How to Order PCBs online

In today’s internet economy, there is not much that you cannot order online. PCBs are no exception, and in this article, we walk you through the process of how to order PCBs online.

PCBWay is our preferred manufacturer because they are a complete online manufacturing platform. Their solutions include PCB manufacturing, assembly and BoM sourcing. What we like most about PCBWay is their one-on-one customer service, which few other online platforms offer.
Trust us, there is nothing more annoying than dealing with a different support person every time you run into an issue!

Ordering your first PCB? Read through this article for the basic and necessary steps before ordering your first PCBs.

Schematic Design

It is fairly obvious that you will need to come up with a schematic or circuit diagram before you make a circuit board out of it.
There is nothing the PCB manufacturer can do if your circuit design has flaws in it, so make sure you get it right the first time! If you need help with that, feel free to get in touch with us.

For the purposes of demonstration, let’s take the AudioSOM32 development board schematic and order a 100 pcs of its PCB to demonstrate how to order PCBs online.

order-pcbs-online-audiosom32-development-kit-schematic

Before going for PCB design, make sure you run a design rule check on the schematic. It can save you from silly mistakes or obvious incorrect connections quite often.

PCB Design

Once the schematic is completed, PCB layout comes next. We settled with this 2-layer PCB layout. You can use the PCB layout tool that comes with your CAD package to design your PCB from a schematic. If you face issues, we are here to help, as always!

order-pcbs-online-audiosom32-dev-kit-pcb

Again, it is very important that you run a proper design rule check on your PCB to make sure that no traces are too close, or unconnected by mistake. Ensure that all the silk screen labels are where they should be, as it helps the manufacturer to ensure they are placing the right components at the right footprint.

Cut Manufacturing Cost

You should always try to optimize your design to ensure that you can get the PCB manufactured at the lowest cost possible. We like to use every trick in the book to reduce manufacturing cost and precision for our PCBs. Here are some easiest ones you might want to use.

Trace/Gap specifications

PCBWay evaluates the cost of PCB manufacturing based on the technology requirements. If you have very fine traces and vias, it usually requires precision manufacturing and will cost you more.
Here are the options PCBWay offers, for example:

order-pcbs-online-pcbway-design-rules

For 100 pcs of our board, if we used 0.2mm vias and 4 mil/4 mil trace/gap in our design, 100 pcs of our PCB will cost $176.

However, because we do not absolutely need fine traces, we could use 0.3mm vias and 6 mil/6 mil design rule to bring our PCB cost down to $118! A ~30% decrease in cost by some minor design tweaks is not bad at all.

Component count reduction

Sometimes, we do not need to use distinct components for common applications. A very common example is pull-up (PU) or pull-down (PD) resistors. Instead of using different values like 10K, 82K, and 100K for PU/PD in different parts of the circuit, you can usually settle for using only 15K or 15K/100K without changing the circuit performance.
That can save you quite a lot in a large production run!

Surface leveling

Does your design only have large SMD components (> 1mm pin pitch) or only through hole parts?
If yes, you might get away with HASL (lead free) instead of ENIG (immersion gold) finish and save more on your PCBs. If we use HASL for 100 pcs of our PCB, we could have gotten the cost down to $88 for 100 pcs. However, because we have small QFN package parts, we’d prefer ENIG finish for better soldering.

Drill sizes

Try to use a small number of drill sizes. Sometimes, it is acceptable to just use 2 via sizes across the whole design – for signal and for power. This reduces the types of drills to be used and reduces manufacturing cost and time in the long run, especially for large production runs (1000+ boards with many vias).

Watch your vias!

Do not add vias on the pads of fine pitch components, it can quadruple your manufacturing expenses!
This is because vias on SMD pads will suck the solder paste in and there might not be an actual connection between the IC pin and PCB pad after soldering is finished. So the manufacturer has to plug the vias on pads.

If you have a very high density BGA design, you can still avoid vias on pads by using proper fanout techniques. Feel free to contact us if you are stuck with a dense design!

Generate Gerber Files

There are loads of CAD tools out there for PCB design, and to order a PCB online, you will need to send PCBWay your production files (NOT your design files).

Production files like Gerber layer files are not CAD package dependent, and they can be generated by any CAD tool of your choice. Gerber files can be of two formats, the RS-274x or the newer Gerber X2. PCBWay accepts Gerber RS-274x formatted files.

order-pcbs-online-generate-gerber-files

Save the generated Gerber files (make sure you preview them before generating them to make sure they look okay).

Generate Drill Files

The gerber files do not include drill information. They only instruct the manufacturer on how to etch the copper and print the silk screen. The N/C drill file is needed to determine where to drill holes, and of what size.

Preview and generate the N/C drill file, it should look something like this.

order-pcbs-online-generate-nc-drill-files

Add ReadMe file, ZIP everything up

Add a readme.txt file with any special instructions you might have, or your quick contact info.

Finally, put all the Gerber files, N/C drill file, and the readme file in a ZIP (do not use RAR, 7Z or other formats. ZIP is the most accepted format).

You can now upload the ZIP file to PCBWay and let them review your files. If there are any issues that they happen to find, they will get back to you with the details and potential fixes.

We always find their support staff to be very responsive and helpful!

Still Need Help?

We are always around to help you with your design. Not just the PCB design and production, we can assist you every step of the way – starting from a design idea to getting your product to the market.

You also get a discounted manufacturing rate when you work with us and use PCBWay for your production requirements. Feel free to reach out to us!