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Stripboard Meets KiCad

Using KiCad to design and layout stripboard PCB projects

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This project is all about using KiCad for designing a stripboard, and then using KiCad to make an efficient stripboard layout from a schematic.

Stripboard prototyping still has a place in some hobbyist toolbelts. But, most of the stripboard is either costly to purchase (Veroboard brand) or low-quality.

What if you can get your own stripboard manufactured by a low-cost PCB supplier - with plated throughholes, solder mask? What if you could get 5 boards for $2?

It's doable.

The Mission 

I needed some stripboard for a prototype.  Even in the age of Oshpark and JLCPCB I still find stripboard prototypes to be useful.  I can make them in an afternoon and they are easy to modify.

But, where to source stripboard?   Veroboard is really expensive.  Ebay stripboard is really low quality - holes are drilled off center, boards are warped, and rework lifts the pads.  Adafruit Perma-Proto is excellent, but only comes in the breadboard form factors.

Then, came my insight (albeit a really small insight)...

 I can get a low-cost PCB supplier to make pretty decent stripboard.  Look at the JLCPCB offer.  Friggen' incredible.  5 PCBs (10cm x 10cm) for 2 bucks (plus shipping).

So.  My mission.  Use KiCad to make a 10cm x 10cm stripboard layout, maximizing my $2 investment.

Base stripboard layout

It's not hard.  You don't even need a schematic.  

Crack open the KiCad layout tool.  Modify a Pin Header footprint having 2.54mm pad spacing and make it long enough to just fit in 10cm - that works out to 38 pads.  Then, replicate on a 2.54mm grid to fill 10cm.  e.g  replicate 38 times to fit inside a 10cm square board.  On one side, connect all the pads across horizontal rows with 0.8mm tracks (the purple in the image below).  Add the edge cuts, top and bottom solder mask.

Et voila, 10cm x 10cm stripboard.  You'll end up with a really boring layout that looks like this.

Generate the Gerber files and upload to the board shop.  Gerber files here.  Fill out the manufacturing parameters.  Of course, the most important parameter is PCB color.  I chose Matt Black thinking it would look cool. (more on this later... not a good choice) 

3 weeks later...knock, knock.  "sign here sir"... and then,  the unboxing !

A little beaten up by Canada Post

And a bonus magnifier too !

I'm not a PCB expert, but the quality seems decent.  Holes are drilled mostly on-center.  Plating looks good.  Solder mask is where it should be.  Only thing... it's really hard to pick out the connection tracks.  You need a magnifying glass to find them.  Matte Black: not a great choice - it hides the tracks.  So much for being cool.  Next revision:  Either change to a color (green?) or add screening to show where the tracks reside, or both.  Adafruit Perma-Proto nails it.  I'll learn from them for next time.

If you look closely you can pick out the connection tracks

A comparison versus Adafruit Perma-Proto (lower left), Ebay stripboard (lower right)

Got to get the Digikey ruler in a photo ...

Stripboard layout for a project

A sensor board for my Street Sense project got the nod for the trial test of this stripboard experiment.

The The Lost Art Of Strip Board Prototyping is a great resource on how to approach this style of prototyping.

First, the schematic in KiCad.  Nothing really interesting here except that it helps to be thinking ahead, knowing that you are locked into a simplistic layout routing - either horizontal (with the built-in stripboard tracks) or vertical with connection wires.  It helps to identify your nets by names like "SCL", "SDA", etc.  This makes it easier to do the upcoming board layout.

... Read more »

gerbers.zip

Gerber files submitted to JLCPCB

x-zip-compressed - 635.55 kB - 08/01/2019 at 03:57

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  • CPU board

    Mike Teachman7 days ago 0 comments

    A stripboard layout was done for the Street Sense CPU board.   This board is mainly just to interface various PCB modules, switches, display, etc to the ESP32.  This layout is dense and took a lot of time to figure out.  Maybe not such a good stripboard candidate, but it all fit (barely)

    Here is the schematic and PCB layout

    Front side

    Back side

    The plated through hole construction of the stripboard PCBs offers the option of placing components on both the front and back sides.  I located three connectors on the back side which provides an elegant means for connecting to PCBs and a LiPo battery housed inside the enclosure

    Board populated with Lolin D32 and DS3231 RTC module

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agp.cooper wrote 08/02/2019 at 08:53 point

Ken, I have seen something for vero-board that shows the "rats-nest". Don't remember the name, but there are not many vero-board products out there.

I wrote a vero-board "channel" router but its only the core algorithm. You would probably want auto-placement as well,  as space between components is critical (usually more is needed than you think). You could certainly program a "maze" router to be strictly orthogonal to suit vero-board. I might have a look at it after I get my router input/output working. But how many people would be interested in a vero-board router?

Mike, something the watch out for is that the copper plating on the PCBs are very thin and for plate through holes it is very hard to un-solder components without lifting the copper. You might want to consider a single sided PCB (i.e. no plate through holes).

Also, use the silk screen to help identify the hole locations. It is a pain to count holes.

If you want to look at a completely mad example of using strip-board (where perhaps you should not) have a look at:

https://hackaday.io/project/12879-weird-cpu

I used DIYLC to design it!

AlanX

  Are you sure? yes | no

Mike Teachman wrote 08/02/2019 at 17:40 point

Your weird CPU project totally rocks!   That is a huge ambition for stripboard.  Very cool.

Thanks for your suggestions.

I know what you mean about plated through holes (PTH) and unsoldering difficulties.  I made a mistake placing an 8-pin header and had to use solder-wick to remove the solder from the holes.  I was able to get all of the pins free and remove the component, but it would have been easier with non-plated through holes (NPTH).  No issues with lifting pads - it seemed like the PTH construction had a side benefit of bonding the tracks solidly to the board.  Definitely pros and cons to both.  One pro for PTH is that components can be soldered to either side of the board.  I haven't needed to do that yet, so maybe not a practical advantage.  I might make a board run with NPTH to compare.  It's only a $2 investment to find out.

Great idea to add numbers to silk screen.  A definite for V2.   Counting holes gets tired fast.  Some stripboard is marked with numbers in the X direction, and letters in the Y direction.  For me, the letters are not very useful for counting.  Maybe the number/letter combo is good for identifying locations on the board?  

Do you see any benefit to letters, versus having numbers for both X and Y directions?

For V2 of this stripboard project I'm thinking to silk screen a Frontside/Backside indication.  And, I'm considering adding a thin silk screen line on top of each underlying track so it's obvious.  

  Are you sure? yes | no

agp.cooper wrote 08/11/2019 at 02:03 point

You are doing better than me. I don't bother to try to unsolder components. Even a resister has a risk of lifting the copper (especially the second time around).

I use a full scale front and reverse (side) laser prints to guide hole location but I think a graph paper like grid (for the silk screen) would help a lot. Say a thick line for 10x10 and thin/dashed line for 5x5.

When you use strip-board, try to avoid the temptation of too high a component density. There will be design errors and assembly errors and having room to adapt is important.

Yes $2 each but  that does not include engineering and delivery. More like $10 each.

I am having complexity problems with interfacing KiCAD to my auto-router (okay, I am really just distracted by other things!), but I will look at coding a strip-board auto-router. No promises with regard to how good or bad it will be. That is the nature of experimentation.

A final though is to include a "standard" power supply on the board. Say a 5v power-pack plug or micro-usb. A long time ago I bought some micro-usb adapters for strip-board but I never got to use them. It was about the time I made the transition to PCB.

AlanX

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Ken Yap wrote 08/01/2019 at 04:36 point

Interesting idea. 👍 Could fill the gap between breadboard and fabbed PCB.

I've used Kicad pcbnew with freeRouting to assess the quality of component placements before populating perfboard that has pads, the idea being to minimise jumpers and their lengths. For stripboard, it would be nice if there was a routing program that would minimise and indicate the jumpers and breaks required.

My main beef with perfboard and stripboard is that the copper oxidises and makes soldering difficult. So I've sworn off them except in case of urgency or I only need to make one of something. HASL PCBs don't have this problem. I remember long ago at the workshop we had a chemical bath to clean copper. But I dislike chemicals, so I use sanding.

  Are you sure? yes | no

Mike Teachman wrote 08/02/2019 at 17:54 point

Thanks for pointing out the benefits of the HASL surface finish in these stripboard PCBs.  Definitely a reduced need for board prepping compared to the copper versions which absolutely require scouring with steel wool or fine sandpaper.

  Are you sure? yes | no

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