In the previous post I talked about sourcing kits and boards suitable for novices. Once confidence builds and a little experience and knowledge is gained, other projects beckon and you find yourself perusing projects designed by generous folk who release their designs into the wild. Although most are usually just schematics, occasionally these may come with the files necessary to get your own boards printed.
These files, named Gerber files, contain all of the information required by a manufacturer to get your boards built, such as the printed circuit board images, copper layers, solder mask, legend and drill data. Although all of the hard work has been done for you, there is something nice about ordering your own boards from a PCB manufacturer. You can view and even edit these files yourself using a program such as EasyEDA Designer.
Once you have a Gerber file for your project you need to choose a manufacturer. There are, as you would imagine, many options but I would recommend JLCPCB. To be clear, I have no relationship with this fabricator other than that of a satisfied customer. I have bought all of my own boards and think the price, quality and service received justifies this recommendation.
To get your boards fabricated is as easy as registering for an account, uploading a file, choosing from any of the options available (for the cheapest price, just stick with the defaults) and providing payment details (card, Paypal etc). The Gerber files you obtain from a project designer come in a compressed file format, you just upload the single compressed file to the fabricator website and follow any prompts. JLCPCB has a Gerber viewer which shows a preview of your finished boards. As long as the design is 2 layers, under 100mm x 100mm and 1.6mm thick, you can get 5 boards fabricated for very little. Postage is extra but cheap; for my last order, shown in the photographs, I paid £4.73 for 15 boards with £4.82 postage. From ordering to delivery took 14 days. The boards are vacuum sealed with silica gel and come nicely boxed.
I have used three different boards fabricated by JLCPCB, including a protection circuit, a power supply and an amplifier and all have been problem free. Why not download a Gerber (some examples are to be found on this site) and give it a go?