I finally did a test board using PCBmodE, which I've been meaning to try out since the excellent Saar Drimer interview by @Chris Gammell. It's not so much a tool itself, more of a conversion script to allow JSON descriptions to be converted to SVG, or to gerber. It mostly gets out of the way and allows you to draw stuff in Inkscape (or whatever your preferred vector editing suite), so it is Extremely My Shit.
I'm not going to wax on about the cool stuff that's possible with it, so run a Google image search for PCBmodE.
So my test was a pretty simple. It's called Shallow, and is a shallow dive on the features and function of PCBmodE, just to get a board into my hand.
Of course, @oshpark is the only option for manufacturing these :)
Here's their gerber viewer:
In my hands:
Purple LEDs are extremely difficult to photograph.
The battery holder components comes from The Lady, the Boldport original ladybug PCB. It's designed to be used with one of those cheap stamped metal CR2032 holders, but I didn't have one on hand. So it was easier/faster to fashion my own out of tin snips.
More about Shallow, including a brief tutorial, is written on my site.
This was a simple board that was okay to design without a schematic, but there was no way I could do that with some of the sophisticated stuff I want to do in the future. The clear solution was to write a conversion tool to convert full Upverter PCBs to PCBmodE compatible files. More on that in a future update!
An annoyance of mine is that, even when the art medium is FR4, the "arty" people and the "tech" people aren't cross pollinating enough. There are some totally rad PCB art projects out there, and obviously tons of cool technical PCBs, but there are very few functional PCBs that can be described as conventionally pretty.
By starting a circuit (I designed a LiPo battery charging ESP8266 dev board) and pulling it all into Photoshop, I was able to draw imagery around the circuit, without interfering.
My tech skills are certainly better than my art skills, but I'm reasonably happy. Drawing the pictures took about ten times as long as designing the circuit, but that's probably a function of my familiarity with each domain.
What's interesting is that I designed this in Altium's free CircuitMaker software, which doesn't really have the ability to import images or art.
I ended up writing a tool to convert images to EAGLE files, which CircuitMaker can then import. Very round-about, and had to be done as the last step, because the PCB file would be unusable with all that data on there.
I recall that CircuitMaker crashed a bunch when all of the layers were there, so I think I had to export one layer at a time as a gerber, and then combine them at the end. Fortunately, gerber's flat file structure is good for that.