All You Need to Know About How to Make PCB Gerber Files

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Everyone wants timely PCB orders. The ideal condition is to send the PCB design file to your manufacturer. Then let him arrange the board fabrication as per the information included in your design file. The manufacturer will deliver your specific products to you. Although the process seems very simple, it isn't as easy. The process takes longer from sending the design file to receiving the final PCB product.

How to make PCB Gerber files: All you need to know about it.

PCB Gerber files are important to work as a translator and connector between PCB designers and manufacturers. Don’t you know much about PCB Gerber files and how to make PCB Gerber files? Let’s have a look at the comprehensive guide on how to make PCB Gerber files below.

So, here we go:

What is the PCB Gerber file format?

UCAMCO is the company that is owning the Garber file format rights currently. According to this company, PCB Gerber files are the de facto standard for transferring and storing PCB-designed data. Moreover, it also refers to an open format of ASCII vector to effectively represent 2-dimensional binary images.

PCB Gerber files communicate and describe PCB images’ constituents. These generally include several solder masks, copper layers, and other similar PCB design attributes. These files also work as PCB printing devices’ input, such as AOI (Automated Optical Inspection) and photo plotter machines. Designers and manufacturers of PCBs can get help in printing and comparing images of printed circuit boards with these.

What are PCB Gerber files?

A PCB Gerber file contains information to guide PCB production. It uses ASCII vector format to define 2D images for PCB circuits. The latest PCB Gerber files also contain advanced metadata and other essential PCB printing information.

PCBs are created from NC drill files and 274-X data. Each Gerber file corresponds to a certain layer in Physical circuit boards. These layers generally include:

  • Middle layer
  • Component overlay
  • Solder masking layer
  • Top single layer
  • Bottom single layer, etc.

Multiple versions of PCB Gerber files are currently in use. Therefore, most manufacturers ask PCB designers to provide PCB Gerber files along with NC drill information to avoid conflict.

Different PCB Gerber files versions

Currently, three different PCB Gerber file versions are available. These include:

  • The newest PCB Gerber files version, "Garber X2," contains stack-up data and contributes.
  • An expanded PCB Gerber files version “RS-274-X” has been applied widely.
  • The oldest PCB Gerber files version is "RD-274-D”. “RS-274-X” has been replacing the oldest PCB Gerber files version gradually.

PCB Gerber files significance in PCB manufacturing

Over time, the functionality of PCB Gerber files has increased. Currently, these files include more data regarding PCB components’ configuration besides aperture and macro descriptions. The PCB manufacturer's laser plotters on which most PCB manufacturers rely are still using Gerber files data. These plotters can transform the Gerber file information into a raster document. This data will direct the plotter regarding where and how to generate PCB.

As the sector of PCB Gerber files is evolving consistently, they will hang on to their present state for a bit. After this interval, they will undergo significant changes according to the Gerber file.

PCB design

How to make PCB Gerber files?

After completing your PCB design, you’ll have to make PCB Gerber files to provide directions to your manufacturer. Although the process of how to making PCB Gerber files varies based on the Gerber designing software, you are using. Previously, older Gerber file design software used to take multiple steps to create Gerber files. However, the availability of modern software has simplified the process significantly.

Generally, you will produce individual Gerber files for every physical board’s layer.

For example, you have a PCB design with a 6-layer board having two power and ground planes and four signal layers.

  • Then you can create these layers output into 6 different Gerber files.
  • Moreover, you’ll also create a separate PCB Gerber file for the bottom and top solder mask layers.
  • If required, you may also need to create the bottom and top silkscreen layers.
  • At times, you also need to create the bottom and top solder paste layers.  

The number of paste and silkscreen layers depends on your PCB design requirements.

Important note:

Some PCB manufacturers may also ask you to create more Gerber layers for the circuit board fabrication, assembly, or outline. However, these requests are more often for exclusive design configuration only.

Different ways of generating PCB Gerber files

Multiple Gerber design suite software is available to generate PCB Gerber files. The following three Gerber file design software is the most popular among all. Each design software can let you create PCB Gerber files by following different steps. Do you want to ensure reliable and timely PCB delivery? It’s imperative to understand how to make PCB Gerber files with one or more of this software.

So, let’s get to know the key steps of how to make PCB Gerber files with different design software below:

Creating PCB Gerber files with Altium Designer

For decades, this has been one of the industry's leading Gerber files design software. It is the most instrumental solution for PCB designers and manufacturers to generate Gerber files. You can have a seamless design setting with an Altium designer. It also offers useful collaboration features besides powerful editing schematics and Gerber design features.

Here are the steps to follow for creating PCB Gerber files with Altium Designer:

  • Open your PCB file in Altium Designer by clicking fabrication output file > Gerber file.
  • You’ll get a Gerber setup window on your screen with 5 different options to set up corresponding considerations in your files. These parameters will include general layers, advanced apertures, and drilling drawings.
  • The public option is important to select the "Format and Unit" parameters. Select the format option from 2:3, 2:4, and 2:5, and set units in inches or mm per your design requirements.
  • Determining the Plot and Mirror under layers setting is important.
  • You don't have to manage a lot at the Drill Drawing stage.
  • However, selecting the accurate aperture option is important. Similarly, manage Advanced parameters as well for your PCB design.
  • For the film size, you can set parameters to default. This practice will let you avoid errors that smaller dimensions may cause.
  • Choose a different Gerber file for each layer by clicking on the Batch Mode.
  • Click OK if you have set all the preferences per your design recommendation.

Creating PCB Gerber files with Cadence (Allegro)

Here is another PCB Gerber files design software that can let you create, view, and plot Gerber files. The software provides constraint-driven and innovative Gerber file design settings. Most amazingly, you can enjoy Gerber file making in Cadence because it allows file review in real time. Routing complex simplicity and whatever density’s simple routes make Cadence a more amazing Gerber file designing suite. However, let’s look at the steps below to understand how to make PCB Gerber files in Cadence.

So, here we go:

  • Open the PCB layout first in Cadence Gerber files designing software. For this, you need to tap on Manufacture > Artwork.
  • You will get a control form on your screen where you need to incorporate the outline of your PCB board.
  • Right-click on the folder named “Top” before clicking "Add manually." This step is necessary to perform to accomplish board outline incorporation.
  • Now choose the film name in the subclass and go to the outline option. After selecting these parameters, click on board selection.

Once you get done with all the suggested aspects selection, choose “Select All” with the output of your PCB layer. Clicking Create Artwork will let you generate your PCB Gerber files with Cadence.

How to document your PCB Gerber files after generating them?

Documenting your Gerber files is another important aspect of creating Gerber files to send to your PCB manufacturer. You must document all the information at this stage, including NC Drill, Gerber, and other essential documents. This documentation will help your PCB manufacturer to create Printing Circuit Boards exactly how you want these. For this, you have to:

  • Create effective and well-detailed assembly and fabrication drawings
  • Choose and place PCB design data
  • Test your design layout
  • Add schematic netlist

Don’t forget to add a READ ME file along with all the aspects mentioned above. This is the last step to finalize the process of documenting your Gerber files. You can also consider working with your PCB manufacturer to determine what they aspect from your Gerber files documentation. This practice will certainly help you to bring the best possible results in this regard.

Final thoughts

Overall, PCB Gerber files are important to make your PCB design and manufacturing process more effective and efficient. PCB Gerber files help manufacturers to understand the concept of design engineers. Consequently, correct PCB products can be created efficiently. When sending a PCB Gerber file for receiving a manufacturing quote, it’s always better to send a simple understanding text file too to the manufacturer. This text file helps explain PCB requirements more effectively than you can’t describe in the Gerber file. This practice will help PCB designers and manufacturers easily make the most of their Gerber files.

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