I’ve just recently gotten into electronics. For the longest time, I’ve enjoyed using breadboards to prototype simple circuits with 555 timers, LEDs, and other little components. Recently, my ability to move beyond simple circuits was tested by a new project. Long story short, I had to develop a custom PCB (printed circuit board) to drive multiple servos, among other devices. The board would actually be a shield that plugs into an Arduino Uno, which is an awesome, cheap, and easy-to-use microcontroller. A “shield” is simply a board that extends the capabilities that the Arduino provides.
Side-note: If you have even a remote interest in electronics, then get yourself an Arduino. At SparkFun, the latest Uno, the R3, is less than $30.
To design the actual circuit, I first tried using Fritzing. This program is really cool because you can design your circuits in a breadboard view, which actually visualizes what the breadboard looks like with all the wires and components plugged in. I was able to prototype most of the circuit really quickly. But, I ran into a snag when I needed parts that the Fritzing library didn’t provide. That was a shame, because Fritzing has a really nice fabrication service (Fritzing Fab) built right in.
I ended up using the freeware version of EAGLE– the project I was doing was for educational purposes, so I didn’t have to buy a full version of the software. The neat thing about EAGLE is that its library comes with a ridiculous amount of parts, from nearly all of the major manufacturers. I coupled this with the SparkFun library, which contains parts definitions for most the parts that SparkFun sells, and was up and running quickly.
When it came time to print the actual board, I researched various fabrication services. Eventually, I decided on the DorkbotPDX PCB Order. There are so many things that I like about it:
- It’s $5/square inch. No setup fees or hidden costs. Shipping within the United States is free via USPS. Worldwide shipping is extra.
- The fee per square inch is paid only once, but you get three boards! For example, a 4 square inch board (approx. the size of an Arduino shield) costs $20 for three copies, shipping included!
- The boards are purple!
- Made in the USA
- The quality is excellent
Yeah, it really is that cheap and awesome; I’m not the only one that has noticed. Check out these reviews for the service:
I wrote this short post as a bit of free advertising for the service. Laen
, the guy that runs it, is really doing the community a favor by orchestrating this. If you have a board that you’d like printed, I encourage you to use this service.