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Making a Single Prototype PCB

I recommend Sierra Proto Express for making automation PCBs.  So far, I’ve had five different boards made at Sierra, including a larger 4 layer board, and have been very happy with the results.  Their pricing is competitive, the quality is excellent, and there are fewer limitations (e.g. drill sizes, non-plated holes) than many of their competitors.

However, when I am paying the bill, Sierra is not a good choice when I only want 1 board made or have a small board.  At Sierra, 1 PCB might cost about $85, and 3 PCBs about $110.  For small quantities, the cost does not vary much with board size (for example, a 6 sq in board costs the same as a 18 sq in board).

I haven’t found a great solution yet. I want all my boards to have top and bottom soldermasks and a top silkscreen, so “bare bones” boards (no soldermask or silkscreen) isn’t an option.  Besides, I don’t think the bare bones savings are large enough.

I do plan on making multiples of some personal boards (mainly some CANOpen-related boards), but for some boards, such as the FP-SMC-1, I only want one board (unless, of course, I can get multiple quality boards done for the same price as the cheapest price for one quality board).

The best solution so far is Batch PCB, which is run by SparkFun; the PCBs are made in China by Gold Phoenix.  Batch PCB charges $2.50 per square inch plus $10 for 2 layer PCBs; typically delivery is supposed to be 2-3 weeks (longer than I  like, but I can live with it for my personal boards).  The FP-SMC-1 PCB would cost about $40 at Batch ((4.32 * 2.83 * 2.50) + 10 = 40.56).

Another choice would be to use Gold Phoenix directly and panelize (combine multiple boards into one order).  Gold Phoenix only makes sense for orders of 155 sq in or more.  They will panelize for an extra fee ($30 IIRC).  So I am going to finish up some other PCBs first, then decide how to get all the boards made.  Given the boards’ design specifics, it may not make sense to panelize, but at least I want to check and see if this is a better option.

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