This cute hand-built quadcopter might not be able to play tennis, but it's not CrazyFlie's fault — it's much to small to bounce anything around. The copter is basically a flying printed circuit board and not much else.
Let's say you have a problem that can be solved with some electronics and maybe even a microcontroller. You gather up your parts and prove the idea on a breadboard, a sort of blank canvas for prototyping projects. Then what? A common solution is to solder everything to a blank perforated circuit board, but that still leaves you with a fragile mess of wires that looks like a disaster and takes a long time to assemble. The better idea: get a circuit board professionally printed. Too spendy? Think again. I've had about 10 different boards printed for all sorts of projects ranging from a trampoline that shoots fireballs to much less complicated boards that spells text on my bicycle wheels. These circuits are still working great fours years later and didn't break my wallet. Follow the jump to see my tips for getting professional boards without breaking your wallet.
If you've done a fair amount of electronics circuit building, then you probably dread prototyping. You know prototyping: that point where you take your "perfect" circuit design from paper and transfer it to an initial hardware mockup. Typically, you have three basic choices in this matter, each with its own problem.
Your first choice in circuit prototyping is to lay out your design on a modular breadboard. The strongest virtue of this choice is the elimination of soldering -- all connections are built into the breadboard. Unfortunately, breadboards are bulky and unable to handle surface-mount device (SMD) designs.
Following closely on the heels of breadboard prototyping, your second choice is perfboard layout. Once again, most perfboards are unable to accommodate SMD circuit designs. Plus, the point-to-point wiring needed for connecting the components can be a daunting task.
Which leads us to your final choice for circuit prototyping: custom printed circuit board (PCB) fabrication. Whether you roll your own PCB with DIY masks and etch kits, or hire a fab house to create a custom PCB, time will be your enemy. Fab houses can take upwards of one month for delivery of a finished board (unless you're willing to pay extra for faster service), and making your own PCB can be fraught with frustrating failures and delays which can take days to weeks to solve.