Cheap Prototype PCB Comparison

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We live in a golden era of the electronics hobby.  PCBs are easier to make and cheaper to manufacture than ever before.  In some cases, it can even be easier to have  PCB made than breadboard a circuit.  With the growing proliferation of surface mount components, and ever greater levels of integration, PCBs are more and more appealing for hobbyists.  Like most folks in the maker community, I get my PCBs made at one of three places: Seeed Studio, OSH Park, or Batch PCB. (Itead Studio, also, but their prices and quality are basically the same as Seeed Studio.)

I’ve been ordering from whatever place strikes my fancy at the moment (increasingly from OSH Park, so I’m not left waiting as long for the boards), but I’ve never seen a decent comparison.  A few minutes in Octave fixed that right up.  Without further adieu, the price of 10 PCBs from OSH Park, Seeed Studio, and Batch PCB.  In order to compare apples to oranges, I assumed expedited shipping for the Seeed Studio orders.  In practice, this means about 10 day turnaround time for all three options.  All board dimensions are in CM.

 

Pricing for Expedited PCBs from Seeed Studio. X and Y are board dimensions in CM, Z is cost in US Dollars.
Pricing for PCBs from OSH Park. X and Y are board dimensions in CM, Z is cost in US Dollars.
Pricing for PCBs from Batch PCB. X and Y are board dimensions in CM, Z is cost in US Dollars.

This view gets even more interesting when you plot all three on the same graph:

The Mountain Range View of PCB Costs.

The stair-step pattern is Seeed Studio, the middle-surface is OSH Park, and the top surface is BatchPCB.  So, for 10 PCBs in about 10 days, OSH Park is the cheapest up to about 20 cm^2, then Seeed Studio is cheaper.  Here’s a heat-map of that price-breakdown.

Best Cost for 10 PCBs in 10 days. Yellow is OSH Park, Green is Seeed Studio. X and Y are board dimensions in CM.

 

Of course, sometimes you don’t need 10 boards.  In this case, OSH Park is the winner in a lot more cases.  In that case, here is the cost breakdown:

Best cost for minimum number of PCBs. Yellow is OSH Park, Green is Seeed Studio. X and Y are board dimensions in CM.

And, of course, sometimes you don’t care when the boards arrive.  If you don’t mind waiting for 3-4 weeks, here’s where you’ll find a better deal:

Best Price for PCBs, no rush. For Seeed, this means 4 weeks or so. For OSH Park, this means 10 days. Yellow is OSH Park, Green is Seeed Studio, X and Y are board dimensions in CM.

So, here’s the verdict:  Never order from BatchPCB! (Sorry Sparkfun.)  Otherwise, figure out whether you need a lot of boards, board fast, or boards slow.  Depending on those answers, look at the heat maps above, and find your best deals!

28 comments

  • Oh man, very cool.

    Just a couple other things in my / OSHPark’s favor, though certainly aren’t import to everyone:
    – Seeed/iTead aren’t high-Tg FR4, so they’re not compatible with lead-free manufacturing.
    – My prices include ENIG finish
    – My boards are manufactured in the US

    Again, not important to everyone, but there you go, for what its worth. :)

  • Absolutely true! I’ve also noticed that drill hits on OSH Park boards tend to be “truer,” but it never makes a difference for me, since all my boards are well within spec.

  • I don’t think it’s fair to say “never order from BatchPCB”. You’re assuming an order of 10 boards. I, for one, have never needed 10 copies of a board; for most of my projects, I need only one.

    I recently needed a large-ish board (9″x2″ or 23 cm x 5 cm) and my price comparison for a single unit led me to order from BatchPCB.

  • You couldn’t have picked two worse colors than Magenta and Cyan for colorblind people, by the way. The last few charts just look like solid blocks of color and white to me.

  • Changed it to some shade of beige and green. I know those colors can still be bad for some folks, but I can’t find a safer colormap in Octave, and I don’t have time to go futzing around with custom color maps at the moment.

  • Excellent analysis. I’ve long thought that there needs to be a online calculator that takes Gerber files, along with other variables such as quantity/speed, and tells you which PCB fab service would give you the best pricing. Your work comes very close to doing just that!

  • Hey, thanks a bunch for this post, and for the update with the minimum-order chart. I’ve often wondered exactly how these three houses compare for various possible orders, and I usually don’t need more than a few boards. Much appreciated!

  • Out of curiosity have you tried advanced circuits. 2 last I checked you could get 2 layer FR4 with 6mill tolerance for flat fee of 33 USD each. size up to 10 cm x 15 cm. but that was a few years back. 33each.com

  • Brad, excellent analysis. Really useful results. Of course in my opinion there are differences in the quality as well. I will consult you heatmap for my next pcb order!

  • @Kyrre – The problem isn’t only 4+ layers. Most BGA parts these days are 0.8 mm pitch, which usually requires a 0.45 mm pad. The diagonal distance between pads is 0.68 mm (or 26.8 mil), where you need to fit a via.

    Even OSH Park can’t really meet this with their 4 layer specs, and the process is worse for all the others. The OSH Park minimum drill is 13 mil and the required annular ring is 7 mils, which means the minimum via diameter is 27 mils. You’ve got to fit the via, and required clearance to those BGA pads, into only 26.8 mils.

  • $33 per board — minimum order 3. Unless you qualify for the sweet education discount AND you only have one design on the board. The $33 education discounted deal can be a sweet deal under the right circumstances.

  • Thanks for sharing.

    BTW, I’ve been using PCB services from NexPCB (www.nexpcb.com) for my project. It works great. The quality is very good and price is really cheap!

  • hackaday has a story about a feller that uses a press to force copper wire into vias, if the pads themselves were drilled, a piece of copper pressed in, that might work for bga’s.

  • I’ve just created a web site to help electronics hobbyists called PCBShopper.com. It lets you enter in the size, layers, color, and quantity of PCBs you want, and it shows you a list of manufacturers with their prices. I was inspired by a similar calculator on LadyAda’s site, but that hasn’t been updated since 2007. I hope to keep my site up to date and add new PCB manufacturers.

    My site also has a list of free PCB CAD software. If there’s sufficient demand, maybe I’ll add a list of low-cost software.

  • I love Seeed’s PCB. More choices than OSHP. That is what I mean”Customized”.
    You cannot force people to choose Purple, right?

  • I’ve created a web site that lets you see PCB manufacturing prices from multiple manufacturers. It’s at PCBShopper.com. You enter your board size, number of layers, and quantity and it gives you the prices from 14 different manufacturers (and I hope to add more in the future).

  • The symmetry of the graphs shows that instead of plotting width and length of the boards, you should just plot area. Your 3D graphs could be simplified to 2D.

    Also, there’s now the price comparison site PCBShopper.com. You enter your board’s specs and it shows you prices from 25 different manufacturers.