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Hardware Build

Does It Make Sense To Hand Make Printed Circuit Boards? 196

An anonymous reader writes: A Hackaday author told the hackers that it isn't worth making your own PC boards anymore. Good tools, fast shipping, and cheap manufacturing capacity means that spending a day making a board that is much worse than a 'pro' board just isn't worthwhile anymore. The reaction was worse than when Kirk told the Star Trek fans to get a life. Although there have been some who agree, many of the readers have taken it as an affront to their very way of life.
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Does It Make Sense To Hand Make Printed Circuit Boards?

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  • Yes (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    It doesn't take a day to make a PCB. Show me a place where I can order a PCB and have it in my hand within an hour.

    • Re:Yes (Score:5, Insightful)

      by TheRaven64 ( 641858 ) on Thursday September 24, 2015 @05:54AM (#50588121) Journal

      How often do you need it within an hour? If you're prototyping, then breadboards are usually fine. I'm a bit surprised that this is news: it was the advice almost ten years ago last time I did anything that required producing circuit boards. If you actually need a PCB, they're cheap to get professionally made and delivery is often next-day (or longer if you want to pay even less). Only make your own if speed is far more important than quality, and your time is cheap.

      Of course, that assumes that you're making a thing because you want thing. If you want to hand-print PCBs because you want to learn a craft as a hobby, then by all means, do so and have fun!

      • I am usually only making one copy ever. Doing it on a perfboard (for hole mounted stuff) or etching my own PCB is much faster than ordering a PCB (and actually having the layout in a format that the company accepts) and waiting a few weeks for it to arrive.

        • Who doesn't accept Gerber format?
        • I am usually only making one copy ever. Doing it on a perfboard (for hole mounted stuff) or etching my own PCB is much faster than ordering a PCB (and actually having the layout in a format that the company accepts) and waiting a few weeks for it to arrive.

          I haven't found their one-off boards to be all that inexpensive either. And then there is rework.

          We're makin' stuff!

          And the answer to the submitter of the article is that yes, it makes no sense to hand make PC boards. Nor does it make sense to make things at all. Just be a good consumer and purchase things to keep the economy strong.

          Meanwhile, I'll make my own at home. I don't care if it makes sense to him.

          • by TheCarp ( 96830 )

            I dunno, I have looked at making pcb for projects, and mostly concluded that the time and cost to get started, chemicals or equipment etc wasn't really worth it. I think, in the end, it depends what your goals are.

            If all you make are one-offs, and want to iterate quickly, and do a lot of it, then maybe it makes sense for you. If you can't do prototypes on breaboard or other (I like breadboard layout PCBs myself) then maybe it makes sense.

            However, as someone who only has the occasional need, or who wants to

            • However, as someone who only has the occasional need, or who wants to prototype a couple, then order 20 of them. I was working on a home automation project, perfect example, because once my design is fully prototyped, I want to send off and have a bunch of them made, because I need at least 2-3 for each room of the house.

              I am not making those pcbs by hand, and I don't make pcbs by hand now, so, it really doesn't make sense for me to start.

              For certain, the more boards you need, the more sense it makes to have a board house do them. The cost per board plummets.

      • Re:Yes (Score:5, Insightful)

        by thegarbz ( 1787294 ) on Thursday September 24, 2015 @07:06AM (#50588283)

        How often do you need it within an hour?

        Who is the target market? Think about who they were talking to and where it was posted. This is hack-a-day. A site for people who build things often because they need something now or put together items they have at home instead of buying something from the store.

        There's no doubt that a professional board house is a great thing, and I have no problem ordering something 3 weeks out for a project where I carefully build and select parts, but not all my projects were like that. Just the other day I made a board for someone who needed something the following week, except all the suitable components in my parts bin were surfacemount. I couldn't breadboard that, at least not in a way where it would last more than a few days.

        The problem was not the fact that the HaD author pointed out that PCBs can be manufactured at great cost and quality. It's the elitist way the article was written telling people off for daring to hack something together themselves. "I don't make my own PCBs anymore and neither should you."

        I just typed this on my Surface. I don't use a desktop or a mac and neither should you. What kind of result do you think that comment would get on Slashdot?

        • " This is hack-a-day. A site for people who build things often because they need something now or put together items they have at home instead of buying something from the store.

          Since you don't know the Hack-a-Day target audience at all, you should probably refrain from commenting about articles found there until you do some day. Today I'm hacking together an oscilloscope [hackaday.com] ... tomorrow I'm hacking together a Logic Analyzer [hackaday.com]! Just because you read about Rome in a day, doesn't mean it was built in one.

          • You realise that articles of interest posted, and the mindset of readers are not the same things right? Or I suppose everyone on Slashdot is a veteran C++ coder who hates Java?

            There are countless examples on HaD of where people have quickly built stuff out of need, want, or just plain lazyness and not wanting to leave the house. Just because Rome wasn't built in a day doesn't mean everyone is happy to sit around and wait a century.

            Actually thanks for posting those links, scrolling down you can see plenty of

            • "You realise that articles of interest posted, and the mindset of readers are not the same things right? Or I suppose everyone on Slashdot is a veteran C++ coder who hates Java?"

              You make a great point. Readers flock to the site because their interests are in direct opposition to the articles posted there! The fact that you drew such a ridiculous inference about my positions on C++ and Java cuts to the core of your idiocy, in the same way that you wrongly inferred that Hack-a-day meant things you hack toget

      • Re:Yes (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Thursday September 24, 2015 @07:47AM (#50588417)

        Try to do touch-related stuff on a breadboard. I dare you. Even if you do the actual sensor on a PCB, the parasitic capacity on the various wires will drive you nuts, not to mention that you have to painstakingly ensure the key wires don't run to close to each other, to cross each other and $deity help you if you should dare to move the board an inch.

        Another thing you do not necessarily want to do on breadboard is some of the more timing critical SMD shit. No, breakouts are not always an option.

        Considering how cheap the various parts are by now and that you can actually (some equipment, skill and training permitting) go from design to ready-to-test board in about an hour or two, depending on how complicated your design actually is, this means that yes, there IS still a reason to do your own PCBs. I prefer to test on breadboard, too. But there are a few things you simply can't do on it.

      • by Osgeld ( 1900440 )

        surface mount IC's

      • That would work if anything came in a form you can breadboard anymore.
    • by Z00L00K ( 682162 )

      There are also those chain-link boards that you can build on if you need a quick simple prototype. That's an easy way if you just want one or two circuits for your personal use. Etching a board from scratch is often quirky since you discover that you need "yet another component" that you didn't plan for.

      If you have a good circuit that you have tested then you can use Eagle to cad it and order more boards if you need a small series of devices.

    • Re:Yes (Score:4, Interesting)

      by kheldan ( 1460303 ) on Thursday September 24, 2015 @11:54AM (#50589885) Journal
      Been working in electronics for >30 years.

      If all you need is a simple PCB (even 2-layer with plated-through holes is not that difficult) with no silkscreen or soldermask, and you're willing to have the chemicals and a PCB drill press with appropriate PCB drills on hand to do it, then it's very convenient. If you want silkscreen and soldermask, then it's going to be fairly time consuming and require quite a bit more equipment. If you need more than 2 layers, you're having a fab house do it for you, unless your need is so frequent and regularly urgent that you can justify the huge expense; at this point you are a fab house. Of course in this day and age, you can build almost anything you want and never have a single through-hole on a PCB (with the exception of vias); if it's a single-layer board then you don't even need vias in the first place and are just etching; if you're willing to put up with the relatively low-quality results, there's the toner-transfer method. As with most things it all should be dictated by need. Unfortunately governments would just as soon take everything that's not a common household chemical out of the hands of common citizens, so I'm not very surprised that there's someone trying to discourage people from manufacturing their own PCBs.
  • Yep (Score:5, Insightful)

    by stooo ( 2202012 ) on Thursday September 24, 2015 @05:47AM (#50588103)

    Yes, most times it doesn't make sense any more to make PCBs in house.
    Two exceptions : very fast manufacturing is needed, or for hobby use.
    But even for hobby, it's better to wait 5-30 days and pay the few euros for the boards.

    • wait 5-30 days

      You nailed that one right there. 5-30 days. It may get here sometime in the next month. You can't plan for this. Don't think of having your project ready on any given date. You may have just pulled those numbers out of your arse but this is exactly why I often still make my own boards, because none of the hobby paneling companies can offer consistent delivery dates. OSHPark has been better than most with narrowing it down, but for the longest time it has been "You'll get it when you get it" and that is ofte

      • by stooo ( 2202012 )

        >>You can't plan for this. Don't think of having your project ready on any given date. You may have just pulled those numbers out of your arse

        For hobby, I'll just wait, usually. If I need the boards faster, I use a pro service, with guaranteed delay. Eurocircuits for example is good, fast, and reasonably priced here in Europe.

      • You nailed that one right there. 5-30 days. It may get here sometime in the next month.

        I've used Express PCB [expresspcb.com] for about ten years or so now. Free schematic software, free board layout software, and they ship the next day. I've had boards in two days. It's $51 for three boards in a size similar to a BeagleBone or Pi.

        I also have the chemicals etc to do homemade boards. I haven't used any of it for a very long time. It was fun to see the board you make etch, but it is more fun to show someone a project that looks professionally made.

        Yeah, you get a fixed size board for that price, but you can

    • Yes, most times it doesn't make sense any more to make PCBs in house. Two exceptions : very fast manufacturing is needed, or for hobby use. But even for hobby, it's better to wait 5-30 days and pay the few euros for the boards.

      So I'm just starting to get into doing some boards, and I'll certainly be doing the initial stages myself until I get the circuits/etc right - then, and only then, would I consider sending it off to someone else to be made.

      And yes, I've computer designed a few before; still getting the hang of it all so I don't trust the design will be quite right yet either. But as I said, I'm just getting into it. Someone that has more experience and trusts their computer designed boards probably wouldn't have that iss

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 24, 2015 @05:48AM (#50588107)

    Well, he has got some points... i too hate making my own PCBs (i'm not a young enthusiast anymore).
    Most of what i make are only prototypes useful to me only and it is a huge waste of time to:
    1) create the layout via software (maybe i also need to create my own components before because i can't find a library with all the ICs/components that i need)
    2) go through all the lengthy steps to make a real PCB out of it
    3) get rid of the chemicals once done paying attention to not ruin anything (i ruined a whole wall one day when i was a teen at my first attempts...)

    There is a good, although a little bit forgot, alternative though... it is called "wire-wrapping".
    Yes, it is not as beautiful as a specialized PCB, but if you have the correct wires and tools it becomes quite a fast process.
    You don't need to use any software for the layout. Did you f*ck something up? No worries... just unwrap and fix the mistake! It is strong enough to be usable in real-world scenarios.

    Of course, if you need to make several copies of your board... then the PCB is the way to go. But if you only need one damn copy or you are just prototyping... then wire-wrapping makes a lot of sense.

    • by stooo ( 2202012 ) on Thursday September 24, 2015 @06:41AM (#50588219)

      a good modern alternative to wire wrap for SMD components :

      http://elm-chan.org/docs/wire/... [elm-chan.org]

      Used that for some very fine pitch, nice results for one-offs.

      I recommend experimenting with different wire thickness and insulations (some enameling is made to be burned off when soldering, and there's an optimal diameter around 0,3mm)

    • by Z00L00K ( 682162 )

      I have resorted to prototyping boards for one-off builds. In the event I need something more then it's some CAD work in Eagle and order a set of boards.

    • One of the Tech Crunch 2015 winners was Voltara V-One. Target price is sub-$2k (eventually) for a machine that will do 2-layer PCB printing, insulation curing, solder paste dispensing and reflow. Might be expensive for the home user, but I can see Maker workshops installing them.

      It's not even the first PCB printer, there are several on the market already in the $3K range.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    "The reaction was worse than when Kirk told the Star Trek fans to get a life." Really? From what I can tell, it's only a small minority of the commenters who were outraged.

    The rest of them seem to agree, and post their experiences with using various custom PCB services, software, etc.

    • Just like with ST-Fans, where the majority didn't give a shit about Shatner's comment and a few basement dwellers caused a stink.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Nope, not worth it by a long shot.

    It's fun to try If you want to understand the PCB etch process, or if you absolutely need a PCB right away.
    But the results are quite frankly terrible compared to paying $10 for 5 boards from china.

    The main issues with home made PCBs is
    - Drilling the holes dead center
    - No plated through holes.
    - 2 layers can be a bitch to align
    - No solder mask.
    - Side etching of the thin tracks.
    - The many many hours of time it takes verses just paying the $10 and waiting 2 weeks.

    • by jabuzz ( 182671 )

      Add to this the cost of the equipment to make the dam thing. You will need light boxes, developer, and etching tanks, and that does not include the cost of the chemicals. Also add in the cost of the drill and bits. You result will also not be tin plated either unless you spend even more. The end result is while it might be more expensive to get one made, you don't have the cost of capital deployed required to make one. So you are going to have to do lots of PCB's to make it viable anyway.

      I have made PCB's i

      • While I agree with your conclusion, for the most part, I disagree about the cost of DIY equipment. If you are complaining about the cost of PCB-making equipment, you haven't discovered toner transfer yet. If you have access to a laser printer and a decent drill press, the only special equipment you need is a clothes iron from Walmart, or a garage sale. Either way, under $10.

        You'll want to google it, of course, but the short version is that your print your design mirrored on clay-coated photo paper, then

    • by serviscope_minor ( 664417 ) on Thursday September 24, 2015 @08:00AM (#50588475) Journal

      I don't make my own PCBs. I do surface mount stuff and I like going for small sized. Lots of tiny vias, tiny component pitches, double sided, and of course a solder mask.

      I know people who do make PCBs and they of course use it for big fat coarse things. You can do coarse pitch surface mount without a solder mask. That removes the need for holes, too and if you're size is large you can get away with single sided + a few jumpers too.

      - Drilling the holes dead center

      Etch a dot out of the middle of the pad. The drills self-align.

      - No plated through holes.

      Use rivets, or chemical plating:
      http://www.instructables.com/i... [instructables.com]
      or electroplating:
      http://www.thinktink.com/stack... [thinktink.com]

      - No solder mask.

      There's spray, but apparently film is easier to use:

      http://www.instructables.com/i... [instructables.com]

      Here's what a home made PCB can look like if you take it to the max:

      http://kavionic.com/blog/Makin... [kavionic.com]

      So it's actually amazing what you can do at home, and the top-end PCB home brewers can actually produce some pretty professional PCBs. No way I'm investing the time and money into that proess though.

    • It's fun to try If you want to understand the PCB etch process, or if you absolutely need a PCB right away.
      But the results are quite frankly terrible compared to paying $10 for 5 boards from china.

      Another thing that's in play here, is I think there's been a shift in (for lack of a better term) "project management" by hobbyists. When I was younger, it seemed most hobbyists (regardless of the hobby) had several projects on the bench at any given time... long term ones, short term ones, one where you were w

  • by Anonymous Coward

    ... the best way for us to learn the basics is to learn by doing. Everyone forgets what its like to start from scratch. When we pontificate from our position of knowledge we often forget the struggle and cost of learning along the way and for us to deny future generations that is stupid.

  • Not as fun. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jellomizer ( 103300 ) on Thursday September 24, 2015 @05:58AM (#50588129)

    There is a strong sense of accomplishment if you are able to do things from scratch, or closer to scratch, where you are involved in more of the process. Saying I need a board with this spec to a vender and get an overnight shipping, vs. actually designing it yourself, printing it out.

    Efficiency isn't always the goal. Efficiency is boring, because it is about standardizing the process, it is about taking joy out of learning and just focusing on mass production. Building experimenting and learning have value as well. If you make your own board you get a good feel on how things are setup and working, if there is a problem you can more easily diagnose problems, and you really learn what is happening.

    Of course if your boss's Business school didn't cover Business ethics in nauseum, like mine did. that may not be the best argument. However you can bring up the efficiency of being able to print multiple per day allowing your development time to increase as you can try multiple versions per day, and the cost of man hours will be less than the cost to of the equipment.

  • I do laser-print on good-quality paper, directly onto photo-resist (no oil, film, etc.) and what takes longest is the exposure and quality is very good. Sure, double-sided or multi-layer or large and complex I would have manufactured fore me, and standard-things like SOP/SSOP adapters I have on stock, they are just so cheap on Ebay. The other alternative for more complicated circuitry is to use transformer wire and proto-boards and I made very good experiences with that for all sorts of circuits.

    Still, PCB-

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I've been doing electronics as a hobby for 5 years or so. I'm 27 years old so pretty much the entire time I've been interested in electronics cheap hobby PCB manufacture has been available.

    For prototyping, I use breadboard. To be honest the PCB etching has never really appealed. You have to mess around with laser printing, chemical etching, drilling holes, larger track sizes and single side only unless you can do your own PTH. If it's something I really want to keep, but don't want to do a PCB I just transf

  • He's right, sort of.

    I still occasionally make a PCB if I need one quickly. Most low cost board houses will take 4-6 weeks to turn around your board, if I need one for something I'm doing this weekend, I'll hand make it. I started out making 2 layer boards they are nowhere near as hard to make as he says (at least using a toner transfer process - I've never made PCBs using UV/photo processes). I've handmade PCBs using toner transfer for 0.4mm QFP devices.

    The real issue for me is I usually want to make 4 laye

    • Re:He's right... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Orgasmatron ( 8103 ) on Thursday September 24, 2015 @08:04AM (#50588487)

      I second the toner transfer method. From the comments here, it doesn't appear to be anywhere near as popular as it should be.

      It works great with through-hole and surface mount devices, it requires no more special equipment than an $8 (clothes) iron from Wal-mart, and 2-layer boards are no problem. Not exactly easy, but certainly not hard either.

      If anyone is interested, buying a bag of "transistor sockets" off ebay is a good investment. They are solderable hollow tubes with a lip on one side. You press them in and solder to both layers and have a very robust via. You can solder and unsolder a leg there without disturbing your via.

      To be honest, I don't do it very often any more. I think I do more PCBs by hand with a sharpie now than I do using laser toner, but that number is small too. I rarely need a board right away, and I very rarely need just one board. For me, I tend to need a half dozen of something, eventually. Like 12v battery pseudo-UPS boards for my home's Raspberry Pi sensor network, or G-M tube alarm boards for a vehicle fleet.

      I tend to design the PCB directly, then build the prototype on a solderless breadboard using the netlist, feed corrections back to the design, then send it off for fabrication with oshpark.

      To do that, you need a good collection of SMD to 0.1" carriers. Carriers for most packages are readily available, but I've had to make a couple myself (by drawing up the footprint and pins and sending it off for fabrication).

  • If all I need is one or two boards, I just wire wrap. I have no idea why so few people talk about this in the maker community.
    • I have no idea why so few people talk about this in the maker community.

      Probably because so much is done with SMT components now. There are plenty of components that aren't even available in through-hole packages.
      • SMT is a challenge for DIY regardless of what technique you use, especially if your eyesight is not excellent and your hands are not very steady. I use SMT to through hole adaptors.
  • Kirk? (Score:5, Funny)

    by Coisiche ( 2000870 ) on Thursday September 24, 2015 @06:42AM (#50588225)

    The reaction was worse than when Kirk told the Star Trek fans to get a life.

    Shatner surely. It would all be a bit meta for James Kirk to decry Star Trek fans.

  • by 140Mandak262Jamuna ( 970587 ) on Thursday September 24, 2015 @06:50AM (#50588251) Journal
    Jay Leno is more widely known as the stand up show host and less widely known for his motor/motor cycle collection.

    But he also wrote a more serious column for Car and Driver. He once talked about the decline of American motor cycle industry. Famous names like Indian Chief etc and how they all foundered. Basically they produced machines which were difficult to maintain at good condition. Every three thousand miles people had to disassemble the cylinder head and decarbonize them and reset the valves and timing etc etc. The honchos in the companies were proud their customers like to get their hands dirty, they like working on these engines. Jay Leno said, "no, we don't like messing with these engines. We want to ride and have fun. But it was impossible to get good performance without doing all these things. We were forced to do it because your engines were crappy". When Honda and Yamaha started making reliable machines that delivered good performance for long times without these messy requirements, they just ate the lunch of the old style American motorcycle manufacturers. Only Harley survived, but it was touch and go for even for them.

    People like making things that work. Ages ago the only way to do it was to make your own PCB. Now a days with one day turn around, most people would like to outsource making the pcb to make sure there are no accidental contacts, no mistakenly erased and redrawn line not making full contact, making sure all the holes are drilled all the way through and there is no delamination etc. Hand made PCBs are the equivalent of your motorcycle rider decarbonizing the engine head instead of riding fast on the wide open highways of America.

    • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

      These days it's pretty difficult to make a high quality engine that is reliable and meets all emissions standards without CNC and other advanced manufacturing techniques. Similarly, it is getting harder and harder to make PCBs when parts are getting smaller. We are already at the point where there are lot of useful chips that only come in no-lead packages, making them very time consuming to solder by hand. Most semi-serious hobbyists are moving to cheap ovens and PCB manufacturers that provide stencils.

  • Darkrooms (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jrumney ( 197329 ) on Thursday September 24, 2015 @07:12AM (#50588297)
    Making your own PCBs makes as much sense as developing your own photos ever did. People do it because they like doing it, to learn, or to mess around with the results for fun/art. No one makes their own PCBs out of necessity or efficiency.
  • by thegarbz ( 1787294 ) on Thursday September 24, 2015 @07:18AM (#50588315)

    I'm one of the people who reacted negatively to that article and you draw the entire thing in the wrong light. I don't react negatively to someone pointing out the great cost and quality of pre-fab PCB houses. I use them a lot for many projects. However I lost it when I got to the bit which said:

    But I never do that anymore. It simply isn’t worth it. You shouldn’t either.

    What the heck does this self-important know it all know about my projects and what I should be doing with them? He doesn't know how soon I need them, how big they are. He doesn't know if it's a 1x1" board where the cost of manufacture is dwarfed by shipping costs. He doesn't know if I live in Shenzhen right next to the manufacturer or on a small Pacific island which only gets mail every 2 months.

    It is even worse considering the crowd he is pandering to. Hack a day is filled with people who do things because they need something fast, now, just something quick that will work, or need something they can make out of the crap they have lying at home because they couldn't be stuffed going to the store. He even knew this:

    Don’t get me wrong. No one that reads Hackaday needs to be told why someone wants to build something even though they could buy it somewhere else. I


    There is nothing wrong with buying PCB houses if you have a project where it makes financial sense to do so and you're happy to wait 2-6 weeks to get the resulting board. I hate making circuit boards. Yet I still make them myself because the conditions of what I'm doing call for it.

    By the way I am writing this from a Surface tablet. I'm not using a desktop right now, and neither should you. What would you think of a Slashdot article like that? Praise the author for his ability to chose something that suits him?

    • by jdavidb ( 449077 )

      But I never do that anymore. It simply isnâ(TM)t worth it. You shouldnâ(TM)t either.

      What the heck does this self-important know it all know about my projects and what I should be doing with them?

      Exactly. It's not about whether the opinion is right or wrong - it's about the lecture. Most grown people don't want to be lectured about what they "should" or "should" not do. Maybe people disagree with the logic, or have different goals. Maybe they want to simply do something somebody else thinks is irrational.

      I had enough lectures when I was a kid. I'm grown now and don't usually put up with it when people lecture me. (But I try to keep my emotions in check and not get in a big fight with them; inst

  • I hew my one-bits out of the living face of Chaos. I thought everybody did that.
  • ... and it's known as time.
    You can't do SMD easily with a breadboard.
    And you can't have every breakout board at your fingertips with the crazy packages they invent on a daily basis.
    Sometimes custome copper is a necessity.

  • To quit making my own IC's. I just perfected using mini ice cube trays to place the components into and pour in a potting ceramic. Works great!

  • by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Thursday September 24, 2015 @08:07AM (#50588499)

    They just get fewer. A decade or two ago, doing your own PCBs was pretty much a requirement if you wanted to work with PCBs and wire-wrapping or pre-made hole boards were not cutting it for you. Today, for most applications you can easily and rather cheaply buy PCBs that are usually superior in quality and also usually more likely to work as designed.

    There are a few reasons I still do my own PCBs from time to time. Mind you, the applications get fewer and I think the last time I actually etched one has been at least 6 months ago.

    - You wanna.
    Always a good reason. You want to do it because it's for something special, maybe a gift or something where hand made from start to finish actually means something. Sentimental value and all that. Also, it's fun. At least the first couple dozen times, then it just gets boring.

    - Security/secrecy reasons.
    There are always those designs you can't give to someone else. This is less a concern for most people, but there are applications where I certainly wouldn't want the design to go to some Chinese company before I can present it at the next Security Conference. Because I wanna make the speech. ;)

    - Time
    Yes, overnight is possible. Expensive (around here overnight costs upwards of 50 bucks for a simple PCB), but possible. Still sometimes too slow if you need it NOW. Or if you can't wait the 4-6 weeks that the budget price could get you. Because ...

    - Some designs can only be tested on a PCB
    Especially touch designs are extremely hard to test sensibly on a breadboard because their behaviour depends highly on the layout of the PCB. Other times you're running into timing issues if you're working with very fast switching signals. Breadboards simply don't cut it with all applications you may encounter. More and more "modern" designs (wireless devices, PC components, etc) can hardly be remodeled on breadboards.

    As soon as the design is done and I need a batch of PCBs, there is no question about whether I want to do them myself or whether I want them to be done by someone who can crank out a few dozen per batch. Designing can actually still mean etching your own. Not as much as it used to, but there are still applications that give you an excuse to indulge in your rubber glove fetish.

  • No. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by pz ( 113803 ) on Thursday September 24, 2015 @08:11AM (#50588517) Journal

    The beer-free tools for PCB creation have become incredibly good recently, with the exception of autorouting which is still not so great at the inexpensive end of the market.

    Small-quantity PCB services are ridiculously inexpensive at often only a few dollars per board, delivered.

    Component pitch has shrunk to the point that making fine lines for most chips is really hard with hobbyist etching tools. Forget vias.

    So when are DIY PCBs useful? Maybe with single-sided surface mount boards that have medium-pitch components when board quality isn't so important, and you need it in hours, not days-to-weeks.

    When does that happen? Never, for me. Really, never.

    Add in the storage and surface areas required for the chemicals and processing, the setup/cleanup time, the toxicity of the chemicals, and there's a very good reason I have not ever, not once, even considered making my own PCB.

    When I need to prototype circuits, point-to-point works really well, and using SMT adapters that are also ridiculously inexpensive. And even then, the battles you have to wage with noise coupled with the really inexpensive costs of professionally-made boards make it almost not worth constructing point-to-point (and in my experience, breadboards universally suck).

    So should you make your own PCBs? If the making of the PCB isn't an end until itself for the pleasure of constructing the board, then the answer is, "no." If you like playing with resist layers, electroetch, and stuff like that, then sure. I mean, you could wind your own resistors, too, if you really wanted to. And there's a fellow who makes his own tubes, too [youtube.com] (he's amazing, and I admire the skill). But buy your PCBs, don't make them.

  • by goodmanj ( 234846 ) on Thursday September 24, 2015 @08:35AM (#50588599)

    Making your own circuitboards is almost never the best option. But making your own cloth with a hand loom is almost never the best option either, and people do that for fun all the time. If you're taking advice from a Hackaday author, you're probably a hobbyist, and you can hobby however you want to.

  • Does it make sense? Not really. As the HaD author pointed out: creating your own boards is more hazardous, offers fewer options for multilayer boards, and is less precise.

    On the other hand, we are talking about HaD. If the point was to get a device that does what we want of it, we could buy almost anything off the shelf and sites like HaD would have very little rational for existence. More critically the environment of learning, creativity, independence, and (insert your motivation to make/hack/DIY) wou

  • by xtal ( 49134 ) on Thursday September 24, 2015 @09:18AM (#50588801)

    I don't do much of this anymore, but I have designed hundreds of commercial boards and likely into the thousands of prototypes.

    In the late 90's people used routers and crude lithographic techniques; these got better, but the online services scale nicely, and if you add up all the costs, it's almost insane to try and do it yourself. Why?

    For entertainment purposes - that's different - but there hasn't been a commercial case for some time.

    In fact, they're so cheap now, what hands on work I do, I just spin a PCB even for prototype purposes.

  • IMHO, one big missing piece to ultra-short-run production of electronic products is the ability for a DIYer to make production-quality enclosures in small quantities that aren't stupid expensive. I had (and still have) high hopes for 3D printing to solve this but current technology is slow and prone to mid-print failures. Plus, the results are lacking in appearance of a finished product.

  • How about the various circuit printers that are coming on the market now, like the Argentum or the Voltera? They're not cheap ($1500-2000), but they're probably a lot faster/cleaner/more precise than trying to etch it yourself. Voltera is capable of printing pseudo two-layer PCBs, since it has both a conductive solderable ink, and an insulating ink ink: when a trace needs to cross another, it uses the insulating ink to create a bridge, and then prints the second trace crossing over the first.

  • ... then you may as well outsource your PCB creation.

    But I see the factor of a delay as less of a matter of whether or not one *NEEDS* to have it done quickly and more simply a matter of whether getting it done right away is simply something that they might *want*.

    But what would bother me a lot is if people didn't have a choice... or if any so-called choice was actually a non-issue because only one of the options is actually both practical and readily available to them.

  • The guy who said this seems to be disconnected from the "maker" world. Amateurs make stuff in the full knowledge that it would be cheaper and faster to buy a ready-made pruduct that would (probably) have more features, be more reliable, DEFINITELY have a better quality enclosure and in all likelyhood be smaller, too.

    But that's not the point. Amateurs make stuff: electronics and software because they like it. They know that there are alternatives that are better but there's no fun in that. There's no satis

    • Additionally, if I'm engineering a radio system, I want to know every solder joint in the system.

      If I'm selling a system- it goes to the customer with off the shelf components.

  • Look at all the super low member numbers in this thread....

    We are showing our age boys!

    I'm actually running out of 70/30 BTW.

  • No thanks, but I'm not handing anything off to China given their predisposition to copy anything you hand them - and make their own knockoff.

  • If you aren't learning it, 'hands-on', then you're not really soaking the concepts into your brain.

    Calculus– Use pencil and paper. Lots of paper.

    Circuits –Yes, bread-boarding is fine, but when you want to prototype, tightly integrating the components, w/soldered connections, then you should go through the process and do it for yourself. At least once.

Some people manage by the book, even though they don't know who wrote the book or even what book.