Long gone are the days when printed circuit board technology was only accessible to big corporations. Today, with companies such as Gerber Labs, businesses and individuals alike have very easy access to the technology. At Gerber Labs, we provide fast and reliable manufacturing services that cover various types of custom printed circuit boards. Our simplified process makes having a high-quality custom printed circuit board as simple as designing the printed circuit board and sending the files over to get the board printed. In this article, we will be covering, in detail, the steps involved in ordering printed circuit boards from Gerber Labs, from file preparation to the actual order process.

How to export printed circuit board files

After design and testing using the appropriate software, the first step in ordering a printed circuit board is to export the files. This process involves extracting the printed circuit board files, known as Gerber files, in a format that can be forwarded to and viewed by the manufacturer. When exporting the Gerber files for a particular printed circuit board, the different layers that make up the printed circuit board are exported as individual files. This is because each layer contains crucial information that may or may not be dependent on other layers. In addition to the layer files, a drill file containing drilling information also needs to be exported separately. In most printed circuit board design software, all files to be exported are grouped and exported as a single zip file.

There is a finite amount of files that need to be exported for every printed circuit board. This amount depends on the number of layers that the printed circuit board has. The table below lists the file types (mostly named according to the layer information they contain) that need to be exported for 2 and 4 layer printed circuit boards and their extensions.

File type File extension 2 Layer 4 Layer
Top copper layer .GTL ✔️ ✔️
Top solder mask layer .GTS ✔️ ✔️
Top silkscreen layer .GTO ✔️ ✔️
Bottom copper layer .GBL ✔️ ✔️
Bottom solder mask layer .GBS ✔️ ✔️
Bottom silkscreen layer .GBO ✔️ ✔️
Inner layers 1/2/3 .GL1/2/3 | .G1/2/3 ✔️
Mechanical/Edge cuts .GML | .GM1 | .GKO ✔️ ✔️
Drill layer .XLN | .DRL ✔️ ✔️

 

Note that some software may have different designations for the same output file types. For example, the top copper layer file is referred to as Top copper in Autodesk Eagle and F_Cu in KiCAD. There may also be differences in file extensions. The differences are usually slight.

At Gerber Labs, we support Gerber output files from the following well-known PCB design software: KiCAD, Eagle, Altium, Orcad, gEDA PCB, and DipTrace.

KiCAD, Eagle, and Altium are the most ubiquitous printed circuit board design software. Outlined below are the export processes for these software.

Export using Autodesk EAGLE

  1. With your board design open, go to File >CAM Processor.
  2. Add a list of output files and their respective extensions. (Click below for file extension lists.)

For 2-layer printed circuit boards >>

  • Top Copper: *.GTL
  • Top Solder Mask: *.GTS
  • Top Silkscreen: *.GTO
  • Bottom Copper: *.GBL
  • Bottom Solder Mask: *.GBS
  • Bottom Silkscreen: *.GBO
  • Mechanical: *.GML
  • Drill Layer: *.XLN

   For 4-layer printed circuit boards >>

  • Top copper: *.GTL
  • Top Solder Mask: *.GTS
  • Top Silkscreen: *.GTO
  • Bottom copper: *.GBL
  • Bottom Solder Mask: *.GBS
  • Bottom Silkscreen: *.GBO
  • Inner Layer 2: *.GL2
  • Inner Layer 3: *.GL3
  • Mechanical: *.GML
  • Drill Layer: *.XLN
  1. Click on Process Job and Save to create a zipped file.
  2. Open the folder and confirm you have all the files before uploading your design

Export using KiCAD

  1. With your board design open, go to File > Plot.

Note: Make sure to select the “Use Protel filename extensions.” 

  1. Select all the layers you want to export.

For 2-layer boards >>

  • Top copper: *-F_Cu.GTL
  • Top Solder Mask: *-F_Mask.GTS
  • Top Silkscreen: *F-SilkS.GTO
  • Bottom copper: *-B_Cu.GBL
  • Bottom Solder Mask: *-B_Mask.GBS
  • Bottom Silkscreen: *-B_SilkS.GBO
  • Mechanical: *-Edge_Cuts.GM1
  • Drill Layer: *.DRL

For 4-layer boards >>

  • Top copper: *-F_Cu.GTL
  • Top Solder Mask: *-F_Mask.GTS
  • Top Silkscreen: *F-SilkS.GTO
  • Bottom copper: *-B_Cu.GBL
  • Bottom Solder Mask: *-B_Mask.GBS
  • Bottom Silkscreen: *-B_SilkS.GBO
  • Inner Layer 2: *-In1_Cu.G2
  • Inner Layer 3: *-In2_Cu.G3
  • Mechanical: *-Edge_Cuts.GM1
  • Drill Layer: *.DRL
  1. Change the “Output directory” to your destination folder and click “Plot” at the window’s bottom right.
  2. Next, click on “Generate Drill Files” to start creating the drill file.

Note: Make sure to select “PTH and NPTH in single file” and “Map File Format” as ”     Gerber.”

  1. Click on “Generate Drill File,” and a drill file will be created in the same folder that was set in the previous steps. 
  2. Finally, go to your destination folder to check your output files before compressing them into a zipped file. Your design is now ready to be uploaded to Gerber Labs for fabrication.

We recommend you open all the files with gerbview (a part of KiCAD for viewing Gerber files), make sure there is no misalignment, and that everything looks the way it intends to look.)

Export using Altium

  1. With your .pcb file open, go to File > Fabrication Output > Gerber Files
  2. Click on the following tabs:
  3. General

Note: The units can be millimeters or inches, but please ensure the units align when generating the drill file.

  1. Layer 

In this tab, choose all the layers you need to export.

For 2-layer boards >>

  • Top Copper: *.GTL
  • Top Solder Mask: *.GTS
  • Top Silkscreen: *.GTO
  • Bottom copper: *.GBL
  • Bottom Solder Mask: *.GBS
  • Bottom Silkscreen: *.GBO
  • Mechanical: *.GKO
  • Drill Layer: *.XLN

For 4-layer boards >>

  • Top Copper: *.GTL
  • Top Solder Mask: *.GTS
  • Top Silkscreen: *.GTO
  • Bottom copper: *.GBL
  • Bottom Solder Mask: *.GBS
  • Bottom Silkscreen: *.GBO
  • Inner Layer 1: *.G1
  • Inner Layer 2: *.G2
  • Mechanical: *.GKO
  • Drill Layer: *.XLN
  1. Go through all the remaining tabs and confirm that you have the correct setting for your project. Select “OK” to generate the files.
  2. To generate the drill file, go to File > Fabrication Output > NC Drill Files

Ensure that the units align with the units used to generate the Gerber files and then select “OK” to generate the drill file.

  1. Compress all generated files into a zipped file, and you are ready to upload.

Ordering your PCB from Gerber Labs

Four steps make up our order process. These are Upload, Verify, Customize, and Checkout.

  1. Upload: In the upload stage, you are required to upload the zip file containing all the Gerber and drill files for your PCB. You can do this by either dragging and dropping the zip file or using the upload button. If something is wrong with the files uploaded, then a Bad file dialogue box is displayed. If this happens, you can either upload other files or contact us.
  2. Verify: Once the files have been uploaded successfully, the individual files are displayed graphically as layers for verification. You will be required to input your shipping region at this point. If there is an issue, such as an unsupported shipping region, you would be presented with a form to provide information on how we can contact you. If everything is in order, then you would be directed to the customize stage.
  3. Customize: The customize stage allows you to select preferences such as the number of boards, copper weight, surface, and glass transition temperatures. If there is an anomaly in your selected options, you would be presented with a form to provide information with which we can contact you to resolve the anomaly. Your order’s cost is displayed in the customize window and updates in realtime as you select preferences. Once you are satisfied with your order, click on the Continue icon to proceed to the checkout window.
  4. Checkout: Your order is almost complete at this point. You will be required to sign in as an existing customer or sign up as a new customer. You will also be required to input your name, shipping address, and payment method in the form displayed, after which you can proceed to click the Checkout button to authorize payment. Note that you can upload additional Gerber files for a different PCB in the checkout window. You will be redirected to the verify and customize windows to select your preferences for the newly uploaded PCB files before returning to the checkout window to process the entire order together.

Once you’ve completed your order and your payment has been confirmed, you will be provided with a printable order confirmation containing all the details of your order, including order name, the total number of boards, shipping address, cost, and payment method. All you have to do now is wait for your high-quality board(s) to be delivered to you. Typical turnaround time for our printed circuit boards are 7 – 10 days for 2-layer boards and 14 – 16 days for 4-layer boards.

Technical information

As explained in our PCB design guide, it is crucial to know your manufacturer’s technical specifications before beginning your design. This is so that you won’t have to redesign your entire layout simply because of a specification that can’t be manufactured.

Our current manufacturing capability can cater to boards of up to 500 mm by 500 mm in size with trace width and spacing of 6 mm and a minimum hole size of 0.3 mm. Our customization options are provided in the table below.

 

Customization Options
Copper weight 1oz, 2oz
Surface finish ENIG, OSP, LF-HASL, IT, IS
TG 150, 170

 

You can find a comprehensive guide on all Gerber Labs’ technical specifications here. This guide contains specifications for all board features, drills, solder masks, and silkscreens.

Pricing for our printed circuit boards starts at $79.95 for 2-layer boards and $209.95 for 4-layer boards.