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Gerber Files for PCBs: Creating, Viewing, and Converting

Posted:04:41 PM March 28, 2024 writer: R.H

This article offers a comprehensive exploration of what a Gerber file is, how to create gerber file, how to open gerber file , how to convert Gerber files to PDF format and the relationship between Gerber file and PCB manufacturing. Dive into the heart of PCB manufacturing by understanding the indispensable connection between Gerber files and the fabrication process, optimizing your designs. 

Table of Contents

What is Gerber file

Gerber files are a standardized file format used in the electronics industry to describe the images of printed circuit boards (PCBs), including copper traces, insulation layers, drill holes, and other information. This format is widely employed in the PCB manufacturing process to enable manufacturers to precisely understand how to build the circuit boards. Gerber files essentially serve as the final output of PCB design, which is sent to PCB manufacturers for production.
Since its introduction, the Gerber format has undergone several important revisions and updates to adapt to the evolving needs of PCB design and manufacturing. Here are some key revision milestones:

Initial version: RS-274-D, Extended version: RS-274X and Gerber X2, X2 is not a replacement for RS-274X, but a complement designed to provide a richer data collection. The following is a simple Gerber file example:
Download the HQDFM Gerber files for demo

gerber samples

How to create Gerber file

The process of creating Gerber files typically begins after you complete a PCB (Printed Circuit Board) design, as a step to convert the design into a set of files that manufacturers can use to produce actual circuit boards. In most PCB design software, you will find an option to export or generate Gerber files. Here are some Gerber file export tutorials:
How to export Gerber file from KiCad
How to export Gerber files from Altium PCB
How to export Gerber files from Diptrace Software
How to export Gerber files from Eagle file

How to open Gerber file

To open Gerber files, you need to use specialized Gerber viewers or PCB design software. Here are some commonly used methods:

  • Gerber viewer software: There are many free or commercial Gerber viewers available. You can search and download a Gerber viewer that is suitable for your operating system from the internet. Some common Gerber viewers include GC-Prevue, GerberView, ViewMate, etc. Once installed and opened, these software allow you to view and analyze PCB designs by importing Gerber files.
  • PCB design software: Most mainstream PCB design software such as Altium Designer, Eagle, KiCad, etc., support opening Gerber files. You can open these software and import the Gerber file as a project or part of a PCB design. Through this method, you can view the Gerber file and perform further analysis, editing, and validation within the design software.

Furthermore, if you are in need of a free Gerber viewer, an excellent option is NextPCB's Free Gerber Viewer Online. NextPCB is a reputable PCB manufacturing and assembly service provider that offers a robust and user-friendly online Gerber Viewer tool. This free viewer allows you to open and inspect Gerber files seamlessly without the requirement of installing any software. It supports various Gerber formats, including RS-274X, Extended (X2) and OBD++, and provides a wide array of features such as zooming, rotation, measurement tools, and more, enabling you to conduct comprehensive analysis and verification of your PCB designs. Whether you are an experienced PCB designer or a novice, NextPCB's Free Gerber Viewer is a valuable resource that simplifies the process of viewing and examining Gerber files. What's more, it can analyze design defects online and generate DFM reports.

Gerber Viewer Online


Check Your Gerber Files Online Now

How to convert Gerber file to PDF

There is a comprehensive software solution that not only enables DFM and PCBA analysis but also There is a comprehensive software solution that not only enables DFM and PCBA analysis but also generates detailed DFM reports, offering the capability to export Gerber files as PDF.
The HQDFM software incorporates powerful DFM analysis features, capable of detecting and identifying potential manufacturing issues such as inadequate component spacing, dense routing, pin conflicts, and more. By performing DFM analysis on Gerber files, HQDFM aids design engineers in identifying and resolving potential issues during the design phase, thereby enhancing design manufacturability and efficiency.
Moreover, HQDFM provides comprehensive PCBA analysis functionality, enabling the assessment of the feasibility and effectiveness of circuit board assembly. It automatically detects and evaluates aspects such as solder pads, component placement, silk screen markings, ensuring correct assembly and reliability of the circuit board.
In addition to complementing DFM and PCBA analysis, HQDFM generates detailed DFM reports. These reports encompass the results of DFM analysis and PCBA evaluation, along with recommended improvement measures. Through DFM reports, design engineers and manufacturers gain better insights into potential issues in the design and can take appropriate actions to enhance the manufacturing and assembly processes.
Furthermore, HQDFM includes the essential capability of converting Gerber files to PDF. This feature enables users to conveniently share and reference design files without the need for specific software or tools. PDF files offer broad compatibility and can be opened and viewed on various devices and operating systems.
This is the main interface of HQDFM software:

DFM Tool

After uploading the Gerber file to the HQDFM software, click “File” in the upper left corner, and then select “Export PDF” to export gerber file to PDF.

Gerber export to PDF

Why not give HQDFM's DFM analysis and PCBA analysis features a try? It's completely free, so there's no harm in giving it a shot and seeing how it works for yourself. Go ahead and give it a whirl! Just like the demo file below, you can see that many errors were detected.

Gerber export to PDF

Download HQDFM Software Now

The relationship between Gerber files and PCB manufacturing

Gerber files play a crucial role in the manufacturing of printed circuit boards (PCBs) within the PCB industry. Gerber files serve as the standard format for describing PCB designs and encompass information regarding component placement, routing, pads, silkscreen, and other design elements.
In the PCB manufacturing process, manufacturers rely on Gerber files to perform a series of operations that transform the design into an actual PCB. Here is the professional translation highlighting the relationship between Gerber files and PCB manufacturing within the PCB industry:

  • Process Preparation: Manufacturers utilize Gerber files for process preparation. Based on the Gerber files, they determine the physical layers, layer sequencing, material parameters, and other specifications necessary to prepare the manufacturing process.
  • Layer Generation: Manufacturers generate the various layers required during PCB fabrication based on the Gerber files. These layers include copper layers, solder mask layers, silkscreen layers, drill layers, and more. Each layer corresponds to specific information within the Gerber files.
  • Exposure and Development: By combining the information from the Gerber files with photosensitive materials, the desired patterns are formed during the exposure and development processes in PCB manufacturing. The purpose of exposure and development is to transform the design defined in the Gerber files into the actual PCB structure.
  • Manufacturing Process Control: The information within the Gerber files guides manufacturers in controlling the fabrication process. They govern processes such as solder mask application, metallization, copper plating, etching, drilling, and more, ensuring the accuracy and consistency of the design.
  • Quality Control and Inspection: After PCB manufacturing is completed, Gerber files are also employed for quality control and inspection purposes. Manufacturers can reference the Gerber files to examine the production quality, dimensions, component placement, and other aspects to ensure compliance with requirements.

In summary, Gerber files serve as a bridge and guide within PCB manufacturing, transforming design engineers' creativity into tangible PCBs. Manufacturers rely on Gerber files for process preparation, layer generation, manufacturing process control, and quality inspection to ensure that the produced PCBs align with the design and meet quality standards.

Gerber Files for PCBs: Common Issues and Solutions

Ensuring the completeness and accuracy of Gerber files for pcb is crucial for guaranteeing that each pcb board meets the required specifications when it is produced. Here are some of the most common Gerber file issues encountered by HQNextPCB, a PCB manufacturer with over 15 years of production experience, and what can be done to address them:

  • Empty Gerber Files: Surprisingly, designers can create Gerber files with no information, known as "zero-byte" files. Anyone reviewing the file cannot determine if it is completely irrelevant or if it contains accidentally deleted information. Designers must check each Gerber file to ensure it contains useful information before sending it.
  • Missing or Incomplete Files: This issue is almost the opposite of the first. Manufacturers need to know every specification related to the PCB, from the dimensions of plated through holes to the overall board size. Missing information can result in a board that does not meet the required specifications. It is crucial to ensure that every necessary Gerber file is prepared and accessible.
  • Improper File Labeling: While not catastrophic, it is highly recommended that designers name all Gerber files according to an established naming convention that the manufacturer can understand. This way, the manufacturer can immediately find the required Gerber files without worrying about whether they have the correct ones.
  • Excesive Aperture Lists: Ideally, a Gerber file should have a single aperture list containing all the details about the tools required for each production stage. Multiple aperture lists can cause confusion, slow down the manufacturing process, and increase the chances of errors. Designers should also be cautious of creating aperture lists in formats other than the Gerber file format, as this can lead to further confusion.
  • Composite Layer Design Errors: If the design software creates composite layers while generating single-layer design specifications, it is important to combine the images and create one Gerber file for each layer to avoid errors.

Among all the potential issues your PCB might encounter, Gerber file errors are the least forgivable. While most PCB design errors can be avoided with more careful and focused work, Gerber file errors are the easiest to prevent. Given that the consequences of Gerber file issues can be expensive and time-consuming, you simply cannot afford to let them occur. Here are some methods to help you avoid Gerber file issues:

  • Use a Gerber file viewer to inspect the Gerber files.
  • Get it prototyped to ensure the specifications are correct.
  • Use high-resolution CAD software.
  • Follow best quality assurance practices throughout the design process.

By implementing these measures, you can significantly reduce the risk of Gerber file issues and ensure a smoother, more efficient PCB production process.

Check Your Gerber Files Online for Free

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