For electronic product developers and hobbyists, being able to quickly and affordably manufacture a small number of custom PCBs is invaluable for prototyping and short-run production. Known as “one-off” PCB production, this involves fabricating just 1-5 boards at a time with no minimum order requirements. In this guide, we’ll look at options and best practices for utilizing one-off PCB manufacture.

What is One-Off PCB Manufacturing?

One-off PCB manufacture refers to producing a very small quantity of printed circuit boards, often just one single board. It enables you to get a few boards fabricated without restrictions like large minimum orders imposed by many PCB factories.

One-off manufacturing is ideal when you just need a handful of boards for:

  • Prototyping and proof-of-concept testing
  • Education and learning PCB design
  • Custom projects and short production runs
  • Feasibility evaluations before larger production

Because you order as few as one board at a time, it allows for more flexibility, lower costs, and quicker prototyping cycles without having excess boards sitting unused.

Benefits of One-Off PCB Production

Here are some of the main advantages of using one-off PCB manufacturing:

  • Lower costs: Only pay for the exact number of boards you need without inflated minimums.
  • Faster prototyping: Rapidly test design iterations and modifications with short turnaround.
  • Design flexibility: Experiment more freely knowing you can get a single board.
  • Customization: Create fully customized PCBs tailored to your application.
  • Lower risk: Evaluate concepts without large financial commitments.
  • Education: Learn hands-on PCB design skills.

For low-volume projects, one-off manufacturing can save significant time and money compared to traditional mass production.

Where to Get One-Off PCBs Manufactured

Many PCB manufacturers now cater to the one-off and prototyping market. Here are some of the best options:

PCB Prototyping Services

PCB services like PCBWay and JLCPCB offer hobbyist-friendly services for one-off manufacturing. They allow ordering 1 to 5 boards with fast delivery and online handling of the entire process.

Small Batch PCB Assembly

Some PCB assembly services like PCBAssemblyExpress provide low volume SMT assembly perfect for one-off boards. They often have lower minimums than full-scale EMS companies.

PCB Broker Services

Brokers like PCBShopper aggregate different manufacturers and help you find the best option for one-off fabrication. This simplifies the discovery and comparison process.

PCB Design Tool Capabilities

Many PCB design software tools like Altium and Eagle offer integrated manufacturing features or partner networks to handle one-off fabrication entirely within the tool.

In-House PCB Prototyping

Some product development firms and large corporations have their own in-house PCB prototyping capabilities. This allows rapidly iterating on one-off designs internally.

One-Off PCB Manufacturing Process

Producing a single PCB is quite straightforward. Here is an overview of the typical one-off manufacturing workflow:

  1. Design – Create PCB layout using CAD software like KiCad, Eagle, Altium, etc.
  2. Generate Manufacturing Files – Convert design files to Gerber layout files, drill files, BOM, etc.
  3. Select Manufacturer – Browse prototyping services and select a vendor best matched to your needs.
  4. Upload Order – Submit your Gerber design files and order online via the company’s website.
  5. Manufacturing – The PCB factory will fabricate your board(s) – often within 24-48 hours.
  6. Shipment – Boards are shipped to you once complete for testing and use.

Many manufacturers provide online quoting tools to immediately see pricing based on your specific board size, layers, quantity, etc. The ordering process can often be handled fully online.

Best Practices for One-Off PCB Production

Follow these guidelines when ordering one-off prototype PCBs to ensure the best results:

  • Provide high-quality Gerber files free of errors to the manufacturer. Use their design rule checks ahead of time to confirm.
  • Order from a reputable company known for quality. Read reviews and feedback from other customers.
  • Choose a manufacturer that specializes in low volume prototype orders. Avoid those catering only to high-volume production.
  • Use a manufacturer that offers online handling of orders, quotes, file uploads, and support requests.
  • Clearly specify any special requirements for your board like material type, finishes, tolerances, etc.
  • Order the bare minimum number of boards needed for initial testing – often 1 or 2 units.
  • Expect slightly longer lead times than higher volume orders. Express options are available for fastest turnaround.
  • Review the boards upon arrival carefully before assembly or installation in an end product.

Cost Considerations

One-off PCB pricing is primarily driven by the following factors:

  • Board size – Overall dimensions of the PCB
  • Layer count – Number of copper layers in the design
  • Lead time – Standard or expedited delivery speeds
  • Order quantity – Number of boards being produced
  • Advanced capabilities – Special processes like HDI, impedance control, etc.

Because you order so few boards, even expensive advanced technologies become affordable. Expect to pay anywhere from $10 for a simple single PCB to $500 or more for high-layer multi-board orders. Compare pricing from multiple vendors to find the best deal.

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are answers to some common questions about one-off PCB manufacturing:

How long does it take to get one PCB board?

With express manufacturing, you can often get a single board shipped in just 24-48 hours. Standard lead times are around 5 days.

What design software do I need for one-off PCB production?

Any PCB CAD package like Eagle, KiCad, Altium, OrCAD, etc. can be used. You just need to export Gerber files for manufacturing.

Can I get PCB assembly & soldering done on one-off boards?

Yes, some assembly houses offer low volume SMT assembly perfect for use with one-off PCBs. They have smaller minimums and faster delivery than large EMS providers.

How many times can I revise a one-off PCB design?

With fast turnaround services, you can go through multiple revisions and tweaks in a matter of days or weeks to refine your design.

What are the limitations of one-off PCB production?

You may have more limited manufacturing capabilities compared to volume production. Expect potentially lower precision and reliability compared to high-volume runs.


One-off PCB manufacture provides a fast, flexible, and affordable method for prototyping, custom projects, and low volume production. By ordering just 1 to 5 boards at a time from specialized services, you can rapidly produce designs without costly minimum orders.

Look for manufacturers that provide online handling of quotes, orders, and support. Follow best practices like generating manufacturing files correctly and ordering from reputable vendors. With today’s capabilities, custom one-off PCB production is easy and budget-friendly using the guidelines in this guide.

Categories: PCBA


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