The breakout boards that I’ve tried were either overbuilt with way more functionality than I required, or too basic, not offering what I needed for my projects. After considering a few ways to approach this, I made a physical prototype for connecting some sensors.
A few months prior to this, my father was transitioning from acid-etched circuit boards to computer designed boards using Eagle. He hadn’t sent his board off for manufacturing yet, so this was a good time to combine efforts and save on shipping if I could get my own board designed. I thought it would be good to use the same program so we could learn about it together. Unfortunately, couldn’t get Eagle to run on my laptop due to a video issue, so I opted for Circuit Maker.
For about two weeks, I learned how to pull off my design successfully and pass the QC process within Circuit Maker and the online manufacturer I selected (PCBWay in China). On one level the process is very much like desktop publishing in that you have many layers to manage and very fine tolerances down to the fraction of a millimeter. On another level this was a completely different world for me and I definitely learned a lot.
As usual, taking breaks was a good idea throughout the process. I often found myself having an idea about how to make an improvement after some time away. One frustrating part was that PCBWay doesn’t give you all errors at once when you go through their QC process. They tell you about one error at a time, and with the time delay between here and China, that can be somewhat grueling. But with ample help from Youtube and some forums I got through the major hurdles, and in the end I was able to go with a lot of default settings in Circuit Maker. I know a lot of people swear by Eagle, but I am pretty used to Circuit Maker now and will likely use it again.
I used Otherplan as a supplemental check to see if the build files would translate properly. My dad was also able to check my design in a different board viewer. All of the activity on my board project prompted my dad to finish his design, and we were able to ship everything together, saving on shipping. Then we waited… to make sure we didn’t just create a bunch of funky coasters!
After about two weeks, our order came. I couldn’t have been more pleased. The board looks great, and functions electrically the way it should. Like anything you do for the first time, there are always some improvements to make, so I am sketching out V2.0. I’ve worked the board into my project for now, and will be selling the rest on Tindie.com if anyone is interested.
This was a very fun process, and I already have ideas for a completely different board I’d like to make in addition to a revision of this one. My dad’s board is awaiting testing, and we’ll know before long how his design went. Hopefully it was just as successful and I can post an update soon!