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I've been working with my Arduino starter kit for a while and learning the basics of electronics. Now, I have a project that I would like to move off from the standard bread board that came with the starter kit. I'd like to make the entire board configuration smaller so I can fit it in tighter places. So my question is, how do you go from prototyping on a standard breadboard to a final product? By final product I mean a more compact board. Right now this is what my mood lamp looks like for example:

mood lamp in progress

I'd like to be able to move from the breadboard there to something smaller that I can stack that is more permanent.

I realize this may not be one-hundred percent clear as I'm still really new to electronics in general and I'm having a hard time explaining myself. So please let me know if I can help clear up anything as I'd love to get this answered, thanks!

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If you want the thing you're making to be a "proper" Arduino shield, you can buy something like this "Protoshield" board from Adafruit:

http://www.adafruit.com/products/51

Other vendors sell similar boards. It's basically a bit of perfboard that's designed for mounting components, but with the header pins already setup to "stack" onto an Arduino.

If you don't need an actual shield that stacks onto your Arduino (that is, if you're going to run cable of some sort from the Arduino to the rest of the device, or if you're going to use one of the the super small Arduino clones) then you have a couple of options:

  1. Build it on perfboard. You can get perfboard that's designed to map very closely to the experimenters breadboards, or perfboard with one small copper pad per hole.

  2. Make your own PCB (printed circuit board), using one of a couple of techniques. You can use chemical etching, after you either draw traces on the copper clad board with a resist pen, or use the laser printer technique mentioned by Majenko. In either case, it involves soaking the copper clad board in an etching agent that dissolves all of the copper, except the part covered with "resist." What's left are your PCB traces.

    Or, if you have an active hackerspace or hobby electronics community in your area, you might get lucky and find somebody who has built a DIY PCB Mill, who could mill the board for you. Or if you're really enthusiastic, you could build your own DIY PCB Mill. :-)

  3. Farm out the "fab" of your circuit board to a specialist. This involves creating the PCB layout on a computer using something like Eagle, and then submitting the file to the fab, along with payment, and then receiving a package of boards a few days later. This may be a little too expensive if you only need one board... this is more for people who are building things to sell in volume. But some hobbyists make it economical by pooling their orders and splitting the cost.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ The Adafruit product looks like what i'm looking for. I'm still a little too inexperienced to try and make my own PCB's yet. So are there tutorials for how to mount the breadboard to the shield? I looked around ada's website and could not locate one. \$\endgroup\$ – chrisw Nov 3 '11 at 20:48
  • \$\begingroup\$ You wouldn't mount the breadboard to the shield, you'd transfer the components from the breadboard to the protoshield board, recreating the same circuit you have now, and soldering the components in place. If you haven't any experience soldering, you can teach yourself, or you can try to find somebody local who can give you a hand. Again, if there's a hackerspace or a ham radio club or something nearby, that would be a good resource. Otherwise, Youtube has a lot of soldering videos available. \$\endgroup\$ – mindcrime Nov 3 '11 at 20:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ Perhaps I should have worded my question better. It seems that you have to buy a smaller bread board to mount onto the shield based on what I'm reading on the site. Is this correct? If so how would you connect the two? \$\endgroup\$ – chrisw Nov 3 '11 at 20:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ Oh, right, didn't even notice that they were showing that technique in their photos. It's not what I would do, so I mentally blanked that out I guess. Aaah, if you really wanted to do it that way, you could just buy one of the really small breadboards they sell, and just glue or bolt it in place. Then you'd probably just want to use some little short jumper wires from the arduino headers to the breadboard. Putting a breadboard on there seems a bit silly to me, but it should be pretty straightforward if you do it. \$\endgroup\$ – mindcrime Nov 3 '11 at 21:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ So you would solder the connections on the board directly? Do you have a link to an example project that I can use as a reference. Essentially I have 2 RGB LEDs, and a few potentiometers to connect. \$\endgroup\$ – chrisw Nov 3 '11 at 21:02
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Sounds to me like you want to make a custom shield for your Arduino, yes?

Make your own PCB which you can plug direct into the Arduino, with everything neatly soldered into place?

Right, first off you will need to get yourself some PCB software.

If you're in Windows, then Eagle is one of the most popular ones - they do a free version that should be ideal for your needs.

If you're a Linux user, then gEDA PCB is for you. Again, free.

Then you need to get in to the etching side of things. If you have a halfway decent laser printer you can have a go at Toner Transfer etching. It takes practice, but is fun when it goes right.

I have a site with various resources, including tutorials on how to do the toner transfer etching, and template files for gEDA PCB: hacking.majenko.co.uk

Alternatively, you could get an Arduino Prototyping Board - this is a PCB full of plated holes you can solder your components to and create a shield from. Not as much fun as etching your own.

Also, you'll need (to make it stackable) some stackable headers - 2 8 way and 2 6 way. Sparkfun sell them in the US, and proto-pic in the UK.

Oh, and feel free to pop over to the chat room if you get stuck at any time.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks Majenko for the information, I'm bookmarking the chat room. I would love to go this route, however I feel it is still a tad over my head. Is it very expensive to make the boards yourself or is it more efficient to design the board and ship it to someone to craft it? \$\endgroup\$ – chrisw Nov 3 '11 at 20:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ A simple small board based on the Arduino will cost about $30 to get made. \$\endgroup\$ – Leon Heller Nov 3 '11 at 21:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ You would have the initial outlay of the equipment - paper, etchant, copper-clad board, etc, which can cost about the same as getting a single board ordered from a fab house. But each board you then make is essentially free ;) \$\endgroup\$ – Majenko Nov 3 '11 at 21:12
  • \$\begingroup\$ plugging stuff into an arduino and a breadboard and then moving straight to homemade pcb is a bit fast to me. stripboard or proto board seems like a easier next step \$\endgroup\$ – rfusca Nov 3 '11 at 21:51

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