Prototyping Boards
and
Making
your own
PC Boards

Prototyping boards are available from Talking Electronics.

P2 Matrix Boards



 

SPECIAL OFFER
You get 12 mixed boards for $10.00  Plus $4.00 postage
The boards are:

1  off:  20 x 15 holes
1 off:   38 x 11 holes
1 off:     Surface Mount  Board MkIII and 1 - 15x40 SM-2
2 off:     7 x 5 holes, 10 x 4 holes, 10 x 8 holes, 12 x 11 holes
 
   (This link will send an email to Colin Mitchell and you will be advised how to send money via 
Paypal)
You can also get individual prices for boards.
Or email Colin Mitchell with the type of boards you require.

It doesn't matter if you are designing a new microcontroller project or a simple transistor amplifier, the first necessity of designing a project is the ease of changing components. If you think a project will work without testing, modifying and altering things, you are kidding yourself.
It sometimes takes hundreds of changes to get a project working perfectly.
And if the components are not easy to change, you may be reluctant to do the finer adjusting.
That's why a prototyping board must be designed for easy access and must be universal, so that all types of components can be fitted.

Strip-board is a failure. You have to cut the copper track with a sharp knife and this is very messy. Here is an example:

If you just want to build a circuit, see it work, then pull it apart, you can use a BREADBOARD.
This is one of the worst breadboards. It does not have any positive and negative rails:

This is the best breadboard with TWO power rails. When the board is placed as shown,  the positive and negative rails are close to the components. The only problem with this type of board is fitting components with thick leads such as power transistors, regulators, switches etc.

If you are designing 10 projects at the same time, you will quickly run out of breadboards.
They are also quite unsuitable for RF projects.
Breadboards also have a problem of wires touching and connections becoming noisy.
Also, the connections become loose after a thick lead has been inserted and thin pins do not touch the contacts. This especially applies to IC sockets where one or more of the pins will not make contact and you will spend hours trying to find the fault.
The solution is a PROTOTYPING BOARD

Here are some prototyping boards from Talking Electronics:


Surface Mount  Board MkIII


Surface Mount Board 15x40 SM-2  40mm x 105mm  $2.50 each


14 x 20 Surface Mount
  $2.50


Two surface-mount boards from
the range from Talking Electronics
$2.50 each


This board accepts a 20 pin Surface Mount chip $2.50

    
7 x 5 holes
50cents                                      10 x 4 holes   50cents  

    
10 x 8 holes 
50cents                      11 x 7 holes  50cents

 
12 x 11 holes
$1.00


9 x 19 holes
$1.50
also:
15 x 12 
$1.50


20 x 15 holes $2.50


16 x 12  Surface Mount 
$2.50


9 x 20  Surface Mount  $2.50


11 x 38 holes (double-sided - PTH) $2.50


6 x 38 holes $1.50
also
6 x 40 holes $1.50
5 x 18 holes $1.00
5 x 23 holes $1.00


10cm x 3cm Matrix Board with POWER SUPPLY  $2.50


10cm x 3cm Matrix Board with POWER SUPPLY  - built-up


PIC Matrix Board with POWER SUPPLY  $2.50
This board is specially designed for a PIC chip with the power rails
to the chip already provided.

It is designed to allow you to produce a very fast, neat prototype.
There is a 5v rail from the regulator and a 9v rail from the battery.
The battery clips directly to the board or via a battery-snap.

Some prototyping boards are not designed to look beautiful. They are designed to be functional and reduce frustration.
A prototype project is sometimes called a "rats-nest" or "birds-nest."
There are two levels of prototyping.
The first level requires no experimenting. It's simply building a "proven" circuit on a board and connecting it to other items.
The second level involves experimenting and changing component values. For this, the components should be on one side of the board.
The end-result is a jumble but it's the only way to be able to get-to-everything and see the whole circuit:


A surface-mount 5v2 power supply under development


A PIC microcontroller and op-amp with
11 LEDs and surface-mount components


A very cluttered board
 


Rotating Beacon prototype, after the "rats-nest"
design and before the final board


Using a Matrix Board for designing

Many prototyping boards on the market are quite useless. They are not really prototyping boards but rather "Universal Boards" that will accept different components and hand wiring.
The essential part of a prototyping board is the accessibility of each and every component so the voltage and waveforms can be measured.
But the most important reason is each component must be easily removed and/or replaced. That's why soldering components through holes is not suitable. Sometimes a component has to be changed 4 or 5 times. Imagine the difficulty in pulling out a component every time you want to alter the value.
Some of our prototype boards have certainly become over-crowded but that's how a circuit gets designed.
Initially you think the circuit will need a few components and choose a small PC board. It quickly gets over-crowded but as the circuit develops, you can easily see what each component is doing and it's really not complex at all.
You will notice many of the circuits in the photos above have been designed with surface-mount components.
These are just as cheap as normal components and since they take up less space on the board, it creates less clutter and you can see what you are doing.
Surface-mount kits are available from Talking Electronics and when combined with the prototyping boards, you will be able to develop circuits that are very compact.

THE SECOND STEP
The second step before making a PC board is to lay out the components on a matrix board in the same locations as they will appear in the final design.
This will give you two answers. It will let you know if the project will work and give you some idea of the size of the board and where each item is positioned. The underside of the board is generally a mass of fine wiring and it may need one more layout to produce wiring that does not cross at any location. Any wires that cross each other need a jumper and by carefully re-laying the board, no jumpers will be needed. Here is our example of the PIC Lab-1 before the final PC layout. The stage before this was a "rats-nest" and the final design you can see in the PIC Lab-1 article.
If you think our projects "magically appear from no-where" you should see our boxes of thousands of prototypes!


The second step to making a PC board

If you are thinking of going to the next step and designing a PC board for your project, here are a few tips:
DO NOT use PCB software associated with any PC manufacturer. You are LOCKED-IN to their costing and it is generally EXORBITANT.
Do not accept "touts" sending you emails from PCB manufacturers. These costings are also very high and generally the person behind the email is working from home as a "go-between." They MARK-UP the prices from the manufacturer and you don't get a bargain.

Here is a website that compares the cost of making a PCB from different manufacturers:
http://pcbshopper.com/

Many of the manufacturers are a RIP-OFF   They quote $36.00 for 3 boards plus $15.00 delivery.
But the size of the board is 3cm x 3cm.
Who wants a board 3cm x 3cm  ????
When you peel away all the SCAMs, there are only a few manufacturers who offer low prices.

The cheapest and best is: http://www.elecrow.com/

They produce 10 panels  10cm x 10cm double-sided  green solder mask, PTH, HASL with white legend on top and bottom for $12.00  Plus $9.00 shipping.
The quality is perfect and you could not buy the materials for $12.00
The only problem with low-cost boards is the size. You have to keep the size smaller than 10cm x 10cm.
Any board over 10cm x 10cm costs 300% more and you will find this provides a very good learning-curve to producing modular systems with a maximum footprint of 10cm x 10cm.
You can stack the board on top of each other or provide plugs and sockets to join the edges.
This way you can produce an OUTPUT BOARD, POWER SUPPLY BOARD, display board and a number of INTERFACE BOARDS and create a whole range of different produces with a small number of modules. 

SOFTWARE
If you really want the simplest software for designing a simple board, try this FREE software:

http://techdocs.altium.com/display/ALEG/Legacy+Downloads

Autotrax

DOS Freeware version 1.61 - Complete PCB layout package with output support for printers, pen plotters and Gerber.

To install: Download and run the file in the root directory of your hard drive to extract the install program. The install program must be run from the root directory.

Download (ZIP 821 KB)

EasyTrax
DOS Freeware version 2.06 - Complete PCB layout package with output support for printers, pen plotters and Gerber.

System requirements: PC-compatible; DOS 2.0 or later; 640K RAM; 2Mb of hard disk space.
 

Download (ZIP 485 KB)

You can contact me (Colin Mitchell) for a list of features on how to drive the software. 

I have been using the same DOS software for 40 years because no software is compatible with other programs and when you want to make a panel of 15 different boards, they must all be developed from the same software.
Many free software packages only allow you to make a small board or a limited number of holes or you cannot export the file or some other frustration.
That's why I keep using the simplest package: Autotrax.

Here are some replies from readers who have used different packages and found the pit-falls:
SoloPCB can be seen at
http://www.fabstream.com/solopcb-design-software.php

Designspark PCB: Requires a registration which is free but itís bug-ridden and last time it didnít work. Support couldnít solve it. Later I realised it required constant connection to the net with cookies enabled.
It's to hard to use. And the schematics it produces look terrible. The only thing I can see that it's good for, is if you need to make a really big PCB. Because you can make a up to a 14 layer board, and it has no pad number restriction. Also, it has a 3D PCB function.

Diptrace
It's the best EDA software I have ever used! It has a HUGE library of parts, and a really neat 3D PCB feature. And it's super easy to use! It's documented better then any EDA program I have ever seen.

 
Fritzing is a toy.
 
Kicad I found to be full of bugs to the extent of uselessness. I deleted it when I found myself fighting the software rather than designing a PCB.
It's really easy to figure out, but it takes to long to do anything in it.
 
FreePCB wasnít maintained for the last three years Ė since 2011. This tells the story.
All I remember about it is, I did not like it, and uninstalled it within two days of getting it (that's most likely not very helpful).

OsmondCocoa (http://www.osmondpcb.com/index.html)
Unfortunately, you can only do PCBs in it. It's really good if you have a Mac computer, and it's also really easy to use.

 
TinyCad is what the name says: tiny. The library is extremely limited. For example there are only 11 microcontrollers.  
 
ExpressPCB is anything but express. Very difficult to use it. If you re-position a part, you have to re-align every-single-connection going to it. This means, every corner of every line. This is perhaps the most cumbersome to use among all of these. Badly limited library.
ExpressPCB/ExpressSCH (http://expresspcb.com/ExpressPCBHtm/Free_cad_software.htm)
Really great program, easy to use, and it produces really nice schematics. Only thing I don't like about it is, you can't export boards to send to manufacturers other then ExpressPCB.


ZenitPCB (http://www.zenitpcb.com/)
I could never figure out how to use it. It looks like it would be very useful if it had better documentation.



LIST OF EDA SOFTWARE  (ELECTRONICS DESIGN AUTOMATION)
 These packages include schematic "capture" and PCB layout. Some include autorouters. The commercial packages also include autorouters, simulation, and other features.

Web-based (run in browser):
 
123D Circuits http://www.123dapp.com/circuits -
Upverter http://www.upverter.com Free for publically visible designs
EasyEDA http://easyeda.com -
Free and low-cost packages:
 
AutoTRAX DEX 2020 http://www.dex2020.com/ Free trial; full price USD 49; not related to Protel Autotrax
DesignSpark PCB http://www.rs-online.com/designspark/electronics/page/
designspark-pcb-home-page
Free (non-commercial and commercial); affiliated with RS Components. Anon: Requires (free) registration; buggy; requires constant internet connection with cookies enabled. Supercap2F: Too hard to use; schematics look terrible; supports large sizes and many layers; has 3D PCB view.
Eagle http://www.cadsoftusa.com/ Windows/Linux/Mac. Widely used. Free version has limitations.
ExpressSCH, ExpressPCB http://expresspcb.com Windows only. Anon: Very difficult and cumbersome to use; moving a component requires manual realignment of all connections to it; very limited library. Supercap2F: Great program, easy to use, produces really nice schematics, but cannot export boards to send to manufacturers other than ExpressPCB.
FreePCB http://www.freepcb.com/ Anon: Not maintained since 2011. Supercap2F: I did not like it
Fritzing http://fritzing.org/ Schematics, PCBs, breadboard and stripboard layouts. Anon: "a toy".
gEDA suite http://www.geda-project.org/ Posix/Linux; GPL
KiCAD http://www.kicad-pcb.org/ Open source. Anon: buggy to the point of being unusable. Supercap2F: Easy to figure out, but slow to use.
PCB123 http://www.sunstone.com/pcb-products/pcb123 Windows only. They offer PCB manufacturing services
Protel Autotrax and EasyTrax http://techdocs.altium.com/display/ALEG/
Freeware downloads
MS-DOS - use DOSBox (http://www.dosbox.com) under Windows
TinyCAD http://sourceforge.net/projects/tinycad/ For schematics (includes netlist export) and line diagrams. Anon: Library is extremely limited - there are only 11 microcontrollers. Good reviews on sourceforge.
ZenitPCB http://www.zenitpcb.com/ Supercap2F: Could be good if it had better documentation.
Professional with free limited versions:
 
Bartels AutoEngineer http://www.bartels.de/bae/bae_en.htm Windows, Linux, X11/Unix. Schematic is free; PCB has a free demo version
But you may not be able to use the free version to make a PCB.
Bartels AutoEngineer Light, the entry level system for double-sided PCBs up to euro format size (160 ◊ 100 mm) is 159 Euro plus VAT and delivery.
Cadstar http://www.zuken.com/en Free version limited to 300 pads and 50 components
DipTrace http://www.diptrace.com/ Windows/Linux. Free version limited to 300 pads and 2 layers. KrisBlueNZ: Produces very nice-looking schematics. Supercap2F: Highly recommended. Huge parts library; 3D PCB view; very easy to use; very well documented.
OsmondCocoa http://www.osmondpcb.com/index.html Mac only. Free version limited to 700 pins. Supercap2F: PCB only. Very easy to use.
Target 3001 http://ibfriedrich.com/ Free version limited to 250 pads and 2 layers
VUTRAX http://www.vutrax.co.uk/index.htm -
Professional without free or cheap versions:
 
Altium - Formerly Protel
Boardmaker http://www.tsien.info/ 3D viewer. KrisBlueNZ: Looks expensive!
CIRCAD http://www.holophase.com/index.html -
EasyPC http://www.numberone.com/ Free version canít save nor generate output
EDWinXP http://www.visionics.a.se/ Evaluation period is 14 days
Multisim http://www.ni.com/multisim/ Schematic capture and SPICE simulation; see Ultiboard
OrCAD http://www.orcad.com/ -
PADS - -
Proteus www.labcenter.com/ -
Pulsonix http://www.pulsonix.com/ -
Sprint-Layout http://www.abacom-online.de/uk/html/sprint-layout.html Inexpensive
Ultiboard http://www.ni.com/ultiboard/ PCB option for Multisim
 

http://www.tsien.info/ (boardmaker)
http://www.ni.com/ultiboard/
http://www.abacom-online.de/uk/html/sprint-layout.html
http://www.cadcam-group.eu/electronics/software/p-cad/ (PCAD)
http://www.rimu.pl/hs/rimuuk.html (RIMU)  

Some software will freeze-up and you will lose everything you have done. Other software cannot be saved as a file. Some software cannot be sent to any PCB manufacturer . . . it can only be sent to the expensive manufacturer that supplies the software. 

Here is an interesting article from David L. Jones on the terminology you need to know when designing your own Printed Circuit Board:
PCB Design Tutorial

Gerberview websites:
http://sourceforge.net/projects/gerbv/
http://www.easylogix.de/products_detail.php?prog_id=1
http://www.pentalogix.com/viewmate.php#main-content
 

Here is an interesting discussion on CAD programs:

Does anyone know of a Good Free EDA design package?
I have been looking for a good free EDA design package, I have looked at Design Spark ,Ki cad, and Easy EDA. Has anyone recommend a EDA package that has stable parts and components and that is easy to use. Iím not sure any decent EDA suite will have ďstable parts and componentsĒ. That may suggest it is stagnant!

Answer from ANDY FIERMAN:

Of all the free EDA tools, I can recommend EasyEDA.
It is still in the earlier stages but is developing rapidly into a very capable EDA tool for schematic capture and PCB layout (up to about 6 layers).
It includes simulation too.
It has a lot of library parts but the single thing that makes it stand out is that it is easy to learn to drive.
That means that even if the part you need is not there already, itís easy to create your own and that automatically gets shared with the whole library so the library builds up very quickly.
EasyEDA has several import options for Eagle, KiCad and LTspice files. It also has several export options (have a look at their Tutorial).
KiCad and gEDA are more powerful cross-platform tools but are quite hard to learn. Being FOSS, they have open file formats. Simulation is not well integrated with them.
Design Spark is developing well but I donít know much about using it. I assume it has open file formats. Itís import and export look reasonably good.
expressPCB is another free tool but watch out for being tied into buying PCBs from them.
Even though EasyEDA offers a low cost PCB service, they donít tie you into using it. Gerbers can be downloaded and sent to any PCB fab.

The thing I donít like about being tied to a PCB vendor is that you do all the work and then you end up with nothing you can carry away with you.
And if you seriously want to do controlled impedance work then you must have the freedom to choose your PCB materials, stackup and maybe even fab house.
EasyEDA supports a single set of PCB track design rules but tracks can be modified on a per track basis so you can manual define tracks that you need to be specific widths.
For a defined impedance you will then have to specify a substrate material and Ė if itís really important Ė a material manufacturer.
You will also have to specify the layer spacings. EasyEDA currently uses a default set of layer spacings and the material is uncontrolled. You can contact EasyEDA via their support email address to discuss your requirements or to find out what the default stackup and materials are and then design the trace widths to suit.
If that isnít enough then you still have the option to specify what you want in the design in EasyEDA, generate and download the Gerbers at the end of the design and then take them to a PCB fab house than can make exactly what you want.
Thatís the crucial bit that you canít get with a tied-in free tool.
I donít think any online tool (certainly not a free one, unless the free version of Upverter supports it?) allows you to define a trace impedance and then have it work out the required trace width for you on a given substrate and stackup.
KiCad has a trace impedance calculator built into it but that is not tied into any form of Design Rule definition or checking. There are many similar online trace impedance calculators that would give adequate trace dimensional information consistent with the degree of impedance control precision you might be able to achieve using EasyEDA.
Itís not until you get up to the higher end tools like Altium (maybe), Cadence and Mentor that you get true controlled impedance design capability. In tools like that you can specify the detailed layer stackup and then specify trace impedances in the schematic. Then they are passed through into PCB layout and actually define the trace dimensions.
All of that information is then used to run Signal Integrity simulations and, in some tools, RF and Microwave simulations.
That said, it is possible to create quite effective simulations of controlled impedance circuits in EasyEDA because the underlying spice engine supports a range of transmission line structures.
Itís fiddly to set up and again is not tied into the PCB design rules in any way: it just shows what the circuit would do if the PCB had all the right impedances in it. You still have to manually calculate all the PCB trace width and stack-up dimensions, taking into account the dielectric constant of the substrate material. That can be partially automated by building parameterised expressions into the simulation to incorporate those given substrate parameters. If you wanted to go into that much depth, Iím sure contacting support at EasyEDA would get you some further guidance on this.

50 Top Product Design and Product Development Software Tools
http://www.pannam.com/blog/best-product-design-software-tools/
The link above covers 50 CAD packages that allow you to produce a PCB from a circuit or from laying out the board yourself. 
Remember, some of the FREE packages from PCB manufacturers only allow the board to be made by the company that has supplied the free software and they generally charge a lot more than the Chinese manufacturers.
In addition, you cannot get the artwork without paying a lot for it. 
The free package ends up a lot more than using a package that is not tied to any manufacturer.
If you are just starting out, you need to use the simplest software because that is all you need and keep to the same package as you will need to import older boards when you make new panels.
The cheapest is to get 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5 boards on a panel 100mm x 100mm and cut them yourself with a hacksaw. Make sure the cut lines can be done with a saw. You can get 10 panels for $25.00 incl post from:  http://www.elecrow.com/   without any complex forms on the web and without any tricks. 

MORE NOTES ON MAKING YOUR OWN PC BOARDS
It's wonderful to have a CAD package that creates a CIRCUIT BOARD from a schematic.
But there are a number of things you have to remember.
These types of packages has a lot of automatic or "controlled" features that make it difficult for you to "do your own thing."
It's only a completely manual package that gives you full control. 
On top of this, some packages are very difficult and time-consuming to learn and things such as "reverse reading" of text may takes you hours to work-out. 
The first thing to do is try a number of packages and make sure thy can be saved to a file and then sent to a manufacturer. Some packages can only be sent to one manufacturer and the cost will be very high. 
When you are satisfied with a package, it will be the only one you use for ALL your boards.
It may not be possible to combine two programs and thus you will not be able to import old boards to your recent panels. So, stick to a single package.
Stick to dimensions up to 10cm x 10cm as this is the cheapest panel to get processed and if you are thinking of making boards larger than this, consider creating modules of 10cm x 10cm and plugging them together.
This will make manufacturing and servicing easier and cheaper. 
When creating the layout, you need to place the major components on the layout in places where you want them. The program will then connect them via tracks. Always use a double-sided board as this is the cheapest option.
Always identify EVERY component on the board so you can build it without referring to any other list of materials.
Give every board a name, add your email address and date of manufacture, so anybody can contact you if a fault occurs.
When you have hundreds of boards, you will appreciate this. Customers email after 10 years and want a replacement.
Now we come to the technical side.
Don't expect a project to work perfectly the first time. 
You may need to add or move a component or add more text.
If these changes are major, re-name the board with a new serial number and make sure the old boards are placed in a sealed bag and destroyed when the new boards arrive.
When making changes, you will appreciate software that allows you to move any track or component without moving other tracks on the board.
Some software moves tracks "off the screen" and when you zoom out, the whole board is messed up.
You also need to be able to change the size of any track or pad to make modifications, so make sure the software can do this before deciding on the package you will use.
Always save your work after 10 changes so you can go back to a previous board if you make a mistake.
Use the simplest software package so you are in charge and able to make your own modifications without being limited to angles, widths, sizes etc.
If you get frustrated with a package, try another. There are over 30 packages on the web.
Once you enjoy making boards you will want to create something every few days.
I have been making boards for over 30 years and I am creating a new board every week.
I use the first CAD package to be invented  PROTEL (Easy Trax version). It has NEVER fallen over, crashed or frozen-up. Unlike some of the other packages that run out of memory when you are trying to combine boards.
It is up to you to choose a package and stick with it and enjoy the reward of making your own boards.
It is not economical making one board at a time.
You can fit 5 small boards on a 10cm x 10cm panel and only get the outer edge routed. This will cost $25.00 posted for 12 panels.
Make sure you can cut the boards yourself with a hack saw and allow 70 thou between boards for cutting.
Linish the edges with sandpaper and you will have expertly made boards.
And finally, the most important tip of all.
As you get a collection of boards, you can use various parts of the previous boards to help create a new board.
This is a very good idea because you know the size and shape of the components is correct and things like switches and sockets will fit the board without any problems.
You also need a digital caliper to measure different components to make sure the spacing is correct.
All boards are measured and created in inches but the final boards have to fit in a 10cm x 10cm (3.93inches) panel. I know it is messy but digital calipers cost less than $25.00 and are useful in the workshop for measuring all sorts of things. They are especially useful when making components (for your own library) such as switches, to get the spacing correct.

    
Here is a set of notes and more references to additional PCB design packages:
http://www.electro-tech-online.com/threads/the-scoop-on-pcb-layout-software.111236/

(copy and past if this link does not work inside this frame)
There are some manufacturers that combine your boards with those of others and charge by the square inch.
You have to do your own research before starting  - to find out which is the cheapest and best for your situation.  
In the end you will get great satisfaction in creating a compact board from a very complex design. 

MORE

Here's a list of 14 FREE CAD packages from:

http://www.edn.com/electronics-blogs/all-aboard-/4441802/3/Free-PCB-ECAD--The-Ultimate-list

The website shows some amazing things you can create with these packages.
These designs take years of experience to master.
Just start with simple boards and get the satisfaction of seeing your ideas come to life.
Work up gradually and make sure you use a package that does not make you frustrated.
Making PC boards is one of the best things you can do. It is so rewarding.

P2 Matrix Boards

 


15/4/2016