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I am at the point that my projects are becoming limited by the space on my breadboard. Rather than buying more, I have decided to look into PCB fabrication. My question is this: is it cheaper to make your own PCBs for prototyping, or should I send my plans away and have them fabbed elsewhere? If you do make your own boards at home, how much does it cost per square unit (approximately) and what method do you use?

If it helps, I am in Australia so I don't have many fab businesses close by.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Why do the fabs need to be close by? If you're going across the ocean, it's going to be on a jet plane at 900 km/hr. It's a small world. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 24, 2010 at 23:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ Posting on a old thread, but justification for looking for something closer, on-shore, are "shipping costs" and erratic customs treatment. Free shipping isn't a reality outside US (mostly) and few european countries. \$\endgroup\$
    – bdutta74
    Jan 31, 2012 at 4:18

6 Answers 6

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I often make my own prototype PCBs at home. I made my own UV exposure unit for about £20, and use a cheap HP inkjet printer with Mega Electronics (UK) Jetstar Premium film for the transparencies and Mega's FPC16 positive resist pre-coated boards, developed in sodium hydroxide solution and etched in ferric chloride. The FPC16 costs about 1p a sq. inch, and the film costs roughly the same. I can make a PCB in about 30 minutes (not including drilling), and can do 8/8 mil tracks without any problems.

Join the Homebrew PCB Yahoo group if you need more information on the various techniques that are available.

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Yeah I do the laser printer transfer method, if you work in an office with a laser printer you could probably sneak a couple of prints for prototypes. I would highly suggest using a laminator and not an iron for the transfers, you will get much more crisp results. I regularly use the method for smd components with small lead spaces without any problems. I use a mixture of muriatic acid, hydrogen peroxide, and water for my etching. I would also suggest a fish tank air pump with a ceramic (not the blue ones, they will dissolve) aerator. It will etch a 3.5 by 5 inch pcb board in about 8 min and the solution can be used over and over again if the aerator is left on in solution. Laser printer $80, laminator $30, fish tank pump and aerator $15, muriatic acid and hydrogen peroxide $8 and stack of 10 12" x 6" copper clad boards about $15 dollars on ebay so it's about a $150 dollar investment in the beginning but you can cut most of your costs by borrowing a laser printer. It is more than worth it though because you can design and test out your boards all within an afternoon so the prototype phase is much shorter. I know this is a shameless plug but here are some example results from my website http://www.aaronalai.com/ultrasonic-navigation and http://www.aaronalai.com/business-card

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I'm in Australia too.

There are no Australian fab houses (as far as I know) which will do small runs without large setup costs. I have used BatchPCB for commercially produced boards and found them to be good.

I etch my own boards where I can - it's quite easy to do using toner transfer - a laser printer, some magazine pages, & some copper clad + ferric chloride etchant. It probably costs a dollar or two a board - I don't really think about the cost, given that I only do low volumes.

I'm in Adelaide, I buy my stuff from Aztronics - it usually costs about $5 for a largish copper clad offcut, which lasts me a while, and about $10 for a few hundred mL of ferric chlroide, which again, lasts a while.

If you want more precision than you can get with toner transfer, you can use UV exposure for better results, combined with a bubble etching tank - you'll be able to do double sided boards too then.

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A first step up from breadboard is probably perfboard, stripboard, veroboard or such. The next might be etching copper. Toner transfer is probably least involving (presuming you have other use for a laser printer) followed by photoresists. There's also tape up and pens if you don't mind the handiwork. It all depends on availability. Simple designs on thick material can even be carved with a rotary tool. Having access to a suitable router or a fab place changes the game of course.

Google around for those and maybe also "Manhattan method". See if any of them is accessible. You may be able to use many of them for different purposes.

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I'd been producing my own boards for nearly 10 years. But for me at least, it is no longer the most cost effective solution. With the prevalence of PCB manufacturers in Asia -- I just find it so much inexpensive for someone to do it for you. If you are looking for good English customer service, these are a few of tried during the past year (for low volume quantities):

internationalcircuits.com
pcbexpress.com
jetpcb.com

Regards

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Where are you located? \$\endgroup\$ Oct 24, 2010 at 23:50
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+1 for pcbexpress.com

Great quality and price and good service. I have used them a few times over the last 4 years and will continue to do so. They are based in Texas, and they send the Gerber files to a shop in China that ships directly from there to your home/business.

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