Chapter 27 - Let’s make our own PCB #

Printed Circuit Borads look like something reserved for only big business, but that is very much so not the case. It’s suprisingly cheap to get smaller boards made, espically if you’re okay with waiting a week or two on international shipping. But, let me back up- what even is a PCB?

Well, when anyone first starts with circuits, they go for the ever popular breadboard:

Image by Vishnu Mohanan

Then, you may decide to make a more reliable version, soldered together on a perma-proto board:

But ultimately, the best, most reliable way to build your circuit is with a PCB:

In case it’s not obvious, these three images are not of the same circuit. So, you can’t directly compare complexity between these images.

Now, there’s a few things you should notice about the version on the PCB:

  1. It’s a hell of a lot more compact
  2. The wiring is all part of the board - it’s very difficult to correct a mistake at this point
    • But it’s more reliable, no risk of a lose wire or bad contact like in the breadboard
  3. The parts are much smaller
    • This isn’t required - you could use the same, through-hole parts, but generally these Surface Mount Device (SMD) components that you see are actually easier to work with and, due to their small size, keep cost down

So, how do you make one? Well, software is needed obivously. For that, there’s many options but for most people the free and open source tool KiCad will do everything you need. So, go grab the latest version of it from https://www.kicad.org or your repos if you’re using Linux. Get that installed. Then, go ahead and watch this video which does a better job of explaining things quickly than I possibly could in text:

image/svg+xml 1) Create a project File New Project New Project cheatsheet 2) Eeschema : draw the schematic Add components : A Move item1 : M + Copy item : C + Copy selection : + Shift Delete item : Del + Delete selection : Shift Ctrl + + Rotate item : R + Mirror item : Y + X / Add wires : W Edit properties : E Add power symbols : P Add no-connect : Q Add text : T Add labels : L List of shortcuts : ? Grab item1 : G + Edit value : V 1grab keeps connections, move doesn't 3) Create new components as necessary If editing an existing library : Select working library Draw component Add pins Library editor / Load component to edit from current library Create new component Save current component to new library / Update current component into current library Preferences Component libraries How to load the new library in Eeschema : Component library files Add Select your .lib file P 4) Create and assign footprints Footprint Editor If editing an existing library : Select active library Draw component Add pins / Load footprint from library New footprint Create new library and save current footprint / Save footprint in active library Run CvPcb to associate components and footprints Preferences Footprint libraries How to load the new library in CvPcb : Append with wizard Select your .pretty folder Generate netlist 6) Export Gerbers File Plot Generate Drill File Plot + Check result using GerbView Anthony Gautier - http://silica.io http://kicad-pcb.org/help/documentation/ 5) Pcbnew : design the layout Read netlist Select top layer : Copy item : Rotate item : Add via : Switch posture : Add tracks : Switch track width : Drag track : Fill zones : 3D viewer : Design Rules Layers Setup Design Rules + Grab item1 : M + C + R + V Q X W D B + 3 Alt Shift + ( ) G + 1grab keeps connections, move doesn't (Only for AZERTY keyboards) Move item1 : Select bottom layer : PgDn PgUp

Sorce: Foalyy @ https://forum.kicad.info/t/cheatsheet-for-kicad/5247

[TODO] - pick a PCB design to walk though making on this page - maybe an APC?

  • PCB specic things - Layers, Vias, fills, silk, mask, 0-ohm resistors,
  • Make it work
  • Make it not emit a ton of RF or go to shit when around it (everything is an antenna)
  • Make it pretty
    • ref that weird russian autorouter as limits on this
  • Make it repairable
  • Pretty + Repairable means we need good, well labled silkscreen, componet spacing, etc.
  • Know when to do a PCB or a Perma-Proto
  • Assuming parts will only be available for so long
  • Do not assume same package = same pinout
  • Do not assume a sane pinout, even in a device family. The tab can be anything!
  • Expect to need to order a 2nd time


Let KiCad and Python design your PCB Coils [Hackaday]

KiKit for KiCAD

KiCad STM32 + RF + USB Hardware Design (YouTube, Phil’s Lab)


Chapter 26.1 - PCB Components #

It turns out that there’s quite a few components which you can make into the PCB itself, basically costing no more than the price for the extra area on the PCB.

Probably the most common of these to see is antennas, usually for 2.4Ghz (WiFi and Bluetooth). These require some pretty gnarly math to design and make actually compliant with radio frequency regulations, but they’re still pretty sweet.

[TODO] picture

You’ll also ocassionally see PCB Spark gaps (EEVblog, YouTube) which are useful for protecting againt high voltage spikes. Similarly, it’s possible to make a fuse by using a very thin trace. See This video by Leaf Rex (YouTube)

It’s also possible to impliment coils, useful for inductive coupling or transformers - see RGB LED, Inductively Powered, Frequency Controlled (Wolf Tronix, YouTube).

Getting a bit weirder, you can also make a capacitor by using traces on different layers; however, you’ll usually only be able to get up to a few hundred pico ferrads max. It’s typically not worth the complexity introduced, espically as the exact value will be variable due to manufacturing tollerances.

Entering the relm of black magic fuckery, you can actually make high frequency filters by adjusting the length and gaps between traces - these are called distributed element filters and are really fucking cool.

Back to being useful for normal humans, flexible PCBs, while expensive, may allow you to design some things that would otherwise be quite difficult. Typically, the flexiblity shouldn’t be repeatedly stressed, but it’s a good way to add small, reliable connections between things.

Finally, I want to mention that there’s some pretty esoteric PCB manufacturing methods, though the weirder you want, the more you pay. For example, making PCBs with Heavy copper traces (Hackaday) is totally possible, but you’ll pay for it.

Chapter 26.2 - Pretty Boards & Badges #


Source: @AkioOhtori on Twitter


Furby Theremin Badge (Tindie, Harbinger LTD)



OSH Park After Dark - Clear Solder Mask

Chapter 26.3 - Alternatives to PCBs #

[TODO] Wirewrap, permaproto, etc.

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