Need advice on Printed circuit board design/manufacture

I am building a control for a spirits still using an Mega 2560. I have prototyped and tested the many small circuits used to control output devices and receive signals from input devices. While each circuit is relatively small, because of the numbers, I am hopeful of fitting them all on a single PCB board of around 9" by 11" or so. The Arduino will also be mounted on this board. I only need one circuit board, although I will probably make/buy two.

Years ago I made boards by manually laying out the circuit with black tape on clear sheet material that was used to make the PCB. Today I know one uses CAD software for circuit capture and PCB layout and the Gerber file can then be sent to a PCB manufacturer. Because I need only one big board, I am concerned about the learning curve for the CAD software and the possible high cost of having it made using the Gerber file. I probably would use the old method if I could find a source for the black tape and common parts templates, but I'm afraid they are no longer available.

I could use some advice on what might be the best approach for producing one relatively large PCB.



ExpressPCB has some very easy to use software, I mastered it in an hour(ish) and have only had a class or 3 of cad software a while ago. Their proto-pro service is great but its 4 boards and 166$. You can, however, design your board with their software and send the file to another company to make the board. for example. This is what I've done, not saying it's the way to go..

9" x 11" Seems really big. That will make it expensive. I'm sure you can make it smaller. Additionally if you are only making one of them, and if you can prototype them decently, I would possibly just use a couple pieces of the Radioshack Protoboard, and just make it that way.

There are methods for making your own PCBs, that people, who are not me, have had good luck with. However, most everything would require having at least a CAD drawing so you can do the printer/iron method, or something similar. I would still investigate some of the CAD packages. I know Advanced Circuits has a free one that will work with their website -, but they aren't the cheapest place to get boards made. PCBUniverse is decent on price, and there is always OSHPark, but for a board that size, it may not be an effective method.

There was a post talking about free PCB layout software recently but I can't find it now.

I looked at and I am going to give it a try. They can make one large board for around $150, which is expensive, but I don't see any alternative. I downloaded their software and the learning curve doesn't look too bad. The prototype board route won't work for many reasons.