View Full Version : Best Method for "short run" of PCBs

05-15-2010, 07:01 AM
Assuming I have either gerber files or accurate resolution PCB trace-layouts on acetate films for double sided PCB design. What is the most cost effective way to get a short run of boards made?

Service Bureau (if so, who)
Self service (if so, what "supplies" would I need)

Thanks in advance to all that reply.


05-15-2010, 08:03 AM
I've used two places - APCircuits and BatchPCB. I can highly recommend APCircuits if you want quick turnaround. If memory serves, the boards are sitting at my doorstep 3 days after submitting the gerber. If there's any issues they'll call and get clarification, which is nice. I think I paid about $70 for two eagle-size (4x3.2") boards plus shipping. That's without silkscreen or solder mask.

BatchPCB is much slower, but has a better price when doing silkscreen & soldermask or when doing small boards. Problem is it takes a long long time since the boards come from china. It's been about 3 weeks and I'm still waiting on my first order (it should take about a month total at the maximum).

I've tried making my own boards at home, but it's been time consuming and error-prone (probably due to my inexperience) and I find it much either just to have the boards professionally made.


05-15-2010, 08:18 AM
One of the websites recommend 4pcb.

05-15-2010, 08:21 AM
We use Imagineering, they have always delivered on time, the quality is consistently
great and they can also provide production quantities if needed.


Phil Pilgrim (PhiPi)
05-15-2010, 10:05 AM
I've used both APCircuits (www.apcircuits.com (http://www.apcircuits.com)) and Advanced Circuits (4pcb.com (http://4pcb.com)). I currently use Advanced Circuits. I rarely do maskless protos anymore, and Advanced Circuits' $33 special is hard to beat. Both do quality work. Be sure to consider the shipping charges from Canada (APCircuits) or the U.S. (Advanced Circuits) in your price comparison.


05-15-2010, 10:22 AM
I also use Advanced Circuits. They are in Colorado, the quality is top notch and they are easy to work with. Plus, new customers get 50% off their first two orders.

Rich H

The Simple Servo Tester, a kit from Gadget Gangster. (http://www.gadgetgangster.com/206)

05-15-2010, 10:59 AM
I'm interested in this too... One day, I may try buying the ExpressPCB Gerber files and taking them elsewhere to get made at a lower cost. Sounds like 4pcb.com has a lot of votes...

My Prop Info&Apps: ·http://www.rayslogic.com/propeller/propeller.htm

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05-15-2010, 11:58 AM
Phil Pilgrim (PhiPi) said...
I've used both APCircuits (www.apcircuits.com (http://www.apcircuits.com)) and Advanced Circuits (4pcb.com (http://4pcb.com)). I currently use Advanced Circuits. I rarely do maskless protos anymore, and Advanced Circuits' $33 special is hard to beat. Both do quality work. Be sure to consider the shipping charges from Canada (APCircuits) or the U.S. (Advanced Circuits) in your price comparison.

What kind of turnaround time do you get from Advanced Circuits? I'd really like to transition to someone who has both a good price on soldermasked boards and offers a reasonably quick turnaround time. I looked into Advanced Circuits once, but got lost in their myriad of slightly-different websites (advanced circuits, 4pcb, 33each, freedfm, etc)


Phil Pilgrim (PhiPi)
05-15-2010, 12:28 PM
I use the 33each from Advanced Circuits for protos. It takes a week or so. (BTW, don't eat the microwave popcorn they send with each order. It's really awful. I can't even give it away to my UPS driver. It goes right from the shipping pak to the trash.)


05-16-2010, 12:01 AM
I too have used Advanced Circuits for quite a few years now. Not the lowest price, but find their quality to be quite high. Their DFM check helps get boards manufactured without problems too. AC's use of direct laser plotting bypasses the photoplot step eliminating errors from that process. I'd tried others but AC has given good service.

Harley Shanko

T Chap
05-16-2010, 12:11 AM
I have only used Sunstone, 3 days at your door. The reason I haven't looked elsewhere is that I can upload an Eagle .brd file online, no effort on my end. They have a very easy online method to calculate price. I always order a 12" x 14" board that had numerous boards on it, then route it as needed. I think 6 boards at 12 x 14 with mask and silk is around $550US. One cool thing I can do with Sunstone that I just read that Advanced does not allow, is that where I need a slot, I just overlap drills and get a usable slot(must be large enough drill to not break!) If you compare to Advanced, the price is not bad. Advanced 33 deal is 60Sq inches max. The price per Sq inch does increase with Sunstone if ordering less boards, but past 6 each 12x14 boards the prices start getting cheap.


12" x 14" = 168 square inches

6 boards x 168 = 1008 @ around $550 = $0.545 cent per Sq inch


60 Sq inches max @ $33 = $0.55 per Sq inch.

Post Edited (Todd Chapman) : 5/15/2010 5:25:18 PM GMT

05-18-2010, 08:06 PM
I used Olimex, and for an European customer is a nice option.
Only Eurocard format, but they depanelize for free.


Jay Kickliter
05-18-2010, 08:27 PM
I can second Sunstone Circuits. I forget what I paid for last batch of 4 PCBs, but I believe it was less than $50. They were small, and almost entirely surface mount, but they were definitely cheaper than Advanced, who I used to use. It also seems to me that their website is easier to use.

Chad George
05-18-2010, 08:38 PM
I use advance circuits (4pcb.com)

I love the free DFM check service they provide. Of course I do my own checks before I send it off, but I really like having the fabricators system do a check too so I know we are both getting it right.

And the $33 / board is a great deal

normally I don't use anywhere near 60 square inches on a single pcb so I always panelize the boards and cut them apart myself.

Buy 4 boards and get 1 free, but there's a $50 charge for multiple boards per panel

Here's a recent project:
9 small pcbs + 2 medium pcbs per panel
= 55 boards @ $206 delivered price = ~ 2.75 per board.

If its shipping to a school address ... you can order as few as 1 board at a time.

Oh and I totally agree with Phil about about AC's popcorn!

05-18-2010, 10:55 PM
Thread added to propeller.wikispaces.com/pcbdesign (http://propeller.wikispaces.com/pcbdesign).

05-18-2010, 11:32 PM
Chad George said...
normally I don't use anywhere near 60 square inches on a single pcb so I always panelize the boards and cut them apart myself.

Could you give any additional information about the procedure to panelize the boards? I'm using Eagle. Is there a particular program that you use to postprocess the gerbers to panelize, or is the panelization built into the layout software you're using?

Also, what process do you use to cut the boards apart? Any special tools?

This really sounds like it could be the cost-effective way to go, as I often have lots of small projects I could easily combine into a panel.


Chad George
05-19-2010, 01:00 AM
The panelization feature is built into my software (altium) but I'd be shocked if Eagle doesn't have some way of doing it too.

For cutting them apart, I space everything 1/8th inch and use my dremel with metal cutoff blades. After cutting I use a belt sander to trim them down to the right size.

I've tried to use a scroll saw before, but the pcb material eats up blades like crazy, so the dremel works the best for me until I find a blade that can keep up.

05-19-2010, 09:46 AM
I use www.pcbfabexpress.com (http://www.pcbfabexpress.com). Quality is very high, they are less expensive that others (price breaks start at 3 boards), and they make all their boards in CA (not sent to China).

Nick McClick
05-19-2010, 12:49 PM
@Phil - yes, the popcorn is awful, but I am a hungry man... actually, my microwave usually burns a hole through the bag.

I appreciate the thought, though, so I usually put a 'token of appreciation' with orders I ship.

Propeller Forums RSS Feed! (http://www.nicholasm.com/proprss/)

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Phil Pilgrim (PhiPi)
05-19-2010, 02:39 PM
The best thing Advanced Circuits ever sent out with their orders was a pad of sticky notes with their logo and phone number. It was not only good advertising for them but very handy to have around. The order I got from them yesterday just had the d**n popcorn -- no sticky notes. Into the trash it went. I've also had suppliers send hard candy with their orders. Another instant wastebasket item. Then there's Parallax. They sent a catalog, which is nice all by itself. But inside the catalog is a calendar. What's great about the calendar, in addition to the cool pictures, is its long, skinny format. I've got mine hanging in a narrow space where no other calendar would fit. I like getting calendars. Another supplier, Universe Kogaku, sends out a really nice one every year with impressionist paintings. Pens are nice, too, but I don't seem to get many of those anymore. Then there's the reusable packing material. Parallax's is the best: inflated polyethylene pillows. They get a lot of those back when I ship stuff to them. Thankfully, not many suppliers still use plastic peanuts. I've got a 32 gallon wastebasket full of recycled ones that I can still foist off on a customer in a pinch.

Am I starting to sound like Andy Rooney yet? "And what is it with those non-reusable Priority Mail boxes? ..."


05-19-2010, 02:57 PM
I've used Silver Circuits (www.custompcb.com/ (http://www.custompcb.com/)) and was happy with it. I mostly went with them because the price was cheap since they didn't force you to use all the extras (I got my PCBs with no soldermask or silkscreening), but still allowed choices, like different thickness PCB. I haven't done any PCBs with them recently, so I don't know if their policies are still the same though.


Jay Kickliter
05-19-2010, 06:13 PM
Phil, what is it with these PCB businesses and gifts? I got the popcorn and a pretty cool coaster from Advanced, but Sunstone sent me a very usable fold out loupe. Sunstone won my future business, mainly because of the loupe. That is, until Advanced sends me a video microscope, then I'll go back to using them.

05-19-2010, 07:04 PM
I've been using PCB Pool for years. Whenever I say hello to them at a show they always give me a little box of chocolates. I've also had a couple of DVMs from them; the displays aren't very reliable - poor contacts - but they can be persuaded to work with a bit of pressure.

Leon Heller
Amateur radio callsign: G1HSM

Post Edited (Leon) : 5/19/2010 12:11:42 PM GMT

05-19-2010, 08:40 PM
Thanks again to all of you that replied and provided a great list of vendors to consider and compare.

Phil Pilgrim (PhiPi)
05-19-2010, 10:01 PM

I never got a coaster; now I feel cheated! So I may give Sunstone a try just for the loupe ... er, I mean, for their boards' technical superiority ... yeah, that's the ticket!

One of my gripes about the popcorn is its not-insubstantial weight -- more than the boards, usually. If I'm in a hurry and have my order shipped overnight, the popcorn makes for a rather expensive "free" gift.


Tracy Allen
05-19-2010, 11:11 PM
Phil, Your oft expressed distaste for microwave popcorn is not universal-- I've been saving up my 4PCB packs for the freebie table at UPEW!

Tracy Allen
www.emesystems.com (http://www.emesystems.com)

Phil Pilgrim (PhiPi)
05-20-2010, 12:03 AM

Be careful! You could be charged with spreading toxic waste! (I know California is really strict about such things.)


Tracy Allen
05-20-2010, 12:45 AM
Ahhh! I should have known. Is PC "politically correct" or "pop corn"? It's not the corn, is it the palm oil plus less than 2% butter (on the way to becoming rancid, but with citric acid for freshness, best by Feb.2011) that "makes movie time special"?

Back on topic, the thing about PCB houses is that you get used to the way that they do business, how their ordering system works, who to call if you have a problem or special request or need to reorder an old board. There is a certain inertia about change. 4PCB has had a nice online quote system for a long time.

One thing to remember if you are doing a short run (like 10 to 100 boards) is that you can game the quote system. This may apply to any supplier, not just 4PCB. Once you have decided on the board size and specifics, increase or decreased your quantity requested by small increments. Because boards are manufactured as panels, you may find that changing your quantity by a certain small number hardly increases the total price, but at one more than that sweet spot, it jumps quite a bit.

Tracy Allen
www.emesystems.com (http://www.emesystems.com)

PJ Allen
05-20-2010, 01:39 AM
Two pages, now, and not one single mention of a Propeller, not one!

Why is it in the Propeller Forum?

Phil Pilgrim (PhiPi)
05-20-2010, 01:42 AM

That's good advice. With Advanced Circuits I've found that, up to a certain threshold, you're going to spend about $500 to $700 for a production board order, no matter what the quantity is.


Phil Pilgrim (PhiPi)
05-20-2010, 01:45 AM

That's a valid question, but it's certainly closer to Propeller matters than marathon running. http://forums.parallax.com/images/smilies/smile.gif


PJ Allen
05-20-2010, 01:50 AM

05-20-2010, 02:05 AM

If your name was Tracy Allen... you could pretty much post anywhere that you wanted:)


05-20-2010, 03:28 AM
um...sorry to be in the wrong forum or something....Does it matter if the short run of boards could be for a propeller based design?

Phil Pilgrim (PhiPi)
05-20-2010, 03:32 AM
Typically, such a topic would be sandbox material, but don't worry about it. If it were a problem, the thread would've gotten moved -- and may still. http://forums.parallax.com/images/smilies/smile.gif


05-20-2010, 03:54 AM
Okay -- is all good on this front. After all, great information about board vendors is still here -- for which I am grateful.

Tracy Allen
05-20-2010, 03:56 AM
PJ, would you feel better if we called it Prop-corn? Or is that the term we use for off-topic chatter? In any case, one must pop a prop onto a PCB to make it work.

Tracy Allen
www.emesystems.com (http://www.emesystems.com)

PJ Allen
05-20-2010, 05:54 AM
Feelings, who cares?· The Subject is about board vendors, it's not about the Propeller.··There's·zero, zilch, nada, zippo, l'ove, naught·about the Propeller.· ·

Why don't I get to post whatever I want wherever I want just like everybody else?

By the same tangential mental process, if I tape a Propeller to my shoe and ask a question about running marathons then it's Propeller-related, ne c'est freaking pas?

As for the popcorn... don't push me.

05-20-2010, 07:27 AM
PJ Allen,

You're technically correct. This should be in the sandbox. The wiki links to this thread would also need to change if that occurs.

But there is a bigger war raging. It's come to my attention that the sandbox is even more polluted with OT posts that don't mention sand boxes.

05-20-2010, 10:12 AM
I've used PCFabExpress several times and been very happy with them. I was doing boards that used 74HC595's and ULN2803's to drive up to 50 relays from 3 I/O pins on my Propeller based pipe organ controller and my fireworks firing system. (There - I mentioned Propellor and didn't mention p**corn!)

Greg LaPolla
05-20-2010, 09:26 PM
I use Gold Phoenix http://www.goldphoenixpcb.biz/.

It's by far the cheapest I have found, about 10 day turnaround and you can pay via paypal.


06-03-2010, 01:15 AM
I'm listening in and picking up that a lot of you are doing batches of PCBs. I just ordered my 2nd ExpressPCB miniboard having discovered 4 errors in my 1st one. (It's OK. I don't mind paying for my education.) Do any of you have companies do the soldering or other types of assembly?


06-03-2010, 01:25 AM
I used Sunstone Circuites a few weeks ago after reading about them here. Their turn-around time was better than expected, and UPS ground from Oregon to San Jose was only two working days. The order was very small and was reasonably priced. Thanks for mentioning Sunstone.

Propeller Pages: Propeller JVM (http://www.brouhaha.com/~sdenson/PropellerJVM/index.html)

T Chap
06-03-2010, 02:42 AM
I need to place a new order with Sunstone, I went over the options yesterday to see how prices vary between their plans. The main plans are pcbexpress "quick turn" which has the boards at your door in 3 days. The other plan is for larger production runs. The prices for the quick turn are far better unless you are ordering hundreds of boards, but even then you'd come out better order multiples of boards with quick turn (max 30 boards per order 12"x14" largest). The other thing about the quickturn is, that if you order a 12"x14" and cram as much as you can on it, it is far cheaper to route your own boards versus ordering individual boards. Their quoting section easily lets you enter info and compare between their services without having to re enter the info between services. So the short version of this is, order large boards and route your individual boards for much better pricing per sq in.