Electronics circuits prototyping

Electronics prototyping is an important part of electronics device development. Prototyping means to build and test an early version of) an electronic circuit. Prototyping your product is all about learning. Each time you create a prototype version you will, or should, learn something new. Start with the most simple, low cost way to prototype your product. This posting gives you overview to different ways to build and prototype electronics circuits.

This video reviews several of the electronic circuit prototyping techniques. It is a good overview if many different techniques.

Electronics on the Floor: Five reasons not to use printed circuit boards for projects

How you begin prototyping your product’s electronics depends on what questions you are trying to answer.

If you have broad questions about whether your product will even work, or whether it will solve the intended problem, then you may be wise to begin with an early works-like prototype based on a development kit such as an Arduino or Raspberry Pi. Then wire some external functionality like sensors to it with jumper wires and/or add-on boards as needed.

If there are no big questions about your product’s functionality then for professional electronics design you should probably move right to designing a custom PCB. Most large companies developing products begin with a custom PCB. This is the fastest route to market, although not likely the cheapest. If you are an electronics hobbyist or need to build one-off device for a specific use quickly, then some other methods might be more suitable.

Alligator clip test cables

Wires with alligator clips are useful in electronics lab for making temporary connections. Those alligator wires can be used to make simple temporary circuits when you need to connect just few components together.

Alligator Clips Electrical DIY Test Leads

Alligator Clips – Electrical Tutorial – HWFCI

How sucks the cheap alligator clip compared with the 10 times price one

Hook Test Leads vs Alligator Clip

Jumper wires

Dupont type jumper wires are extremely handy components to have on hand, especially when prototyping with a development kit such as an Arduino or Raspberry Pi. Jumper wires are simply wires that have connector pins at each end, allowing them to be used to connect two points to each other without soldering. You can use them to connect easily development kit boards together, to breadboard or to sensors.

#12 Five Tricks for working with Dupont wires

Arduino Prototyping Basics #17: Jumper Wires

Arduino prototyping basics Using jumper wires 3/8

Breadboard

Many electronics projects use something called a breadboard. A breadboard is a rectangular plastic board with a bunch of tiny holes in it. These holes let you easily insert electronic components to prototype. It is easy to push in wired component and it is easy to remove a component if you make a mistake, or just start over and do a new project. The term breadboard comes from the early days of electronics, when people would literally drive nails or screws into wooden boards on which they cut bread in order to connect their circuits. Luckily today there are better options. Modern breadboards are made from plastic, and come in all shapes, sizes, and even different colors. Read How to Use a Breadboard for more information.

How to Use a Breadboard

Cutting Perfect Jumper Wires (for breadboard)

Point to point wiring

Point-to-point or hand wiring is traced back to the time when electrical assemblies employed wire nuts or screws to hold wires to an insulated ceramic or wooden board. The modern version of point-to-point construction uses tag boards or terminal strips. It involves soldering components to the electrical assembly.

Point-to-point circuit board wiring is ideal when building a prototype or a customized, one-of-a-kind board. Point-to-point circuit board, which in essence is a hand-wired board. It has low capacitance between conductors since the connections are separated by air. Point to point wiring can be seen typically on tube amplifiers and simple DIY circuits.

Dead bug prototyping

Dead bug prototyping is a way of building working electronic circuits, by soldering the parts directly together, or through wires instead of the traditional way of using a printed circuit board (PCB.) This type of circuit is often a quick way to get going on a project, and is a good way to test stuff, before investing in printed circuit boards. You are often making interesting looking 3D circuits, rather than 2D circuits.

Dead bug prototyping got its name because when you invert a IC, and bend the legs out, it looks like a dead bug. Sometimes you can make your whole circuit work just by soldering the parts directly to an IC, and the easy way to do it is to lay the chip upside down, bend the leads out and solder parts together. Sometimes people use many chips, and glue them upside down to a blank PCB, then build the circuitry from part to part.

Freeform circuits

Freeform electronics are a way of building working electronic circuits, by soldering the parts directly together, or through wires instead of the traditional way of using a printed circuit board (PCB.) You are often making interesting looking 3D circuits, rather than 2D circuits.

What is a freeform circuit sculpture? It is the art of creating a sculpture from electrical components using brass rods or wire to build the circuit into form. This is an aesthetically pleasing and highly compelling practice that typically doesn’t include circuit boards or enclosures, although they are sometimes still used. Web pages Dead Bug Prototyping and Freeform Electronics and Twelve Circuit Sculptures We Can’t Stop Looking At have nice looking artistic examples of this kind of circuits.

Freeform Circuitry // #TBT

Veroboard

Veroboard is a brand of stripboard, a pre-formed circuit board material of copper strips on an insulating bonded paper board which was originated and developed in the early 1960s. It was introduced as a general-purpose material for use in constructing electronic circuits and is very useful for constructing small to medium size prototype circuits. The generic terms ‘veroboard’ and ‘stripboard’ are now taken to be synonymous. In using Veroboard, components are suitably positioned and soldered to the conductors to form the required circuit. Breaks can be made in the tracks and jumper wires are added as needed. The versatility of the veroboard/stripboard type of product is demonstrated by the large number of design examples that can be found on the Internet.[

Circuit Board Prototyping: Breadboards, Padboards, Stripboards and More

Manhattan style circuit construction

“Manhattan Style” is a technique for constructing electronic circuits by gluing pads or traces to make “islands” of separate conductivity on top of a base material. The “Manhattan style” is a very old method of circuit construction. It’s especially popular among radio amateurs for high frequency circuits because it has a solid ground plane that helps to reduce interference and noise. To build Manhattan style you need a copper clad board (one-sided is OK). The first step is to make small cutouts in the copper for the component pads and cut the board to a good size. Some builders do not make cutouts, but glue small pieces of circuit boards on the copper to get “isolated islands”. Cut out small pieces of copperboard (from another piece of board) and glue them onto the main copperboard to serve as component mounting platforms.

Extreme prototype board wiring techniques

Printed circuit boards

Printed circuit boards are the norm in most modern electronic products. A printed circuit board electrically connects, through mechanical support, electronic components through the use of conductive tracks or pads etched from sheets of copper that are laminated into a non-conductive substrate. Electrical components, such as capacitors and resistors, are then soldered onto the printed circuit board. Typically printed circuit boards are designed with PCB design software and manufactured by circuit board manufacturing companies. But it is also possible to make your own circuit boards.

Making of PCBs at home, DIY using inexpenive materials

DIY PCB Toner Transfer (No Heat) & Etching

346 Comments

  1. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Tour A PCB Assembly Line From Your Armchair
    https://hackaday.com/2023/04/02/tour-a-pcb-assembly-line-from-your-armchair/

    Those of us who build our own electronics should have some idea of the process used to assemble modern surface-mount printed circuit boards. Whether we hand-solder, apply paste with a syringe, use a hotplate, or go the whole hog with stencil and oven, the process of putting components on boards and soldering them is fairly straightforward. It’s the same in an industrial setting, though perhaps fewer of us will have seen an industrial pick-and-place line in action. [Martina] looks at just such a line for us, giving a very accessible introduction to the machines and how they are used.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JUS4Tvchk-M

    Reply
  2. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Ceramic Strip Soldering Techniques – Tektronix
    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=RpB5JqGo1co&feature=share

    A training film produced by Tektronix of how to solder the ceramic terminal strips used in Tek scopes of the 1950′s and 1960′s.

    Reply
  3. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Guitar Pedal Beginner Breadboarding Tutorial – Boost
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yWZmX79_gcU

    Reply
  4. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Photoplotting PCBs With A 3D Printer
    https://hackaday.com/2023/04/07/photoplotting-pcbs-with-a-3d-printer/

    Do you ever wonder why your PCB maker uses Gerber files? It doesn’t have to do with baby food. Gerber was the company that introduced photoplotting. Early machines used a xenon bulb to project shapes from an aperture to plot on a piece of film. You can then use that film for photolithography which has a lot of uses, including making printed circuit boards. [Wil Straver] decided to make his own photoplotter using a 3D printer in two dimensions and a UV LED. You can see the results in the video

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?app=desktop&v=hj7iFZknBrQ

    Reply
  5. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Share Your Projects: Making Helpful PCBs
    https://hackaday.com/2023/05/09/share-your-projects-making-helpful-pcbs/

    When it comes to things that hackers build, PCBs are a sizeable portion of our creative output. It’s no wonder – PCB design is a powerful way to participate in the hardware world, making your ideas all that more tangible with help of a friendly PCB fab. It’s often even more lovely when the PCB has been designed for you, and all you have to do is press “send” – bonus points if you can make a few changes for your own liking!

    A lot of the time, our projects are untrodden ground, however, and a new design needs to be born. We pick out connectors, work through mechanical dimensions, figure out a schematic and check it with others, get the layout done, and look at it a few more times before sending it out for production. For a basic PCB, that is enough – but of course, it’s no fun to stop at ‘basic’, when there’s so many things you can do at hardly any cost.

    Let’s step back a bit – you’ve just designed a board, and it’s great! It has all the chips and the connectors you could need, and theoretically, it’s even supposed to work first try. Now, let’s be fair, there’s an undeniable tendency – the more PCBs you design, the better each next one turns out, and you learn to spend less time on each board too. As someone with over two hundred PCBs under her belt, I’d like to show you a bunch of shortcuts that make your PCB more helpful, to yourself and others.

    Reply
  6. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Complete beginner’s guide to using a breadboard
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XpMZoR3fgd0

    Reply
  7. Tomi Engdahl says:

    DIY PCBs At Home (Single Sided Presensitized)
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7wAer7a3tU4

    Learn to fabricate Single Sided PCBs at home! Prototype PCB fabrication is one of the essential skills you must learn in electronics. Instead of using breadboards and perfboards, custom PCBs would make any project smaller and more compact!

    PRESENSITIZED PCBs:
    Also known as photopositive PCBs or photoresist PCBs, are regular PCB copper clads, layered with a light sensitive paint or film. Once exposed to light, the paint would dissolve in the developing solution, while the unexposed areas would remain undissolved in the solution. This forms a Mask on the clad. When the developed PCB is exposed to an etchant, the masked areas would remain in tact while the unmasked areas would dissolve on your etchant, thus forming a copy of your printed PCB artwork.

    WHAT PAPER AND PRINTER TYPE TO USE:
    - You can use an injket printer for this type of PCB fabrication, no need for toner printers.
    - I use regular Short Bond Paper (Letter 8.5×11″). You can use parchment paper or inkjet friendly films for better fabrication quality.

    BETTER THAN TONER TRANSFER METHOD:
    Toner transfer method has been the number 1 go to in homebrew PCB fabcrication, next to the sharpie method. Toner transfer has its own limitations. One, is that you would need a toner printer, common inkjet printers simply wouldn’t work. Second, as your line traces gets thinner, it would be more difficult to transfer the toner prints to the copper clad. Presensitized PCBs on the other hand creates the sharpest lines of all the homebrew fabrication methods. This is perfect for smaller circuits that involves SMT (Surface Mount) components. I use this method for building PCBs with line traces reaching down to 10mils (0.254mm). You can go as thin as 5mils (0.1275mm), but you would have to use inkjet friendly acetate.

    Reply
  8. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Wrapping Wire Stripper
    This is a Wire Wrapping Wire stripper that can result very useful for building prototypes. It uses cutter blades and the scales have been manufactured with affordable prototype PCBs.
    https://www.danielrp.net/projects/proj-wrapping-wire-stripper

    Commercial
    https://www.henchman.com.au/Service-Aids/Wire-Wrapping/Wire-Wrap-Stripper/pl.php

    Reply
  9. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Thermochromic Treatment Keeps Solderless Breadboards Smokeless
    https://hackaday.com/2023/07/08/thermochromic-treatment-keeps-solderless-breadboards-smokeless/

    There’s a point in a component’s thermal regime that’s between normal operation and overloaded to the point of obvious failure. That’s a dangerous region, because the component isn’t quite hot enough to release the Magic Smoke, but hot enough to singe any finger you poke around with the see if everything’s running right. So if you’re looking to keep your fingerprints unmodified, but you don’t want to invest in a thermal camera, you might want to let this thermochromic breadboard point the way to overloaded components.

    Thermochromic breadboard
    https://www.improwis.com/projects/hw_ThermochromicBreadboard/

    Reply
  10. Tomi Engdahl says:

    https://hackaday.io/project/191238-jumperless

    Using a bunch of analog crosspoint switches wired together into one bigger switch, Jumperless makes real, fully analog hardware connections between any points on the board or the Arduino Nano header at the top via serial, instead of needing to use jumper wires.

    Reply
  11. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Chopping board breadboard for solderless prototype circuits (and a 7 MHz QRP transmitter demo)
    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=fTv618BHT0U&fbclid=IwAR1pxzEcv9lEqNA4Wy1KHbny0obqDfwhpCxXPkGbPTBd0gsZ1u8HILuDt4s

    Reply
  12. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Some things to note on purely through-hole assemblies in the modern era:
    - It’s preferred in many instances where components need high wattage ratings (cheaper, more available)
    - It is far cheaper to run and maintain wave solder and selective solder equipment than SMT lines
    - Automated insertion equipment for through-hole parts have been huge in aftermarket sales and very affordable.
    - For many overseas operations, manual insertion of components is far cheaper than the technical knowledge needed for smt line operations.
    - Purely through-hole assemblies are a cheap way for assembly houses to expand production without needing a large amount of technical expertise (especially in facilities where Wave and Selective Solder equipment have lots of availability)

    At the very bottom price level, hand soldered single-sided phenolic resin PCBs are still king–especially for low volume stuff.

    Reply
  13. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Self-Soldering Circuits!
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r0csHZveVvY

    A PCB that can solder itself and then be used to solder other boards!

    Reply
  14. Tomi Engdahl says:

    has been working on a prototyping run of a project, which involves getting PCBs made by several low volume PCB manufacturing companies. After receiving the boards, he analyzed the results and produced an interesting analysis. The project he is working on is Sir-Box-A-Lot, a Sokoban gaming console clone that we’ve covered before. It uses an AVR128DA28 microcontroller to emulate the……

    AN IN-DEPTH COMPARISON OF HOBBY PCB MANUFACTURERS
    https://hackaday.com/2023/10/13/an-in-depth-comparison-of-hobby-pcb-manufacturers/?fbclid=IwAR3HE4c4XiLZZZTKBkN9cGH1QVYngOvu8HDMM3hLOE93FBeSjpW21ZSZkQI

    Reply
  15. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Phenolic resin with paper aka FR-1 or FR-2, still commonly used for power supply boards.

    Advantages over FR4 (fiberglass with epoxy resin): cheaper material cost, holes can be punched rather than drilled, *maybe* less creepage?

    Disadvantages: vias and plated through holes are harder to do. Doesn’t tolerate the heat required for reflow soldering so components must be wave soldered.

    Double sided phenolic boards used to be pretty common but as FR4 has gotten much much cheaper you now pretty much only ever see them single-sided

    Officially it’s SRBP, (Synthetic Resin Bonded Paper). Also known as Paxolin in the UK.

    It’s a pressed cardboard and epoxy material, instead of the fiberglass and epoxy in standard FR4 type materials.

    paper/epoxy is phenolic.

    Yup, phenolic. Resin-impregnated paper laminated into a board. Some flame resistance (FR-1), not as good as FR-4. Lots of sixties and seventies-era circuit boards use this stuff.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/FR-2 “synthetic resin bonded paper, a composite material made of paper impregnated with a plasticized phenol formaldehyde resin”

    Reply
  16. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Tony Goacher Turns to a Laser Cutter as a Silkscreen Alternative for Home-Milled PCBs
    If you don’t fancy messing around with silkscreen meshes and ink, a laser cutter can be deployed to label PCBs.
    https://www.hackster.io/news/tony-goacher-turns-to-a-laser-cutter-as-a-silkscreen-alternative-for-home-milled-pcbs-d8ebf7258378

    Reply
  17. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Top Fifteen Mistakes People Make When Designing Prototype PCBs
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hkSad4n76Lc

    This is a pretty technical video, not related to replica props, but very related to electronics design. I am not an EE so everything I’ve learned has been through experience and making mistakes which is an interesting way to learn!

    Reply
  18. Tomi Engdahl says:

    PCB Design For Beginners: Ugly Tracks Are Noisy
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=67mRFXSbCw0

    I laid out dozens and dozens of PCBs (printed circuit boards) and could never figure out why my tracks always looked crappy. It turns out that laying out “pretty” PCB tracks is just as much function as it is form. It’s all a function of capacitive coupling. The short version goes likes this. If you want noise to jump from one track to another, put the tracks as close as possible. Obviously, almost no one wants that. So, we spread them out. When we spread them out equally and minimize the amount of space in which traces come in close contact, we end up with pretty tracks and a low-noise layout.

    Reply
  19. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Laser Etching a PCB
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d7yR-QOJuos

    We used a 30w fiber laser to etch a single sided copper clad FR4 circuit board. After several trials with Lightburn’s hash function, we found some suitable settings. Next up, we need to determine if aoldermask is necessary.

    Laser cut & engraved PCB made on a Laser cutter.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RuSg7-hMaQg

    Making a printed circuit board on a 60 watt Universal laser cutting and engraving machine. This is complete with laser drilling and copper etching and solder mask.

    Design was done using Kicad.

    0:00 intro
    0:21 Cad
    1:15 Phenolic PCB and cleaning
    2:00 Cut out blank
    2:38 Top side painting
    3:28 Cut holes and engrave designators
    3:50 Engrave and cut top side
    5:12 Etch resist painting
    6:55 Cut alignment pins
    7:50 Engrave copper resist
    8:18 Etch copper in ferric chloride
    10:38 Paint solder mask
    11:15 Reveal the pads
    11:35 Outro

    Reply
  20. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Homemade PCBs with Fiber Laser – 0.1mm Clearance
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PoYcjyghDx4

    Reply
  21. Tomi Engdahl says:

    SolderlessPCB offers a solution to the e-waste problem by allowing easy attachment and reuse of SMD components in design prototyping.

    SMD Prototyping Without Soldering
    https://www.hackster.io/news/smd-prototyping-without-soldering-5d65dc013bb4?fbclid=IwZXh0bgNhZW0CMTEAAR1DiKlAKOlpYikwqa_4eA3bf4twSt1pjzBqUGRIi-m7QssRiDLZhZIcKRI_aem_AXZJ9yrd8xrA6A4YNaHownBa2oTS-lTXl1u76NKJxGrbf0xovA9kx6nhs7uDJhdpmy4ERhkmnduhyiK-AQg3edUU

    SolderlessPCB offers a solution to the e-waste problem by allowing easy attachment and reuse of SMD components in design prototyping.

    Many electronic components are now so inexpensive that they are considered to be disposable. But just because it makes sense economically to throw away perfectly good parts does not necessarily mean that we should do so. This is a consideration that often comes up in design prototyping, where new versions of devices are rapidly produced to test new functions. The fact of the matter is that modern SMD components take a lot of time to desolder, so the effort that goes into salvaging a part may simply not be worth it.

    Back in the days when through-hole components were typically used in electronics, one could prototype with a breadboard and easily reuse components by simply lifting them off of the board when they were finished. Without such a system for SMD components, many of them are likely to wind up as e-waste.

    Some creative researchers at the University of Maryland, College Park have come up with something like a breadboard for the modern age. Their system, called SolderlessPCB, makes it possible to attach SMD components to a PCB — as the name implies — without soldering. SolderlessPCB utilizes custom housings that securely attach components to a PCB using bolts. The process can be reversed, and the pristine components can be recovered, by simply loosening the bolts and removing the housing.

    The approach involves fabricating a custom, 3D-printed housing that aligns with a PCB design. The housing contains a number of cavities, one for each component that is to be mated with the board.

    Some creative researchers at the University of Maryland, College Park have come up with something like a breadboard for the modern age. Their system, called SolderlessPCB, makes it possible to attach SMD components to a PCB — as the name implies — without soldering. SolderlessPCB utilizes custom housings that securely attach components to a PCB using bolts. The process can be reversed, and the pristine components can be recovered, by simply loosening the bolts and removing the housing.

    The approach involves fabricating a custom, 3D-printed housing that aligns with a PCB design. The housing contains a number of cavities, one for each component that is to be mated with the board.

    http://smartlab.cs.umd.edu/publication/solderlesspcb

    Reply

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