There was a time, not too long ago, when professionally-produced printed circuit boards were available only to businesses willing to place an order for a thousand units or more. Makers eager to move a project from the breadboard were left etching their own one-off designs in acid-filled tanks, or soldering to stripboard and other permanent breadboard analogues. Now, though, companies across the world are eager for maker business and perfectly willing to produce high-quality one-off boards at a low cost - but how do you choose which to trust with your design?
As soon as more than one business pops up serving a market, a third business will appear offering to compare prices from the two. It's true of everything from insurance quotes to tins of beans from the supermarket, and it's true for PCB creation too. PCBShopper works out the cost to have a design produced at 26 individual low-volume fabrication and assembly houses, providing you with a quick and painless way to find the best deal.
PCBShopper is quick, but it could be quicker. Enter Jeremy Ruhland's Eagle ULP script, brought to our attention by Hackaday, which automates the process. Simply load your design into Eagle, choose from a few drop-down options such as copper weight and solder mask colour, and click a button to receive a list of quotes specific to that design. For those who use other circuit design software, PCBShopper creator Bob Alexander has indicated that he would be more than willing to provide an application programming interface (API) for integrating his site with other tools for anyone who wants to have a stab at making their own plug-in.
Other resources PCB designers may find useful include Kaspar Emanuel's Kitnic.it, recently showcased at the Open Source Hardware User Group's OSHCamp event as part of Wuthering Bytes, the EasyEDA Gerber Viewer, Boldport's PCBmodE software, James Lewis' circuit design checklist, and Chris Holden's guide to doing it all by hand.