Custom to start

I’ve used protoboard to make a few prototypes, and now I’d like to mass produce (ie. make 5-10) boards. I have zero experience with any CAD or circuit design. I’m looking for suggestions on how to get started.

Main points:

  • Looking to get a few small’ish PCBs made.
  • At a minimum, I need connected traces and holes for mounting (through hole?) a few components
  • A bonus would be the ability to have the boards arrive with some components already soldered in (a cap and a resistor, some female headers, all the way up to a barrel jack for power)

If anyone has some recommendations on where to get started (books, blog tutorial, etc.), I’d really appreciate it

Update: Having now just sent off my first design to get printed, I can recommend KiCad and this series of KiCad video tutorials. I came into the process knowing absolute zero about CAD, and I was able to put together my circuit and generate all the files needed by Seeed Studio in about 2 hours. I’m sure there’s way more I should learn, but in terms of dipping your toes in the water and designing my first board, I was very pleased.

Update 2: It took about a month for the boards to arrive from Seeed Studio, but they were great when I got them! Everything fit perfectly, and once I soldered all the components, everything worked as expected. Look below to see some pics.

I have no personal experience yet (never moved out of protoboard phase yet), but from my research, Seeed studio have pretty decent prices. I think they offer also PCB assembly, but I did not research that.

Hi @micahwedemeyer

Great to hear you’re keen to make your own boards!
In terms of software, at a beginner level I would recommend Eagle or Circuit Maker.
Particle (and much of the open source) world use Eagle. I’ve always preferred Altium who make Altium Designer (~$8000), Circuit Studio (~$1000) and Circuit Maker (free). But try them out and see how you go!
In terms of ease of use for Particle based designs, Eagle might be easier to start off with as I believe Particle provide libraries for their components for Eagle.

To get started I’d just recommend looking at plenty of example schematics. Adafruit, Sparkfun etc. all have great tutorials. I quite like Dave’s tutorials/videos at eevblog.

I get most of my PCBs done from However I hear seeedstudio is good too.

From what you’re describing, you’re kind of after a development board? If you’re after something custom, it will probably be quite expensive to get partial assembly done on only a couple of boards. We usually only start out-sourcing assembly when we’re making 10+ boards, even with SMT (surface mount).
You’ll find that just buying a few basics, you can actually assemble SMT boards yourself, I’ve made plenty of boards just using a mini-oven with a brick to regulate the temperature - not pretty but it works :smile:

Great places to source components are: (my personal favourite as component search is very good)

Any more specific questions, please let me know.

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Fritizing is easy to use and I have created many PCBs with it.

I have used OSHPark to order PCBs. OSHPark makes your boards in multiples of 3.

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SparkFun has a good tutorial on getting started using Eagle to design schematics and boards:

OK you have plenty of suggestions for blogs and programs here. Of course how much you want to learn to do yourself depends on how much you value your time that you could be spending on other things. As a manufacturer with design facilities for instance we design&make things for people from specification from a schematic (so we handle the CAD), or from a fully prepared set of data including a BOM, Gerbers and sometimes even client issued components. We frequently build prototype and production batches in the sizes you describe and we would typically use someone like PCBWay & PCBCart or PCBTrain / Pcb-Pool if we wanted a UK/EU based supplier for quicker turnaround. There are literally hundreds more often best suited to larger volumes.
Arguably its not worth getting someone else to populate a few components, a couple of passives and some headers is hardly worth it. However if that is what you want I would recommend tracking down someone like us vaguely local to you and using them. Remember if you use surface mount most places are going to insist on tooling charges to cover things like a stencil & buying parts in a form that matches their machinery requirements. They may well not be interested in those nasty free ones you sometimes get with a PCB or laser cut from OHP Film.

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I have used eagle and altium. I prefer the second one, there are some tutorials on the internet to learn how to start. Also I followed a course in udemy which teaches you how to develop an arduino mini.

@nrobinson2000 Can you tell me about oshpark prices? Small batches,about 5-10 pcbs. I have used elecrow but the last 2 orders were a bit low quality and I want to try other pcb provider.

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Hello @Suriken,

The pricing chart can be found on this page.

OSHPark PCBs are very high quality and are dark purple.

The ordering system is also very nice. Just upload your gerbers in a .zip and it will take you through a preview of how your boards will come out before you purchase them.

The basic rate is $5/sq inch for 3 boards.

Thank you. As soon as I finish my next design I will try Oshpark.

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Thanks, this has all been helpful. I’m looking at KiCAD in addition to some others recommended, as it’s supposed to be pretty beginner friendly.

I’ve only ever fired KiCad up to open files, it looks kinda messy to me, all broken up into different bits for each task (some may well like that). However one thing I can tell you, the only client who sends me manufacturing data exported from KiCAD sends me the worst quality Data I get by quite some margin.


I own a contract electronics manufacturing company in Toronto, Canada. We deal with a lot of low volume prototype/production designs and builds. I would be more than happy to discuss your design and build your boards for you.

please email me at to discuss further.


Hooman Javdan
Vice President
Circuits Central Inc.

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Hey everybody! I just created my schematic in KiCad and ordered a run of 10 boards via Seeed Studio. I’ll know in a couple weeks if I got all the traces right. At the last minute I realized I had the barrel jack on backwards. That would have been a big disappointment, since the plug would have been right on top of a vertical resistor. Oops!

Anyways, thanks for all the help!

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I use Seeed Studio for many times, and have settled on them as my default PCB manufacturer. I just ordered some more boards myself yesterday. I also like the fact that they can do multi-layer. While many other PCB houses can also do multi-layer, Seeed Studio is definitely the cheapest for multilayer, and I have not had any issues with them. Seeed Studio can do even 16-layer, which is good. If you need multi-layer, that is!!!

My PCBs arrived…and they work!

I was super skeptical that I would have messed something up, but after soldering everything in, it works!