PCBWay PCB prototype service review

These PCBs were provided by PCBWay. This article reviews the quality of PCB boards manufactured by PCBWay.

These are the images of the PCB I received from PCBWAY:

PCBWay- A $5 PCB prototyping service

PCBWay’s prototyping service is as low as $5/10pcs for max 100 x 100mm size, FR4 double side custom PCB.

Like many of the Chinese PCB manufacturers, 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.

 Order Process:

The order process in PCBWay is a little different than other companies because PCBWay allows their engineers to take a look at PCB design before you actually pay. After you submit a gerber file, they typically don’t expect any problems. Most other systems functions are automated.

I uploaded a 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 along 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 May: Gerber files submission

15th May: start of PCB manufacturing

18th May: boards completed

18th May: boards shipped (via DHL to US)

21th May: boards received

Delivery

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 similar 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, the solder mask is bright and silkscreen is reasonably legible.

[Min Track/Spacing: 6/6mil, Min Hole Size: 0.3mm, Blue Solder Mask, White Silkscreen]

Traces/vias

 

 Copper and surface finish 

Immersion gold looks good, nice and shiny. Haven’t done any resistance testing but I am fairly confident I actually got 1oz copper.

Silkscreen

The white silkscreen is quite legible, no misaligned or badly offset silkscreen. Compared to other PCB manufacturer 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.

Solder Mask

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.

Drill

Drills were nicely centered, no distinguishable offset, which means they made it properly to their own specified minimum clearances.

Conclusion

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.