Race to the bottom – A comparison of PCBWay and JLCPCB circuit boards in 2019

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Making circuit boards used to be an expensive affair several years ago. Today, you can have a bunch of 2 layer or even 4 layer PCB done for less than $30. Thanks to the services like PCBWay and JLCPCB (the services that I have tried) that have allowed hobbyists to have professional looking circuit boards without making a dent in their pockets. In a race to the bottom, many other services are hopping in and offering even lower prices. So low, that you can have 2 layer PCBs with solder-mask having colour of your choice for a mere $2.

I have been a fan of JLCPCB for quite a while. I had several designs fabricated from them. A couple of months ago, they charged extra for a different colour solder-mask. Apparently, they no longer do so. You can have any solder-mask colour at no added cost. The waiver on solder-mask colour is a result of strong competition from PCBWay.

Overview on prices

PCBWay offers 10 quantity of 2 layer PCB for a price of $5 plus shipping. On the other hand, JLCPCB offers 5 quantity of 2 layer PCB for a price of  $2 plus shipping. Jumping up the quantity to 10 results in the same price of $5 on JLCPCB. Price-wise, both fabs offer same price when it comes to 2 layers PCBs.

Now, when you want to order 10 quantity of 4 layer PCB within 100mm x 100mm size, JLCPCB is a winner. PCBWay quotes a price of $49 and JLCPCB quotes a price $20 less, coming at $29. Once again, there is no extra cost when choosing the colour of solder-mask. In fact, you can have ENIG surface finish on JLCPCB and it will be still under $49.

Inspecting the PCB

Having ordered from both the PCB services, I can show you how they look. I had two different designs. I sent one to PCBWay and the other to JLCPCB. In both places, I chose the black solder-mask.

pcbway review

PCBWay fabricated black soldermask pcb

jlcpcb review pcbway review

4-L pcb from JLCPCB

The black solder-mask on the PCBWay output is glossy. On the other hand, JLCPCB gives a matte black finish. One point to note though, PCBWay gives you a choice to select matte black whereas, JLCPCB offers no such choice.

pcbway jlcpcb compare

PCBWay solder mask selection menu

The silkscreen text is sufficiently crisp in both PCBs and I have no particular complaint. Honestly, the text looks crisp on matte finish so my next order from PCBWay is definitely going to be a matte black.

Edges look very well cut out on the JLCPCB. On the contrary, PCBWay might be doing a V-score cut to break the individual PCBs apart resulting in a rough edge. That is no big deal for me.

Conclusion

Hobbyists are at a great advantage here. To be able to get professional looking PCBs made for so little is a good step forward. Along with cheap PCBs, the PCBA service is also slowly looking to appeal the hobbyists. I would not be surprised if these PCB fabs started offering PCB assembly service for dirt cheap prices. Fabs should also start offering high frequency substrates at an affordable price because none of them I know do so. I know that PCBWay does have additional fabrication capabilities but they come at a greater cost.

Nonetheless, the race to the bottom has brought many benefits to many hobbyists like me and I hope it continues to progress in the right direction.

In the future, I might review and compare PCBWay assembly service with that offered by JLCPCB. (I hope you are reading this. Yes you, PCBWay and JLCPCB :P) Also, if you have any questions, let me know and I will try to answer them.

 

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Salil is an electronics enthusiast working on various RF and Microwave systems. In his free time he writes on the blog, talks over ham radio or builds circuits. He has Yaesu FT2900R VHF transceiver, FT450D HF transceiver and a TYT UV8000E Handheld transceiver.

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8 Responses

  1. ericson yamaro says:

    great review, thanks

  2. zad says:

    good informative post

  3. Karl says:

    useless conclusion to be honest..

  4. Scott Gilson says:

    Thanks for the review.
    It would be good to see a breakdown of costs including shopping and import duties, which can really increase the price a lot. For instance, my $2 boards cost $75 with assembly and shipping. JCLPCB has great assembly service and price, and EasyEDA design software including YouTube tutorials. However, their website can be down for days at a time, or too busy to do anything. So I may try PCBWay next time.

  5. CodeAsm says:

    nextpcb is a new one someone suggested to me (on youtube tho). the website looks alott like pcbway.
    I might try all three for some project im doing.

  6. TotO says:

    “PCBWay gives you a choice to select matte black whereas, JLCPCB offers no such choice.”

    Because PCBWay add extra fees for mate finish, while JLCPCB offer it by default for free…

  7. Fern says:

    I have always been with JLCPCB and, in my opinion, they have undergone major changes in the last year (2021) that have disappointed me a lot:

    – the $2 offer for 5 boards is only for the first design, otherwise the price is $4.
    – the quality of the silk screen is not the same which is specially noticeable in label or logos that have thick strokes or filled areas. Everyday it is becoming more and more common to receive the boards with vertical scratches that certainly did not originate during transport.
    – in the past all the boards were sent in the typical vacuum bubble wrapping, but now they occasionally forget it and send some set of boards in normal bags, no vacuum in the same box with other boards with the classic vacuum bubble wrapping, I didn’t really get it,
    – if to save board storage space after the great effort of grouping several designs on the same board the extra costs for this are really absurd, to the point that, using a real example, I would pay about $68 to get about 500 boards (once cutted) by sending one board for each design (9 boards); and $70 to get 170 boards (once cutted) just by grouping the designs (in 4 boards) because of the extra costs,
    – I used to order boards with the same design repeated, in a 2-row x 1-column matrix by copying and rotating the original design 180º in order to leave the edge connectors on the outside border. Now, with the new criteria, the new staff or I don’t know what, they consider that there are two different designs and pretend to charge an extra cost of $12-13 although it is obvious that the designs are the same and it is easier to manufacture it this way (if the two designs are at 180º the V-Cut between both is a simple horizontal line while if they have the same rotation the cutting of the edge connectors makes the manufacturing difficult),
    – talking about edge connectors, lately I use to get boards with a lot of scratches in those big plated parts,
    – the customer service usually gives only evasive answers, does not help to solve real problems (even if they have simple solutions that the customer may not know but they should) or repeats over and over a precooked reply without paying attention to the details of the real case,
    – the claims service is lousy, they apologize a lot but delay the resolution for weeks, requesting over and over again the same data, the same pictures,…. They ask again and again for information that they already had from the moment the complaint was registered, and
    – needless to say that from day one I found the website to be full of flaws. Sometimes the gerbers viewer is not available and you are forced to order the boards without being able to preview them; when order after order is placed, the counter of boards added to the shopping cart is not properly updated (unless you manually reload the web page); depending on the day there are too many “network errors” on different tabs related to orders or billing; when necessary it becomes very complicated to replace the gerber file because you have to specifically request it and wait for the option to appear so that, later on, the gerber thumbnail remains the original one (it is not updated to the new one) and you can never be sure that it really has been updated, etc. etc.

    Except for the bugs relating to the website I have been noticing all these problems from this last year.

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