Tuesday, October 17th
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As PCB aesthetics continue to grow in importance, we’re manufacturing more designs with specific fonts and graphics as a part of the PCB’s silkscreen layer. But if you’re not following the process we’re about to describe, don’t be surprised if things don’t turn out quite the way you expect!

The Scenario
Often, a designer may utilize a specific font available within their PCB design software application. However, upon receipt of their PCBs from the manufacturer, they realize the font is not the same as the one they specified. How dare the PCB manufacturer make a change like this without prior approval, right?!  As it turns out, that’s not exactly how it happens.

What Really Happened
The software used by PCB manufacturers to prepare and review a design for manufacturing doesn’t read fonts the same way as the software that is used to create a design might. In most cases, when a PCB manufacturer is reviewing a design, they’re not even able to identify that a certain font was specified. Instead, the manufacturer’s software will simply read plain text and default to a standard font when the designer’s specific font is unavailable. This explains how a designer can specify Comic Sans and get Arial instead (OK, just an example, we know no self-respecting engineer would use Comic Sans!).

What Should a Designer Do Instead?
The solution is simple. Convert any text to an image file and include that image in the data files provided to the manufacturer. This can be accomplished a couple of ways; 1. Create an image file using a graphic design program outside of the PCB design application, and then insert the image into the design as a part of the silkscreen layer, or, 2. Depending on the capabilities of the PCB design application, the software may allow you to contour, or outline the text and essentially convert it to an image. Just beware, depending on the design, images may add significant size to your design files, and even create processing issues for your PCB manufacturer, so keep any images as small as possible.

Important Tip! Want to view your design through our eyes? Upload your design using our free, online InstantDFM tool. The board image you see here is exactly what you should expect to receive. So, if a font or graphic doesn’t looks correctly here, an adjustment should be made prior to manufacturing.


A Real Life Example
On a related note, you may have read about the Circuit Classics project we helped with last year. PCB aesthetics were tremendously important for this project, and were not accomplished without a few challenges. Check out the video below from the XOXO Festival 2016, where Star Simpson discusses what happened:

 

UPDATE:

Star also covered the topic of PCB aesthetics in more detail at the 2016 Hackaday Superconference. Here’s the video:

 

Questions about PCB aesthetics? Drop us a comment below!

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