The deal with Dirty Cheap Dirty Boards PCBs


This sad FACE FRAME! documents the moment Ian found out Dirty PCBs hit Hacker News, Hack a Day, etc. Here’s the story behind our joke PCB site…

A few months ago there were some comments in the forum about various PCB services making ‘crap’ $0.90 boards. Later we posted a picture of our own $0.20 PCB on the blog and the first comment was ‘silkscreen sucks’.  It became an inside joke around here because a few years ago we were all more than happy to pay Olimex $100 for a tiny PCB with no silk…but now people complain about minor things like a smudged silkscreen on twenty cent PCB.

In the forum we joked about about starting a PCB site intended to be crappy: “Dirty Cheap Dirty Boards”. One of our team members, who shall remain nameless, took the joke way too far and made an actual PCB website based on that joke. The site promises cheap and bad PCBs. We used it internally to handle our PCBs, and let a few forum contributors place orders too – easier than doing it all manually.

Here we are, eating hot pot dinner on the street of Shenzhen with the rump end of the hacker camp crew enjoying a Tsing Tao. Phones buzz – order notification. Phones buzz more. And again, and again. Then someone from the HAX group delivers the terrifying news – our little inside joke is on Hacker News. Then it pops up on Hack a Day too.

We hit the comments to say it was a joke and flame the trolls who dissed our flippant attitude (you like it dirty and you’re back for more), but the damage was done.

However, Dirty PCBs wasn’t entirely a joke. The platform combines all of our ideas for a ‘no nonsense’ online ordering platform. No stupid logins with yet another password to remember, no login to get order status, obscene amounts of status updates (email, SMS, Twitter), and a single step ordering process with flat  predictable pricing.

The Dirty Platform is used in two new projects we’re launching. The first is Dirty Circuits – a schematic entry, PCB routing, and footprint building service for open hardware that’s open now. It’s been available privately to some select projects for a while and has been a great success.  Soon, we’ll add Dirty Cables, a way to create custom designed cables from quantity 100. That’s not the end of the Dirty world either, we’ve got more new projects launching soon, all with the goal to help make more and better open source hardware.

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  1. Well, I’m excited. Truly a new era for DP and glad to see you stick by OSHW as the company evolves. Incidentally what does the OSHW license option mean at dirty circuits? Is it the CERN OHL? Also, what will you say to those wanting to use Dirty Circuits for closed source designs?

    1. Yes, the “official” OSHW license CERN OHL.Though we’re not picky, we just want to help out with open hardware only!

    2. Yeah, basically any Open hardware license will do. Let’s say CERN OHL for now, but the main goal is helping open hardware projects only.

  2. Interesting idea, but I have to say I don’t get it. Sorry to be negative. You’re basically advertising “low quality” but the price isn’t much lower (or any lower) than better alternatives. For example, the Dirty PCBs price for 50 5×5 cm boards is identical to Seeed Studio’s price. For 10 boards Dirty PCBs is actually more expensive than Seeed. I think if you’re going to advertise “quick and dirty prototype PCBs that may have problems”, then you need to be more like half the price of the competition.

    1. We have so much respect for your work at big mess o wires. It’s just a joke. We matched everyone’s prices, but included shipping costs as a flat rate world wide. A little more expensive, but free shipping. Despite that, it really is a (functional) joke. Boards are 100% etested so there’s very little chance of issues, but please buy your boards at seeed (and pick up a Bus Pirate or other DP project at the same time), we buy all our boards from them too!

    2. “the Dirty PCBs price for 50 5×5 cm boards is identical to Seeed Studio’s price”
      Only if you like green, and seeed ships for free.

      Otherwise, example Red 5×5, 50 of:
      Seeed: $49.90 + Shipping
      Dirty: $39, free shipping

    3. You’re comparing free shipping in the us to free shipping globally, here in AU they could be twice as expensive and still cheaper than paying for shipping from Seed Studio.

  3. Well, you should know that there is no such thing as a private joke on the interwebs ;)
    Dirty PCBs was bound to go a bit viral.

    1. Well, we’re just a bunch of geeks geeking out, we’re having fun and playing, Anything beyond that, who cares :)

  4. I love the ordering process and free shipping!

    Cant wait for Dirty Cables! Been wishing for a cheap cable service for years

    Keep it up, i have 4 orders in the At Board House status….. twitter on fire with my notifications. Love it

    1. I think most are back now, but we wont process till tomorrow morning (is 1:30am in china now). A huge batch is going out tomorrow AM. The board house expanded to a new location so stuff took longer than normal, but in exchange we get a full access tour and can show every part of the factory to you in a few weeks!

  5. I’m glad I helped you name your new service! Btw, what I meant by terrible is that our in-house board house has set a standard for bad, and that silkscreen was worse. The more important things like etching and drill registration are OK, at least on the pcb I received (thanks!), but imho if you’re doing something, you might as well do it right. I can’t argue with the price, of course.

    More on-topic, are you really not planning on addig some form of faster shipping option? The price and the service look compelling, but HK Post and the likes just don’t cut it for my pcb needs. An example: my DP free pcb arrived at my EU address 46 days after getting the shipping notification. My ebay items from Shenzen/HK take anywhere from 45-65 days nowdays. And I really don’t like stalling a project for two months, just waiting for pcbs to arrive.

    P.S. I still think the silkscreen sucks :)

    1. Not quite as fast as the ‘mercans, but here in the GWN it’s typically 18-22 days for registered airmail from China and regular airmail from HK. I noticed some Asian suppliers are using Swiss post, and that takes about the same amount of time (~3 weeks).

  6. > “The price and the service look compelling, but HK Post and the likes just don’t cut it…”
    I guess I’m lucky here in the US where 10-15 days is more usual, but I suspect that any much better shipping option would be a lot less compelling price-wise.

  7. The 10cm limit cramps keyboard designs. Has anyone [successfully] copied of the Thinkpad Butterfly?

  8. Well, regardless of the fact that this started as a joke, I am loving it so far! Just placed an order for 10 5×5 boards, and looking forward to getting them in a month or so. I like the simple one-step checkout process + Paypal payment, and being a couple dollars cheaper with color options doesn’t hurt things either. I’ve used Seeed in the past, and will probably use them again in the future, but figured I may as well check out the dirty option this time.

    Cheers from Canada.

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