Friday, December 09th
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Last year, a new Gerber format was released call Gerber X2 (or version 2) by Ucamco, owners of the Gerber standard. If this is news to you, Ucamco has put together an excellent 5 minute intro video which can be found Gerber X2 Introduction. We thought it would be helpful for designers to hear from a manufacturer regarding what we see as the significant improvements; after all, the X2 format is all about improving the information flow between designer and manufacturer, right? If not, it should be!

Gerber Files

What is it that makes Gerber X2 (version 2) better than version 1 (version 1 may also be called standard, extended or RS-274x)?

With Gerber X2, the ability to attach attributes to the Gerber files is now added. The attributes provide additional information about the image which is also known as “meta-information”.  Examples of some of the attributes include:

File Function: Is the file the top soldermask or the bottom copper layer?

Part: Does the file represent a single PCB, an array, a coupon?

Pad Function: Is the flash an SMD pad, a via pad, a fiducial?

These attributes do not impact what the image looks like, however, they do provide the PCB manufacturer with useful information to aid in building the PCB to the correct specifications. Ucamco calls it “adding intelligence to the image”.  Additional information such as which pads are via pads allow the CAM operator to properly setup the soldermask for the board. By contrast, in Gerber version 1 this type of information had to be provided in drawings or notes which are manually read and interpreted by the CAM operator. Any oversight or misinterpretation by the operator would ultimately cause errors and delays.

With Gerber X2 the design data is included in a defined standard that can be automatically recognized by the CAM software.  This ensures that the files and the data are placed in the proper order and with the correct data and also reduces engineering time by providing great precision and automation.

Popular DFM or Gerber reader tools like Bay Area Circuits’ InstantDFM can read Gerber X2 files for great accuracy and improved error reporting.  GC Prevue is another tool that can be used to read the additional data provided by X2.

Ucamco has provided a list of software vendors which have implemented X2 support:

  • Altium – Altium Designer 15
  • DipTrace – PCB Layout v2.4
  • Gerber Quick Look
  • Gerber2PDF
  • Graphicode – GC Prevue
  • Kicad-pcb – KiCad
  • LPKF – CircuitPro
  • Macaos – PCB Factory
  • Pulsonix – Pulsonix 8.5
  • Software Companions – GerbView
  • Gerber2PDF
  • Ucamco – UcamX 2.1 and Integr8tor 9.1
  • ZofzPCB – 3D Gerber Viewer

It’s also important to note that the different versions of Gerber are backward and forward compatible (so use X2 whenever possible!).

 

We also thought it would be useful to demonstrate the visual differences related to how the data appears.

The first example is of the Layer Stackup.

The first image represents what a Gerber version 1 data set looks like when read by the CAM software.  Basic file names and stackup information is displayed in no particular order.

Image 1 - Before X2

Image 1 – Before X2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now take a look at how the Gerber version 2 data set appears in the CAM software.  Much more data is provided and the layers are all in the correct order starting with the top silkscreen.  All ten layers are in the exact and correct order because of the additional attributes in the Gerber files.

Image 2 - Stackup Data (After X2)

Image 2 – Stackup Data (After X2)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next example is of the Drill and Route Files

The Gerber X2 files include all the needed drill and route data.  Plated holes, non-plated holes, blind/buried vias, cut outs, etc. are all clearly defined and it’s no longer necessary to manually collect this information from a fab drawing.

Image 3 - Drill Data (After X2)

Image 3 – Drill Data (After X2)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next example is of the Via Mask Pads

A different color is designated for each via in order to signify its use.  If it’s a via that requires soldermask clearance, that will be designated in the data.

Image 4 - Via Mask Pads (After X2)

Image 4 – Via Mask Pads (After X2)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Other attributes that can be added to the Gerber X2 data include the ability to clearly identify which, if any, tracks are to be impedance controlled.  Prior to X2 this data was only available in a fab drawing.  Now the data can be clearly defined and identified to ensure the correct manufacturing processes are followed.

Additionally, data that would designate whether the PCB design is an individual part, an array or even a coupon can now be added.  Once again, this type of data was normally provided in a separate drawing and had to be manually manipulated by the manufacturer’s CAM operator.

Ucamco has many more details about the transition to Gerber X2 on their website using the following links:

Gerber File Format Specification

Gerber File Format Version 2 FAQ

Introduction to Gerber X2 (video)

 

At Bay Area Circuits, our CAM department fully supports the Gerber X2 format.  We would be happy to discuss how using X2 in your next project will help ensure success!

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