I have been building these small projects for quite some time now and used a lot of PCB building services. Professionally made PCBs brings in a lot of advantages, the one I like most is that I don’t have to get rid of the etching solution after – oh I have to mention the silkscreen and solder mask finish that you won’t get from DIY PCBs. The professionally build PCBs generally performs better than DIY PCBs.
I have used these services in the past – let’s look at them in detail and see which service you should apply for your next project.
The first part that we should look at is the order screen and the options they offer.
Most DIY projects would only go two layers but for those who need complicated layer stack up and shielding JLCPCB offer up to 8 layers while Elecrow and Seeedstudio offer up to 6 layers.
In terms of material, Seeedstudio has the most offering having FR4, Aluminum and Flexible Boards while JLCPCB only has FR4 and Elecrow didn’t state so I would assume FR4?
In the area of surface finishing, Seeedstudio takes the lead by offering HASL, HASL lead-free, ENIG, and hard gold finish. On the other hand, JLCPCB offers HASL, HASL lead-free and ENIG while Elecrow offers HASL, HASL lead-free and immersion gold finishes.
Next stop is what I regard as the most important thing, and it doesn’t have anything to do with performance, Color: Elecrow, JLCPCB, and Seeedstudio offer six color variations (Green, Red, Yellow, Blue, White, and Black). In this field, Elecrow takes the lead with two additional color offerings with purple and matte black.
PCB thickness is another offering that we need to look into especially when dealing with space-constrained designs. Seeedstudio offers thickness from 0.6mm up to 3mm, while JLCPCB and Elecrow both offer 0.4mm up to 2.0mm.
If your designs require heavy grounding or high current draw we would suggest looking into this next category – Copper weight. Seeedstudio offers copper weights from 1oz to 3oz. While JLCPCB and Elecrow both offer 1oz and 2oz copper weights.
Turn around time is something to look into when your project timelines are a bit tight. Seeedstudio’s production time is 3 to 4 working days, Elecrow can turn around in 4 to 7 working days, and JLCPCB took the lead on this one with a turn around time of only 1 to 2 days.
We now go to price differences; for this calculation, we looked at a 10pcs build of 100mm x 100mm two layers using HASL finish with 1oz copper weight. Seeedstudio and Elecrow total at $4.90 while the clear winner in terms of cost JLCPCB quotes us at $2.
All these three suppliers have their own DRC file checkers as well as layout guidelines, be sure to run the full DRC check and make sure everything passes before sending your files for fab.