Mar 16, 2020|General

Printed circuit boards have numerous uses in technology. Before committing to the PCB manufacturing phase, though, it’s more cost-effective to test out the concept first. PCB prototype boards allow for a less expensive way to approve an idea before getting the full printed version made.

In this article, we’ll cover the different available types and how to use PCB prototype board to plan your final circuit board design.

How to Use PCB Prototype Board

Before we get into the details of how to use PCB prototype board, it’s essential to understand the different types of prototype boards available to use.

Learn more about what is PCB here.

Perf Board

Perf boards are one of the available types of prototype boards. This category is also known as the “Pad per hole” design, where each hole has its own conductor pad made from copper with it. With this setup, you can test connections by running solder between individual pads. Additionally, you can also run wires between pads on a perfboard as well.

Arduino Protoboard Shield by Marlon J. Manrique licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Stripboard

Like the other common type of prototype PCB, stripboards also have the individual hole set up. Instead of each perforation having a single conductor pad, strips of copper run parallel under the length of the board to connect the holes—hence the name. These strips substitute as wires, and you can also break connections as well.

IMG_20141122_134732 by rafacouto licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Both types of PCB prototypes can work well for planning boards. Stripboards can also work well for planning simple circuits, thanks to the already existing copper connections. Either way, you will use protoboard soldering and protoboard wires to test a potential board.

Now, you’re ready to get into more details of how to use prototype board designs.

Planning

Even if you know how to use a PCB prototype board, you don’t want to drive straight into building one. While protoboards are way less costly than a printed circuit board, they still have more permanent configurations. Before you get started putting components into place, you should spend some time on the planning stage to give yourself the best results.

A straightforward way to get started is to use a board-planning application on your computer. Software like this gives you a choice to visualize circuits before putting any components down. Be aware that some programs are suitable for working with both perf and stripboard, while others only work well with one type, so plan your protoboard purchases accordingly.

If you want a less digital solution, you can also use graph paper to give a protoboard layout. The idea is that each place where lines cross is where a hole would be on your board. You can then draw in your components and connections. It can also be helpful to indicate places where you plan to break the strip if using a stripboard.

Digital programs can allow you to edit your ideas more quickly, but drawing things out by hand can help orient you with your project in a different way. Either way, don’t skip the planning stage, as you’ll save yourself time and energy when moving into building your protoboard.

Cutting Protoboard

When it comes to working with protoboard, you’ll likely not need a whole sheet. Since the sizes of circuit boards can vary, there’s a chance you’re going to need to cut a piece. However, be careful, as this process can be complicated.

Part of this is because of the materials in the protoboard. The design often laminates paper with a resin that can resist the heat of soldering, which is great when you get to that stage. The downside is that this resin makes it very easy to crack a protoboard, so it’s best to exercise caution.

One of the most effective and accurate ways to cut protoboards is with the use of a straightedge and a sharp knife. You can use the edge as a guide to score a line along where you want to cut the board. Repeat this action on the other side, then set the protoboard on the edge of a flat surface, like a table. You can then snap the board cleanly along your marks.

Pro Tip: If you make your scoring marks along where the holes are in your board, you’ll get a cleaner break since you have less stable protoboard to break and risk snapping.

It is possible to use band saws and other band tools, but these have a much higher probability of damaging the protoboard in the process.

Breadboard to Stripboard

If you’ve already done any work with prototyping PCBs, then you’ve likely already come across breadboards. These prototype boards are much more suitable for developing designs as you can move and change components out to set up your plan. Breadboards are also reusable.

Breadboard Power Supply by Cyberspice licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

In that regard, it’s possible to move a component layout to a stripboard for further testing. Additionally, strip and perforated prototype boards have fewer limits, as you can build more complex connections. If you plan to transfer from a breadboard to a stripboard, it can help to buy a stripboard with a matching orientation or break the stripboard traces.

If you want to have a more sturdy and permanent configuration for a temporary circuit, moving the components from bread to stripboard is one of the most convenient ways.

Breaking Stripboard Traces

As mentioned, stripboard PCBs come with copper strips along the bottom, which serve as connections. However, you’re not going to want to have all your components connected all the time, so you’ll need to break these strips.

Thankfully, you can handle this process with nothing more than a drill bit. All you need to do is take a four mm bit and press the tip against the hole where you want the connection to break. With a little twisting and pressure, you can cut away the copper and have isolated strips. When learning how to use a double side PCB prototype board, stay aware that copper will be on both sides.

If you want something fancier than a standard drill bit, there are specific tools to break these connections available, but the DIY method is just as effective.

Conclusion

Understanding when and how to use protoboard is a critical skill for anyone who wants to design and test circuit boards without committing to the cost of printing. With a prototype circuit board, you can make a lot of progress to having a completed product.

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