In this passage, we will talk about how to make PCB more interesting during the design and manufacturing process.
PCB’s are awesome! They are precision 2D parts made out of a rigid fiberglass material that can have conductive traces of copper placed on the top and bottom, with copper-coated holes to pass through the board. Additionally, a solder mask adds color to the board as well as functionally makes sure the solder stays where it is supposed to be. Finally, a silkscreen layer allows text to be printed on the top and bottom of the board.
However, designing PCB’s can be a tedious process and take a long time. After reviewing your layout and schematic for hours on end, you start to develop less-than-friendly feelings towards your design. Things feel monotonous and boring and you become less and less excited about the board the more time you spend on it. How can you stay excited about your design so that when you receive the boards from PCBBUY, you are excited to populate and use them?
One of my favorite ways is to add fun things to the design of the board. You have several options here, which I’ll list out. These are by no means an exhaustive list, but these are some of my favorite ideas:
- Add text
This one is pretty simple, since CAD packages like Altium, Eagle, and KiCAD have a really easy text tool. To make the text more exciting, do some fun things with it: put it on a copper layer instead of a silkscreen layer. The solder mask will darken a little wherever there is copper, as is evident with the ability to see traces. Text will be discrete but still readable. If you want to do some really cool stuff, add a solder mask keep out area over your text so that the copper shows through as a shiny finish. In terms of text, add fun sayings or references to movies. One of my favorites is from Disney’s The Mandelorian, “I have spoken.” Even if the text gets covered up with a component or something, it is still fun to know it is there.
2. Pay attention to the traces
Unless you have specific impedance matching requirements or are concerned about signal-coil noise, there is no reason why a trace needs to be a perfectly straight line going from A to B. Go wild with the traces. Draw pictures with the lines. My all time favorite trace drawing was one of Pacman eating a series of small circles, all done with one trace. Have fun with how you place your wires.
Additionally, there is no reason why a component must be on a nice even angle. For example, I tend to line my SMD components up all in one direction whenever possible. However, putting each component on a slightly off-axis angle like 25 degrees is really quite fun. It really is no more difficult to populate or use, and it makes the board look like a toddler designed it with a crayon. If you are feeling really adventurous, turn the ports a little, so the USB cable isn’t quite perpendicular to the edge of your board.
3. Make your board size as small as possible
I’m not just talking about the board being on the smallest footprint possible, but trying to use the least amount of material as possible. Take the board outline, and pull it right up next to the traces and components. This gets tricky, so make sure to follow PCBWay’s manufacturing guidelines to make sure the board is producible. In the end, you will probably have a board that is very misshapen and lumpy, but there is very little wasted fiberglass board.