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Altium Designer Basic Tutorial

The Altium Designer is the leading CAD software for Circuit design, PCB layout design, and schematic capture. Today many design engineers prefer Altium Designer as their design platform because it is user friendly, having good graphic user interface (GUI) and availability of numerous design options. The FPGA based embedded system design, Hardware Description Language (HDL) design, signal integrity and circuit simulation are the main properties available in Altium Designer.

Latest Features of Altium Designer:

This software offers the auto-routing, differential pair routing, enhanced violation reporting, enhancements in design rules check (DRC), same net clearance rule improvements, change target length during tuning, smart component placement, 3D step model generation for mechanical enclosure designs, Active BOM and static simulation probes.

The Software:

Altium Designer version 18.1.7

When you start the Altium Designer application from start menu, the two main elements you will see. The first one is the main document editing workspace and other is Project Panel.

  • 1-  Creating Project:

File → New → Project → PCB Project (This will create a PCB_Project1.PrjPCB*)

The asterisk * sign and red color shows that the document has some changes and it needs to be saved. After saving the document, the * sign and red color will vanish.

  • 2-  Add Schematics and PCB

Right click on the PCB project in left panel to add schematic and PCB layout documents. After this save the project, schematics and PCB layout documents in a easy to access folder in your computer hard disk

The main document is schematic Diagram and PCB layout document. The project panel shows the main project that is initially created under which schematic and PCB layout are saved.

2-Add Schematics and PCB
  • 3-  Altium Libraries:

On the right side you can see the library panel showing component name, part number, component symbol and footprint.

Click on the libraries button in the right panel to open the “Available Libraries” Window.

This is used to add / remove particular group of library in Library directory. For example there are libraries available for ST Microelectronics, Texas Instruments, Maxim Semiconductors and many more. Actually the libraries are categorized by manufacturers of semiconductors. So if you want to add a library  ,read 4th

  • 4-  Add Library:

Install Button → Install from File → Select all subcategories of particular library manufacturer  → open

Add Library
  • 5-  Place Component:

After adding the library, you can see the manufacturer name in the list of already added libraries. By default, the miscellaneous devices is selected.

Libraries → Miscellaneous devices →  select you manufacturer type →  Design Item ID select your choice → Place electronic Component  → Click on schematic sheet to place component on sheet.

The component can be rotated by 90 degree in any direction using “Space Bar”. Left click on the component and click properties. You will see the properties panel on the right side. This panel has the component “designator”, “Comment”, “Description”.  Just below the properties is the footprint and simulation model of component. The “value” of component can be changed from “parameter” tab adjacent to general tab.

  • 6-  Place Wire:
Place Wire

There is a panel on middle top of the screen, where there is option of drawing wiring and connecting components. This also has the place component, port, sheet symbol, GND and text.

Place Wire
  •   Pan / Zoom in and Zoom out:

Zoom in: Right Control depressed + Mouse Wheel Up

Zoom out: Right Control depressed + Mouse Wheel down

Pan: Right click depressed + Move hand cursor to pan around the schematics

You can Pan + Zoom in / out both at the same time.

  •   Updating the PCB from Schematics

Now that we have placed components, wired them and connected power and ground ports, we will now export the netlist to the PCB document.

This is the simplest example circuit that we made schematics. Now we will transfer it to PCB Design → Update PCB Document.

The following window will open

Update PCB Document

This is the Engineering Change Order Window. All components along with nets are shown here. We will click the “Validate Changes” button and green tick marks appear. Then we click execute changes. After this the PCB document will show this


Now we arranges the components on PCB and adjust the shape and size of PCB board.

  • Setting Footprints:

Double click the component in schematics, now in the general properties tab, the footprint is show. Click it, it will drop down to show the current footprint. Now click Add. It will open the PCB Model window. Click “Browse” it will open “Browse Libraries” window. Select the component footprint of your choice and click OK

Setting Footprints
Setting Footprints
  • 10-  Arranging Components:

The components now you will arrange as per the requirements to fit on the board.

  • 11-  Board Size and Shape Defining:

First set the PCB layout document view mode to “Board Planning Mode”.

Then go to design and then redefine board shape.

A pointer will appear, you just click once on the proposed edge of board and hover to next edge and then click again then repeat until final edge is coincides with the first edge to complete the final board shape and size.

15-Place Vias, Pads, Nets
  • 12-  Layer Stack Manager:

The layer stack up manager gives the information about the thickness, dielectric material, dielectric constant, layer name, and layer material and layer types.

Design → Layer Stack Manager

Layer Stack Manager
  • 13-  Add Layer and Internal Plane:

You can add the internal plane and add layer as per your requirements. Go to Layer stack manager and click add layer

  • 14-  Auto and Manual Routing

Active Route:

The AD18 provides the feature of Active routing that is also called Auto routing.


Keep the above button Clicked until the options are shown. Select Active Route and then release the click. Then select your component and click/release the above button to auto route.

Manual Interactive Routing:

Manual Interactive Routing

Same method as above, select interactively Route option. A pointer will occur. Now you route as you want

  • 15-  Place Vias, Pads, Nets
15-Place Vias, Pads, Nets

When you place the via on the PCB the following window will open. This is the properties window of the via/hole. It has the net information, size and placement of via/hole or pad

You can change the Net type to VCC, GND or any other components pin.

Place Vias, Pads, Nets
  • 16-  Preferences:

In the tools drop down menu on top, click it and select preferences in the bottom of menu. The following window will open


This window has many options that you can set according to the requirements of your PCB design. It has interactive routing preferences that you can set.

  • 17-  Design Rules:

Go to Design drop down menu and click “Rules”. You will see this window

Design Rules

It has many options to set as your design constraints. You can set these parameters as per the limits and requirements of PCB fabrication lab and its capacity

The electrical, routing, SMT, Mask, plane, test point, manufacturing high speed, placement, signal integrity are the parameters available for user to set.


At this stage we have discussed diagrammatically about the many features of Altium Designer 18.1.7 version. We have shown the schematics and PCB layout workspace properties and this is the most commonly used properties of Altium. However there are a lot or other properties still have much capacity to discuss and explore but in the end it all depends upon the user requirements how to use the technical aspects of Altium Designer.

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