Introduction: PCB Mockup Prototype in Cardboard

About: Brazilian ECE student (3rd year) interested in DIY electronics and programming. I'm a real makers always willing to learn by doing something.

As a maker and embedded systems developer in a third-world country, I am always facing long delays when buying (importing basically) anything related to electronic components from abroad. A free shipping package from China to my country (Brazil) may take up to 90 days!. Any paid shipping option takes less than one week, but at an incredible high cost.
Printed circuit boards are a pretty simple material in the BOM (bill of materials) of any embedded systems project, but making it can become an skillful art depends on the size and complexity of the circuit. Mistakes made on a PCB design are really easy to make and they can cost you a lot of money, specially when you have to wait up to 90 days to put your hands on the actual thing.

Having a fast and simple mockup of your PCB is a very cheap and handy option, mainly to make it possible to verify component assembly positions and clearances. This is what this instructables is about: how to make a quick mockup of your PCB design and verify whether everything fits OK before sending it to production.

Step 1: Have Your PCB Design Ready

The first thing you have to do is create your schematic and board (PCB) design using virtually any software you want. I personally use the free version of the "CadSoft Eagle PCB design", but you could go" Altium PCB design tool" or ANY other.

What you will do is have your PCB design (also called layout) ready for manufacturing; you should then print a copy of it in scale 1:1 (actual final size) on A4 or letter paper layout.

Step 2: Get Some Cardboard and Glue Your Design to It

Now that you have your design printed out on an ordinary piece of paper, you want to cut out the remaining of it and leave only your design.

Get a piece of cardboard and cut it a bit bigger than you did to your PCB design. You will glue your design to the cardboard using paper glue (see the end result on the attache picture). Leave it alone drying for a couple of minutes or so.

Step 3: Punch Drill the Cardboard

After you have had you set dry a little bit, proceed to the next step:

Using a thin sewing needle (or punch needle), open holes through the cardboard exactly where the through-hole (TH) components are.

You may need to open wider holes to bigger components, as for example power connectors. Attached to this step is an image of the end result of this step on my PCB design cardboard.

Step 4: Insert Through-hole (TH) Components on It

The last step of this instructables shows the result of inserting components to your just-made cardboard PCB.

After punch-opening component holes on your cardboard, it's time to cautiously insert all components to the board; be careful with the component leads because they are certainly more fragile and more expensive than cardboard!.

You may need to go back to the last step and reinforce (or make it again) the holes and hole sizes; you are done when you have inserted all desired components.

Observing the pictures in this step you will see my design partially assembled as a mockup of the actual board: I have made it in one hour and will save a bunch of time and money sending the correct design to the (PCB) board house.

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