Cheap PCB Manufacture?

Thread Starter


Joined Feb 19, 2011
Hey all, I'm currently working on a project and I come across that I will need a button matrix / keypad. Since everything is on a breadboard still under debugging, I just want to make a single PC Board for SMD. So I can add tact buttons, some resistors and a capacitor. So it wouldn't take up bread board space.

Since this will be my first SMD project, I want to know a few things before I get started. I've seen a lot of people talking about using CAD to design their PCB and send them to a manufacture who can produce 50 of them. Can it be a option to use something such as Gimp, or maybe Photoshop to design my PCB?

Who could print my PCB very cheaply and effectively? I'm not looking in designing a big board. All its going to have is 8 buttons with 3 through hole pins.

Would I need anything else before I begin soldering on my first PCB for SMD?

Here is a list of what I have already:
  • 15 - 30 Watt Soldering Iron (Maybe I should get a cheap and better Iron with Temp Settings?)
  • Helping Hands with magnifier.
  • Very Thin Solder
  • Flux Pen
  • Desoldering Iron

Thank you, Ajm.
Last edited:


Joined Mar 8, 2009
You want a CAD package that is designed for PCB design. I use KiCAD; others prefer ExpressPCB, Eagle, or another free package.

Once you lay out the board, you can either etch your own (do a search for "toner transfer") or send it out for fab. Some PCB packages (like ExpressPCB) can only be used to make boards from the company that provides the software. Others can generate industry-standard files in the Gerber format that can be sent to the board house. I usually use Iteadstudio for cheap protos; DorkbotPDX has a nice deal too. If I need boards quickly, Advanced Circuits ( is nice, but they cost a bit more.



Joined Apr 24, 2011
When it comes to getting some inexpensive PCB boards to prototype a few things on you'll be hard pressed to beat out ExpressPCB (google the name). Their software is free and very useful. They start at $51 for 3 boards 3.8" by 2.5" no solder mask or silk screen. Add those back in and it only grows to $75. They can make larger boards (you can price them right inside their program). Order only by credit card, and they really try their best not to talk to you. You really don't need to talk to them and they need to cut down on "how do I..." questions. Be advised your work will pretty much be stuck at that house, though in the past I was able to buy my gerber files back after first buying the boards.

If you order boards on Monday you'll have them in your mailbox Thursday or Friday.

KiCad (my choice) and Eagle will work with most any vendor as they output gerber files, and gerber files rule the PCB industry.

I have seen some other sources, I am temped to try some of the China houses I see on EBay but do not have a need as of yet. The most expensive part of a PCB is the speed you get it back. If you can wait a few weeks the price can drop by half.

To solder SMD stuff the key is to have a very fine tip and some fluxed solder wick to clean up shorts. Some liquid flux is also nice to have on hand.

To solder stuff down try to do one piece first. For a resistor heat one tab and flow a little solder onto it (you need surprisingly little solder). Use some tweezers to place the resistor and tap the iron into the solder bump to reflow it. Now that the part is stuck down the other end is easy to do. Do SOIC's the same way: tack down one then another corner to fit the part in place, then get the rest of the pins.

If you have a device that only has connections underneath, well... good luck. I've done them with just hot air by heating the board around the part, but an oven is best and a hot plate is 2nd best. I actually have access to a series of 3 hot plates that sweeping arms will push small boards over to get things reflowed.

Check EBay, I got a combo hot air and regular iron from them for under $100 and just love the damn thing. You can safe that for later if you get real serious, that is about the time you'll start buying solder as a paste instead of a spool.

A magnifier is nice, I have a small microscope you'd have to pull from my cold dead hand to get from me.


Joined Oct 29, 2009
Why not just make your own PCB? It is easy to do. If you mess up your design (and you will at some point, ask me why :) ), all you will be out is the price of some copy, chemicals and your time.


Joined Aug 15, 2012
You can see a valid tutorial about using vinyl sticker and laser printer in this forum at:
All About Circuits Forum > Electronics Forums > The Projects Forum
New method to manufacture pcb at home


Joined Sep 7, 2009
If there aren't many components, and it's a one off, you can use an etch resist pen. I still use it for small boards although I now use the UV method for ones with more components. I also recommend desoldering braid for fixing surface mount parts. It's easy to get enough solder off to fix the inevitable solder bridges.
Some pictures here: