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Old 17th December 2013, 09:13 PM   #1
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Default help for a noob..

Hello, I'm new to messing with electronics, but have a project up my sleeve. What is the easiest free PCB software and the cheapest place to order custom PCBs from?

Thanks in advance!
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Old 18th December 2013, 04:37 AM   #2
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Variations of this question seem to appear every other month or so. The Forum's "SEARCH" tool is your friend! An older, somewhat comprehensive thread is "Best free schematic/pcb software?" at Best free schematic/pcb software?

A lot of hobbyists seem to use the no-charge or low-cost versions of "Eagle". I seem to recall some recent mentions of Designspark, RS Components, and KiCAD. There is a relatively low-cost program supported by one of our Forum members at Nigel Wright's Vendor Thread .

I have never encountered PWB layout programs - free or not - that I would describe as "easy". Expect to spend some time and effort practicing with any program. You won't realize it at first, but you are actually dealing with TWO learning tasks: learning to create printed wiring board lay outs in general, and learning to operate your particular program. In your first few efforts these two tasks will be convolved and intertwined.

Some of the quick-turn PWB fabricators offer proprietary (but no-charge) software to create design files that only they will accept. If you are learning from scratch, I'd stay away from those - learn with a package that can produce standard Gerber files, then use your experience to familiarize yourself with those "free" tools if you choose to use that particular manufacturer.

For manufactured PWB's you will always be trading off price against lot size (number of boards) and delivery time. The lowest-cost PWB fabricators are probably mentioned in the thread "Dirt cheap prototype PCB manufactory" at Dirt cheap prototype PCB manufactory. Many of the fabricators who cater to the prototype and short-run production markets offer very attractive promotional pricing from time to time, so it's usually advantageous to shop around before placing an order. I have dealt with several of them over the years and never had any complaints about the production quality of the delivered PWB's - but none of my designs were very demanding of the production process, either, so I wouldn't necessarily conclude that all vendors are equally good.

Every fabricator seems to have their own idea of what "standard" hole sizes are, and how they prefer design information presented in Gerber files - read their instructions carefully to avoid delays and unexpected results.

And some hobbyists make their own PWB's, which is a topic for another thread altogether.

Dale
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Old 18th December 2013, 05:26 AM   #3
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just my : If you're really new to messing around with electronics, don't design your own board for your first project. I predict it will be challenging enough to get your first build up and running without the added challenge of designing your own board. Decide what component you want to build (amplifier, preamplifier, phono preamp, DAC) and search for tried-and-true boards. Check the "group buy" forum, and the diyAudio store. Also Eliott Sound Products is a favorite of mine.
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Old 20th December 2013, 02:05 PM   #4
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Thank you both. And thanks for being gentle on me. I did some searching and just felt safer asking, so thanks for taking the time to answer a frequent questing again for me!
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