For hardware developers and engineers, being able to manufacture a one-off printed circuit board (PCB) quickly and affordably is extremely valuable for prototyping and testing new designs. In the past, producing a single PCB was time consuming, complex and expensive.

Thankfully, advances in manufacturing technologies and online services have made the process of ordering one-off PCBs much easier in recent years. There are now many great options for getting low quantity PCBs made, even down to a quantity of one.

This guide will examine the process of ordering one-off PCBs in detail, including:

  • The available methods and providers to produce one PCB
  • Step-by-step how to order and upload your PCB design files
  • What to expect in terms of pricing, manufacturing time and quality
  • Key tips and considerations for optimizing a one-off PCB order

With the right approach, engineers, makers and entrepreneurs can now quickly and affordably procure one-off PCBs for prototyping and experimentation.

Methods for One-Off PCB Production

There are three main methods available for producing a single PCB or very low quantities these days:

1. Online PCB Manufacturers

Various specialist manufacturers offer online services for ordering one-off PCBs, including:

  • PCBWay – Starts at 1 board, delivered in 5 days
  • JLCPCB – Starts at 5 boards, delivered in 1 day
  • WellPCB – Starts at 1 board, delivered in 5 days
  • ALLPCB – Starts at 1 board, delivered in 9 days

These services make the process very simple and convenient. Upload your Gerber files, place the order, and the boards get manufactured and shipped to you.

Turnaround times vary from 24 hours up to around 10 days depending on the provider. The pricing is quite reasonable starting at around $10 per board.

2. Prototype PCB Manufacturers

If you need a one-off circuit board very quickly, then specialized prototype PCB shops can manufacture and ship in as fast as 24 hours:

  • RocketPCB – 24 hour turnaround
  • PCB Scity – 48-72 hour turnaround
  • Advanced Circuits – 48 hour turnaround

These domestic manufacturers cater to very low volume and one-off orders. However, the accelerated turnaround does come at a premium price, often $200 or higher per board for 1-2 day delivery.

3. DIY Mill or Laser Methods

For simpler PCBs, do-it-yourself methods using a CNC milling machine or laser cutter allow fabricating boards yourself:

  • CNC mills like Bantam Tools or LPKF can mill custom boards
  • Laser cutters can ablate copper clad laminate
  • Very fast turnaround but lower precision and accuracy

These DIY methods require an upfront investment in equipment. They work well for basic single-sided and double-sided boards, but not complex multi-layer boards.

How to Order a One-Off PCB Online

Ordering a single PCB through an online manufacturer is by far the easiest and most affordable option for most projects. Here is the step-by-step process:

1. Design Your Circuit Board

  • Use EDA software like Eagle, Altium or KiCad to design your PCB
  • Make sure design rules and layout meet fabrication requirements
  • Include a solder mask, silkscreen layer, edge cuts layer
  • IMPORTANT: Run a Design for Manufacturing check before finalizing!

2. Generate Gerber Files

  • Use your EDA software to export Gerber files, drill files, BOM, position files, etc.
  • Confirm all required layers for fabrication are output – top and bottom copper, solder mask, silkscreen, etc.
  • Include any necessary fabrication notes in a readme file

3. Upload to PCB Manufacturer

  • Go to the website of your chosen manufacturer
  • Create an account and start a new order
  • Upload your Gerber files and Bill of Materials
  • Enter the required order details like quantity, size, layers, etc.
  • Select any desired additional options

4. Confirm Order and Payment

The manufacturer will review your submitted files to confirm everything looks good for fabrication. Often they provide a specialized design review. If changes are required, they will request you resubmit updated files.

Once everything is approved, you can proceed to payment. Credit cards are accepted for easy single board orders.

5. Manufacturing and Shipping

With your order placed, the PCB fabrication will commence! The manufacturer will keep you updated on the production status and shipping.

For China-based manufacturers, DHL international shipping usually takes 3-5 days to the US, Europe, etc. Faster shipping like FedEx can cut that down to 1-3 days.

Once your new one-off PCB arrives, you’re ready to assemble components and test out your hardware!

One-Off PCB Costs

For online manufacturers, the cost for a single PCB ranges from around $10 up to $100 or more, depending on:

  • Board size – smaller boards are cheaper
  • Layers – 2 layer vs. 4 layer vs. 6 layer
  • Material – FR4 is standard, high-frequency boards cost more
  • Lead time – 1 day rush options cost 2x-5x standard pricing
  • Shipping – FedEx much faster than DHL but more expensive

Here are rough ballpark costs for reference:

PCB SpecsCost
2 layer FR4 50x50mm board$10
4 layer FR4 100x100mm board$50
6 layer FR4 150x150mm board$100
2 layer Rogers 4350B 75x75mm board$200

Keep in mind for prototypes the priority is usually on quality and turnaround time, not lowest cost.

Tips for One-Off PCB Orders

Here are some key tips for making your first one-off PCB order go smoothly:

  • Use a proven PCB manufacturer with good reviews – This guide provides several recommendations
  • Carefully check design rules before finalizing board layout
  • Ask the manufacturer to review your design files before production
  • Order 1-2 extra boards to allow for potential defects or damage
  • Pay for slightly faster shipping if needed quickly
  • Start with simpler 2 layer board if possible for first project

Taking a bit of care upfront and choosing a reliable manufacturer will ensure your custom one-off PCB arrives quickly and functions properly.

Frequently Asked Questions

Where is the best place to order one PCB board?

For a balance of ease-of-use, speed and value, I recommend PCBWay or JLCPCB. PCBWay has a 5 day turn for single boards, while JLCPCB can deliver in just 1 day.

Can I get just one PCB made cheaply?

Yes, you can now order single PCBs online for around $10-$20 plus shipping. The process is quick and convenient. This enables easy prototyping of new hardware ideas.

Is it better to order PCBs from China or locally?

For one-off prototypes, the China-based manufacturers actually provide excellent value and speed. Most deliver internationally in 3-5 days. Local options in North America provide faster 1-2 day service but at much higher costs.

What do I need to provide to get a PCB manufactured?

You’ll need Gerber files, drill files, position files, and a Bill of Materials exported from your PCB design software. These contain all the necessary fabrication data for your circuit board.

How long does it take to get one PCB board?

Standard turnaround for one-off PCBs is usually 5-10 days from order to delivery. This includes manufacturing time plus international FedEx/DHL shipping. For 1-2 day “rush” service, expect to pay a significant premium.


Thanks to Online PCB services and improved manufacturing processes, engineers can now easily and affordably procure small quantities and even single custom printed circuit boards. This enables conveniently prototyping new electronic hardware designs with a fast design-build-test cycle.

With an optimized and streamlined ordering process, you can go from PCB design to assembled board ready for experimentation in less than 2 weeks in most cases. For those new to purchasing one-off boards, this guide provides the key details and recommendations to get started.

Categories: PCBA


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