PCB Fabrication Sources

After you've developed a circuit, perhaps tested a prototype and have finally got the perfect design, you may wish to create a printed circuit board.  There are some home-brew methods, but if you get to the point of wanting more than a few boards, it may be time to turn to a commercial fab house.  Even in small quantity, having circuit boards made can be inexpensive, if you know where to go. Making circuit boards in large quantities will further lessen the price of the board - in my experience with production boards, making ten times more boards increases the price only be a factor of two!  With a large order, there are always the anxious moments wondering if you missed some detail on the board, or if the fab house will do a good job.

To help you find a good fab house, the tables below list some of the sources I have used that produce good boards as a reasonable price.

design_to_brd

 

I've used a number of PCB fab houses over the years and have several I've come to rely on for quality boards at an affordable cost.  There is no single best answer - the quantity of boards needed, board options and the urgency in getting the boards all impact the "best" choice.  In the following tables are fab houses I have used except for Dorkbot and BatchPCB, but all of these are known to manufacture high quality boards.  BatchPCB is included for completeness as many people use this service originally established by SparkFun but in terms of price and delivery time, it may not be one of the better options.


Where the specification boxes are blank, I do not know the answer.  There may be other options than the specifications I have listed, so check if you need something different and please verify the details before ordering boards.

Company

Specifications

Cost

ITead Studios

Green Solder Mask

Low cost, lot of 10 boards
Layers: 1-2
Maximum Board Size: 5 cm x 5 cm or 10 cm x 10 cm
Board Thickness: 0.063" (others optional) 
Copper Weight: 1 oz.
Minimum Hole Size: 12 mil
Trace & Space: 6 mil, 6 mil
Maximum Hole Size: 250 mil
Silk Screen Layers: 2
Solder Mask Layers: 2
Solder Mask Color Green
Unplated Holes?
Notches & Cutouts?
Irregular Shape?
Testing? Yes - half the boards
File Types: Gerber 274X, to their name specifications.
5 cm x 5 cm
$12 for 10 pieces
5 of the 10 tested for this price.

Shipping to US
China/Hong Kong Post:  $4.00
DHL: $25


10 cm x 10 cm
$28 for 10 pieces
5 of the 10 tested for this price.

Shipping to US
China/Hong Kong Post:  $5.00
DHL: $25
ITead Studios

Non-green Solder Mask

Low cost, lot of 10 boards
Layers: 2
Maximum Board Size: 5 cm x 5 cm or 10 cm x 10 cm
Board Thickness: 0.063" (others optional) 
Copper Weight: 1 oz.
Minimum Hole Size: 12 mil
Trace & Space: 6 mil, 6 mil
Maximum Hole Size: 250 mil
Silk Screen Layers: 2
Solder Mask Layers: 2
Solder Mask Color Blue, White, Yellow, Red
Unplated Holes?
Notches & Cutouts?
Irregular Shape?
Testing? Yes - half the boards
File Type: Gerber 274X, to their name specifications.
5 cm x 5 cm
$25 for 10 pieces
5 of the 10 tested for this price.

Shipping to US
China/Hong Kong Post:  $4.00
DHL: $25

10 cm x 10 cm
$38 for 10 pieces
5 of the 10 tested for this price.

Shipping to US
China/Hong Kong Post:  $5.00
DHL: $25
DorkBot

3 Board Lots, priced by the square
inch.  No setup charge.
Layers: 2 or 4
Maximum Board Size:
Board Thickness: 0.062" 
Copper Weight: 1 oz.
Minimum Hole Size: 13 mil
Trace & Space: 6 mil, 6 mil
Maximum Hole Size: 250 mil
Silk Screen Layers: 2
Solder Mask Layers: 2
Solder Mask Color Purple
Unplated Holes?
Notches & Cutouts?
Irregular Shape?
Testing?
File Type: Gerber 274X, Eagle .brd

2 Layer: $5 per sq. in. for 3 copies of the board.
4 Layer: $10 per sq. in. for 3 copies of the board.

Free shipping in US.
International Shipping:
First Class Mail: $5
Priority Mail: $15

Additional Information        15 April 2011

According to Laen, who handles the Dorkbot orders, an order for doubled-sided boards is made each Monday, and the boards are received 9 days later.  Shipments to US addesses are usually received within 3 days after that (12 days after the Monday the boards were ordered).

BatchPCB

Boards priced by the square inch.  Orders are consolidated and made in China.

Layers: 2 or 4
Maximum Board Size: 10" x 15"
Board Thickness: 0.062" 
Copper Weight: 1 oz.
Minimum Hole Size: 20 mil (2 layer)
13 mil (4 layer)
Trace & Space: 8 mil, 8 mil (2 layer)
6 mil, 6 mil (4 layer)
Maximum Hole Size: 500 mil
Silk Screen Layers: 2
Solder Mask Layers: 2
Solder Mask Color No options, may vary
Unplated Holes? No
Notches & Cutouts? No internal cutouts
Irregular Shape? Yes
Testing?
File Type: Gerber 274X
2 Layer: $10 setup + $2.50/in sq

4 Layer: $10 setup + $8.00/in sq

Long lead times.Click

Click for updated information about DorkbotPDX - Now OSH Park

 

Company

Specifications

Cost

PCBGeek

200 in. sq. panel, cost is per lot of as many boards as will fit.
Layers: 1 or 2
Maximum Board Size: 7" x 7"
Board Thickness: 0.062" 
Copper Weight: 1 oz.
Minimum Hole Size: 18 mil
Trace & Space: 8 mil, 8 mil
Maximum Hole Size: 6.3 mm
Silk Screen Layers: 2
Solder Mask Layers: 2
Solder Mask Color Green
Unplated Holes?
Notches & Cutouts?
Irregular Shape?
Testing?
File Type: Gerber 274X, Protel, PADS, PowerPCB
$59.90 for as many boards as fit in 200 in. sq.
Shipping $30 for express shipping

V-score optional

Includes step & repeat service to fill the panel.

Can accept Protel/ PADS/ PowerPCB/ Gerber files
PCBCart

Full service fab house.  Excellent prices for small to large lots.  Many options.
Layers: 1 - 10
Maximum Board Size: 600 mm x 700 mm
Board Thickness: .016-.126"  (0.4mm-3.2mm)
Copper Weight: 0.5 - 2 oz
Minimum Hole Size: 8 mil
Trace & Space: 8 mil, 8 mil
Maximum Hole Size:
Silk Screen Layers: 2
Solder Mask Layers: 2
Solder Mask Color
Unplated Holes?
Notches & Cutouts?
Irregular Shape?
Testing? Yes
File Type: Gerber 274X
Typical Prices:

2" x 3.5" board, 2 layers, green soldermask:
Qty 10:  $100 total
Qty 100: $182 total

Other soldermask colors add about $10 to the lot charge.
PCB Fab Express

Full service US fab house.  Many options.
Layers: 2, 4 or 6
Maximum Board Size:
Board Thickness: 0.062" 
Copper Weight: 1 oz.
Minimum Hole Size: 15 mil
Trace & Space: 6 mil, 6 mil
Maximum Hole Size: 246 mil
Silk Screen Layers: 1
Solder Mask Layers: 2
Solder Mask Color Green
Unplated Holes? Extra Charge
Notches & Cutouts? No
Irregular Shape?
Testing? Extra Charge
File Type: Gerber 274X
Prototype Service - Typical Price

5 day turn, 5 boards

2 Layer:  $15 per board
4 Layer:  $35 per board
6 Layer:  $77 per board

Other quantities and turn times available.


Revised Information as of 10 May 2011:

Seeed Studio, another Chinese fab house, has announced the Fusion PCB service, providing competition for ITead Studios.  ITead has responded by reducing prices and adding more options.  The table below summarizes some of the options available.  Check at the respective web site for more details and up-to-date information.

I have not used Seeed Studio but I know they have some interesting products.  I cannot attest to their circuit board quality.

Source Size Qty Cost per Board Total Cost
(air mail shipping)
ITead Studios 5 cm x 5 cm - green 10 (5 tested) $1.40 $14
5 cm x 15 cm - green 10 (5 tested) $4.20 $42
10 cm x 15 cm - green 5 (2 tested) $10.40 $52
10 cm x 10 cm - green 10 (5 tested) $3.00 $30
5 cm x 5 cm - colors 10 (5 tested) $4.90 $49
10 cm x 10 cm - colors 10 (5 tested) $3.00 $30
Seeed Studio 5 cm x 5 cm 10 (5 tested) $1.40 $14
5 cm x 10 cm 10 (5 tested) $2.90 $29
5 cm x 15 cm 10 (5 tested) $3.90 39
5 cm x 20 cm 10 (5 tested) $4.90 49
10 cm x 10 cm 10 (5 tested) $2.90 29
10 cm x 15 cm 10 (5 tested) $7.00 70
10 cm x 20 cm 10 (5 tested) $8.00 80
15 cm x 15 cm 10 (5 tested) $10.50 105
15 cm x 20 cm 10 (5 tested) $13 130
20 cm x 20 cm 10 (5 tested) $13 130


For ITead Studios and Seeed Studio, 100% electrical testing adds $10 to the lot total.

For Seeed Studio, soldermask colors other than green are available for an additional lot charge of $10

 

Revised Information May, 2012

iTead and Seeed continue to expand their offerings, including more board sizes and larger quantity pricing.  The chart below is an attempt at making comparisons easy.

update 5-12

 

PDF Version

 


Posted: 3 years 6 months ago by Graham Mitchell #6456
Graham Mitchell's Avatar
Great guide Jon. As you said "there is no single best answer", although your guide makes finding that answer a whole lot easier!
Posted: 3 years 5 months ago by Jon Chandler #6688
Jon Chandler's Avatar
Woohoo...a link to this article on the Electronic's-Lab website... and I didn't even suggest it this time


Actually, there were also links posted recently there on Graham's article on the pressure-sensor module and my article Commandments for Using PICs.
Posted: 3 years 5 months ago by lincomatic #6716
lincomatic's Avatar
John, this is by far the best PCB fab guide I've seen, thanks!
Posted: 3 years 5 months ago by Jon Chandler #6721
Jon Chandler's Avatar
Thanks lincomatic! I appreciate the comment.

There are some other popular fab houses but for the most part, I have personal experience with the guys on the list and have been very happy with the results.
Posted: 3 years 5 months ago by sarge #6735
sarge's Avatar
Hi, i have question about that

ITead Studios 5 cm x 5 cm $12 for 10 pieces

That means what i can order only 10 pcs? Or do I need to order a minimum of 30 pcs for $36?
Thanks for answer!
Posted: 3 years 5 months ago by Jon Chandler #6739
Jon Chandler's Avatar
You must order in lots of 10 for this special from Itead Studios. Ten 5cm x 5 cm boards will cost you $16 ($12 + $4 shipping).

Ten 10 cm x 10 cm boards are $38 including shipping.

For these prices, 5 of the boards are electrically tested and known to be good. Five are not tested or guaranteed so there might be issues but on a simple board, you probably end up with 10 good ones.
Posted: 3 years 5 months ago by sarge #6740
sarge's Avatar
You must order in lots of 10 for this special from Itead Studios. Ten 5cm x 5 cm boards will cost you $16 ($12 + $4 shipping).

Ten 10 cm x 10 cm boards are $38 including shipping.

For these prices, 5 of the boards are electrically tested and known to be good. Five are not tested or guaranteed so there might be issues but on a simple board, you probably end up with 10 good ones.

Thanks for help!
Posted: 3 years 5 months ago by Jon Chandler #6757
Jon Chandler's Avatar
Dave Jones of EEV Blog fame recently had some boards fabricated at Itead Studios. He was initially ecstatic about the price but wasn't so happy when he assembled one of the boards and it didn't work.

See the whole story in his video blog.

There are a few lessons learned here - the biggest being "Don't push the technology too much on cheap boards." Itead's specs are for a minimum 6 mil trace/space (0.006" track width and space between copper) which didn't hold up in a ground plane fill. I usually use 10 mil trace/space just to be safe which doesn't push the technology at any fab house. Dave had tight spacing with a ground plane fill on what looks to be a header with 2 mm spacing.

I'm not going to change my recommendation but I will suggest not pushing the specs too hard.
Posted: 3 years 5 months ago by Jon Chandler #6760
Jon Chandler's Avatar
Here's a webpage of Itead "Quirks" which should be considered before ordering.
Posted: 3 years 5 months ago by novec #6779
novec's Avatar
Would like to add Olimex: http://olimex.com/pcb/

€30 for double sided euro board (160 x 100 mm), €24 for single sided. Quad euro boards (320 x 200 mm) are available for four times the price. Price break for 5+ and 12+ euro boards, 2+ and 4+ quad boards.

Price includes everything, no "hidden fees" except reasonable shipping and small fees for non-standard drill sizes, more than 500 holes per euro board and a few other things that are clearly stated. Free panelizing and separation, but no contour milling. They also have 50 sq.dm (for example 500 x 1000 mm) for €300/€240 with choice of colors, contour routing etc. if you're going big.

Track/trace: 8 mil
Drills: 0.6-5.0 mm (24-200 mils)
More info on their page

I've ordered about 15 euro boards from them, and they've all been of great quality and delivered (to Norway) within ~10 days.

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