Following my recent review of Seeed PCB service, I was contacted by PCBWay asking if I wanted to review their service too. Again, I was provided with a discount coupon in exchange for this. Looking at their website this is actually something they seem to offer to all customers - see link here.
The PCBWay website is noticably better than all other PCB companies that I've used - from deciding what to order to the order status as your boards are manufactured (more on that in a bit) is very detailed.
So I put together a quick layout and sent it in. They also offered matte black soldermask, woohoo! During the ordering process I was given the option to gamble and perhaps be upgraded to ENIG for free. This made the wait much more exciting!
Once the gerbers were submitted, before payment is taken they are manually reviewed by the staff at PCBWay. This must save them some headaches from idiots that send in half a set of files or an unmanufacturable board.
I sat for a few minutes refreshing the page every now and again, and then the website broke!
Luckily it came back online a short while later and had the status of "Being reviewed" on my actual gerbers:
That took around 5 minutes (and I passed!) which then took me through to payment (or in my case, discount coupon application)
Over the few days following that, they offer a live status update "View Technological Process" which tells you exactly where your boards are at. Here's what mine looked like:
Then a couple of weeks later I received this in the mail. Well, kind of... this is my one and only minor gripe with this service - the box was much too big for the items it contained. From other companies when ordering just 5 or 10 PCBs they just package in a small bubble padded envelope, but this large box meant that it didn't fit through my letterbox and I had to go and collect it from the post office.
Lots of empty space inside the box!
The PCBs arrived safely vacuum packed in the usual manner, although with an elastic band on the inside too:
So I didn't win a free ENIG upgrade this time, but I did get 11 boards and not the 10 I ordered. Sorry for the lighting in the following pics. Matte black PCBs are very hard to photograph! There was a small order number added to the boards, but they thoughtfully put it underneath an IC so it will not be visible once soldered.
Two of the boards had a strange pattern of circles on the back. It looks like it'd clean off with some alcohol but it didn't. I'm not sure what it is.
The silkscreen quality is typical of low cost boards. As shown in the technological process status the boards are tested and the probe marks can be seen in the centres of the pads:
Finally, the soldermask alignment was very good:
I really like the PCBway website (oh, it has a mobile layout too, that's worth mentioning) and the fact that anyone can get free PCBs by posting a review or video about their services is good if you are short of cash but can afford to spend a short while writing a review. My only suggestion for improvement would be to make the packaging smaller when possible so that orders for a small quantity of boards will fit through a letterbox!