What's a Gerber file? by Matt Stevenson, Sunstone Engineer
I am sure that everyone involved in PCB designing, manufacturing and procurement has heard the term Gerber Files at least 100 times. What is a Gerber file and where did it come from?
The origin of the Gerber file can be traced to Gerber Systems Corp and founder Joseph Gerber, where they first released “Gerber Format: a subset of EIA RS-274-D; Plot Data Format Reference Book” in 1981 aimed to sell their vector photoplotters. Later in the 1980’s other plotter companies and CAM systems began to adopt this now called “Standard Gerber” format in the PCB manufacturing industry and shortly thereafter became the de facto data format.
As plotting technology continued to develop to more capable raster photoplotters, the “standard Gerber” format was extended to include polygons and other parameters in 1991. With this improvement, users were also able to create shapes of various size and shape and polygon area fills without having to draw them in, they could simply be defined with apertures.
In April 1998, Gerber Systems Corporation was acquired by Barco. In September of the same year Barco released the RS-274X Format (Extended Gerber format) to consolidate and unify all of the sub versions that were present in the industry used for specific plotter models etc. This new version quickly took over as the new de facto data format. Over the years this 274X format has undergone revisions improving the format and functions. The most current upgrade to the Gerber format has been the addition of the PCB metadata, giving the data more intelligence than the simple image representation as previous. This current intelligent format is known as X2 and was developed in 2015 by Karel Tavernier, Ludek Bruckner and Thomas Weyn of Ucamco (PCB division of Barco).
There have been initiatives over the years to update and create new de facto standard formats (some examples are ODB++ or IPC-2581) for PCB manufacturing. I feel that as the PCB supply chain becomes more and more integrated, that these other standards are going to gain more traction and may one day actually surpass Gerbers, but until that day we march ahead with what works in today’s world.