[Ladyada’s] thoughts on quick-turn and small-run PCB houses

So you’ve mastered your PCB layout software, and it’s time to make the board. But if you don’t want to etch your own you’ve got to decided where to have it fabricated. There’s a slew of services out there, most of which you cannot afford, but the short list of those you can is still pretty long. We think this set of PCB fabrication house reviews will help you make your choice.

[Ladyada] — aka [Limor Fried] — knows what she’s talking about. She owns Adafruit Industries and has done the lion’s share of designing the many kits and items they sell. If you’re going to charge money for something it better work right, and that involves lots of prototypes. But even if you don’t need a quick turn-around or numerous testing boards the post is helpful as she also covers some of the batch producers we’re already familiar with. These include DorkBot PDX and BatchPCB to name a couple.

[via Reddit]

46 thoughts on “[Ladyada’s] thoughts on quick-turn and small-run PCB houses

  1. I’ve used a lot of the same companies she lists. I am not associated with this company (just a happy customer) but I also use Accutrace (pcb4u.com) for a lot of protos (and some production). They have a $10 each 2-sided proto special for up to 20 sq inches that gets you very high quality boards in a week. They also usually run a 2nd order on the house special which can bring your price for protos down to $5/each or you can apply it to a 2nd production run. Depending on the size of your board this is a much better deal than a lot of the well known services.

      1. Fill up the online quote on their site and you’ll be nicely surprised.
        Latest board 9″x6″ that I’ve fit a bunch of small circuits costed me 107$/2 layers/green/6 day delivery/shipping, taxes included.

    1. Sorry, 107$ was for 2 separate boards 9×6″. 1 board 9×6″ would cost $71 everything included in 6 days delivery.

      One advice, don’t try to fit several separate circuits on a Full featured PCB quote cause they will charge you separate setup fees.

      I did fit multiple separate circuits on the Limited PCB quote and had no problem.

      The difference between the Limited PCB and Full featured PCB is that the latest you’ll have a bigger choice. The Limited PCB is pretty much 2 layers/green/1.6mm thick/top silk/14mil space/7 mil trace.

    1. Agreed, definitely not 9 days. I submitted my earliest order on May 23rd… it’s has been at the depanelization/shipping state since June 8th. I’ve submitted 2 more since then that haven’t made it back from the fab yet (May 30th and June 2nd). I have been told by others that it was quick though. So, maybe it’s a recent issue?

    2. I know Laen. He used to be at every bi-weekly Dorkbot meetup here in Portland, Oregon (a.k.a. “PDX”). He’s a really nice guy. Lately he’s been super crazy busy, but he still comes by the meetups occasionally.

      Laen’s really, truly into facilitating people building projects. We’ve all sat around chatting over beers asking how he can do this without charging a fixed fee plus PCB area, since tiny boards are a net loss with free shipping. His response: as long as it works out on average, he wants to keep things cheap and simple for hobbyists.

      This PCB service grew pretty quickly once people found out about it, and I think it started to get to be as much or more than he could handle. I order boards pretty regularly, and they’ve been taking about 1 month lately.

      Today I ordered again, and now he’s got a really nice automated system set up. It’s http://www.oshpark.com Previously he was doing much of it by email! I don’t know for sure, but my gut feeling is this new site is really going to help. The new site gives you nice status info too.

      If you haven’t used his service since the change to the new site, it’s probably worth another try. For small quantity of small boards, he has the very best price. The boards are made by a very good USA-based company, to a much higher quality standard than most others.

      But if you need it quickly, none of the cheap batching services are fast.

      1. Sounds like it’s a scalability issue then. Hopefully the website will help him out. I was thinking the ‘depanelization’ step would be the most time consuming. I plan to use his service regardless due to quality, price, USA fab, and his motivation for offering the service.

      2. I ordered boards from his new service on June 7th, and got an update that the PCBs were sent to the fab the next day, June 8th. I’m super impressed with the slick preview offered on the website, and all of the notes about what is done to the layers. It’s VERY VERY nice and I encourage you all to try it. I will try to remember to update with the day I get my boards… hopefully the new site speeds things up for him.

      3. I contacted Laen about my boards and to check what was going on. He (paraphrased) said that things are normally much quicker and the transition to the new website and some script work slowed down the early orders put into the website. He said my boards should be in the mail tomorrow. Regardless of this experience I’ll be using his service in the future – still faster than the chinese batch services, lower price, and better quality (ENIG, 6mil trace/space, etc.)

      4. UPDATE: I ordered boards from Laen’s new service on June 7th, and got an update that the PCBs were sent to the fab the next day, June 8th. Now today June 18th I got an email that the boards are back from the fab and will be depanelized within the next few days.

        Oh please hurry! Can’t wait :)

      5. UPDATE: I ordered boards from Laen’s new service on June 7th, and got an update that the PCBs were sent to the fab the next day, June 8th. Now today June 18th I got an email that the boards are back from the fab and will be depanelized within the next few days. I received the boards 10 days after depanelization email… today Jun 28th, OMG this was a LONG WAIT.

        Total time: 21 days (3 weeks)

        Only reason I ordered was because Sparkfun was out of stock on something, thought I could build it faster… then Sparkfun had the item back in stock next day… :-( Still too damn much at Sparkfun. I have 3 PCBs for half the cost of one built at Sparkfun, and I have the parts I need already.

    3. First off, I should state I’m not associated with any of these vendors but I have met Laen, I do (sporadically) attend DorkbotPDX meetings, and have used the PCB service a couple of dozen times or so (is that all?).

      > I call BS on the 9-day turnaround for dorkbot.

      When the service first started, the turnaround was shorter – I remember mailing a .brd file on early Monday and meeting Laen at Starbucks on Saturday to pickup my boards.

      But things have changed (see http://oshpark.com/) so in this case I’m afraid Ms. Fried’s info is a bit out of date.

      If you’ve waited more than 3 weeks I’d drop him a mail; mistakes do happen.

      FWIW I’ve found Laen to be a nice, friendly guy who’s always willing to help his fellow geek.


      1. If I could, I’d edit my last posting and whine that when I _started_ my post, Paul’s posting wasn’t there.

        But I did want to add that Paul is correct, recent orders have been a bit bogged down but my last order (end of May) came back in my hands within 2 weeks.

  2. We use Advanced circuits for our production boards and barebones for our proto runs, they seem to do a good job.

    I’ve done a little bit with BatchPCB when I want a “green” board and can wait for it but don’t want to pay premium for Advanced. They seem to do a good job, except their drm bot sucks on outlines.

  3. I’ve used four of those: batchPCB, ITeadStudio, Gold Phoenix, and Seeed Studio. In my experience, there’s not much difference between them in terms of delivery time or quality of the boards.

    ITead and Seeed have the advantage of price, and you get ten boards, enough to actually make a small run. Until you’re buying hundreds of dollars’ worth of boards for a given design, I recommend those two.

    If you’re doing orders >$500, then PCBcart may be the best option.

  4. Silver Circuits is the bees knees, I’ve placed several orders there and they’ve turned out great. If you’re feeling lazy, they even take Eagle .brd files so you don’t have to run a CAM script at all. I just got 6 boards with a non-square routed outline for $105 shipped, with excellent silkscreen, accurately registered soldermask, and a nice finish on the pads. 7 days total turnaround, so not exactly quick-turn but it sure beats waiting an indeterminate amount of time.

    1. I used to use them, but I got tired of the holes never being centered in the pads (not shifted, each was off in some random direction by ~6-10mils). I was using 10/10 rules; how they claimed to make more precise boards, I do not know.

  5. With all those hackerspaces popping like mushrooms, wouldn’t it be feasable to make some kind of group deal if we manage to team up? Perhaps on a USA or EU or whatever region basis?

    1. Most fabs don’t want to deal with panels that have multiple types of boards on it. It’s a lot more work for them, and without a lot of careful panelizing work to balance copper coverage, you’ll suffer terrible over/underplating and get shorts, cuts, and etching problems. It’s a LOT more complicated than just “put a bunch of boards on a panel.”

      I think every hackerspace should be doing PCB milling. Fast, SUPER cheap, and MUCH better for the environment than going to a fab.

  6. I used APC for years, switched to 4pcb for a while now I really really like Seeed cheap $10 for 10 5×5 cm 10 day turnaround I’ve done 3 boards through them now sprung for the 100% etest and I’m really happy with the results

  7. batchpcb i ran into problems with, we got a batch of boards from them that they did a ‘test’ finish on, they’re all useless now. they were adding silkscreen over pads. and they’re difficult to reach. hard to recommend, i don’t want to pay for their R&D

    silvercircuits have been good, great communication , turn around is reasonable, prices are good.

    4pcb/advancedcircuits are great , great communication, ok price, good turn around times.

    iteadstudios cheap, good quality, decent turnaround speeds. had a few bad boards, but nothing unexpected.

    pentalogix, i’ve had a few small issues with their ordering devliery/process, but they’re good about fixing it and they’re fast, and they’ll do small runs usa side at overseas prices if it makes sense. they need an automated system for order updates though.

  8. Most useful article ever! Article…meh. Comments…WIN! I never heard of many of these places and good REAL feedback is nice. Someone should compile these into a new list.

  9. I’ve used PCB-POOL for a number of prototype and low-volume runs over the years. Best feature is that they take Eagle brd files directly instead of requiring Gerbers. Turnaround is decent (they’re in Ireland). Board quality is excellent.

  10. I’ve used Gold Phoenix for production boards (I have a kit business) for a couple of years without problems (I pay extra for electrical testing). But with my most recent product, the quality of the boards was very poor. I finally bit the bullet and changed to Advanced Circuits for that product and am very happy with the quality. It doubled my board cost, but the peace of mind was worth it. In the kit business, board quality problems are very time consuming and expensive to resolve with customers.

  11. Bob Alexander’s PCB Shopper gives you a really good comparison of manufacturers for simple projects:

    For larger projects, I always use San Francisco Circuits : http://www.sfcircuits.com
    Great turn around and service; but a little pricey.

    They have a hobbyist special deal that is high quality:
    2 lyr, max 60 in2 Qty: 3 .062″, $199
    4 lyr, max 32 in2 .062″, Qty: 3 $319

    Made in USA & shipping included

  12. This is great info. But I have yet to find a local US based shop that offers Quickturn PCB Prototypes in Chicago until I stumbled upon Quick Turn Protos at http://QuickTurnProtos.com. They have a cookie cutter new customer specials but you can customize your requirement to far deeper specs and still be able to get a very decent price and turnaround. I used them for my last project, I would definetley use them again. Better than waiting 10 days !!!

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