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KiCad

Order a PCB without leaving KiCad 

 December 5, 2023

By  Peter

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I needed to order a few more copies of one of my PCBs (the MCU datalogger from KiCad Like a Pro), and I decided to try out the quotation and order the KiCad plugin from NextPCB. I have ordered from NextPCB before, but last the process involved exporting the Gerber files, uploading them to the manufacturer’s website, tweaking the various order options to get a quote, and completing the process. If I needed to make a change to the PCB, I would have to export a new set of Gerber files and repeat the process.

With the new plugin from NextPCB, I can skip the Gerber part completely. I can also set up my order and get a quote without leaving KiCad. The plugin takes care of the upload of the PCB layout to NextPCB’s backend system, and uses their online ordering system so pricing is always correct.

You can find details on the plugin repository, and you can install it easily with the help of the PCM. Remember to add this plugin repository URL to the PCM repositories list in Tools → Plugin and Content Manager → Manage:

https://raw.githubusercontent.com/HQNEXTPCB/HQNEXTPCB-kicad-addone-repository/main/repository.json

Then, install the plugin by searching for “nextpcb” (“1”, in the screenshot below) and then click “Install” (“2” in the screenshot below):

Installing the NextPCB plugin to KiCad 7.

The HQ NextPCB Active Manufacturing plugin integrates directly with KiCad, enabling you to access PCB manufacturing services from NextPCB within the KiCad environment. This plugin allows for an efficient transition from PCB design to production by providing tools to check PCB design rules, quote PCB fabrication costs, and place orders directly through NextPCB’s manufacturing services.

The plugin’s key features are:

  • Design Rule Check (DRC): Users can verify their PCB designs against NextPCB’s manufacturing capabilities to ensure compliance with the manufacturer’s specifications.
  • Quotation and Ordering: The plugin provides real-time pricing for various PCB attributes such as size, layers, material, and quantity. Users can get quotes and place orders without leaving the KiCad interface.
  • Seamless Integration: Designed to work within the KiCad PCB design software, streamlining the workflow from design to manufacturing.

I used the plugin with one of my KiCad Like a Pro 3e projects, and I was able to get pricing and manufacturing options without ever leaving the KiCad environment. I didn’t have to export Gerbers, upload to the NextPCB website, and repeat the process each time I wanted to make a change to the PCB. This plugin is a real time saver.

Here is how easy it is to get a quote and place an order for a PCB all within the KiCad environment using the NextPCB plugin:

NextPCB, KiCon ’23 and DFM ruler

KiCon Asia 2023 was held in Shenzhen, China, just last month (November 2023). NextPCB was there, and they put together a “tote goodies bag” that contained several interesting items, including the DFM Ruler (Design for Manufacturing). You can read about this event in NextPCB’s writeup here.

I wish I could have been there, but since I wasn’t, NextPCB kindly sent me a DFM ruler. You can see a close-up of this ruler in my photograph below.

With this ruler, I can measure length in cm and inches. But I can also see the sizes and shapes of many PCB-related manufacturing elements, such as traces (widths and minimum spaces between them), pads, vias, multilayer PCB characteristics, plated through holes, castellated holes, and much more. This is a very useful rule to have in your kit if you design PCBs.

I am unsure if these are available to purchase, but perhaps someone from NextPCB can leave a comment below.


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