Full disclosure: These PCB were provided by PCBWay. Obviously I will try to take to a look at the good as well as the bad.
A few images to start us off:
PCBWay $5 PCB prototyping service
PCBWays’ prototyping service as low as $5/10pcs for max 100 x 100mm size, FR4 double side custom PCB. As with many of Chinese PCB manufacturer you need to input the parameters:
A choice of nine solder mask colors, white or black silkscreen and an array of thicknesses (0.6mm, 0.8mm, 1.0mm, 1.2mm and 1.6mm; thicker and thinner PCBs are available but will increase the price). The default minimum track/ spacing is 6/6mil (0.1524mm), but better tolerances of up to 4/4 mil can be ordered at a premium. The default minimum hole size is 0.3mm but again better spec is available.
Consider the price of PCBWay’s board and delivery time, it is quite competitive compared to other companies.
The order process in PCBWay is a little different because PCBWay allows their engineers to take a look at PCB design before you actually pay. After you submit Gerber file, they typically don’t expect any problems. Most other systems functions are automated.
I uploaded the Gerber file on 15th May and I tracked my order progress online. Their website allows you to track the detailed progress of your board as it moves through the manufacturing process. For small runs like this one, it is not crucial but if you were doing a large project with panels of many boards, this would definitely be handy.
They started manufacture on 15th and completed everything on 18th. They shipped the boards out on 18th and provided me with a tracking number.
Here’s a summary of the timeline:
15th: Gerber files submission
15th: start of PCB manufacturing
18th: boards completed
18th: boards shipped (via DHL to US)
21th: boards received
Nobody wants to wait for standard China Post unless you really are on a shoestring budget (I’ve had some packages take 10 days to arrive, others 30 days, some didn’t arrive at all…). I generally choose DHL as it’s a little cheaper than Fedex and has comparable delivery times. Selecting DHL (+$21) quoted 3-5 days delivery to the US.
3 days delivery to the US including customs clearance! Well worth the extra money, no qualms whatsoever. The boards were nicely packaged.
PCB build quality
The first impressions are good after unpacked and unwrapped. The boards look good, solder mask is bright and silkscreen is reasonably legible.
[Min Track/Spacing: 6/6mil, Min Hole Size: 0.3mm, Blue Solder Mask, White Silkscreen]
Copper and surface finish
Immersion gold looks good, nice and shiny. Haven’t done any resistance testing but am fairly confident I actually got 1oz copper.
The white silkscreen is quite legible, no misaligned or badly offset silkscreen. Compared to other PCB manufacturers it’s actually better. As with many Chinese PCB manufacturers, an internal tracking code is placed on the silkscreen layer, fortunately, they found a spot under an inductor. No unsightly codes on finished PCB, good stuff.
They also offer matte black & matte green colors. I haven’t seen matte colors being offered at other PCB manufacturers so far. This time the solder mask color I tried is blue.
The solder mask is brightly colored and applied nicely.
Drills were nicely centered, no distinguishable offset, means they made it properly to their own specified minimum clearances
Well, PCBWay generally makes decent PCBs. Their prototype PCBs for hobbyists (like myself) is very wonderful. If you are looking to manufacture PCBs with a matte black or matte green solder mask, or if you need a fast turnaround time, I would recommend you to give PCBWay a try.