Esp8266 - how to get from breadboard to pcb?

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Hi guys,

I am learning to build my first esp8266 projects using esphome and a breadboard for prototyping.

I have had some successes, but I am stuck at how to proceed from here. How do I get from the prototyping stage to a place where I can put the thing in some kind of box and find a place in my apartment?

Do I need to learn how to design custom PCBs, and order them online? Is there some kind of step in between? I have a soldering iron but barely any experience yet.

I would love to see some pictures of finished projects in their final setup. Tutorials usually end at the prototyping stage which frustrates me a little.

Also, do you have any good resources on how to get more comfortable with the electrical parts, like transistors/resistors? How they work, what they are for and when to use which parts. I know I won’t become an electrical engineer overnight, but I would love to find a way to get to a solid amateur level of knowledge with these things.

Happy automating!
Lukas

Good questions. I haven’t designed anything but the most basic pcb, but there are good apps out there.

I think I used a tool that started with fritzing. Fritzing has an interface that looks like a prototype board, so you can easily intuit that from your own prototyping. You have probably seen fritzing diagrams on tutorials you have seen. Probably easiest if I point you here https://fritzing.org/learning/tutorials/designing-pcb/

There is nothing wrong with perfboard.
Sure it will make your project slightly larger, but most of the times you can hide what you built or the size just doesn’t matter that much.
If it’s not that much components then you can solder the parts without any board at all and just isolate the parts from each other with heat shrink or electrical tape.

It all depends on what you’re building, but most of the time custom PCBs are just fancy and does very little to both the overall size and function.
And you’re going to close it all up in a box anyways… :man_shrugging:

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@Hellis81 makes good points. Also you can do amazing cases with a 3d printer, but you can also buy standard plastic/metal cases from hobby shops or online :slight_smile:

I’ve used these https://www.adafruit.com/product/1608 for some of my sensor builds, there is also a larger version if you need more space.

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I got a few small plastic boxes and a small breadboard (peel off the backing and it sticks inside the box. Drilled a hole for power (USB) and it’s pretty good for my purposes.

Some of the ‘solutions’ I have seen are hideous using shrink wrap etc…

Thats exactly what I use, I move from a breadboard to one of them and just join a bunch together in a case for bigger projects. There is even a ‘raspberry pi’ version that is like 3x the size.

Ummm… If you actually have a breadboard inside a box you should really use heat shrink.
Your parts are loose and knock or shake can short circuit stuff in there.
That is why you generally see breadboards in the category “experiment/prototyping” and not in “final products”.

What you are doing is not safe in any way, I sure hope you are not hooking up mains voltage that way too.

Not loose and 5v hasn’t killed me yet.

That is very ignorant.
I really hope you mature before something serious happens.

Not all parts like short circuits, if that happens and it heats up or catches fire during the night then it could be very serious.
5 volt or not.

If your goal eventually is to be able to have PC boards fabbed, then learn KiCad to design your PCBs.

From there, if you want to make the boards yourself, you can use the toner transfer process and etch them. This would be the intermediate step between perfboard/breadboard and a fabbed PCB.

I use the toner transfer process often for one off or prototype PCBs.

My recommendation is “The Art of Electronics” by Horowitz & Hill. That book helped me a lot understanding how electronics work. It’s $40-$90 depending on where you find it. There are also plenty of online resources.
For making PCBs I recommend KiCAD. Free, open source and produces good results. It’s been a while since I used the auto-router but it wasn’t great. I get a lot better results manually. I made a small fan controller with KiCAD and it worked well (pic below). If you are making small boards you can usually find a discount board house that will send you ten boards for $100.
For an intermediate step perfboard isn’t pretty but works well for thru-hole parts. If you want to use surface mount, pretty much stuck with getting a board.
Get lots of practice soldering! Pull apart something made in a factory and look at the joints, yours should look similar. The fan controller is all hand-soldered.

Have fun!

I used a free PCB design tool called Design Spark PCB . Takes a bit to learn, but has lots of library parts including one that I could use for an 8266 module. There are several PCB manufacturers of course, but I went with PCBWays. Although their boards are well priced, the shipping cost from China will probably be more than the boards themselves.

I second the vote for perfboard.

I bought a multipack of different sizes a while back from Amazon and I’m still using those for my NodeMCU projects.

Also get an assortment of pin headers - male and female.

They make soldering easier and then you can still use them to plug things in if necessary. I especially use those for connecting the NodeMCU to the perfboard since it allows me to pull the NodeMCU off the board for programming/debugging/etc.

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For small quantities and protoyping try one of these: https://www.banggood.com/3Pcs-ProtoBoard-Shield-Expansion-Board-For-D1-Mini-Double-Sided-Perf-Board-Compatible-p-1185111.html?rmmds=buy&cur_warehouse=CN I’ve used them successfully. They also have some larger ones. I’ve also done custom PCBs for the D1 mini e.g. https://kk4oyj.wordpress.com/2019/08/15/esp8266-d1-mini-lighting-shield/

Good luck and keep asking questions :slight_smile:

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No YOU are very ignorant because you have no idea what it actually looks like or how it is mounted or how it functions. There is nothing loose in the box. NOTHING. No moving parts and good solid connections.

Also… I’m 60 so no hope of me maturing any further… there may still be hope for you though.

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Thanks for all the great responses!

Perfboards, that’s what I was looking for. I’d like to design a custom PCBs some day, but I am way to inexperienced at this point. Need a way to get before a soldering iron and get something done.

The proto-permaboard from adafruit also sound like a great idea.

@Hellis81 what is a heat shrink and what do you use it for?

heat shrink is plasticy rubbery stuff usually just a little bigger than your wire. You can slip it over a join and the then heat it. It shrinks and protects from other wires, water etc.

Better still , google it. Youtube search it, it kinda need to be seen :slight_smile:

I’ll give you a hint.
Those clips that the breadboard is based on stretch when they are constantly “loaded”.
So it may be true that there is nothing loose and everything has good connections when you built it, but over time the grip is not what it used to be.

Add to this that there is generally no datasheet to breadboards with max ratings of voltage or current.
Some people guess/say 1 amp, others 500 mA.
Either way it’s not much. And compare that to what a ESP chip consumes.

You can find some posts on internet saying that they used a breadboard for years, just like you can find people say they have not used seatbelts for years.
Does that mean it’s safe?

Keep in mind there will be people coming here and reading your post just to bias their own thoughts.
That it’s ok to build on breadboards not caring anything more than that and hooking up circuits of several amps.

All I’m asking is that you at least add a small disclaimer to your post.
If you don’t want to rethink your practice then that is up to you.

I found a nice online cad called easyeda https://easyeda.com/
Lot of component and libraries and they develop for cheap price 2 layer pcb. I like because everything is done from the beginning to the end in the same site and i got 20 of my prototyping boards for 8 dollars :slight_smile:

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