Dirty Boards: PCB manufacturer

If you’ve been following some of my most recent posts (and I hope you have!) you will have seen several different clock designs. While they are quire different, they share several things in common – namely being built on an Arduino platform, incorporating a DS3231 Real Time Clock (with battery backup) and driving some number of addressable LEDs.

While I have built prototypes using the UNO, Nano and Pro Mini Arduino boards, I needed a more cost-effective solution. I designed a PCB to take an Atmega328 and its associated components, the RTC module and a 6-pin header for a removable FTDI USB interface module (only required to download software). While this is a very simple design I added headers for all analog and digital pins. I created the schematic and PCB routing using the free Fritzing software. The software is pretty intuitive and comes with a large library of pre-defined components, although I did find it challenging to create and edit new components. Nevertheless, I’ll use it again and recommend it to others.

Dirty Boards - PCB Manufacturer

Dirty Boards – PCB Manufacturer

I read a message on a local bulletin board that mentioned Dirty Boards, a Hong-Kong based low-cost, no-frills PCB manufacturer. I uploaded the boards’ design files (more on that later) and 3 weeks later (and $24 lighter) I received 12 (not the 10 promised) boards. Excellent!

As you can see, I chose a white coating for the boards but they offer many colours at no extra cost. The plating is excellent and the boards soldered easily. The component silk-screen is clear but all over the place – my fault because I didn’t bother to take the time to pretty it up.  The boards are clean and tidy and look very professional.

Dirty Boards: populated

Dirty Boards: populated

Dirty Boards: bareboard

Dirty Boards: bareboard

Dirty Boards allows you to upload your design  files directly on their website. I exported the files from the Fritzing software in “Extended Gerber” format. However, when I zipped and uploaded them, I received the warning “Problem “PCB #2183: No board outline (.GML/.GKO/.GBR) file found. ” 

!!! @#$% !!!

The Frizing “Extended Gerber” export produces a whole slew of files: top and bottom copper, silk, and mask; a drill file (in g-code) and a series of contour files. All well and good but there was no “.gml”, “.gko” or “.gbr” file, files that the Dirty Boards site was looking for. However, one of the contour files had a “.gm1” extension – something I’d never seen before. I searched the Internet but could not find any reference to this file format. In desperation I changed the file extension to “.gml” (not generally a good idea!) and uploaded the new zip file.  Stone the crows!  Much to my surprise and delight the website accepted the file and showed the following images of the top and bottom copper. A handy little feature that gives you “warm-and-fuzzies” that all’s well in PCB land!

Dirty Boards: Website images of top & bottom copper

Dirty Boards: Website images of top & bottom copper

Conclusion: Dirty Boards was easy to use, cheap (only $14 for 5cm x 5cm boards), delivered more boards than they promised (12 rather than 10). To cap it all, the boards are nice looking!  So, when I need a PCB manufacturer, I won’t hesitate to use them again!

Neat, huh!

7 thoughts on “Dirty Boards: PCB manufacturer

  1. ttamarillos

    Hi again Adrian – I’ve just tried viewing my design at http://www.gerber-viewer.com/default.aspx and that online viewer shows the drill holes. Phew! I hope dirtypcbs.com can see my drill holes.

    Another question, though – did the dirtypcbs.com website give you that error message (re: the .gm1 file) before, or after you pay?

    Reply
    1. Adrian Post author

      Pleased that all appears well.
      I believe the error messages occurred before I paid but I forget the order of the steps now.
      However, I suspect that you only pay as and when you correct any file errors – the manufacturer would not be able to start their work until the files could be read properly.
      Best of luck!

      Reply
  2. ttamarillos

    Hi Adrian, I’m trying to do the same, with Fritzing and using dirtypcbs.com – this is my first time ever doing pcb designing and ordering though so it’s quite scary! Your post really helps in terms of the .gm1 file, thanks … but being quite intimidated by the experience, I re-checked through CircuitPeople.com (listed on http://dirtypcbs.com/about.php ) … and somehow the drill holes file was unreadable!

    Did you have any problem with this at all?

    Reply
    1. Adrian Post author

      No.. The only file I had an issue with was the .gm1 files.
      Besd if luck. Let us know how the boards turned out.

      Reply
  3. Adrian Post author

    Bob, thanks for your comment and link.
    I agree with you that If you don’t need so many boards, this may not be the best deal. For my purpose, $14 for 10 5cm x 5cm double sided silk-screened boards seemed like the best deal going. It appears to be so and I’m happy with the results. Bye the way, you can choose whatever colour PCB you want at no extra cost.

    Reply
  4. Bob

    According to the PCB price comparison website, PCBShopper.com, Dirty Boards is, indeed, the cheapest way to get small white PCBs. However, if you need 10 boards, so that you can’t use Dirty Boards’ Protopack deal, there are several cheaper manufacturers.

    Reply

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