- PCB Stencils- what are they?
When trying to apply solder paste to a printed circuit board for surface mount soldering, a PCB stencil can be very useful. A stencil is a flat sheet with pads cut out to match your pcb design. This allows you to build boards faster, better, and more easily. Most PCB manufacturers sell stencils, but you could also try to order them from OSH Stencils (https://www.oshstencils.com/#%20) or PCBway (https://www.pcbway.com/). We ended up just ordering it through our PCB manufacturer (DIrty PCBs).
You can also usually select the type of material you want for the stencil. Stainless steel or plastic are normal choices. If you’re planning a larger scale production, you should choose the stainless steel option. It may be a bit more expensive, but it can be used a lot more times than the plastic version can.
- PCB Dimensions
When ordering your first set of PCBs, it can be confusing figuring out sizing. Why are there so few options? And how are you supposed to know which one is right for you? Turns out, the dimensions show you the max size. So, say your PCB manufacturer has options of 5×5 or 10×10 for size. If your design is 5×5 or under, order the 5×5 board. Now, say your board design is 6×4- you’ll have to order the 10×10 dimension board as one of the sides is longer than the smaller’s max. Note: the larger dimension boards cost more.
- PCB Ordering
When ordering your design, make sure your Gerber files are in a zip format and then upload them to your site of choice. After uploading, the site should tell you if there are any problems with the files. Look at this carefully, because if a file is missing the company could cancel your order or take some “creative liberty” of their own. It’s best to just make sure everything is okay before submitting your order. And if you do notice a mistake in your order after you submit it, don’t worry! Some places will allow you to submit file changes up until the boards go in for manufacturing.
The best advice I can give from this process is to know what you’re doing ahead of time. Research and ask because PCBs aren’t always cheap are fast to get.