I am designing some PCBs, which I intend to prototype, and then get small volumes produced for personal use at a cheap PCB house such as Itead, DirtyPCBs, or Seeedstudio Fusion PCB. These board houses all charge about $12 for 10 copies of a PCB up to 5x5cm. My design will stick into a USB port like a little dongle, and as such will be much slimmer than 5cm (somewhere between 1 or 2 cm).

When I have purchased multiple PCBs off of eBay or similar, they often come attached with 'V' groove routing and you can just snap one off. Is this something that these cheap PCB houses offer, bearing in mind they probably use it to separate different boards in an order anyways? Or, if not, is there any other kind of routing they offer which would work in this scenario?

Could I arrange my Eagle file so that it had 3 copies of the board with the 'v' routing separating each board, send the relevant files off and then get 10x3 boards back ready to snap apart myself? It seems like bad value for money (although obviously good value overall) when I am paying for 5x5 cm but only using 1x5.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Did you try asking the cheap PCB house? \$\endgroup\$ – Ignacio Vazquez-Abrams May 17 '16 at 19:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ AFIUI, V-groove only makes sense when you do it to a panel (the groves run across from edge-to-edge) so when they consolidate many orders onto a panel it's not going to work for you. I've gotten it done for smallish orders.. talk to them. Otherwise I guess you can do routed tabs, but sometimes they charge extra if the design appears to be panelized or have multiple designs. It's a crap shoot. \$\endgroup\$ – Spehro Pefhany May 17 '16 at 19:06
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    \$\begingroup\$ "Cheap PCB manufacturer" is not an industry standard. Ask them, how on earth should we know? \$\endgroup\$ – PlasmaHH May 17 '16 at 19:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ I haven't asked them yet, as I haven't even started designing the boards but was wondering if it was a possibility because if so I need to make sure that my boards are slim enough to fit as many as I want per 5cm square. I will get in touch with some houses to find out. And, @PlasmaHH, I was merely asking if anyone had experience, not necessarily expecting a definitive answer. Isn't that what places like these are for? \$\endgroup\$ – Archie Roques May 17 '16 at 19:21
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    \$\begingroup\$ @ArchieRoques: no. Your average EE forum maybe, but stackexchange is different. We expect questions to have answers, and this be based on facts, not random anecdotes. We strive to collect a library of q&a style knowledge that is useful for later visitors. See the help centre about what questions to ask and which to avoid \$\endgroup\$ – PlasmaHH May 17 '16 at 20:00

The term is "panelizing", and PCB houses can certainly routinely accommodate this. In fact, when you get multiple boards of small size, this has probably happened behind the scenes and the boards have already been depanelized for you.

As you can tell from that example, some houses prefer that you provide the Gerbers for one board and let them panelize it for you, and some prefer the whole shebang laid out in advance by the customer.

Your question is whether the cheap board houses will allow you to do this. Many don't, as it cuts into their business model, and others probably will. The person to ask is the board house. You might also consider going to a non-discount joint if your quantity is big enough, and they'll do whatever you want with respect to panelization.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks. I thought it would be possible, but I did wonder if it would be allowed. I'll get in touch with some board houses. Unfortunately, my boards are for personal use and I don't have tons of money, so I can't really get loads produced at once to save money. \$\endgroup\$ – Archie Roques May 17 '16 at 19:22

Usually these board houses are really charging you by the FR4 substrate sheet. What I usually do is wait to have a few designs ready to go, and then "panelize" them. If you order a whole sheet it's usually cheaper, because you save them the trouble of having to panelize your design with others. You can do it yourself, and supply them Gerbers for the complete sheet, using up as much of the space as you can. In those cases, if you include the V groove on your panel, they should do it as you asked. If they have to panelize your design with other customers, there is a good chance they will refuse to do it, because a V groove affects both sides of the line.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Unfortunately, my boards are for personal use and I don't have tons of money, so I can't really get loads produced at once to save money. This is my first PCB design, so I want to try it out first before getting whole panels produced! \$\endgroup\$ – Archie Roques May 17 '16 at 19:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ If it is not very complicated (through hole or everything is bigger than TSSOP pitch), I would suggest you try to etch it yourself. You will have as much fun producing your board that you had designing it, and it will cost you near nothing once you get a hang of it. Perfect for prototypes before dishing out to have real boards made. instructables.com/id/… \$\endgroup\$ – Drunken Code Monkey May 17 '16 at 22:19

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