Introduction to Custom PCB Printing
Printed circuit boards (PCBs) are essential components in almost all modern electronic devices. A PCB serves as the base for mounting and electrically connecting electronic components using conductive tracks and pads. While many electronic devices use mass-produced standard PCBs, custom PCBs allow for optimization and innovation in the design of electronic circuits. Custom PCBs are designed to fit the specific needs of a product.
Custom PCB printing involves designing and manufacturing PCBs tailored to an application. It provides flexibility in terms of the board size, number of layers, components placement, and electrical connections. Though more expensive than using standard PCBs, custom PCB printing enables miniaturization, improved performance, and lower production costs at scale.
This article provides an overview of custom PCB printing costs. We’ll look at the key factors that determine the price of custom PCB production. With an understanding of the costs involved, you’ll be able to budget and plan your custom PCB printing projects.
Key Factors Affecting Custom PCB Printing Costs
Several variables affect the overall cost of custom PCB production. The major factors are:
Size of the PCB
The size of the PCB influences the raw material costs. Larger boards use more base material. Standard PCB sizes range from around 50 x 50 mm up to 460 x 610 mm. Custom PCB projects typically range from a few centimeters on each side up to around 350 x 250 mm.
Number of Layers
Simple PCBs may just have a single conductive layer. However, multilayer boards with 2, 4, 6, or more layers are common. Additional layers increase complexity and material requirements impacting the cost per unit.
The density of components and connections on the board also affects pricing. More densely packed boards take longer to manufacture.
The substrate material and copper traces impact costs. Standard glass-epoxy FR-4 boards are inexpensive. Advanced substrates like Rogers, Arlon, and polyimide are costlier. Thicker copper layers add expense.
Economies of scale play a major role in pricing. Small prototype volumes are expensive compared to large production runs in the thousands of units.
The complexity of traces and spaces between them determine fabrication tolerances. Tighter tolerances require more careful manufacturing and increase costs.
Rushed turnaround times can command premium pricing. Typical PCB fabrication lead times range from 2 to 10 business days or more.
Special certifications like ITAR, UL, or ISO increase production costs due to additional processes and documentation.
Shipping costs from the PCB manufacturer to the customer also impact pricing.
PCB Printing Cost Estimation
Let’s look at how to estimate custom PCB printing costs based on the factors discussed above. We’ll go through examples for simple hobbyist boards and more advanced professional cases.
Two-Layer Board Cost Example
- Board size: 100 x 150 mm = 15,000 mm^2 or 1.5 dm^2
- Let’s assume a quantity of 10 pieces
- Unit cost for small-scale 2-layer PCB with standard FR-4 at 1.6mm thickness and 1 oz copper is around $5 per dm^2
- Therefore, cost per board = Area x Unit cost x Quantity = 1.5 dm^2 x $5 x 10 = $75
- Add shipping cost based on location. Within the US, it may be $10-20.
- Total cost ~ $85-95 for 10 pieces
This cost can be reduced for larger quantities. For example, 100 pieces may only cost $4 per dm^2 bringing the total down to $600.
Four-Layer PCB Cost Example
For a more complex, high-density board with:
- 4 layers with inner layers used for power and ground planes
- Dimensions 200 x 150 mm = 30,000 mm^2 or 3 dm^2
- FR-4 substrate 1.6 mm thick
- 1 oz copper on outer layers, 2 oz copper for inner layers
- Black solder mask on both sides
- Quantity of 25 boards
- Assume lead time of 5 days
- Four-layer PCB cost per dm^2 is around $15
- So cost per board = Area x Unit cost x Quantity = 3 dm^2 x $15 x 25 = $1,125
- Faster 5-day lead time may add $100-150
- Shipping within the US ~$30
Total cost ~ $1,255-1,305 for 25 pieces
Again, larger quantities can further reduce the per unit cost.
Multilayer PCB Cost Scaling
As the layer count increases from 2 to 6 or more, here is how PCB cost per dm2 typically scales:
|Number of Layers||Cost per dm2|
So the cost per unit area increases substantially with more layers due to higher material and manufacturing complexity.
Advanced PCB Material Cost Comparison
Here is a comparison of commonly used advanced PCB substrate materials and how the costs scale relative to standard FR-4 boards:
|Material||Cost Scale Factor vs FR-4|
So material choice can significantly impact cost for custom PCB projects. In high-frequency, high-speed, or high-temperature applications, the cost premium for advanced materials may be justified by improved performance.
Online PCB Cost Calculators
Many PCB manufacturers provide online cost calculators to estimate prices based on your board specifications. These provide a quick and easy way to budget a custom PCB project.
However, the results may not fully reflect final pricing in all cases. It’s best to contact the PCB company directly with your complete design and requirements for an accurate quotation.
Here are some popular online PCB cost calculators:
- RayMing PCB
Tips for Cost-Effective Custom PCB Printing
Here are some tips to optimize costs for your custom PCB printing projects:
Carefully Design Within Panel Size
Aim to maximize board size but fit within standard panel dimensions to minimize waste. Common panel sizes are 18×24 inches, 12×18 inches etc.
Combine Multiple Small Boards into a Panel
For small quantity prototype boards, lay out multiple PCB designs within a single panel. This amortizes fixed costs over more boards.
Request Panelizing Service
Some PCB manufacturers can take multiple PCB files and automatically arrange them for cost-effective panelization.
Maximize PCB Density
Optimize component layout and routing to fill the board area, minimizing unused space. This reduces the number of panels required.
Specify Tolerances Sensibly
Use design rules and tolerances just within your assembly requirements. Overly tight tolerances add cost.
Build with Standard Materials
Use common substrates like FR-4 instead of exotic materials for cost-sensitive applications.
Use Plated Half-Holes Instead of Through-Holes
Batch multiple PCB designs together into a single order instead of separate small orders to benefit from volume discounts.
Allow Adequate Lead Time
Standard ~10-day lead time is cost-effective. Rush orders add premium charges.
Compare Multiple Vendors
Shop around and get quotes from several fabricators. Pick the best price for your requirements.
Custom PCB printing provides a versatile option for building specialized electronics hardware. While costs are higher compared to using standard catalog boards, custom PCBs enable optimizing the electronics design for your specific product.
Cost depends on various factors including board size, layer count, manufacturing tolerances and quantity. Following design and ordering guidelines helps manage costs effectively. With the increasing quality of affordable PCB fabrication globally, custom PCB printing makes customized electronics product development accessible to companies and individual makers alike.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some common questions about custom PCB printing costs:
What is the typical cost for a simple 2-layer PCB?
For small quantities, a simple 2-layer board costs approximately $5 – $10 per square inch. For larger volumes in the thousands, cost can drop to $1 – $2 per square inch.
Does PCB cost increase linearly with area?
No, PCB cost doesn’t scale linearly with area. There are fixed costs like setup charges, handling, testing etc. So larger boards have a lower cost per unit area.
How much does additional layers add to cost?
Each additional internal layer can increase PCB cost per unit area by $3 – $5 typically. Complex boards with many layers get exponentially more expensive.
When does it make sense to use an advanced PCB substrate?
How can I get an accurate quote for custom PCB fabrication?
Use online estimator tools to get an approximate quote. For accurate pricing tailored to your design, contact PCB manufacturers directly and request a specific quotation.