Dirt Cheap Dirty Boards Offers Dirt Cheap PCB Fab

When your project is ready to build, it’s time to find a PCB manufacturer. There are tons of them out there, but for prototype purposes cheaper is usually better. [Ian] at Dangerous Prototypes has just announced Dirt Cheap Dirty Boards, a PCB fabrication service for times where quality doesn’t matter too much. [Ian] also discussed the service on the Dangerous Prototypes forum.

The boards are definitely cheap. $12 USD gets you ten 5 cm by 5 cm boards with 100% e-test and free worldwide shipping. You can even choose from a number of solder mask colors for no additional cost. [Ian] does warn the boards aren’t of the best quality, as you can tell in the Bus Pirate picture above. The silkscreen alignment has some issues, but for $1.2 a board, it’s hard to complain. After all, the site’s motto is “No bull, just crappy PCBs.”

The main downside of this service will be shipping time. While the Chinese fab house cranks out boards in two to four days, Hong Kong Post can take up to 30 days to deliver your boards. This isn’t ideal, but the price is right.

42 thoughts on “Dirt Cheap Dirty Boards Offers Dirt Cheap PCB Fab

    1. I agree with you. I use Iteadstudio for a while now and I am very pleased with the results.

      A good thing to know is that Itead also has downloadable DRC and CAM files for eagle. If you use these they will always be able to make your boards.
      This are the kind of small details that I like together with the dirt cheap prices.

    2. I’m gonna just have to throw this in, too. With over $400 worth of boards from itead, they are really amazing. Sure, sometimes the silk screen isn’t perfect, and yeah, they write some sort of tracking number into the board, but wowzers! At $9.90 for a 5×5 and $19.90 for a 10×10… it’s hard to argue with.

    3. I just double-checked itead’s shipping options. The cheapest (registered air mail) is $3.90 to the US, so itead is more expensive for the 5x5cm boards, but a few cents cheaper for the 10×10 boards.
      I want to make smaller boards, so if they supported routed cut-outs or even just v-score I’d be more likely to try the service. So far the cheapest place I know of for panelized small boards is hackvana.

      1. Itead is also more expensive if you want any colour other than green while the dirt cheap service has a number of colours to choose from at no extra.

        1. OSHpark charges $5/sq in for 3 copies of the board. Itead gives 2 extra boards for open source hardware, so 12 5×5 boards costs ~$14 shipped. That’s ~48 square inches total – equal to 3 copies of a 16sq in board with OSHpark, at cost of $80.

          1. Okay I see. I’m just used to doing a few small boards with surface mount, most of them only an inch or two square. I missed your comment about paneling.

  1. iteadstudio does 10 PICBs (5cm*5cm green) for $9. The quality is relatively good. They charge more for other colors.

      1. The big difference is the shipping cost.

        If you wait and order a couple of different boards at the same time, Seeed, iTead, elecrow might be cheaper or at least on par for price. But if you just have just one board to order, there isn’t much to beat $12 including shipping. (Except if you have a small board and use OSH Park)

  2. it’s important to note that these don’t appear to be actually poor quality from an electrical standpoint – they claim 100% tested.

    i normally use OSHpark (the same 10x 5cm x 5cm order would be $64) but if you need a ton of little adapter PCB’s or breakout PCB’s this appears to be great!

        1. Each side of the board is made of multiple layers. There is the copper layer, the solder mask layer and the silkscreen layer, just to name a few. If everything is correct but the solder mask layer on bottom/top are swapped then you will end up unable to solder the board.

    1. I think there’s a lot of misunderstanding on what “100% E-test” actually gets you, especially with the cheap fabs. It does not guarantee that the boards you get back will be electrically correct.

      For example, here’s a “100% E-Tested” board from one of the cheap fabs we’re all familiar with: http://magic.laen.org/itead-bad-board.jpg . Every single net on it is shorted to at least one other net, and every one of the boards I got back from them had the same issue. (To be fair, this board was _designed_ to be difficult to manufacture in order to expose weaknesses in their processes, but it’s also designed to be within their specs.)

      Here are a bunch of things “100% E-tested” can mean:

      100% of your boards go through some kind of electrical testing.
      100% of the nets on a board go through some kind of testing.
      100% of nets are resistively tested “end-to-end” for continuity.
      100% of nets are resistively tested “end-to-end” for isolation from other nets
      100% of nets are resistively tested “middle-to-ends” for continuity and isolation.
      100% of nets are capacitance tested.
      100% of vias are tested.
      100% of vias are high-voltage tested.

      Here’s a pretty good summary of what E-testing means to US manufacturters: https://www.smtnet.com/library/files/upload/IPC-9252A-considerations.pdf

      It seems clear to me that these fabs aren’t providing IPC-9252 class testing, but I can’t tell to what level they _do_ test.

      1. Were they all suffering from tin-coating problems, i.e. could it be solved by using some chem-wik in the right places? Or was it actual copper causing the shorts?

  3. I’ve been using Elecrow lately and have been very impressed. Boards fabbed within a few days and mailed out. They even take a photo of your bubble wrapped boards and email it to you before they ship them! Very similar pricing to Itead/Seeed etc, but the choice of soldermask colour is free. If you are doing 5×10 or 10x10cm they offer a very cheaply priced option, with the only limit being that it has to be green.

    The boards I’ve received so far have been good quality (black and blue soldermask).

    1. Exact same for me. All the other options had shitty global shipping to Canada. For $25, I can get FedEx 1-2 day to Canada. Add to this that I’ve never been charged duties from them.

      The boards are surprisingly good quality. I had one dud batch (8/10 boards had a defect), to which they offered a full refund or a re-manufacture.

  4. One thing that usually is pretty important to prototype boards is the thickness of the white tin plating. The boards I used to order from E-Teknet were pretty good, except they would have a crazy thick tin plating over the pads. I would sometimes have to hit them with solderwick before putting the components on the board. I’ve only purchased gold plated boards from them since, and have been plenty happy. No one plates gold too thick.

  5. Holy shit. I’m ian, I did this. This was an inside joke and a weekend hackathon, never meant to be public. We will ship orders but it really is a joke. I mean… you like it dirty and you’re back for more… where are my damn pcbs? I thought it was obvious lol. All the backend is there and boards are proper, we have a logistics company, but its really just a joke that went too far. It started cause we saw people bitching about cheap pcbs having bad silks and I’m like, well its dirt cheap dirty boards… thanks for the post though, were sitting in Shenzhen with a dozen hackers eating hot pot loling about this:)

    1. Hm… Will you still be there acceping orders for at least week or so? I’m just finishing a few projects that I want to send you to get fabbed. ;)

      1. I’m guessing that as long as they are making a profit on this “kinda joke” they are going to keep accepting orders. Heck, they might be the next OSH Park in a couple years.

    1. I think the Quantity=10 and 1 copy in 1 PCB means that your pcb is one design per pcb and you get 10 copies. the 2 copies in 1 PCB probably get you 2×10 boards….

  6. I’ve created a website, http://PCBShopper.com, that lets you search for the cheapest (or fastest) PCB manufacturer. PCBShopper lets you enter your board’s specs – size, layers, preferred solder mask color, and quantity – and shows you a list of PCB manufacturers along with prices and delivery times. You can then sort the results to find the cheapest or fastest manufacturers.

    PCBShopper currently lists 13 manufacturers, and more are being added. PCBShopper is free to use and is not affiliated with any manufacturers.

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