Inventors – Build Your Own Printed Circuit Boards Online

I remember as a kid going to Radio Shack and buying circuit board etching kits, with copper clad boards and acid for etching etc. In those days the circuits were simple and the boards a real pain. Then along came a wide variety of prototyping systems for building circuits, wire wrapping, vector boards, and plug-in Proto-Boards. I’ve used them all and more.

The last time I needed a circuit built for possible commercial production it was quite expensive. I needed to have a designer design the board, creating gerber files to send to the circuit board house that then made the boards. I don’t remember all the details, but to get just a few boards for debugging cost several thousand dollars. Prohibitive cost wise for a lot of us part time electronic engineers. (Read inventors).

Imagine my excitement when I found that you can now design your circuit boards with online tools, push a button, enter your credit card number (of course) and have circuit boards in 3 days for under $100.00. The cost depends upon a number of factors, including the number of square inches of board and how many layers etc. Your boards can have up to 4 layers; have ground planes, and all sorts of other fancy details. I’ve been using a service called ExpressPCB. The service is excellent and the PCB design software is very easy to learn and use.

To get started you register at one of the online board houses such as ExpressPCB and download the software they provide for you at no cost. The software includes a program for creating the schematic diagrams and another program for designing the board itself. The software is very easy to learn and use. Most of the components you will probably need to use are already in the programs. Things like pots, resistors, capacitors, transistors, IC chips including the latest microcontroller chips are included. You just copy and paste the components to the schematic and or board programs. If there is a component that they do not already have in their program, you can easily build custom components.

Once you’ve finished your schematic diagram you link it to the board design program, and when you click on a pin of a component the pins that are to be connected to that pin are all lit up in blue so you can easily draw the traces in. The traces on the top and bottom of the board are different colors making it easy to differentiate between the traces. The manufacturer includes all those useful little details about what size traces to use with different current requirements and what spacing you need between traces etc. Some board houses will even stuff the boards for you…but it costs.

After completing your board you can get an instant quote with either a 3 day turnaround or a 10 day turnaround. The 10 day turnaround is less expensive of course.

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