I've been creating a talking "robo-clock" for my daughter using an Adruino Due over the last year and it was becoming a messy rat nest on a bread board.
About 6 months ago I cleaned up a lot of mess and wires by using proto-board and had thought about the move to designing and etching my own boards. However I don't have the room or equipment to be mucking around with chemicals inside and would also have to invest in some basic tools to cut and drill boards with fine precision.
The other small problem I had was all the designs I ended up with are 2 sided which made it a lot more complex.
I'm in Country Victoria, Australia in a small town and found there were not many (if any) PCB manufacturers that offered easy free online quotes. Most wanted large volumes and wanted me to leave name and contact so they could get back to me.
In the end I looked at (redacted because the company is spamming this forum) located in China. I had never made or designed a board before so it was very daunting. At first I just put some theoretical board sizes in and mucked around with other options to see what the cost was. The cost for 10 boards was more than affordable even for an amateur and their live help solved minor questions I had within minutes. (~US$1.30 per board for my size)
I spent over a week designing 3 boards and testing the basics on the breadboard which also allowed for some extras and a bit of "fluff". I spent many days trying to find what sort of standards people use on boards and in the end labelled all inputs and outputs, made the bottom mainly a ground plate and made sure all traces were as clean and straight as possible. Other things like board revision and mounting holes were also included.
Once finished I used a gerber file viewer to check all the individual exported layers until they all looked correct.
I submitted all 3 boards as per the instructions on the site and the build process began. I was very impressed by the entire process and the feedback given after each stage. I could see when the boards were cut, drilled, etched, and all the steps in-between.
The boards were packed on Friday and amazingly got delivered 1st thing on Monday from China! I'm in Country Victoria 3699 so the delivery speed was beyond my expectations as they weren't due until the next day even on their estimates. :o
The boards :-
"bus board" that has 5v and 3v3 rails, also has tracks for 3v, gnd, 5v, miso, mosi, sck, sda, scl and 2 user defined rails. It will allow me to easily add multiple SPI and I2C devices to my project. The board also has provision to add an SD breakout board and RTC1307 breakout board. The board has a power protection diode and optional power LED that can either be through hole or mounted. Will work with 5v or 3v3.
"MCP4921X2 / PAM8403" is a small board that incorporates 2 MCP4921 12 bit DAC's and a PAM8403 stereo amplifier breakout board. Basically using SPI input the 2 DACs can be programmed and the output amplified through the PAM8403. 2 MCP4921's were used instead of a single MCP4922 so both DACs can be setup and programmed at the same time. It also allows just a single chip to be used if stereo is not needed.
"MCP23S17x2" basically a double I/O expander built using 1- 2 MCP23S17s. Has SPI input and ability to chain multiple boards. Each board can have 2 x 16 outputs that are grouped in 3's with 1 spare I/O per chip. If only 16 are needed then the 2nd chip can be omitted. The address of each chip is decided by 3 solder pads near each chip.
All boards upon inspection are exactly as per my design. They are clear, precise and the cut of the board is very smooth without any rough edges.
I have no reservations in recommending (redacted because the company is spamming this forum) for anyone thinking about making their own PCBs. There is no way I would have got the result making these myself for the cost or time it would have taken me. The bonus is... I got a lot more than 1 board for the same effort so can make my wife a clock as well.
(redacted because the company is spamming this forum) - Initial experience for my first boards 10/10 :o