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How to understand Kicad PCB

Kicad is a great open-source PCB design suite with both schematic and PCB layout capabilities. It is well worth the effort of learning to master it! Technology, and by extension computer codes, drives everything in the modern world, and no one can imagine it otherwise. However, since everyone has placed a premium on code and computer programming, many people forget that electronics as a field play a significant role in actualizing tech. You, therefore, cannot actualize any software code without an electronics component.

Printed Circuit Boards

If you loved building circuits from a tender age, you must have learned their importance to electronics. Electronics encompasses diverse aspects upon which design, construction, assembly, and testing play a pivotal role. PCB, therefore, forms a crucial component of electronics and determines whether a device will function or not.

Before, circuit boards entail end-to-end wiring on the board with constant soldering to fix the wires. However, this prototype proved prone to short-circuiting because of the degradation of the wire insulations and wire touching. Therefore, something had to give, and the advent of printed circuit boards came as a massive improvement.

PCB infers to printed circuit boards that mechanically and electrically support and connects electronic components, respectively. It accomplishes this through pads, tracks, and other vital features etched on the non-conductive substrate.

Now that you understand what a PCB implies, it becomes vital to know the different components of a PCB before delving into how you can create a Kicad PCB. Kindly check our article about PCB Creation and read through the section about Components of a PCB.

So how does a Kicad PCB looks like? How can you make one?

Kicad PCB

kicad schematic

Kicad printed circuit board implies a PCB created with the help of the Kicad software. While plenty of software alternatives exist regarding PCB creation, such as EAGLE, Kicad proves an exceptional alternative because it’s efficient and comes as a free-access software. Lots of people who use this software encompass experts and hobbyists. The software can run on macOS, Ubuntu, Windows, among many other operating systems.

What can KiCad do?

KiCad is an open-source PCB design tool that runs on Linux, Windows and Mac. KiCAD has a strong following of developers worldwide and is used by prototypers, engineers, and students. With KiCad, you can create schematics or PCB layouts for electronic circuits or embedded systems design. It ships with a large number of devices to help you get going quickly, including integrated passive components or ICs, resistors with optional values in between as well as a wide range of LEDs to light up your project. Draw your circuit diagrams and schematics in an interactive environment or use a preprocessor to generate the Gerber files, which are then exported to Kicad.

The power of KiCAD lies in its flexibility. It is a great tool for beginners and has advanced tools for engineers who want to work on a higher level.

The program includes:

* A built-in editor for creating schematics and PCBs;

* Interactive autorouter;

* The ability to add your 3D components;

* 3D viewer tool for viewing your PCBs in full 3D;

* Different layout algorithms, including some very effective grid-aware ones that allow you to make the best use of space on the board. It is particularly important when you have tight physical constraints on your projects.

* Single-track or double-sided board support;

* Export to almost any PCB manufacturing format, including Gerber and Excellon drill files.

* Full support for multi-layer PCBs;

* Easy to use and user-friendly interface. You can also use a command-line version of the tool.

* Comprehensive and expandable documentation;

* DIY and hobbyists version of the application;

* KiCad is constantly being developed and improved by its open-source community. You can get involved too as it is under active development.

Creating Kicad Printed Circuit Board

If you are a beginner in the world of electronics and want to design your PCB, we would recommend going with KiCad. KiCad is not only free but also easy enough for beginners. You can download it for Windows or MacOS from the official site without registration and install it quickly following these simple steps:

Draw your schematics

  • Download the Kicad software from http://kicad-pcb.org/download/ and install it in your operating system.
  • Start a new project. Here, you need to open the Kicad program and go to the “create new” or “open” project. For a new project, select the “create new” and pick where you prefer saving your new project. You then have to create your schematic and the subsequent board layout from the Eeschema (schematic layout editor). Next, open the schematic editor and pick the recommended settings.
  • Add components. The schematic represents where you have to draw the circuit. But firstly, add all the components you will need before incorporating wires to demonstrate how you will link the components. Adding a component requires you to pick the symbol marked “place symbol.” It will ensure that the component chooser pops up, from which you have to pick a good match (symbol) representing the component you want—for instance, a resistor. You then have to place this symbol in the schematic by dropping it in the workspace.
  • Add wires. Immediately you finish adding the necessary components, you then have to incorporate the wires. All you need here entails drawing wires to link relevant components. You can accomplish this by using the “place wire” function located on your toolbar. Undoing any work at this point requires the escape function, so do not worry about committing mistakes.
  • Add symbol values. Most components require a symbol value, and it becomes crucial to assign them these values at this point. For instance, if you have a battery component, it should also get assigned a voltage symbol. Similarly, a resistor requires a resistance symbol, etc. Again, it becomes crucial to note that the values you assign to components will not affect the circuit.
  • Annotate the schematic. Here, you have to attach unique identifies to every component. For instance, in cases where two or more resistors exist, one can come as R1, R3, R2, etc. You can accomplish this through the “annotate schematic” tool in the tool menu.
  • Add footprints. Your schematic components require footprints before you proceed to the board drawing. Footprints prove crucial as they get printed onto the PCB board under each component. For instance, two holes for something like the through-hole resistor. All you need is to go to the tool menu and select the “assign footprint.” While plenty of footprints exist in Kicad, you can always rely on the filter tool to make your work easier.
  • Run the ERC or the electrical rule checking. Everyone can make an error, and you can easily make one for PCB creation through Kicad. Because of this, it becomes pivotal to check for and correct any errors like forgetting to link a component. Run the ERC to identify all these errors in your circuit to allow you to remedy them before proceeding to the next step. To accomplish this, pick ERC from the “inspect menu” and run. All the errors will get displayed, allowing you to address them, each at a time.

Drawing the layout of the PCB board

  • Start a fresh board layout. After defining the connection of your components in the schematic, you have to transition these into the board. To begin with, for the board drawing, go to your schematic toolbar and pick “run PCB new to layout PCB.” You can also carry out the same through a different route- selecting the “open PCB editor” option on the tool menu.

A fresh working area will get displayed, and here, you have to retrieve the schematic’s connections and footprints by clicking “update PCB from schematic.” Upon updating the PCB, you will get the loaded footprints that will show you air-wires.

  • Position the components. Positioning the components will allow for component connection based on the air-wires. Try and ensure that no air-wires cross each other to ensure ease with the PCB creation. You can hover over a component you wish to move and press “M” to move it.
  • Draw the tracks. If you get satisfied with the component placement, the next step involves replacing the air-wires with track lines to link the components. All the tracks you will draw will manifest as copper traces when the PCB board finishes. To draw the tracks, click the button christened “route track.” Further, you can select the board’s surface you want to draw on, whether it’s the front or the back picking the relevant layer in your layer manager.
  • Draw the framework of your PCB board. All you need for this step entails adding a polygon to the “edge. cuts” layer. You then have to begin drawing by clicking and clicking once at every corner. When you return to your original starting point, click to finish the polygon.
  • Run the design rule checking.  It becomes crucial to check and point out errors by running the DRC. Errors here can include short widths or a lack of a track. Additionally, by checking the unconnected items and problems tabs, you will know all the mistakes committed from the summary provided. You will then have to fix any item displayed before proceeding to the next stage.

Having your printed circuit board design ready, you will then have to move to the next stage that involves creating the board. Here, you can enlist the help of a PCB manufacturing company such as RayMing PCB & Assembly to get the PCB board ready. Diverse companies have different ways of submitting your Kicad PCB design files to them for this last step. However, for RayMing, visit the website and contact them for any inquiries or questions about Kicad PCB design files for manufacture. Additionally, you can submit your files through the website and await the finished product once you have sorted out the required details.

Final Thoughts

Kicad represents a pivotal design software for printed circuit board designers. While other software exists for the same purpose, you can access it for free and design your PCB through the processes illustrated in the article.  Further, for more complicated PCB designs, you can always enlist the help of professionals, especially if PCB designing to you represents a hobby. What’s more, RayMing PCB & Assembly Company can also go the long shift in ensuring that your PCB needs get met. So good luck!