PCB store survey results

Yesterday we asked how much you’d pay for a PCB from the PCB drawer. We played with the numbers and our findings are below. First, answers to some common questions.

Nothing will change with our weekly giveaways. We’d like to make boards available to people who want them, but don’t want to try to win one in a contest. We’ll still have free PCBs three times each week, and we’ll always send a free PCB to dedicated testers and developers. The unlimited PCB deal would be modified, purchased PCBs would not be eligible.

To start, we might stock 50-100 PCBs from the most popular projects. These would be proven designs, on 100% e-tested PCBs. You could buy draft/broken/prototype boards too, the kind we giveaway now, but our focus is on stocking specific boards such as the Bus Pirate.

Way more below the break.

Kits are cool, but we’re not going to make them. We’ve arranged SMD kits at Seeed in the past, but only 1 or 2 sold, most people want assembled hardware given the option. Due to the labor involved in putting SMD parts in bags, kits for our projects are generally more expensive to make than automatically assembled hardware. The good news is we consistently use the same parts, so after you order one project there are usually only a few new parts for the next one.

Just a few years ago ordering PCBs was painfully expensive. But now there are several cheap PCB services out there. Seeed and Itead make it cheap and easy to buy a couple boards. All our projects, even in-progress projects, are open source and the gerbers are available. We strongly encourage you to make our PCBs, and give the extras to friends. For some reason this doesn’t seem to happen often, so maybe there’s still room for a retail PCB store.

We’re almost ready to talk about the market research, but first lets try to guesstimate the cost of stocking and shipping a PCB. The Bus Pirate v3.5/v4 are 3.5cm by 6.5cm. Using Seeed’s Fusion service as a reference, 100 of these PCBs in red with 100% e-test is $124.90 with free shipping. $1.25 per PCB. You could get 10 yourself, red 50% e-test, for $35 + shipping ($3).

Currently we handle about 20 PCBs every 10 days, and mail them while watching trashy TV. People want paid orders to ship right away, so we’d need to ship daily. Either an engineer would need to take time away from lucrative hardware development, or we could hire an unskilled (temp) worker to stuff envelopes. Including Iowa state tax, federal tax, worker’s comp, lost time due to uneven flow of orders, etc, a minimum wage employee with no benefits will probably cost around $12/hour of active order fulfillment, but probably closer to $20. If that employee can fill an order in 5 minutes, each order has an additional $1 labor cost.

In addition to labor, each order would have shipping costs. Materials include a mailer worthy of a paid order (~$0.20) and labels (~$0.15) for each shipment. We’re now at $2.60 per single PCB order, a $1.25 PCB and $1.35 handling fee.

Shipping is about 1 stamp per PCB, 2 stamps for large boards. Ignoring the big boards, that’s about $0.50 for national and $1.00 for international postage.  The shipping and handling for a single PCB order would be at least $1.85, $2.35 international. $3.10 for a single PCB order. It probably makes sense to charge shipping at the end instead of including it in the price. That makes it easier to do different shipping options and bulk discounts.

There would also be costs for lost orders and returns, say 5%? That’s an extra 6 cents per PCB and 12 cents per order = $3.28. This doesn’t include warehousing, electricity, or server costs because they’re already paid for by other parts of the business. There’s also no accounting for PCBs that don’t sell, and there’s an opportunity cost for administrative overhead (ie we could be doing other stuff).

Digging into our market research sample (n=70) from yesterday, the highest and lowest value for a single small PCB were $2 (7) and $10 (5). The most frequently mentioned price was $5 shipping included (39). The average price is around $6.01 (shipping included), if we get fancy with the shipping compensation it could be as low as $4.34 (without shipping charges).

If we go with the mode price of $5 including shipping, paypal will charge around 4% ($0.20) plus a flat $0.20 ($0.40 total) for processing (?). That would leave $5-$3.68=$1.32 of profit per board. If we go with the compensated average price of $4.34 and charged actual shipping costs ($4.34+$1.85=$6.19 for the first board) there would be $6.19-$3.73= $2.46 of profit per PCB.

Yikes, that got epic. If you’re still with us, here’s some followup questions. A few commenters will get free PCB codes:

  1. If we started with 50 or 100 of a single board, what project should it be?
  2. Is a $1.85 shipping charge reasonable?

Join the Conversation


  1. You should create some shipping options that vary with delivery time. 0.99$ would be nice for shipping. Bus pirate of course!

    1. I know it was a lengthy post, I don’t expect any to actually read the whole thing :) However, I want to point out that $0.99 shipping is operating at a loss of 86 cents ($1.36 international), we’re not big enough to subsidize PCBs like that.

  2. The PCB that I’ve been trying to get so I can assemble it, is a Bus Pirate v3.5 SOIC version. So I’d think that picking the Bus Pirate project is going to be the most widely purchased.
    $1.85 is very reasonable, hell, $2 is reasonable in my honest opinion.

  3. I’d love to see PCBs like the web platform made available, the WP would be very handy as a bare board fro rough implementation into the odd project or as a general Ethernet dev board. Would you really accept returns on PCBs? I would have classed them as a none returnable item unless there is a manufacturing defect, but even then they are designed for experienced users who should be able to correct the odd track issue surely? $1.85 when taking into account labor, envelope, postage etc is highly reasonable, I would have thought $2.50 would still represent very reasonable rates.

  4. Here’s a couple of ideas you could use to get started. Instead of worrying about shipping costs start out calculating the charge for each board at $2.00. A small shipping price like that can easily be added to the base sell price of a product without denting sales any. This has really been successful in the medical supply sales.

    The other idea is instead of trying to figure out which boards to put up for sell look for your actual demand of the board. Use piwik to see which product has the highest page ranking, also you can use which board you have the most request for in the free pcb shop, and any use information from the forum and emails that you have received.

  5. I would like to see a Bus Pirate V3.5/V4 SOIC, or the logic shrimp SOIC boards. Is the $1.85 fee for national or international shipping charge? As Crenn sad, even $2 would be reasonable. And maybe people wouldn’t by only 1 PCB, maybe more. I would buy a bus pirate and a shrimp.(even buy for some friends and that means not only one from each)

    1. I just read through it again and it’s $1.85 for national shipping and $2.35, so maybe $2 for national and $2.50 for international. Still very reasonable prices in my opinion.

      Note: I’m international, and for $2.50 for shipping, it’s usually a bargain!

      1. Yes, that’s true, it is a bargain. Would realy love to see those two PCB’s in a SOIC format ready for buying.

      2. Note that the BP v3.5 only has an SOIC PIC, it has SSOP FTDI chip and 4066. The Bus Pirate v4 uses a TQFP-64 PIC that is not available in a SOIC package at all.

      3. Than we have a problem. On the V3.5 there we could change the 4066 to something bigger and also change all the resistors and capacitor to 0805 or 1206, coz 0603 is a bit small. These are bigger problems than the shipping costs.

  6. $2 sounds cheap. At that I would be happy with hong kong delivery timesframes. Keep it simple, 1 price. And not overnight. Yes Bus Pirate. I am partly interested in things to start trying serious SMD soldering. Are any cheap hot air rework stations any good? (Sorry)

  7. The bus pirate or logic sniffer would be my choice, The shipping seems fine. I’d probably order multiple PCB’s for backups as my SMD soldering isn’t particularly good :)

  8. What is wrong with nice rounded figures? However if a figures isn’t round nowbody argue about getting a discount :D

    I think you forget the cost of stocking. It won;t take much space, but if you gonna stock more this will become more and more an issue.

  9. $1.85 sounds more than reasonable for shipping

    I’d imagine the Bus Pirate and Logic Sniffer would be most popular, but perhaps could start with a board that’s (relatively) simple to assemble – Logic Shrimp perhaps?

  10. I think $2 shipping is a steal. I would like to see a smd bus pirate and maybe one of the fpga boards.

  11. Obviously your next project should be an automated PCB-into-envelope stuffer that receives orders from the web, prints the address onto an envelope and slides the correct PCB(s) in. It should send alerts via twitter when one of the PCB hoppers is getting low. Then you just have to put stamps on and carry a stack of PCBs out to the mailbox every few days. Then put a webcam on it, so that when you click ‘submit’ on your order you can watch the robot fulfill your order. How big of an incentive to order would that be?

    1. As someone doing a Bach. of Engineering (Robotics and Mechatronics) course currently, this sounds awesome and plausible! I’m even doing a subject currently which deals with something similar (automated assembly of parts).

  12. $1.85 is very reasonable. I would be most interested in Bus Pirate, Logic Sniffer, PICqueno32 , Web Platform, Bus Blaster and IR Toy in that order.

  13. Additionally, most of us would probably be buying boards to build forenjoyment and to support Dangerous Prototypes, so increasing the margin probably wouldn’t impact sales to dedicated supporters.

    1. I second Cody,but feel that the order of boards should be 1.Logic Sniffer 2.BusP 3.WebPlatform and 4.Busblaster,

      I personally feel that a logic analyser is a must-have tool(over the bus pirate),since the bus pirate(or portions of its functionality that you need i.e SPI-UART or I2C-UART etc) can be implemented on other mcu-s as needed.

      After diagnostic tools like the buspirate and the sniffer,I’d rank the webplatfom, due to its wide range of application,followed by the niche Busblaster.

      (btw,whats the free pcb scheme on -this- comment thread? .. First few? random?)

  14. It’s a really good idea to sell coupons for PCB drawer. I’m tried about 50 times to get a free coupon, but bad luck… Concerning price, I would be happy with $5-7 per coupon, international shipping incl. Please, make it available ASAP!

  15. If you’re gonna stock some large amount of PCB’s for a proyect, it should be a non-scary proyect for most people to solder. It should be something that most people in here would be glad to solder themselfs, with the confidence that it has big chances to work. Also consider that you’d also need to provide some degree of customer service. I think there will be LOTS of people asking why their board doesn’t work. So I’d go for something through-hole. How about a through-hole bus pirate?

    And speaking for myself, I’d love to have the Web Platform in stock.

  16. Wow! Epic maths-filled post! Love it! (Read the whole thing fully, by the way ;) )

    -For someone over in Australia, even $2 shipping is ridiculously cheap.

    -As for projects, Bus Pirate, logic sniffer, logic shrimp, anything like that would sell like hotcakes!

    Glad to be able to help you guys turn a profit, however small! Open source is hard, but you’re doing a great job. I love seeing new RSS items in my reader, so please, keep up the awesome work :)

    1. It’s actually it’s estimated $2.35 for international shipping, and as I said above, $2.50 is still a good price! Dare I ask which part of Australia you’re from? I’m from Victoria.

      1. Gah, woops, I misread that bit :-/ Like you said, even so, $2.50 is still an excellent price for international shipping!

        Haha, I’m up in scrubby old Darwin! Makes getting parts that much harder, as we don’t have an Altronics, RS, Farnell, etc. Overnight shipping hurts too! (Especially when you’re a 16-year old kid just trying out a project :S

      2. Where in Vic? I’m in Geelong. Re rockby, Gotta watch for their specials just got my $155 solder rework station today. These babies are selling for $369 in Jaycar.

      3. I’m not willing to say my town online, but I’ll say that my university is in Hawthorn and I travel for roughly 90 minutes each way to get to uni.

        I haven’t taken up a lot of the rockby specials, but I have bought a couple of super capacitors (planning to use it as a mini battery backup) and some RTCs when they were on special. Which solder rework station was it?

  17. Wow, a lot of comments since I left lab and came home. :)

    Well, I started SMD with Blinking Tree kit, then assembled (except FTDI) Web Platform. I would suggest Blinking Tree kit for beginners who want to practice, pretty good kit for starters. FTDI is not a good IC for a beginner, so my second choice would be IR Toy (through hole) so that even non-experienced hackers can assemble it. Other than that maybe you should stock items that are not being manufactured by Seeed any more so that people will have a chance to get their hands on them.

  18. I still wonder why you’re bothering with a whole new product line. Seems like you should stick to making PCBs as needed, then dump the excess as freebies or sell them as discussed. I’m not so sure that making PCB runs for folks is going to be anything but a time-soak. If folks really want a product, then have Seeed make them based on the quantity predicted. On that tip, though, it might make sense to have Seeed make extra PCBs beyond the number that will be stuffed, and then Seeed can sell the bare PCBs. I just think handling this sort of labor-intensive stuff in the U.S.A. is going to cost more than it’s worth, other than just dumping the excess PCBs you already end up with.

    P.S. For those of you who want an SOIC version of any Dangerous Prototypes product, Ian has already invited you to make your own designs and order your own PCBs. I agree that SOIC is the way to go, whenever possible. Eagle is free for these size boards, so have at it! Post your SOIC redesigns on the forum and we’ll all help out with any questions you might have before you place your PCB order.

  19. +1 for the Bus Pirate :)

    The average shipping cost for an order here in Germany is about 6€ – that would be 8,59 USD. So yes, even 2 USD is ridiculously cheap :)

    Nice post btw ^^

  20. I’d like to see a Buspirate through-hole PCB in your store. (5$ is acceptable)
    SMD components are hard to find in my country, India. I can manage SMS caps and resistors from dead motherboards, but when it comes to the ICs’ no hope here.
    Sorry, I missed commenting on yesterday’s post as I was outstation.

  21. Please for the love of everything good, don’t use paypal? Maybe add an alternative like google or amazon checkout???

    1. Second , Paypal had a fit when my card was defrauded online, my bank relieved me of the card when I had it cleared up, Paypal wants the number to that card to get me back in my account. I dont have it, and therefore dont use paypal any more because my account is locked out and they wont allow me to make another. For the love of god please dont rely solely on paypal.

  22. If we started with 50 or 100 of a single board, what project should it be?
    Definitely Bus Pirate. It’s what Dangerous Prototypes is best known for, and what’s made you such
    a well-known site thus far.

    Is a $1.85 shipping charge reasonable?

    1. Nice question. Because if it’s built by Atmel, then their sales would be low because everyone will make it himself. PICs aren’t easily available but Atmel is easily available (Atleast in India).

  23. I think that it would be any problem to get a atmel or a pic, make a simple programmer and i think that fer every pic there is a atmel, or vice versa.
    NOOB question, can i program pic with bascom?

  24. $1.85 is very reasonable.
    Bus Pirate, I haven’t one yet :)
    Web platform is second.
    Logic Sniffer and Dangerous DSO third

  25. I’d say stock the bus pirate, logic sniffer, web platform, USB infrared toy, as it seems to be pretty popular. I’m sure you have a list of what seems to be popular in both sales and free PCBs and can start from there.
    That shipping price is very reasonable. I don’t know many places where shipping costs less than ~$5 per order.

  26. Bus Pirate or Logic Analyzer, though seems the Bus Pirate is a clear winner out of the comments above.
    Yes, shipping charge is reasonable, eBay sellers often charge more for smaller items.

  27. The first PCB would be the Bus Pirate (SOIC or SSOP doesn’t matters) with 0805 components, the PICqueño with 0805 too. And yes, the shipping charge is reasonable :)

  28. A bigger problem is the size of the components rather then the shipping cost. It would be better to use bigger parts, 0805 and SOIC chips. Logic sniffer would be harder to install coz of the small zize.

  29. So are you in Iowa or the Netherlands? I’m confused.

    As for hiring someone I suspect the management overhead doesn’t make it worth it until you need them about 50% of the time.

  30. I think $1.85 and $2.35 international is really cheap. On my country, sending anything is at least $5 national and $10 international. I’ve alway wondered how come DX and some people on ebay can charge so litle for shipping.

    But maybe we could get an option to get the PCBs by registered airmail. I have known of a lot unregistered airmail envelopes that have disapeared.

  31. Pirate, Shrimp and Web Platform. The latter especially, if it gets turned into a fully fledged ARM machine.

    The shipping sounds very reasonable :)

    PS: Ha! I was within ballpark with my PCB cost guesstimate! (was wrong about the kits, though… too bad…)

  32. I would like to see bus pirate boards.
    Yes the shipping charge is very reasonable and I would be willing to wait for once or twice per week shipping.

    Thanks for all you do to help us out here!!!!!!!


  33. Ship cost of $1.85 is reasonable.

    As far as which board(s) to start out with:

    Bus Pirate
    Logic Sniffer
    Logic Shrimp
    Web Platform

    My opinion only, of course.

    The Bus Pirate is what put Dangerous Prototypes on my radar, but it was the Open Bench Logic Sniffer that became the most near and dear to my heart.


  34. I’d say the Bus Pirate first. As for the cost you outlined, it seems very reasonable to me.
    Another possibility (maybe already mentioned…too many comments to read) is to charge a fixed amount per square centimeter to cover board, shipping, etc…

    P.S. I read your entire original post too. :-)

  35. > Is a $1.85 shipping charge reasonable?

    For how many boards? As you pointed out, Seeed ships 10 boards from China to US for $3. I (in US) would be happy to pay $2 shipping if I could get more than one board shipped for that price. Ordering an assortment of 10 boards and paying $18.50 to have them shipped in a single envelope would be too steep.

    It looks like hte board itself at a cost of $1.25 is the cheapest part of the package, that is why ordering just one board doesn’t make much sense, much better to order a handful at one time and save on shipping and handling.

    How about a price of $6 for first board and $2 for each additional board in same order with free shipping to US. Add $1 for international orders. To me that would be extremely reasonable.

  36. international shipping cost is great (i usually don’t want 10 boards from seed)
    As for the projects:
    Logic shrimp (have the bigger brother and would like to try the bigger buffer for some projects)
    bus pirate.

    And just want to say i would love to buy some boards cause i’m tired of hunting for the free pcbs ;-)

  37. I agree with jonnyboats, 1.85 each for multiple boards is too much. I would buy the logic analyzer, bus blaster and web platform if shipping was 1.85 for all three.

  38. I think $1.85 would be alright, but I always prefer just looking at one fixed price rather than price+shipping. Combined shipping is a must.

  39. I already own a Bus Pirate v3, USB Infrared Toy and a Logic Sniffer. So personally I want to get my hands on a few web platforms but I think the Bus Pirate should come first.

    I think the pricing is very reasonable just round it up to the nearest $0.50.

  40. My vote for a first project would be either for the web platform or the logic sniffer – the web platform because it would open up a lot of neat projects and the sniffer because it would be quite a useful tool. I think $1.85 is a reasonable shipping charge for a small number of boards (2-3, however many could fit in a mailer before needing to add another stamp). For larger orders, you could start with $1.85 S&H for the first 2-3 and charge additional for extra boards based either on number of boards ordered ($5 for 4-8, etc) or on the actual postage required for the higher weight (which would be more work).

  41. Ian,

    Regarding PCBs, do you also want to shell out extra money for a lead-free HASL or ENIG finish? I’m not entirely clear on the default HASL option, but it seems to me lead-free will get you past RoHS laws (particularly in Europe).

  42. RoHS doesn’t apply for prototypes and individual parts. Only if you want to sell a complete product you have to comply with RoHS and WEEE. So there is no need for lead-free in this case.

  43. $2.50 for international shipping is a good price. I do hope that, when buying multiple PCB’s, the price of the shipping goes down.

    Another good idea that I read here was replacing the 06 components with 0805, these are easier to handsolder or to use with a hot air rework station.

    For me the most interesting PSB’s are (in descending order):
    – Buspirate
    – Webplatform
    – PICqueno32
    – IR Toy
    – Logic Sniffer

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