - here is what you do. And I still do this from time to time when I need a quick board...  First, you need some tiny drill bits from the hobby shop, I think they are .035 or so. Next, buy a cheap blank pcb with holes already in it, the grid kind like the ones from radio shack. It does not matter the size. Now clamp this PCB (with the holes in it) to your blank solid board (the one with the solid copper on one side -or two). What you have here is a drilling jig. Now everone will argue with this, but for a simple board this is the way to go. Drill the holes first! Drill before you lay out the traces. You will have to draw out your idea on paper, and figure out where all the traces will eventually go, but drill the holes first. Next, use a scotch-brite pad (green scratchy pad for dishes) and shine up the copper and smooth out the holes you just drilled.

Now, using a brand new Sharpie, draw your traces out. After you have drawn out all the traces, go over then again. You need the sharpie ink to be very dark and very very thick. Now etch your board.  After etching, clean off the sharpie with rubbing alcohol and scotch brite it again.

That's it. A simple, single sided pcb with no toner transfer, no photo anything -nada! Works every time.

Radio Shack even sells a little kit with everything in it for about 20 bucks. Store only

Don't get me wrong,

I'm still a homebrew pcb virgin, I worship your worldy and experienced ways.

Being a virgin, I wanted to know if you felt it was "worth it" , or now that you've "done it" , do you feel the need to "do it" again.  Or would outsourcing would be preferred?  When would it be worth it? Only small designs, where you just happen to have a lovely bottle of  2009' Ferric Chloride open?

Hi GroG,

Actually I prefer a muriatic acid / hydrogen peroxide etchant.

As far as using board houses versus homebrewing, it all depends. 

I still homebrew some pcbs. If I need something quickly, and can make it a single sided board. It takes extra effort to succssfully layout a single sided pcb with as few jumpers as needed.

As a case in point, I've been working on a "Stick-AXE". It is a small breadboard compatible shield for the PICAXE 8-14-20 chips. I've made a bout a half dozen homebrewed versions to get the component positions correct and to minimize the size.  It's part of the design process for me.

Once I get the final version done, I'l send it out and have a bunch made and sell them. 

You wanted to know if I 'felt it was worth it, now that I've done it and would I do it again'. Definitely, it was worth the learning experience. Now that I know what works for me and have all of the equipment necessary it is relatively easy. In fact, I rarely hand wire a circuit. After breadboarding, it is faster to make a quick pcb. But drilling all those holes is a real PITA, but I am building a small CNC to do just that.

There is really no one  "best" way to make pcbs. It all depends on your preferences. 




Hey thanks MYC! I always knew you were a fellow Masshole even before I checked your profile! :)

(I live on the Cape by the way)

Grog, it really just comes down to one simple reason I am not doing this round by hand... Double sided --never tried it before.

What the hell CTC?  The DIY man who can do it all, who has done it all ... including making your own PCBs (which  I ashamedly have not) Why on earth are you outsourcing?

Have you gone all software on us?