Roll Your Own Protoboard

Roll Your Own Protoboard

From the MAKE Flickr pool

Besides having one of the most awesome Flickr handles ever, Thunderhammer3000 has an interesting strategy for prototype boards –

If you’ve ever used those cheapo one-side Radioshack (or knockoff) protoboards, you’re familiar the the problems with them. But I noticed that I had no such problems with kits from Adafruit, Maker Shed, etc.

Why? Because their boards are through hole plated, the contacts are plated (unlike cheap protoboards which corrode so you can’t get a good connection), and they have a nice solder mask.

After spending countless hours struggling to debug issues with protoboards – even the expensive ones – I decided to just design my own.

definitely seems a worthwhile endeavor if you find yourself using mostly the same parts on each project – at around $4 per board it could be an affordable timesaver. More info on the photo’s page.

26 thoughts on “Roll Your Own Protoboard

  1. Jasiu says:

    Where did he get his PCB made for $4. I found a site that charged almost $150+ for a PCB.

  2. John Park says:

    That may have been for a very short lead time. If you’re willing to wait a few weeks it gets very inexpensive. You should check out

  3. The Oracle says: is a total ripoff. They charge $10 plus $2.50/square inch. One playing card sized PCB (2.5×3.5″) would be $32. has an offer where You can get 10 boards that size for $50 shipped. And in the open source spirit, if you’re willing to open your design, they’ll let you have 5 boards for $30 (free shipping if you buy a few parts to bring the order over $50).

    Anyway, the origial project looks fantastic. I’ve been planning to order a set with basic connections for an LCD, some LEDs on the PWM pins, with transistor drivers for luxeons, and some sort of input rough-in. I seem to be soldering some form of that board over and over lately on cheap perf board and I want to do it right.

  4. Anonymous says:

    umm… $32 is less than $50, isn’t it? BatchPCB seems optimized to bring your early prototype board down well below what the other services will provide. Having 10 boards that might still have physical design problems, and paying 60% more for the privilege of throwing 9 more in the trash bin doesn’t sound like a good idea.

  5. Jack says:

    I’m not taking sides on which proto manufacturer is better, but if you reread The Oracle’s post, he says that on board from BatchPCB is $32, while 10 boards from SeedStudio is $50. Again, I don’t know/care which is better, but just wanted to point out what The Oracle was actually saying.

  6. Jack says:

    Oops, didn’t finish my post.

    Anyway, if you’re simply designing a protoboard, it seems rather difficult to end up with design problems so significant that you are unable to actually use it as a protoboard.

  7. ken says:

    It looks great, but what gives? This is an smd ucontroller protoboard with no programming port? And no place for a bypass cap?

    Can’t wait to see the next revision. :)

    1. Anonymous says:

      Are you looking at the same picture?

      Look again.

      1. Anonymous says:

        There’s a place for a header that says ISP, yeah. I can’t see the other side of the board, but since it’s covered with holes all the way across, I guess I assumed the header was little more than a cluster of 6x 0.1″ spaced holes with a fancy silk screen. Then again, there is at least one trace on the top.

        1. Anonymous says:

          “This is an smd ucontroller”

          It looks through-hole to me.

          “with no programming port?”

          ISP hole pattern with traces leading to it.

          “And no place for a bypass cap?”

          Right next to the through-hole (not SMT) microcontroller.

          “Can’t wait to see the next revision.”

          For what?

  8. The Oracle says:

    At the very least, I would always order 2 copies of a board; what if I screw one up, what if I want to try a different permutation even in the early stage, what if I want to give one to a friend to help look for bugs.

    A second board through batchPCB raises the cost to $54, already more than 10 boards from seeedstudio.

    The point of the original post was that you can make custom protoboards very cheaply. If you’re paying $32 for a one off prototype of your protoboard…what’s the point? As Jack said, you’re not going to screw it up so badly you can’t use it as a protoboard. The worst mistake I ever made on a PCB was putting common cathode RGB leds in when I had common anode ones to use. It took me 5 minutes to figure out the fix, I had to cut one trace, add one jumper, and put the transistors in backwards. It’s just not a big deal, and why would you have to throw out the boards?

  9. Mats E says:

    By using you can get 100 of those PCBs for $1.50 each.

    That is $41 for the setup plus a cost of $1.10 per card in qty 100. For qty 500 the cards are 0.63 each. But if I wasn’t 100% certain of the layout of the card I probably go for 20 cards at $2.73 each.

    As soon as you move from single digit quantities PCB’s gets really cheap. I most likely could easily find a few friends and share a order of 100 among us and have a small shitload of nice protoboards for next to nothing.


  10. thunderhammer says:

    Hi, I’m the guy who created the board. I’ll try to answer some of the questions here.

    By the way, I will put the design and the gerbers on my website as soon as I get some free time ( so that anyone who wants to can order their own. I’ve even fixed a few minor mistakes I made. I intend to put quite a bit of documentation on how to use it on there too, if it’s popular enough to justify the effort ;)

    1) I ordered them from Gold Phoenix, using the “Special Prices”

    They give you as many as will fit in 15″ x 10″. I got 33 of them, so the price could have been as low as $3 each (incl. shipping) if I hadn’t wanted to see what it would look like in red.

    My experiences with Gold Phoenix have been amazing. Super fast turn around, “no surprises” pricing. Communication is mediocre – par for the course. Unless I’m mistaken, Gold Phoenix is the same manufacturer that BatchPCB uses.

    2) Yes it includes ISP headers, and a place for bypass caps, and the FTDI headers mean you could theoretically turn it into an Arduino clone, though I haven’t had a chance to test that. Also, you can put a decoupling cap in the holes between Vcc and GND going into the microcontroller, that’s what I always do.

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