Seeedstudio Fusion PCB fab service review: $9.90 for 10 custom boards?
First things first: This review is based on a free 10 piece set of 2-layer pcb’s provided by Seeedstudio, in return I agreed to do a writeup on their Fusion PCB service. Obviously I’ll be taking a look at the good as well as the bad. Please excuse the lack of varied comparison material, my main experience with sending out own designs to fab has been with OSHpark primarily using Eagle Cad. Here goes:
Fusion PCB service
From Seeedstudio’s website:
Seeed Fusion promises mature PCB manufacturing and fabrication with low cost, fast production time and 100% quality guarantee for our service.If you are not satisfied with the service or product you receive,we will do our best to make it right. Fusion PCB: $9.9/10pcs.
$9.90 for ten copies of a custom pcb? That’s a cracking deal! So what do you get for less than the price of a pizza?
In short, a lot: 10 copies, 2 layers, max 100 x 100mm pcb size, a choice of six soldermask colors (green, red, yellow, blue, white and black), five FR4 width options (0.6, 0.8, 1.0, 1.2 and 1.6mm), double-sided silkscreening, HASL finish, 6mil trace width/spacing (0.152mm) and 0.3mm hole size limit. I’d say that’s enough to tempt even the most ardent home etcher…
What’s the catch? Well, If you’re looking for more than 3 copies, willing to forgive minor drilling offset and extra shipping costs for speedy delivery there really isn’t any. Let’s walk through the ordering process, production/delivery and the finished pcb itself:
Setting up an order on Fusion’s main page is quite intuitive, most options are preselected for the cheapy $9.90 pcb’s, just select your desired pcb thickness and colour and you’re pretty much done. Where it get’s a little more complicated is uploading your design files: Unfortunately Seeedstudio requires a zip file of Gerbers whereas OSHpark handles raw Eagle Cad .brd files out of the box. In order to generate the Gerbers you’ll have to go through Eagle’s CAM processor using Seeedstudio’s Fusion PCB Job file. This process is fairly straightforward when following directions in their knowledgebase article but can be a little tedious when the ease of .brd file upload is what you’re used to (be sure to load the provided CAM Job file found on the same page). A nice touch though is an online Gerber previewer, I managed to spot and correct an error in the Gerbers (Eagle hadn’t joined a split ground plane). After upload just enter your shipping details, provide payment, I used Paypal, and you’re done.
Production and delivery
Seeedstudio does a good job keeping you informed of production updates: I placed my order on Jan 11th and received updates on the 13th (order into production) and the 17th (order shipped). Thumbs up for staying within the suggested production time of 5 working days!
Onto shipping: As many of you probably know, shipping from China can be frustrating, I’ve had eBay stuff take anywhere from 7 days to 5 weeks even the odd lost package. Fortunately aside from Singapore post and EU shipping (?), 15-30 working days, 10-18 working days respectively, express shipping is offered (FedEx or DHL). I usually go for DHL because of it’s relatively low pricing vs. shipping time, only paid about $23 for 3-5 working day shipping to the Netherlands. DHL picked up the pcb’s in Shenzen on the 18th and managed to get the package delivered on the 23rd. That’s a little under 10.000 km’s in three working days, not bad.
[A previous shipment did not go quite as well… for some reason someone put a $27 value on the shipping label instead of $9.90. Of course Dutch customs seized on the opportunity to levy a combined €40 import duty/processing fee (importing anything to NL/EU worth over €22 will get you taxed, they’ll even tax shipping costs). Most was eventually recouped but still, a major hassle. Be sure to remind Seeedstudio to put the correct value on their shipping labels…]
Right, onto the pcb’s themselves. I received exactly 10 boards, all nicely vacuum sealed and bubble wrapped, no damage whatsoever. Good stuff.
Now, as far as printing quality I am by no means a fab expert so I’ll let a few close-ups of two orders do most of the talking (green: old order; red: sponsored order):
[Minimum trace width used: 0.3mm; Minimum space between traces/polygons/vias: 0.2mm; Via size: 0.32mm drill, 0.6mm outer diameter; PCB designator textsize 0.7mm @ 18%; Smallest packages: QFN, 0.5mm pitch]
On the boards I tested I couldn’t see any obvious imperfections or find any shorts. Traces are crisp and as far as I can tell all vias were well plated.
Pad etching looks good. A HASL (hot air solder leveling) finish solders fine but I can’t help but feel OSHpark’s default ENIG (Electroless nickel immersion gold) finish is a little superior, especially for fine pin pitch IC’s (had some trouble hot air soldering a 0.5mm pitch TPS63031 whereas soldering another 0.5mm pitch BQ25895 to ENIG pads was close to effortless). ENIG is optional at Seeedstudio but does come at a $25 premium.
A thick layer of silkscreen was put on both sides, resolution is good and easily readable at 0.7mm/18% text size (pcb designators). Perhaps a little registration offset, but this is only noticable when aligned to copper or pads, anyhow, none of the pads were silkscreened.
[A note on Seeedstudio’s internal pcb tracking system: They place a unique 14-ish character code on every pcb, I’ve heard they try to place it somewhere inconspicuous but on my first order they managed to put it under some silkscreen artwork and ruined the look a bit. This time though they thoughtfully put the code under a USB receptacle. One for two on code placement, not too bad.]
I haven’t checked the resolution spec on Fusion’s soldermasks. All I can tell you is that soldermasks are nicely applied, no real registration offset but do keep in mind (at least on these boards) any space between smd pads smaller than 0.16mm will have the mask removed [come to think of it, this might be intentional, soldermasking would potentially raise a QFN or smaller no-lead IC]. The color is crisp but will still allow you to follow underlying copper tracks, well, at least with the red or green soldermasking I received.
As you can see on the green board, drillhit registration was off by by about 0.3 millimetre, not so much a problem with through hole pins, more so with vias as misshits can potentially break continuity. Fortunately my vias had sufficient outer diameter (0.6mm) to compensate for any offset. On the red board the hits were off by about 0.1 or 0.2mm, no biggie to me.
So, how does it all stack up?
Well, for less than a dollar a board (or just over $3 a board including express shipping) you can’t go wrong really. Nuff said… No?