There is a bit of controversy over making your own printed circuit boards, many makers think that professional boards are so inexpensive now that they are the way to go. Others want to have more control and hopefully short turn around time that comes with making their own. This instructable assumes that you buy into the "make your own point of view" and will not argue the point.
Near Home is bit of a new idea. What does “near home” mean? There are getting to be more and more hacker spaces ( and similar spaces ) which give makers access to more advanced and expensive equipment than most can afford at home. This instructable assumes such a hacker space is near by. And therefore considers more expensive equipment may be present than in the usual home lab. One such space is now investigating a number of these methods and is hoping to recruit local expertize in developing optimal techniques. For more information on this see the website of AS220 Labs ( http://as220.org/labs/pages/Making%20Printed%20Circuit%20Boards
). If you are near Providence RI consider participating in the project. Results will be posted back here. We hope other hacker spaces also become centers for board fab.
This instructable will give an overview of most of the popular methods, describe how the steps come together and provide links ( mostly to other instructables, but some offsite ) to material on making boards. Many of the instructables cover only one or a few steps I list them with the step, and then at the end have links to instructables covering more complete processes. Note that I am planning to update this instructable for awhile yet, add your suggestions to the comments.
Making boards breaks down into a set of somewhat distinct steps. We will assume you have solved the circuit design stage and are starting on the fabrication stage.
Step 1: * Draw the schematic in a PC design tool.
Step 2: * Layout the components ( or choose the position of the components on the board ) and Route the traces ( this means determining the path the traces take on the circuit board )
Step3: * Output Files describing the board to the next step in the chain, this could be a set of gerber files, an image file, or perhaps some other file(s)
Step 4: * Transfer the file to the board ( in some cases like a milling machine you are then done )
Step 5 * If etching: etch the board.
Step 6: * Drill the holes.
Step 7: * Done.
Note that steps overlap somewhat and are often applied iteratively.
At each step there are a host of choices you can make, each may have consequences on quality and future steps. In this overview we will mention the choices but may not follow up on each of them. We will also bias our answers somewht to free or low cost solutions.