What is Low Volume PCB Fabrication?

Low volume PCB fabrication refers to manufacturing printed circuit boards in small quantities, usually under 100 pieces. This is in contrast to mass production where thousands or tens of thousands of identical PCBs are produced.

Low volume production is common for:

  • Prototypes and test boards during product development
  • Niche products with low demand
  • Replacement parts for old equipment
  • Hobbyist projects

Costs per board are higher for low volumes compared to mass production due to setup costs and economies of scale. Finding a manufacturer willing to accept low volume orders at a reasonable price can be a challenge.

Advantages of Low Volume PCB Manufacturing

Despite the higher costs, there are several advantages to low volume PCB fabrication:

  1. Faster turnaround times
  2. More flexibility to make changes
  3. Lower upfront investment
  4. Ability to test the market with a new product

With low volumes, you can get boards manufactured and assembled much faster than a mass production run. If changes need to be made to the design, new boards can be run quickly.

PCB Fabrication Process

The PCB manufacturing process is complex with many steps. But the basic process is:

  1. Material preparation

    • Cut PCB substrate material to size
    • Clean and dry substrate
  2. Applying copper foil

    • Laminate copper foil onto substrate
  3. Printing circuit pattern

    • Cover copper layer with photoresist
    • Use photolithography to print circuit pattern
    • Develop and etch exposed copper
    • Strip remaining photoresist
  4. Drilling holes

    • Drill holes for vias and component leads
  5. Plating

    • Electrolytic copper plating to form plated through holes
    • Apply solder mask over bare copper
    • Apply silkscreen for component labels
  6. Surface finish

    • Apply surface finish (HASL, ENIG, etc)
    • Final inspection and electrical testing

Even for low volumes, all of these steps must be performed. The materials and setup costs don’t change much with volume. That’s why low volume orders have a higher cost per board.

Where to Get Cheap Low Volume PCBs

So where can you go to get low volume PCBs manufactured at a reasonable price? Here are some of the top options:

OSH Park

OSH Park is one of the most popular services for low volume PCB orders. They have a simple pricing model:

Quantity Price
3 $5 per square inch
6 $1 per square inch
12 $0.80 per square inch

So you can get 3 boards of any size up to 10 square inches for just $5! Boards are manufactured in the US and ship within 12 days. They have an easy to use online ordering system. Just upload your Gerber files and they’ll take care of the rest.

OSH Park offers a few options:

  • 2 layer boards
  • 4 layer boards (+$10 per square inch)
  • Flexible PCBs (Kapton)
  • After Dark (black soldermask)


PCBWay is a Chinese manufacturer offering very cheap PCBs in low volumes. Their pricing is incredibly affordable:

Quantity Price (5x5cm)
5 $0
10 $5
50 $12
100 $21

They frequently offer coupons and promotions for free boards. Shipping is extra and takes a bit longer than domestic manufacturers. But if you’re on a tight budget, PCBWay is hard to beat.

Some of the options PCBWay offers:

  • 1-16 layer boards
  • Flexible PCBs
  • Rigid-flex PCBs
  • Aluminum PCBs
  • Advanced features (blind/buried vias, castellated holes, etc)

Seeed Studio

Seeed Studio Fusion PCB is another great option for affordable, low volume PCBs. They offer PCBs in quantities as low as 5.

Quantity Price (10x10cm)
5 $4.90
10 $9.90
50 $29.90
100 $49.90

Boards are fabbed in China by Gold Phoenix PCB. Seeed Studio offers some unique options:

  • 1-16 layer boards
  • White, red, yellow, blue soldermask colors
  • Carbon ink PCBs
  • Flexible PCBs
  • MCPCBs (metal core)
  • Advanced HDI features

Turnaround time is 3-6 days for 2 layer and 6-8 days for 4 layer and above. Shipping takes about a week with express options available.

Cheap PCB Assembly

Some of these vendors also offer PCB assembly services. If you need to source components and assemble the PCB, this can be a very affordable way to get complete circuit boards, even in low volumes.

PCBWay Assembly

In addition to bare PCBs, PCBWay also offers turnkey PCB assembly. They support the following component types:

  • SMT components
  • Through-hole
  • Mixed technology (SMT and through-hole)

For most designs, they have a 24 hour turnaround time. This is incredibly fast for PCB assembly! Prices are very reasonable with a setup fee of $25-35 depending on the number of unique parts. The assembly price per board is:

Quantity Price
1-10 $30
11-100 $25
101-500 $20

You supply the BOM, Gerber, and assembly files. PCBWay will source the components, fabricate the PCB, and assemble the final board. This service is great for getting cheap assembled boards fast, even in single unit quantities.


JLCPCB also offers very affordable PCB assembly with low volume options.

  • $8.00 setup fee
  • Assembly starts at $0.09 per joint
  • 3 day turnaround time

You can get a 10x10cm board with 10 components assembled for under $40. JLC has an extensive parts library and can source most components. They also offer parts fulfillment if you want to supply your own components.


What is the cheapest way to get PCBs made?

The cheapest way to get PCBs in low volume is to use a Chinese manufacturer like PCBWay, JLCPCB, or Seeed Studio. They offer very affordable prices, even down to just a few boards. You can get 10 PCBs for $5 from PCBWay.

How long does it take to get low volume PCBs?

Turnaround times for low volume PCBs are pretty quick. Domestic US manufacturers like OSH Park take about 12 days. Chinese manufacturers are a bit faster at 3-8 days depending on the complexity. But you need to add 1-2 weeks for shipping from China.

What are the disadvantages of low volume PCB orders?

The main disadvantages are higher cost per board and fewer options. Setup and material costs are amortized over fewer boards, so the price per board is higher than mass production. Most manufacturers also have a more limited set of options for low volume orders compared to higher volumes.

Are cheap PCBs lower quality?

Not necessarily. Board fab houses use the same processes for low and high volume orders. Cheap manufacturers may use inferior materials to offer lower prices. Check the specs and choose a reputable manufacturer. Reviews and recommendations are helpful here.

Can I get assembled PCBs in low volume?

Yes! Services like PCBWay and JLCPCB offer affordable PCB assembly, even down to single units. The cost per board is higher than mass production, of course. But for prototypes and low volume production, they are a great option. You can get a complete board built for under $50 in single unit quantity.

Categories: PCBA


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