When its time for your project to move away from the breadboard/ pref-board and into a form that’s more permanent and repeatable, designing a PCB is the next logical step. But once you’ve designed it, choosing where to get it made can be challenging.
A quick Google for PCB Manufacture turns back hundreds of results for PCB manufactures offering fast turn around and shockingly low prices. Trying to decide from this can involve many hours of searching through reviews, looking at design specifications and more. So here’s a little review of my experiences with PCBWay, a Chinese PCB Fab house.
I’ve ordered from PCBWay a handful of times and (although I’ve never had any complicated specifications) have never had any issues. From the instant quote page it is easy to select all your options and get an instant price. Then its just a matter of uploading your gerbers and waiting for it to be reviewed (usually takes a couple of hours) and making the payment.
Options from PCBWay are plentiful, with a wide variety of colors, materials, finishes and tolerances waiting to be customized to your heart’s content.If your wanting to know about all the options they provide, take a look at the video Dave from the EEVBlog made that covers all this extremely well.
Its important that while your designing your boards (especially for smaller ones) that you keep in mind manufacturing tolerances of your fab house. The capabilities and tolerances pages will be your friends for dialing in your DRC settings.
Also be sure to plan for manufacture. Many of the cheaper options (i.e. from JLCPCB and the default option for PCBWay) are made out of cheaper FR4 with a lower glass transition temperature. Above is a board from JLCPCB that went through a reflow oven a little to hot.
Lead times & Shipping
Once the board has been approved, manufacturing was fast (depending on board options) with my particular boards with ENIG surface finish and yellow solder mask begin shipped in under 4 days. Postage with DHL to Australia was also fast (however the shipping cost was a significant part of the total cost).
Note on production times: Due to the epidemic production times are longer than usual. See the latest here.
Above is an images of several boards I’ve had made by PCBWay as well as one by JLCPCB for comparison. The yellow board has nice contrast between traces and the FR4. The ENIG finish is also of high quality and gives the boards a nice finish. Silkscreen and solder mask alignment is also perfect (especially considering the cost) although some small details in the silkscreen don’t become legible they are definitely within spec.
The default black solder mask from PCBWay appears glossy and as a matter of personal preference I prefer the matte black finish offered by default from JLCPCB. The HASL with lead surface finish on these boards is about what you’d expect. Good for boards that don’t have components with fine pitch and requiring super level finish (think BGA). It also slightly tarnishes with time, which is important to consider depending on your usage.
Overall my experience with PCBWay has been great, leading me to use them as my go to fab house for future projects and as the default DRC I use when designing boards.