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The next step

Having made a couple of prototype-like projects I thought it would be nice to put the projects on proper made-for-the-purpose circuit boards. So far I've been using these boards and they have worked very well: the size is perfect for an ATmega168 with support components (like a 7805 volt reg and a couple of capacitors) and they are laid out like a breadboard.

However, I'm running out of space for components on those boards and using single-pad proto boards seems kind of kludgy.

So I began looking into making my own PCBs. But all that stuff with printing and ironing and splashing around with acids and whatnot just looks like too much hassle.

So if I don't want to make my own, I guess I'll have to buy them. It might be a bit more expensive but they will look soo much cooler with solder mask and silkscreen and stuff.

After a couple of hours of Googling I ended up confused on higher level. It turns out that there are lots and lots of companies making PCBs to order but specifications, requirements, prices, minimum quantities etc. vary wildly. My requirements are:

  • Simple boards: typically only one copper layer and (for the time being) no small SMD components so layout isn't too complex.
  • Small quantities: like one or two or six boards at a time.
  • No hurry: I can wait a couple of weeks.
  • Price: I don't want to spend too much money on something that is just for fun (actually, that's probably too late but still...)
  • No hassle: by which I mainly mean import tax and VAT.
  • Solder mask: I'd like a solder mask (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solder_mask) to help protect from shorts and to avoid having to tin all copper traces to prevent corrosion of the copper (not strictly necessary). Also, it look cool.
  • Silkscreen: Not strictly a requirement but it would be nice to have outlines and labels silkscreened unto the board. And again: it looks cool.

Two providers I'm currently looking at are:

Micron20 / PCB Boards in Bulgaria which is very cheap and
PCB Pool in Germany which is a bit more expensive but looks more professional.

Both are in the EU so there's no import tax and VAT, both accept designs in EAGLE .BRD files (EAGLE is the schematic and layout program I use), and both are able to deliver single and double-sided boards with solder mask and silkscreen in small quantities for a reasonable price.

(original image by Henry Herndon)

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