I just finished a batch of ordering yesterday, and felt that it would be fun to document my favorite distributors, suppliers, and PCB manufacturers. This is basically a review of some websites and stores that I regularly buy electronic components, supplies, and PCBs from. It’s suitable for buying in small to medium quantity (i.e. a few to a few hundred). When rating them, I consider a combination of factors including price, easiness of choosing parts, and shipping time and cost. Keep in mind that I am located on the east coast, so shipping cost and time may be different for you. Also, there are some negative reviews, you have been warned Hope my comments and recommendations will be useful for other hobby makers.
First of all, Octopart is a great distributor search engine. If you know the part number, you should definitely check with Octopart to compare prices across many distributors.
1. Digi-Key: one of my favorites.
- Part selection: very easy, most components have high-quality pictures and datasheets. You can sort by price with a given quantity. Also, they have a comprehensive selection of components. Most parts I need can be found easily.
- Shipping: inexpensive and extremely fast. They offer USPS first-class and priority shipping. If I order by 9pm EST, the order is shipped the same day, and arrives on the third day after shipping. Also, keep in mind that USPS delivers on Saturday as well. So if I missed something and need it in a hurry, I can order by 9pm EST on Thursday and still get the parts Saturday morning. For a small order (weighs 13 oz or below), I just choose USPS first-class, and that usually costs 3-4 dollars. I am basically getting the speed of Fedex 2-day service but with a fraction of the cost. Super! One of the main reasons I prefer Digi-Key.
- Pricing: competitive for many categories: microcontrollers, capacitors, resistors, inductors, terminal blocks, just to name a few. The price can be higher than other distributors if you only buy in small quantity. However, considering the low shipping cost and fast shipping time, I would still definitely go with them for getting a few prototyping parts.
- Customer service: excellent. I had to return an order once and it was processed quickly without hassle. Also, there were a few times that I needed to remove or add a few parts after ordering, and I was able to do these quickly through online chatting. Great customer support.
- I use them for: getting a small quantity of prototyping parts, or buying a large quantity of microcontrollers, capacitors, resistors, inductors, terminal blocks etc.
2. Future Electronics: one of my favorites.
- Part selection: not that easy, many components have datasheets but are missing pictures and certain information. Trying to find a part without knowing the part number can be tricky. They don’t have a comprehensive selection of components like Digi-Key, but they seem to carry a wider variety of SMT parts. You can sort by price. My suggestion is to use Digi-Key to search and find the part you want, and then check with Future Electronics to see if they have it available.
- Shipping: very inexpensive for buying relatively large quantity, and very fast. They offer flat-rate shipping ($9 for Fedex Ground, $15 for 2-Day, and $33 for Next-Day service). No matter how many components I put in the order, the rate is the same. The package is shipped the same day if I order by 10pm EST. Very convenient.
- Pricing: extremely competitive. This is where I find the lowest price. Often their single-item price is lower than the volume price found elsewhere. Super! I usually go with them for buying various ICs, capacitors, crystals, diodes, transistors, LCDs, IC sockets, pin headers.
- Customer service: pretty good. They assign a customer representative for you, although it could take time to get response from them. Select parts carefully before ordering, because return can be tricky.
- I use them for: buying a batch of ICs, capacitors, crystals, diodes, transistors, LCDs, IC sockets, pin headers.
I have only used them twice, so I don’t have much to comment on.
- Pros: competitive price, flat-rate shipping.
- Cons: not easy to select parts. Again, it helps if you have the part number ready.
- Pros: competitive price, flat-rate shipping.
- Cons: not easy to select parts. Customer service is problematic: one email about a return got no response.
- Pros: good price, wide range of parts.
- Cons: shipping is expensive and unpredictable. Cut-off time for same-day shipping is much earlier compared to Digi-Key or Future, and the shipping cost always comes out higher than I expected. After a bad experience with the customer support (an email got no response in the end), I stopped using them. I know many people use Mouser for their competitive price. Frankly, if price matters, look for Future Electronics, AVnet, Arrow, or Verical. They are cheaper than Mouser and have flat-rate shipping, so you won’t get ripped off by unpredictable shipping cost.
For ordering PCBs, I highly recommend Seeed Studio Fusion PCB service. They are awesome: their service is low-cost, high-quality and fast. Yes, it’s a company located in China, so shipping can take longer time. But they process orders promptly. I usually order on Sunday evening (which is morning in Chinese time), and my order is in production the same day. Manufacturing takes 1 week, and shipping takes another week (I go with express mail options). If you don’t mind waiting for 2-3 weeks, you can get free International shipping with orders of $50 or above. If time matters, pay the extra $20-$30 to get DHL, which delivers in a week. That’s a total of two weeks to get PCBs delivered to your door. Plus, you get free DHL for orders of $500 or more. I generally use them for all PCB orders, whether prototyping quantity (i.e. 10), to batch quantity (a few hundred).
I’ve also used Advanced Circuits. They are US-based company, reliable, and extremely fast. Their price can be expensive, especially if order quantity is less than 200. I use them when I need a batch order of PCBs in a hurry and cannot wait for international shipping.
Supplies and Materials
- Amazon: you will be amazed how many things you can get from Amazon. I get all sorts of things ranging from shipping tapes, labels, scales, to protective gloves, plastic organizers, to solder, copper board, electric wires, to cartridges, sprinkler solenoids etc. Get an Amazon Prime membership and you will receive most orders with 2-day shipping for free.
- Techni-Tools: they have a wide range of soldering tools, solder bits, SMT soldering tools, wipes, conductive foam. Price can be expensive, but I am happy to invest on high-quality tools that I can use for a long time.
- All-Spec: I get tweezers and all sorts of polybags, mylar bags from them. Very competitive price, and fast shipping.
- ShippingSupply: I get most of my corrugated shipping boxes from them. Shipping cost can be a bit expensive. So buy in large quantity and stock them.
- ULine: I get some corrugated boxes, and lots of labels from them. Good price, very fast and low-cost shipping.
- eBay: eBay is a great place for getting things for cheap, and things that are hard to find elsewhere. Last year I bought Pogo pins, lead-free solder paste, RF transmitter modules, shipping label printer, and a bunch of home improvement store coupons on eBay.