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Best home PCB printer and software for prototyping?

Eletre

New Member
Hi PCB veterans,

In the year of 2022, could anyone recommend the best bang-for-the-buck PCB printer and software for hobbyists or small businesses?

i was once excited when Voltera was introduced a few years back but the consumables are quite expensive and I could be wrong but it did not seem to live up to the expectations.

I'm hoping to print my own PCBs for prototyping at the convenience of my little workshop.


Look forward to hearing from you all.


Many thanks.
 

rjenkinsgb

Well-Known Member
Most Helpful Member
Well, such as JLCPCB make such crazy priced things as the Voltera machine pretty much obsolete, in my opinion - Double sided PTH PCBs in a week, at probably less than the materials cost in Europe or the USA, but plus carriage. A lot of people on here use them.

If you must have in-house prototyping, some people use the toner transfer method, or you can get a mini CNC router/drill quite cheaply that you can use to make a prototype from copper clad board.


 

Pommie

Well-Known Member
Most Helpful Member
I second JLCPCB. I used to make my own but haven't now for about 10 years. It's just not worth it anymore. Latest boards I had made (JLC also do assembly) used 0603 resistors and 0805 LEDs which I could never have assembled. I also use the EasyEDA online editor.

Mike.
 

Eletre

New Member
Well, such as JLCPCB make such crazy priced things as the Voltera machine pretty much obsolete, in my opinion - Double sided PTH PCBs in a week, at probably less than the materials cost in Europe or the USA, but plus carriage. A lot of people on here use them.

If you must have in-house prototyping, some people use the toner transfer method, or you can get a mini CNC router/drill quite cheaply that you can use to make a prototype from copper clad board.


Thank you rjenkinsgb!
Yes I've heard of JLCPCB from some online articles I read before. I know they are pretty big but maybe I'm just being paranoid, how do you find their confidential policy is like? The PCBs I prototype may end up in commercial use. So I'm just worried about commercial in confidence.

What software would you recommend for the toner transfer method or the copper clad board drill? Sorry I'm a total noob in this field!
 

Eletre

New Member
I second JLCPCB. I used to make my own but haven't now for about 10 years. It's just not worth it anymore. Latest boards I had made (JLC also do assembly) used 0603 resistors and 0805 LEDs which I could never have assembled. I also use the EasyEDA online editor.

Mike.
Thank you Mike!
Ditto to my reply to rjenkinsgb, I know JLCPCB is big, but do you trust that you can post your commerical PCB schema to them?
 

Eletre

New Member
I third it :D

Far better quality boards than you are going to make at home, and a week or so is plenty fast enough.
Thank you Nigel, looks like JLCPCB is pretty popular here, again ditto to my replies above, I'm just concerned about commercial in confidence.
 

Nigel Goodwin

Super Moderator
Most Helpful Member
Thank you Nigel, looks like JLCPCB is pretty popular here, again ditto to my replies above, I'm just concerned about commercial in confidence.
I use them for commercial boards, as I'm sure companies all round the world do - in fact I've just this second ordered 100 boards for a commercial project from them.

Why on earth do you feel such a big company would want to steal your PCB designs?, I suspect they already have a lot of designers in-house far better than you, and FAR better than me :D

Just received confirmation email my board has been approved and heading towards production. Prett fast, or I'm a VERY slow typist :D
 

Eletre

New Member
I use them for commercial boards, as I'm sure companies all round the world do - in fact I've just this second ordered 100 boards for a commercial project from them.

Why on earth do you feel such a big company would want to steal your PCB designs?, I suspect they already have a lot of designers in-house far better than you, and FAR better than me :D

Just received confirmation email my board has been approved and heading towards production. Prett fast, or I'm a VERY slow typist :D
That is true. I'm just being paranoid I guess. May I know which software you use to draw the boards? Would JLCPCB be able to correct my schema as I'm a total noob in PCB software..
 

OldTechie

Member
Excuse me for jumping in mid-thread, but JLCPCB takes the Gerber output files from your PCB design software, and produces the board from that. They don't (to my knowledge) accept your schematic and design your PCB from that. I've used them for several years, and have had excellent results from them. They keep all your design files confidential.

I've been using DipTrace as my schematic and PCB design software for many years, and have found it very easy to learn and use to draw your schematics and PCB. It will produce all the output files needed to send to JCLPCB to produce your board. Of all the software packages that I've tried, it has been by far the easiest for me to learn and use.
There is a demo version available for download that you can use to produce (with limitations) a schematic and single- or double-layer boards. If you want to buy a personal license, it's cheaper than most of the other design software packages.

DesignSpark from RS Components is quite capable software, and is free (or was the last time I checked, a couple years ago.

There's also a free (limited) package called Target 3001 that you can download. It's limited in the number of pins and signals, and PCB size. More capable versions are also available at reasonable prices.

All of the packages that I've mentioned will produce all the Gerber files needed by any PCB fabrication house to produce a PCB.

ExpressPCB is a free package that will let you draw the schematic and PCB, but is very proprietary in that the PCB must be produced by their own fabrication house. It's also much more expensive for them to produce a PCB than JLCPCB.

Cheers,
DaveM
 

Nigel Goodwin

Super Moderator
Most Helpful Member
That is true. I'm just being paranoid I guess. May I know which software you use to draw the boards? Would JLCPCB be able to correct my schema as I'm a total noob in PCB software..

No, as OldTechie said they don't even have a copy of the schematic, you just send them the Gerber files you created, they check them for any 'stupid' mistakes and contact you if they find any - otherwise the boards are sent through to production. The check is just to ensure the boards can be made, there's no way for them to check if it's correct or not.

I use DesignSpark for my boards, which is still Free, although there's now a Pro version you can pay for - but I couldn't see the advantage of it?.

I ordered another 100 boards today :D
 

rjenkinsgb

Well-Known Member
Most Helpful Member
May I know which software you use to draw the boards?
I use EasyEDA, which is free from JLC and works very well; I actually think it's better than any other PCB package I've used over several decades, regardless of cost.

You can export the Gerber artwork files for uploading to order boards - and optionally add the parts list and pick & place files for them to also do surface mount assembly the boards.

Even if you only have them do the resistors and small caps etc., it can save a lot of assembly time and cost for the overall boards.

Example - these cost less for the boards and assembly than I could buy the parts alone for in the UK:

IMG_6244.jpg
 

For The Popcorn

Active Member
Would JLCPCB be able to correct my schema as I'm a total noob in PCB software..
There are services that will design a circuit board for you, and even verify your schematic, but you'll pay for that service.

Steps to design a circuit board:

1. Create a schematic. Ideally specifying exact components in the package (i.e., DIP, SOIC, 0805, 0603, etc) that will be used on the circuit board. Depending on the complexity of the circuit, you may want to use a simulator to verify the circuit. Note that simulators are based on doing reasonable things so feeding a simulator garbage will result in garbage results.

2. Layout a circuit board from that schematic. At the start of the process, all the footprints will be dumped on a blank board. You need to arrange the parts logically, and route traces to make all the connections. Trace width and spacing to other traces, pads, etc. are important. Wide traces to carry power, narrower traces for signals....but don't make things smaller than they need to be.

3. Run a DRC (Design Rule Check) on the circuit board, It looks for clearance/shorting issues and verifies that all the connections in the schematic have been made.

4. Generate Gerber files from the circuit board for the fab house. Take a look at the files using a Gerber Viewer, like GerbV, looking for things that don't make sense.

5. Send the Gerber files to a fab house to have circuit boards made. The fab house will do zero to some gross checking of the Gerber files - they won't know if you've connected the wrong points together, but may notice gross errors like putting a mounting hole where it cuts through a trace.

Note: Fab houses offer board testing. This verifies that the traces between point A and point B are intact and the the board is correct per the Gerber files. It doesn't verify that your circuit will work as planned.
 

For The Popcorn

Active Member
I definitely second using EasyEDA. It truly is easy to use, has huge component and footprint libraries, including the ability to import symbols and footprints from library managers used by many vendors, and it make it easy to use the virtually free assembly service rjenkins mentioned,

One note about the assembly service - you basically pay the cost to make the blank PCB and the cost of the components. You save the cost of a solder stencil, with is basically the cost they charge for the service. The service is based on buying 10 boards, so you're paying for the cost of components for 10 boards, so the price can add up, even though the service is essentially free.
 

Eletre

New Member
Excuse me for jumping in mid-thread, but JLCPCB takes the Gerber output files from your PCB design software, and produces the board from that. They don't (to my knowledge) accept your schematic and design your PCB from that. I've used them for several years, and have had excellent results from them. They keep all your design files confidential.

I've been using DipTrace as my schematic and PCB design software for many years, and have found it very easy to learn and use to draw your schematics and PCB. It will produce all the output files needed to send to JCLPCB to produce your board. Of all the software packages that I've tried, it has been by far the easiest for me to learn and use.
There is a demo version available for download that you can use to produce (with limitations) a schematic and single- or double-layer boards. If you want to buy a personal license, it's cheaper than most of the other design software packages.

DesignSpark from RS Components is quite capable software, and is free (or was the last time I checked, a couple years ago.

There's also a free (limited) package called Target 3001 that you can download. It's limited in the number of pins and signals, and PCB size. More capable versions are also available at reasonable prices.

All of the packages that I've mentioned will produce all the Gerber files needed by any PCB fabrication house to produce a PCB.

ExpressPCB is a free package that will let you draw the schematic and PCB, but is very proprietary in that the PCB must be produced by their own fabrication house. It's also much more expensive for them to produce a PCB than JLCPCB.

Cheers,
DaveM
Hi DaveM. Many thanks for joining the conversation and your insightful recommendation.
I will have a look at Diptrace and DesignSpark. If memory serves me right, Diptrace has been a popular software and has been on the market for quite some time now? I'd like to make sure I learn a mainstream PCB software (and is easy to learn and cost-effective) so I don't end up in a position where you spent years of learning but then the software has been made obsolete/ discontinued. That would have been frustrating...
 

Eletre

New Member
No, as OldTechie said they don't even have a copy of the schematic, you just send them the Gerber files you created, they check them for any 'stupid' mistakes and contact you if they find any - otherwise the boards are sent through to production. The check is just to ensure the boards can be made, there's no way for them to check if it's correct or not.

I use DesignSpark for my boards, which is still Free, although there's now a Pro version you can pay for - but I couldn't see the advantage of it?.

I ordered another 100 boards today :D
Many thanks Nigel. JLC does sound promising! On a similar note, what does JLB win over its competitors (if any)? Is it its price/quality/delivery speed?
 
Last edited:

Eletre

New Member
I use EasyEDA, which is free from JLC and works very well; I actually think it's better than any other PCB package I've used over several decades, regardless of cost.

You can export the Gerber artwork files for uploading to order boards - and optionally add the parts list and pick & place files for them to also do surface mount assembly the boards.

Even if you only have them do the resistors and small caps etc., it can save a lot of assembly time and cost for the overall boards.

Example - these cost less for the boards and assembly than I could buy the parts alone for in the UK:

View attachment 136369
Thank you rjenkinsgb.
Wow, that does sound (and look) amazing. I should check out EasyEDA, too. Is it a mainstream software? I'm just concerned what if one day JLC stops supporting EasyEDA?
 

Eletre

New Member
There are services that will design a circuit board for you, and even verify your schematic, but you'll pay for that service.

Steps to design a circuit board:

1. Create a schematic. Ideally specifying exact components in the package (i.e., DIP, SOIC, 0805, 0603, etc) that will be used on the circuit board. Depending on the complexity of the circuit, you may want to use a simulator to verify the circuit. Note that simulators are based on doing reasonable things so feeding a simulator garbage will result in garbage results.

2. Layout a circuit board from that schematic. At the start of the process, all the footprints will be dumped on a blank board. You need to arrange the parts logically, and route traces to make all the connections. Trace width and spacing to other traces, pads, etc. are important. Wide traces to carry power, narrower traces for signals....but don't make things smaller than they need to be.

3. Run a DRC (Design Rule Check) on the circuit board, It looks for clearance/shorting issues and verifies that all the connections in the schematic have been made.

4. Generate Gerber files from the circuit board for the fab house. Take a look at the files using a Gerber Viewer, like GerbV, looking for things that don't make sense.

5. Send the Gerber files to a fab house to have circuit boards made. The fab house will do zero to some gross checking of the Gerber files - they won't know if you've connected the wrong points together, but may notice gross errors like putting a mounting hole where it cuts through a trace.

Note: Fab houses offer board testing. This verifies that the traces between point A and point B are intact and the the board is correct per the Gerber files. It doesn't verify that your circuit will work as planned.
Hi For the Popcorn. Thanks for joining the conversation and the informative steps. It does help me a lot as a total noob in PCB designs. From all the messages I am reading, I think it is quite safe to say that one should not worry about confidentiality as you would only provide the Gerber files to JLC not the schematic.
 

Eletre

New Member
I definitely second using EasyEDA. It truly is easy to use, has huge component and footprint libraries, including the ability to import symbols and footprints from library managers used by many vendors, and it make it easy to use the virtually free assembly service rjenkins mentioned,

One note about the assembly service - you basically pay the cost to make the blank PCB and the cost of the components. You save the cost of a solder stencil, with is basically the cost they charge for the service. The service is based on buying 10 boards, so you're paying for the cost of components for 10 boards, so the price can add up, even though the service is essentially free.
Thanks again. Looks like EasyEDA is a good tool. Again I'm just concerned if JLC stops supporting EasyEDA. That would mean I need to pick a new PCB software again but chance is pretty low I think.

So again, JLC's services should only be used for prototyping? What happens if you decide to mass produce your PCBs, say over 5000 units? What would be the most cost effective way to do it?
 

Nigel Goodwin

Super Moderator
Most Helpful Member
Thanks again. Looks like EasyEDA is a good tool. Again I'm just concerned if JLC stops supporting EasyEDA. That would mean I need to pick a new PCB software again but chance is pretty low I think.

So again, JLC's services should only be used for prototyping? What happens if you decide to mass produce your PCBs, say over 5000 units? What would be the most cost effective way to do it?
As far as I'm aware JLCPCB do production quantities as well, we certainly use them for all our production, although it's fairly low scale - maximum so far a few hundred boards at a time.
 

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