The Joys Of Shipping From China

A few months ago, news of a new PCB fab service headed up by [Ian] over at Dangerous Prototypes leaked onto the Internet. It’s extremely cheap – $14 USD for a 5cm square board with free worldwide shipping. [Ian] admits the boards aren’t the greatest quality, that’s not the point; the site’s motto is simply, ‘No bull, just crappy PCBs.’

What began as an internal website to handle all of DP’s PCB orders was now on the Internet, and orders were flying in. At first, shipping a few dozen PCBs around the globe every week was easy, but since Dirty PCBs hit the big time, customers rightfully or not, started freaking out because of the oddities of Chinese shipping and logistics companies.

[Ian] is using Espeed Post for all their shipping, and if you’ve ever ordered anything from China off of Ebay, it’s possible you’ve had something shipped through Espeed before. Because of the oddities of shipping, and the fact that Shenzhen and Hong Kong are right next to each other, even the people at Dangerous Prototypes don’t know which countries your PCBs will go through on the trip from the fab house to your front door. This has caused much consternation with DirtyPCB customers that don’t seem to realize they’re getting custom PCBs for under two dollars a board, shipped to them across the world in a week for free. Some people’s children, huh?

Things get significantly, ahem, dirtier, when Chinese holidays are taken into account. China has a lot of them, and they’re long. They’re just wrapping up the National Day holiday, 10 days in the first week of October. Everyone is backlogged, and the China/Hong Kong border is the mess of trucks seen above.

If a holiday isn’t bad enough, the new President of China is cracking down on corruption. 500 officials were fired at the largest land border with Hong Kong, due in no small part to vans full of meth and tons of counterfeit currency. Every package leaving China is inspected individually, and shipping times have exploded.

To deal with this, Dangerous Prototypes has posted a big red warning on the dirtypcb site, but experience in dealing with people on the Internet tells them this won’t be a viable solution. They’re now dealing directly with DHL, and are apparently getting priority clearance through customs. It’s not fun, as DP will now have to figure out how to work with DHL’s API. It’s a lot of work and a lot of trouble, but DP still has a few tricks up their sleeve – they’re working on an online schematic entry and PCB layout site and the extremely interesting DirtyCables – custom cables shipped to your door.

45 thoughts on “The Joys Of Shipping From China

  1. A made in America 5cm (2x2in) square board at OshPark is $20 for THREE boards and free shipping vs “$14 USD for a 5cm square board with free worldwide shipping.”

    Why on earth you keep touting China and Shenzhen is beyond me – it’s like you are going out of your way to keep THEM employed. I warned you about shipping from China weeks ago in your last tout of this board consolidator, but it fell on deaf ears.

    If you count shipping (which is extremely variable…the “up to 8 weeks” was also a showstopper for this board fab for me), China is no longer the cheapest place to get things made due to massive wage inflation and a realization they were leaving money on the table, and their quality is a coin toss in anything they do – could be crap, or could be adequate..

    1. I don’t think you get it, the $14 from a lot of the chinese houses gives you 10 boards. OSHPark is a good service, and if they meet your needs, great. For example, if you are in a hurry with a deadline, don’t go with one of the bargain Chinese shops.

      However, the boards I have received have been great. They are built well, have e-test, and you can’t beat the price. One of the houses now lets you throw a stainless stencil on the order for an extra $20. That is less than Kapton stencils most places, and a much, much nicer stencil. It all depends on your patience level really.

      1. Can you give some names/websites of some of these places? We order PCBs on various occasions, sometimes fast, sometimes not, sometimes panelized, etc….
        My point is that sometimes we are in no hurry, and just need some typical prototype PCBs to try before moving on and having a few other (cheaper) sources would help.

        1. Itead, seeed, smart-prototyping, etc. For panel size orders, I have had good luck with Gold Phoenix. I have done some very complex boards with very good results from these companies, .4mm QFN packages, LVDS transceivers, ethernet phy boards, etc.

          Basically, know what you need, and what the vendor provides. If you are not in a hurry they do a good job. Do note, if you order a stencil from Smart-Prototyping, specify they use your stencil layer only. Otherwise, they may try and “fix” the stencil using other layers, and cause issues with the stencil (luckily when this showed up it was easy to work around).

      2. Make sure you factor in the difference in surface treatments in making price comparisons. OSH Park defaults to ENIG (electroless nickel immersion gold), which is more expensive than HASL (hot air solder levelling). Dirty PCBs charges twice as much for ENIG. If it doesn’t matter to you, that’s perfectly fine, but at least make sure your expectations match the service, and not assume the boards are the same kind when comparing prices.

        Dirty PCBs offers stainless stencils for $25 in the bundle, which is not too bad.

        I would probably stick with OSH park for at least proto runs for faster turnaround. I like their boards much better than those from Golden Phoenix too. I’ll have to give these a try some time, just not right now.

      3. Another good reason to shop around, not everyone lives in America. Here in Australia, the fab houses are few and far between, the boards expensive and the shipping worse, I for one welcome the likes of Dirty PCBs.

    2. That $14 for a 50mm x 50mm board is for TEN BOARDS from most Chinese fabs.

      I am using some 150mm x 100mm boards; the sad fact is I could not make this device at a price my customer could pay with US-made boards.

    3. OSHPark is best for small boards because they charge per square inch. DirtyPCBs charge for fixed sizes which, if you use most of it, almost always costs less than OSHPark. Also OSHPark only gives you 3 PCBs, DirtyPCBs’ ‘protopack’ will usually get you 10. BTW the 5cmx5cm offer from DirtyPCBs is their LEAST economical. And shipping? DirtyPCBs does it for free if you don’t mind the wait, or you can pay a bit to get it within a few days.

      Quality wise OSHPark is quite good, but you don’t need THAT good much of the time. I would think people ordering from a site called ‘DirtyPCBs’ won’t be planning on using it for .4mm pitch components. Of course, there are PCB companies in China that do higher quality stuff than OSHPark, but in the end quality tends to scale with price regardless of what nation’s manufacturing you use.

    4. Let’s run numbers based on my last DirtyPCB order: 1 board (+ spares for mistakes, ended up using 3 boards), 3″ square, 2 layers, gold plated.
      OSHPark – $5/sq in @ 9 sq in = $45 per 3 boards. No margin for error left. 12 days to get the boards made and up to 3 weeks for international shipping (or another $25 for priority shipping)
      DirtyPCB – $25 for AT LEAST 10 boards 10x10cm max + $15 for ENIG = $40 total. $5 cheaper and I get minimum of 7 boards extra (I got a total of 14). Boards were made within a week and shipped under a week (I paid $15 extra for DHL). So for $10 extra I got 4 times more boards and got them delivered before OSH would even ship them.
      Plus I had a selection of FR4 thicknesses, soldermask colors (both free) and I could have gotten a steel stencil for $25 – only $2 more than I paid for a kapton one from OSH Stencils.

      Only problem I got is that some of the silkscreen is messed up (some bits are missing, some are misaligned), but that was expected – they are dirty boards after all.

    5. Um, in addition to the other replies to your comment, the major flaw in your reasoning is that you are comparing “free worldwide shipping” versus “free shipping US only” – for the other approximately 7 billion people on the planet that’s a MAJOR issue. Just saying.

    6. HaD thinks it will be a “good” thing when we are building iPhones for the Chinese in 10 years. I hear you though. I would love to see a “Made in the USA” section on HaD but that will never happen.

      1. It will never happen because there is no point (beside national pride) in it. But if it would happen if demand a Canada/Maxico/Japan/alle EU Countrys and Vatican section as well. Might just pull every country in it’s won section then.

    7. When will people understand that you can make stuff overseas and still make profitable jobs locally, it doesn’t take jobs away to manufacture something elsewhere for less money.

      The best part is most people that want made in ____ insert nationality here, will be the first to complain about the higher costs.

      You want locally made, but keep a higher quality of life, and emissions controls, and safety and as cheap as places that have much less of those in effect.

      Never mind the broken comparison.

      I use silver circuits for big runs, and itead for little projects. 4pcb/advanced circuits if don’t care about cost and want it fast, usually work stuff.

      I’m over here taking your jerbs!

  2. I used PCB from China in my HaD project. Project log here for tracking the progress:

    $12 for 10 pices of 10cm x 10cm PCB, shipping is $9.70 or so from Elecrow Bazaar. Comes out to $21.57. DHL shipping option available, but not on my dime. They also have stainless steel stencils for $20. Again I was too cheap for it.

    12 mils vias. with 8 mil/8mil recommended spacing, very aggressive on the copper to edge. It is first time I order from China and from Eagle. I push the board layout to what they claim they can do and I am happy with the results. See my assembled project under FPGA Computer/Eval board in HaD project page. I also have the large board scans on a separate project logs if anyone is interest in the quality. The drill holes are dead on from the top, but off by the time they exit the bottom side, with are still within the vias.

    The place that offers the service kept me up to date and I have no issues getting it past customs as it is less than $20 which is our import allowance limit. One reason why I wanted the cost and shipping separately listed.

      1. He feels his effect will affect the appropriate party to affect appropriate change in the future. It could be the effect he is actually accomplishing is merely affective in annoying someone else entirely, effectively you, but his intentions may be good.

  3. I can’t wait for the Dirty Pick and Place soldered boards with basic smd components (some few values of capacitors, resistors, LEDs, connectors, sockets for some microcontrollers, maybe a few components like transistors or voltage regulators…).
    If the price is right, I really wouldn’t mind making my projects around their limitations (that’s what engineers do, right?)

  4. This exploits the global postal treaty, uses evergreen container freight for 2 weeks across the sae and the rest is the USPS delivering under treaty = contributes to the post office losses and creates unemployed people in Canada/USA.
    This is because people in China get a lot less per hour than in USA/Canada, so if a free trade scenario they will win endlessly.

    1. The problem is they are not slaves, they all work longer hours and get less per hour, but they are able to feed and house themselves, and are often housed in large dormitories which saves on food etc. We do not do that here, but if our political masters say we must buy the products of Chinese workers from China, then we must live on savings.
      In truth, Chinese wages are going up to meet ours on the way down, and in time you will not be able to import from China, you will have to buy made in USA stuff – might take 50 years though

      1. And there’s that enormous stash of dollars the Chinese are burying in their back garden, to keep exchange rates favourable for all the exporting they do. So in not so long they’ll have all the manufacturing capacity AND a big chunk of the American Dollars in the world. Looks like communism worked out OK for them, eh?

  5. Years before, the common price in China is ¥50 for 10 pieces of PCBs smaller than 5cm x 5cm and ¥100 for 10 pieces of PCBs smaller than 10cm x 10cm. Even this price gets profit and there are so many PCB factories competing. One year ago, one of the biggest PCB factory decreased the price to ¥50 for 10 pieces of PCBs smaller than 10cm x 10cm. Many other PCB factories have to find other market because they can’t profit from such a low price, especially for small factories, as they can’t decrease cost by large and expensive automatic facilities.
    PS:¥6.15 ≈ $1

  6. I have used Dirty PCBs a few times I like their service when placing small orders. So far they have been hassle free and without issue for me. For example I placed an order for 6 boards designs with Iteadstudio about 2 weeks ago and paid extra to get shipped out express with EMS, Itead rejected one of the board designs as it was not square and they have told me that they can only do square boards now and no longer support any form of sub boarding. When they said this I sent Dirty PCBs and the design and they have now shipped boards to me, Meanwhile I am still trying to get my Itead express order.
    Currently the only reason why I do not use Dirty PCBs more is because on large orders if getting express shipping they come out more expensive, I hope the direct DHL dealings resolve this.

  7. After dealing with china sellers on eBay and some other, I’ve learned to live with the oddities of delivery… either it is very late, or it never shows up at my door. I have taken steps to work with it as a part of my lab-protocol.

    Remember the triangle of production?
    Cheap, Fast, Good

    In these cases I choose to go without the fast option.

  8. Ever heard of SeeedStudio? Their PCB Service is wonderful and we have been using them for a lot of projects so far.
    $9.9USD for 10 pieces 5×5 cm, and if you pay a bit more you will get expidited DHL shipping (this is what we usually do), which means it will only take you around 10 days to get the boards.

  9. I just received my first order from and I’m very happy with it. I have nothing else to compare it to, this was my first time with kicad, first time doing my own pcb and I have to say that I’m hooked! The only disadvantage I found was even with premium DHL shipping, it took almost 3 weeks from order (Sep 25) to delivery (Oct 13, Germany). I’m going to try for the free shipping option since some of the components I ordered after the PCBs arrived before them, despite the components were shipped with free “slow” shipping from China.

    1. Have you documented your first work? I’m currently int he edge on starting my first PCB Design with Kicad as well and wondering where to start. I would love to see your PCB to get an idea on what a first design could look like in size and complexity.

      1. Nothing documented from me, it was a super simple board that will be like an apple mag-safe connector with 5 pads that line up, but much bigger and not quite as nice. There’s a good series on youtube called “Getting to Blinkey” from Contextual Electronics – watch that, it has everything you need to know and explained in a way that I could follow.

        If you’re using OSX then Kicad is a bit of a pain to install, and doesn’t come with any libraries. That took a while to figure out why everything was empty, but you can get the libraries from the linux installer.

    2. I also made a PCB with KiCad for the first time, and sent the Gerbers to Dirty PCBs. I did this as a learning process, both with KiCad (I’d used Eagle before, at the office) and with the whole fabrication-from-Gerbers thing (I’d done toner-transfer at home before, from a GEDA PCB design). The results were good: very quick turnaround within China, then the longish wait for delivery. Boards were absolutely fine:

      All through-hole, about 72x96mm, with M3 fixing holes, two layer, and black soldermask (very useful for a display PCB). I intend to populate some more of them (I was sent 12 PCBs) and make a four-digit hex display.

  10. yet another ameritard discussion about made in ameritardia. who fucking cares? it’s a globalized world. the thing you are writing your shit on was made in asia so stfu or go back to the stone age. there’s more countries in the world deal with it. no one cares.

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