Poll: Who is your favorite prototype PCB vendor?

As I wait for my AVR High Voltage Programmer Shield PCBs to come back from BatchPCB, I’m starting to wonder what prototype PCB services other people are using for their boards.

Ladyada has a PCB Cost Comparison Calculator that shows the significant differences in price between various low volume PCB vendors, but what’s missing from the chart is the answer to: What vendors are people actually using?

If the cheapest fab house is also the best, obviously the more expensive vendors wouldn’t be around, would they?  Unfortunately, it’s usually not that simple, cheap usually means slow, or low quality, or both.

I know that some visitors to this site make prototype PCBs at home and others send them out to be fabricated.  How do you get your prototype boards made?  Vote below.

[poll id=”2″]

30 thoughts on “Poll: Who is your favorite prototype PCB vendor?”

  1. I’m a student so naturally I took advantage of the discount for a PCB I was working on. San Francisco Circuits had some sort of partnership in place with the robotics club I was in at CMU. The PCBs feel very sturdy and well built.
    This is their site: https://www.sfcircuits.com

  2. Why is the cheaper the tunaround time longer?
    If you have a lot of prototype need to produce, and want to get it as cheap as possible
    How to do it?
    I can tell you a way:
    You can put 2. 3 .4 (or more, But best not more than 7, In that case the factory may be reluctant to do) design in a panel,so you can save a lot of setup costs
    They do not exceed 45dollars /design in china ( FR4 1.6mm 1oz copper HASL, two side Green solder Mask, Two Side White silkscreen)
    They will be arrangements for production until It is a sufficient number of prototypes for a panel ,So the tunaround time longer naturally
    Actually a double-sided prototype from order to customer receives (USA) not more than one week from china

    pcb and fpc one-stop service worker from china

  3. I want to love BatchPCB but the $/sqin easily prevents me from doing so. The only-one-small-board scenario is the only one that attracts me to them, and for which it probably performs better than all others, assuming one can wait that long (seemingly forever minus three days) for it. Their pricing goes from best to worst very, very quickly as you get bigger, which to me is a shame, especially since there’s no reason for it. Anything that they do to increase volume would be repaid in spades by shortening their panel flip time.

    I’m going to give SeeedStudio a shot because both their entry price point and their quantity prices seem to be about the best one can do. I’ve got to hand it to them in that they’ve been pretty innovative with their multiple price-plan offerings.

      1. I haven’t sent one out yet, but the first one will be going out to SeeedStudio. I’d consider BatchPCB for a single board of 10 sqin or less perhaps, but the attraction of getting 10 boards of up to 10cmX10cm for about $55 ($35 if you publish it and only take 5 boards instead), hitting the lottery and having them work first try, is worth the gamble. If I sent one board of that size off to BatchPCB it’d be about $50 and probably take longer to get back to me.

        Like I said, I want to love BatchPCB, but the pricing goes against almost everything that you learn in economics *and* marketing. Their only sweetspot is one board less than about 10 sqin. For more than even two boards of that size, their pricing model practically repels customers.

        I’d prefer to do business on-shore, but when the price differential is 10x, well… it’s pretty hard not to say “Ni hao! Qing jin!”.

        I have no affiliation with SeeedStudio. In fact, I’m not even a satisfied customer yet… :-). Ian’s done his Bus Pirate and Twatch through them and seems to at least be content.

  4. [quote]
    Second, of the PCB vendors, BatchPCB is currently leading by a wide margin. I have a question for the BatchPCB fans – how do you deal with the turnaround time?

    I work on several designs at the same time. I route a board, order at BPCB, switch to the next project, route, order, repeat. It works very well so far.

  5. I’ve used both BatchPCB and GoldPhoenix. BatchPCB for singles and prototypes I’m not very sure about. Really like BatchPCB’s ordering process. GoldPhoenix when I need at least one panel of something.

  6. Same as others, I use PCBCART for rapid prototyping (and for the various options they offered) and BatchPCB for others boards.

  7. My understanding is that BatchPCB uses GoldPhoenix for the actual fab. What BatchPCB does is take a bunch of designs which have been submitted by disparate designers, and then combine them into a larger layout, which they then send to GoldPhoenix for fabbing. This makes it easier for hobbyists because it gives them a way to get a small prototype board made for not much money.

    For example, if you were to order a board directly from GoldPhoenix, the minimum charge for a 2-layer board is $99, and that’s for a 100 sq. in. board. If you only need a single 2×2″ (4sqin) board, and don’t need duplicates, then it makes more sense to send it to BPCB and pay $20, than to send it GP and pay $99.

  8. I use Sunstone’s pcbexpress service for the prototypes in a rush. Sunstone’s recently added a line called value proto or some such – looks like they’re willing to work with us designers on board is the same price range as batchpcb. Except value proto is guaranteeing a 10 day turn time.

  9. I’ve had good luck with silvercircuits.com so far. They are based in Malaysia. If you have a small board, you can panelize and get a whole bunch for $72ish + shipping ($14 to the US). They also accept EAGLE files.

  10. Another vote for PCB123. It may be a bit of a lock-down tool, but I would have to build a LOT of boards to cover the expense of even the least-expensive design software. These guys really seem to want to make the tool HELP me get a good design the first time through fab.

    I like the fact that PCB213 gives me the board fab quote real time on the screen. I can tell edit-by-edit if I’ve gone over my target price for board fab.

    The PCB123 guys have also just wired access to Digi-Key into the Bill of Materials functions. This means I can check parts availability for the parts I’ve specified. I can also get a Digi-Key price quote on-demand, so now I can design to both my fabrication and my parts budget from the get-go.

    Sunstone makes a good board. And they consistently stand behind their products.

  11. Lee – BatchPCB made some mention that they want to grow into this space, but I haven’t heard anything about it recently. Scratch that, there is an update on their blog today that they are trying to shave a few days off their leadtimes. This is great news!!!


  12. It seems like there is a gap between the fast/high quality (Sunstone, Advanced, etc.) and the slow/inexpensive (Batch, Golden, etc.). Who’s holding the middle ground with not fast and not expensive, but at least predictable and high quality?

  13. Ok. We’re almost at 50 votes, and the results are very interesting.

    First, a surprising number of people are making their own boards. For the guys who voted, what methods are you using? I am going to guess laser toner transfer. Is anyone still using peel and stick? What about mechanical removal techniques like CNC milling? Can you make boards for fine pitched packages and have them consistently work? What do you do about vias? I’d love to see pictures!

    Second, of the PCB vendors, BatchPCB is currently leading by a wide margin. I have a question for the BatchPCB fans – how do you deal with the turnaround time?

    BatchPCB is the slowest by far out of all the vendors listed, several times slower in most cases. Granted, they are also the cheapest, but they are so slow that using them to test out a design could delay a project by up to several weeks.

    Is anyone successfully using them for any more than the simplest one-shot hobbyist designs where one board is all you’ll ever need?

    1. I’m using a CNC to make my boards for prototyping before I release a production PCB. I’m able to prototype QFN32s with no problem and typically use 8mil/8mil design rules for both the CNC and the final production PCBs. Being able to come up with an idea, test it out the same day, and decide if its feasible to come out with a finished PCB is well worth the cost of the CNC. I also use it to cut my solder paste masks and front plate apertures. The drawback is that you don’t have plated through holes so I typically design my proto PCBs to have as few vias as possible since I need to solder a connecting wire into each one. Wouldn’t recommend a CNC for doing really complex boards, but for fairly simple boards and especially for RF boards, its definitely the way to go.

      1. I just got access to a CNC PCB mill that hadn’t seen much action (other than two lab to lab moves) in the last year or so, and after playing with it for a week, I’m not loving it.

        They seem to take an excessive amount of care and feeding. They eat-up tools and time pretty quickly (both through regular wear and simple breakage), require constant painstaking adjusting and while fun to watch for a while, end-up being fairly slow.

        Since I’m doing a volunteer project for someone else with it, I’m not paying for any of it, and I’m sure that they’d let me run a few small jobs of my own on it. However at this point I’m not sure that I want anything to do with it anymore even though it would be free (which is currently very attractive).

        I’ve already spent a few dozen hours and have gone through a few hundred dollars of material on it and I still wouldn’t consider more than “marginally well”. It’s so finicky that I’ve been redesigning my small boards for “millability”. So, for a one-off it can be ok if you design for it. Top-bottom alignment is good though, but not having PTHs and vias is a PITA.

        It *seems* like it should work better than it is, so I can’t condemn it outright. However I have no doubt that Akiba has more patience (and certainly more toys) than I do.

  14. I have used Gold Phoenix, PCBFabExpress, and Advanced Circuits. Here is the breakdown:

    Gold Phoenix: The cheapest of the three and pretty darn quick. Silkscreen quality is excellent and pad attachement is good. Via alignment tends to be poor. Circular boards tend to have router ‘chatter’

    PCBFabExpress: Pretty close in price to Advanced Circuits if you use their 3 for $33 special. Fair silkscreen quality, excellent pad attachment and excellent routing job. Different turn times are available. I’ve found that five days often means six with this fab house.

    Advanced Circuits: The most expensive of the bunch. Boards tend to be very high quality. No complaints regarding silkscreen, pad attachment, via alignment or routing job quality. Different turn times are available. The 3 for $33 special allows for multi-part designs with a $50 charge.

  15. Lots of great suggestions and recommendations here.

    My biggest issue with BatchPCB so far has been the speed. I’ve been waiting on a board for over a month now. It seems like their status update system is not very precise either – I’d like to see my board moving through their panelization, fab, sorting, etc. stages. On the plus size they allow arbitrary drill sizes with no extra charge vs. APCircuits and Olimex among others that charge for extra drills.

    I’ll definitely check out Pad2Pad. I use Eagle so gerber support is important.

  16. I’ve used PCBFabExpress a number of times with good results every time. My only complaint is that a five-day turn always seems to take longer than 5 days. Seems like there is a day or two delay after submitting files before the process gets started.

  17. I use Pad2Pad, They have free PCB software wich is grate for a quick design. They can take egle files as well. Proto boards (quanity less than 9) run about $60.00 for 9, depending on size.

    Large quanities are priced good, Example: 50 boards, 2″x2″, top silk, 2 sided $155.00.

    Turnaround is a bit long, 10 days for the lower price, but you can shoose 8, 6, 4, 2 day turnaround if you want to pay for it.

  18. I’ve used PCB123 from Sunstone Circuits with good success. The software is free, but the file output is proprietary. If you need true Gerber files you have to pay a $75 fee. On the other hand, the software was easy to learn and isn’t limited in board size like the free version of Eagle

    If you have Gerbers already from Eagle, then they can build the boards for you in small quantities with a quick turnaround. For true prototype runs (quantity less than 10) it is overly expensive to go with Sunstone. I use them for runs of 20 boards or more where the individual board cost isn’t so harsh.

    I’ve done about a dozen small runs of boards using this software and PCB service without a single bad board yet. My orders have been as low as 20 boards and as high as 100 boards. I’d love to get to a solution where I can work without the proprietary file format. Unfortunately, I haven’t found anything free or cheap that isn’t limited in some other annoying way.

    All in all: The price can be steep in very small quantities, but the boards are well-made and get turned around quickly.

  19. I have used batchpcb once and advanced circuits once. The cost question you raised is an interesting one. The advanced circuits job took about a week, but was expensive. The batchpcb board I had made took about three weeks, but were inexpensive.

    The interesting thing is that while the board from BPCB had no problems, there one from AC had a short on the board (which was unfortunately part of the feedback loop of a dc-dc converter, which meant that my -5V line got regulated to -21V. luckily, there was no damage because of some internal protection diodes in another IC on the board). So in this very limited sampling, the expensive one was worse quality.

  20. I actually send my boards for fab in China. For a number of 10 pcs of a board, their price is bellow what I can get in Europe.

    But if need only 1 piece of board, BatchPCB must be the choice, because their price+shipment is below what I can get in Europe.

    I haven’t ordered from BatchPCB yet, so i don’t know the quality of their service, but the boards from China are flawless.

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