As an engineer, you need to send your PCB schematics to a stencil manufacturer in a way that lets them understand what you need. A Gerber file can help you do this. Gerber files simply record the layout of your PCB, enabling manufacturers to efficiently follow your exact specifications.
What is a Gerber file?
A Gerber file is an ASCII vector open format used to render binary 2D images, particularly for PCB manufacturing. A Gerber file displays all the details and components of a working PCB based on your design. It shows solder masks or copper layers as well as other necessary PCB components. Gerber files are becoming more widely used for computer-aided manufacturing systems, ensuring accuracy in the manufacture of PCBs. Gerber files are put through a CAD system, which extracts the data to learn what it needs to do and how it needs to do it.
What types of Gerber files exist?
There are several main Gerber file types used throughout the industry. Which one is best for your use will depend on your priorities for your Gerber file and your PCB. RS274-D, RS274X, and Gerber X2 are the 3 generations of Gerber. RS274-D is the oldest and the Gerber file requires a separate Aperture list (A list of X and Y values for the aperture sizes). The RS274X Gerber files have the Aperture list included within the Gerber file. The Gerber X2 is improved to allow for a variety of extensions. ODB++ is becoming more common as it allows a large amount of data to be included in a single file, including layer stackup, drill files, and all the PCB layers.
RS274-D is the original Gerber file format. It was created by Gerber scientific and is often referred to as standard Gerber. RS274-D guides the CAD system through coordinating the PCB, prioritizing consistency among the various processes required for programming. It makes the relationship between Gerber data and CAD machines compatible depending on their process
function and size. RS247-D also reduces the need for multiple program manuscripts, making PCB creation much simpler.
RS274X has been used by engineers since 1988, and its time-tested formula has been updated to decrease photo plotting errors and better suit modern needs. This file type is similar to standard Gerber with a few updates. Because the RS274X makes manual data entry a thing of the past, it provides enhanced accuracy in PCB construction.
For those seeking a detailed and secure Gerber file format, ODB++ is an excellent option.
ODB++ is a reliable, accurate, and detailed format that boasts many of the same functions as the other Gerber file formats. A benefit of ODB++ is that it makes Gerber file components that might not be visible in other sets, such as joined netlists, panel data, and the stack-up of particular layers, merge more easily. It is highly secure, guaranteeing the safety of your Gerber file. However, it is not always a favorite of engineers or manufacturers, who often prefer the more widely used RS274X and RS274-D.
Gerber X2 is the newest Gerber file type available. While it may not have the same reputation as the formats above, it is fast becoming an industry favorite. One feature that makes Gerber X2 stand out is its compatibility with older Gerber file types, such as RS274X. This allows you to take advantage of both the traditional components of the older file types and the advancements of the X2 for the best possible PCB outcome. You'll find an exceptional range of manufacturing data within the Gerber X2. Everything you and your manufacturer could need is securely stored on one file type, creating a smooth transition from concept to product.
What else should you know about Gerber data for PCBs?
It’s also important to be aware of various software packages that are used in conjunction with Gerber files.
- Altium is one of the most cutting-edge CAD design program software systems in the world at the moment. Engineers and designers like Altium because it can successfully combine all the necessary elements to create a functioning PCB.
- PADS is one of the more affordable software options available. It’s a thorough and comprehensive system that produces high-quality designs.
- Eagle is a popular option that provides greater flexibility and ease of access. Functions such as negative and positive annotation, batch execution script file, and copper cladding help ensure you get the PCB you want.
Don't let Gerber file confusion limit you!
The variety of Gerber file types can make using them seem daunting, but they’re a helpful tool for PCB designers and manufacturers. When you create a PCB using Gerber data, you get a detailed and organized layout of your design, helping ensure your PCB is flawless the first time around.
Are you experiencing issues with your Gerber files? When you send us your Gerber file, we offer our complimentary expertise and show you ways to improve.