Finding the cheapest board house

PCB

The prices for custom made circuit boards has never been cheaper, but surprisingly we’ve never seen a comparison of prices between the major board houses. [Brad] took the time to dig in to the price of 10 boards manufactured by Seeed Studios, OHS Park, and BatchPCB. He made some pretty graphs and also answered the question of where you can get your circuits made cheaply.

[Brad] got the prices for boards up to 20 cm x 20 cm from Seeed Studio’s Fusion PCB service, OSH Park, and BatchPCB. These results were graphed with Octave and showed some rather surprising results.

For boards over 20 cm2, the cheapest option is Seeed Studios. In fact, the price difference between Seeed and the other board houses for the maximum sized board is impressive; a 400 cm2 board from Seeed costs $150, while the same board from OSH Park is close to $1000.

Of course most boards are much smaller, so the bottom line is  for boards less than 20 cm2, your best bet is to go with OHS Park. If you don’t care when your boards arrive, or you need more than 10 or so, Seeed is the way to go. As far as the quality of the boards go, OSH Park is up there at the top as well.

Comments

  1. Bob says:

    He unfairly concludes that you should never order from BatchPCB. But he bases that on an order of 10 boards. I, for one, rarely need more than one copy of a board.

    I recently ordered a large-ish board (9″x2″) and my price comparisons led me to order from BatchPCB,

    • Aikon says:

      I always recommend a minimum of three units: one for your final product, whatever it may be, one as a backup in case you manage to fry that, and one as an EM to play around with and get working right.

      • Bob says:

        Good point, Aikon. For my small boards, I order from shops that make a minimum of 10 – not because I want 10, but because they’re cheaper – and the extra boards provide the safety you describe.

        But for my big boards (and I do a lot of those, not because my circuits are complex, but because there are mechanical requirements) it gets too expensive to pay for 10 (or even 3). So I make do with one.

    • Brad says:

      Completely fair criticism. I have never had occasion to want fewer than two or three copies of a board. Here’s a comparison between OSH Park and BatchPCB is all you want is the minimum order. http://i.imgur.com/sz3VqDu.png
      Yellow is OSH Park, Green is BatchPCB.

      • Bob says:

        Brad, looks like your chart confirms my choice: for a 20cm x 5cm board, my BatchPCB purchase was the right choice (financially).

        So I don’t need to suffer any buyer’s remorse. :-)

  2. lmn says:

    OSH Park:
    “The medium run order
    $1 per square inch, 150 square inch minimum.

    Internal cutouts are allowed and supported”

  3. Pete says:

    Does anyone know good UK equivalents for this sort of small run PCB service?

  4. Will Lyon says:

    I noticed he left out iTead Studio. I’ve ordered from them on multiple occasions and price as well as quality are both great.

    • pfriedel says:

      iTead’s pricing and quality and speed are all pretty close mirrors of Seeed’s. Their color boards are slightly cheaper for certain combinations, but in general they map pretty closely.

  5. k-ww says:

    I have been using http://www.4pcb.com for small runs and prototypes for my consulting work for the past few years – they charge $33/board for sets of 4 or more boards of up to 60 sq.in. and do the board in one week.- since my designs are rarely that big, I pay an additional batch charge of $50 and cram as many of my designs as can fit in the 60 sq.in. and cut them apart myself [I use a small tile saw that cuts PCB's like butter] Add $30 or so for two day delivery and I pay under $1/sq.in when all is said and done.

  6. Patrick says:

    And, to be fair to the off shore fabs (although I use iTead instead of Seeed), they have only been on average about a week slower than OSH. 18-19 days from order creation to package receipt versus 12 days. I still use OSH for small runs of stuff that I’m only going to knock a handful out of, but for anything under 5×5 that I think I’ll want 10 of it’s hard to beat $14 delivered to my door.

  7. pfriedel says:

    To be fair to the offshore houses, I’ve had pretty reliable speed from iTead – about 18-19 days from order to delivery. OSH tends to average 12 days, not including some troublesome holiday panels. Those are both to the middle of the USA.

  8. Maes says:

    Would you guys have recommendations for PCB fabricators that can also do a bit of assembly? I’m absolutely not equipped to deal with LQFP and QFN packages (or BGA) by hand.

  9. cantido says:

    I wish seeed and itead etc would allow for less than 10 quantities on the bigger/4 layer boards. I want a few 10cm x 15cm 4 layer boards (I would like 6 layers really..). I want 3 or 4 not 10. If only I could pay slightly more per board and not have 6 expensive boards sitting around that I won’t use. There are US companies that will charge more for the boards each but less in total but then the shipping from the US is too expensive to make it worth bothering with.
    http://www.dfrobot.com/ is another company that seem to provide the same service as seeed and itead (shipping orders off to some pcb house in china) in case anyone didn’t know about them.

  10. Arnuschky says:

    What people always forget it that Seeed and the other chineses boardhouses only take so long if you choose the “free shipping” option. Using DHL results in a turnaround of < 1 week at a price of ~50$; a price which should be fairly consistent for most orders. Of course, this doesn't make sense for tiny orders.

    • Bill says:

      Yep, my last order took a week from sending the files to the boards being turned over to Hong Kong Post. From there, they took three days to leave Hong Kong and another 10 (with no tracking updates from either HK or USPS) to arrive at my door.

  11. DougR says:

    This is a great comparison of some PC board houses I have never heard of. Thanks for this.

    I was curious if anyone had any experience with Sunstone Circuits? I keep getting marketing material from them and they seem pretty solid, but I would like to hear if anyone has any first hand experience before I do an order.

    The URL is http://www.sunstone.com/

    FYI, I am not trying to promote them in any way nor do I have any connection to the company. I am honestly curious.

    • Robot says:

      We frequently use Sunstone for simple IO boards, test fixtures and the like. You get what you pay for in terms of no human checking on your design files but you can upload your design project file which helps to reduce errors if you are not good at generating Gerber files (I advise against that as generating Gerber files can help you in finding mistakes.) Also they are kind enough to have generated DRC files which makes designing for their capabilities easier.

      What I most like about Sunstone are two things 1) great customer service with knowledgeable staff and 2) you can always get them to give you a promotional discount / upgrade.

      The thing that I don’t like about Sunstone is their capabilities for their Quickturn service are somewhat limited; 8 mil thru vias, 6 mil trace and space, thick stackups and no impedance control. However, we do impedance controlled designs with them all the time since the trace and space are easy enough to calculate but the stackup is such that trace widths are big enough to make routing for space constrained designs a pain.

      Overall, I give them an A- with a scratch and sniff sticker for delivering early most of the time and never late.

      – Robot

  12. Kris Lee says:

    What are you guys using to cut the PCBs when you fit many smaller boards into one larger one?

    What service providers can provide cutting service?

  13. Ryan says:

    http://xkcd.com/833/

    Just saying…

  14. Rick says:

    So what is it, OSH or OHS? Do you ever proofread? (well, okay, at least you didn’t have any other glaring spelling errors. Congrats.)

  15. macona says:

    The Pricing for OSHPark is wrong. He is using the base low quantity pricing. When using their medium run pricing 10 boards at 20cmx20cm comes out to $620.

    And no mention of quality. The OSHPark board are awesome quality. I have used batchPCB and the quality is OK, but no great. Plus OSHPark has their boards made in the US, not china.

  16. Torby says:

    Waiting for 10 boards to come from elecfreaks.com $25 for 10 5 x 10cm or $10 for 10 5 x 5 cm. I think they’re on a rowboat somewhere between Hong Kong and Chicago. His production deals don’t seem very good.

    Model Railroaders (yes, I’m guilty) like things really tiny. How would you get a few hundred 15 by 10mm or so. I’m old fashion, they’re 3/8 by 1/2 inch.

    Nobody has mentioned goldphoenix.com. Are they THAT bad? Should I quake in fear?

    • k-ww says:

      [ 3/8+1/16 gap ] times [ 1/2+1/16 gap ] = about 1/2 sq in –
      [ 240 fit in 60 sq in ] times 4 = 960 for [$33*4}+$50 lot charge + $30 2nd day air = $0.22 each
      [ http://www.4pcb.com ]

    • Tim says:

      I’ve used GP often for PCBs, and (occasionally) assembly at my day job. Their prices have gone up recently, but still fairly cheap. Acceptable quality, and much quicker turn than some of the other Chinese options mentioned here. They do tiny PCBs with free V-score (see example here: http://tim.cexx.org/images/blinken_smt.jpg , these are 10x10mm), but beware under some PCB area threshold the total cm^2 you get will be much less.

      If you use them, I strongly recommend springing for electrical testing ($10 extra?) as optical inspection won’t catch all faults (e.g. a via that doesn’t connect through). Occasional bad etches happen with every boardhouse (some more than others), so an inexpensive 100% test option is a big plus for me. I’ve seen well-known quickturn houses asking as much as $150 for E-test on small prototype orders, which is often considerably more the cost of the boards themselves (but often less than the part+labor cost of debugging a faulty, already assembled prototype of any non-trivial complexity!)

    • rob says:

      golden phoenix are the actual board-house behind batchPCB.

  17. Bob says:

    I’ve just created a web site to help electronics hobbyists called PCBShopper.com. It lets you enter in the size, layers, color, and quantity of PCBs you want, and it shows you a list of manufacturers with their prices. I was inspired by a similar calculator on LadyAda’s site, but that hasn’t been updated since 2007. I hope to keep my site up to date and add new PCB manufacturers.

    My site also has a list of free PCB CAD software. If there’s sufficient demand, maybe I’ll add a list of low-cost software.

  18. Victor B. says:

    For cheap boards, you really can’t beat 4pcb, like many have mentioned. I always thought Batch was cheap but never really tried it out. For my hobbyist stuffs, I’m usually ordering from 4PCB but will def. give Seeed (so many E’s) and OHS a shot.

    If anyone is looking for more complex boards (I design many for work), we always use San Francisco Circuits, but definitely not in the “cheap” category:

    http://www.sfcircuits.com

    • Bob says:

      4PCB? They have $33/board or $66/board. Chinese manufacturers offer $10 for 10 boards. The key difference is size. 4PCB’s deal is for up to 60 sq. in., while the $10 for 10 boards is 5cm x 5cm.

      What I’ve found is that there is no “cheapest manufacturer”. A company that has the lowest price for one size board won’t have the lowest price for ALL sizes of board. That’s why you need something like PCBShopper.com where you enter the specs for the board you want to make, and it gives you prices from several manufacturers.

      BTW, while there’s no company that always has the lowest price, there are companies that NEVER have the lowest price.

  19. I totally agree “there is no cheapest manufacturer” in the world. And it is useful to try PCBShopper.com. PCB Fabrication is a more common, standard, machine workflow. So most of them are Quality Assurance.

    I have tried PCB Fabrication package from http://www.nexpcb.com, it is not the cheapest one, either. But the lead time is short. NexPCB also provide PCBA assembly turnkey service, including the cost of the components. Maybe some guys like me need this different kind of services.

  20. Roger says:

    I use http://www.DragonCircuits.com for my PCBs. They are really cool, young guys with a lot of wit AND they work with NASA and other cool space companies. I’m an avid UAV geek and I just found out they make open source hardware for my drone. SCORE!!!! Highly recommended.

    • Bob says:

      I just looked at their web site. There’s two types of PCB manufacturers in the world: those that reveal their prices online, and those that make you contact them for prices. Dragon is the latter. It’s a lot harder (and more time consuming) to shop around when you have to contact the manufacturers. Also – and this is purely superstition on my part – I always assume the prices will be higher at places that force you to communicate with a salesman.

      As the creator of PCBShopper, I have another reason to dislike such places: it’s impossible to add them to my PCB comparison calculator.

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