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Top 10 Best PCB Design Tools


Printed circuit board (PCB) design is a complex process involving schematic capture, board layout, auto-routing, design rule checks, signal and power integrity analysis, thermal analysis, and much more. With products becoming more advanced, PCB designers need electronic design automation (EDA) tools that can handle rising complexity while improving productivity. This article will review ten leading PCB design software platforms available today based on features, capabilities, and ease-of-use.

Overview of PCB Design Flow

Before diving into the tools, let’s briefly summarize the typical PCB design flow supported by EDA tools:

  • Schematic capture – Draw the electronic schematic showing components and their electrical connections.
  • Symbol creation – Make symbols to represent components on the schematic.
  • Component footprint creation – Generate physical footprints for PCB layout.
  • Netlist generation – Convert schematic into netlist file for PCB layout.
  • Board layout – Arrange footprints and route traces on the PCB canvas.
  • Design rule checking – Validate clearances, spacing, etc. per constraints.
  • Simulation and analysis – Perform signal, power, thermal analysis.
  • Library management – Store and share schematic symbols and footprints .
  • Manufacturing outputs – Generate Gerber, drill, and other manufacturing files.

Now let’s look at 10 excellent PCB design tool options on the market today.

1. Altium Designer

Altium Designer is widely considered the most advanced and complete PCB design system available. It’s loaded with features spanning the entire design process from schematic capture to manufacturing outputs.

Key Features:

  • Unified design environment
  • Interactive routing with real-time DRC
  • Industry leading schematic tools
  • Powerful PCB layout technology
  • Native 3D PCB visualization
  • Flexible design reuse and automation
  • Extensive component library ecosystem
  • Tight manufacturer ecosystem integration
  • Scripting and programming for complex workflows
  • Scalable on-premise or cloud deployment

With unique innovations like ActiveRoute automated routing, Altium provides sophisticated capabilities that enhance designer productivity and workflow.

2. Cadence Allegro

Cadence Allegro offers a complete scalable PCB design environment targeted at high performance electronic applications. It contains advanced capabilities tailored for high speed design.

Key Features:

  • Robust design planning and process management
  • Constraint-driven design flow
  • Proprietary physical routing engine
  • Timing-driven layout tools
  • Extensive visualization capabilities
  • Flexible schematic editing tools
  • Interoperability with multiple analysis tools
  • library creation and management
  • Manufacturing output automation

Allegro provides high speed design capabilities critical for technologies like PCIe, Serdes, and DDR.

3. Mentor Graphics Xpedition

Mentor Graphics Xpedition enables enterprise-level PCB design addressing advanced users to casual occasional users. It is customizable and integrates with DFM tools for manufacturability.

Key Features:

  • High speed design features
  • Unified design environment
  • Manufacturing preparation automation
  • Custom reporting capabilities
  • Integrated library management
  • Scripting and automation
  • Multi-user collaboration
  • Interfaces to MCAD tools
  • DFx design guidance
  • Integrated PLM support

Xpedition balances high performance design capabilities with accessibility for a range of users.

4. OrCAD PCB Designer

orcad PCB
orcad PCB

OrCAD PCB Designer provides a full PCB design workflow with specialized options for high speed, high density, and flex/rigid-flex boards. It offers advanced productivity features.

Key Features:

  • Constraint-driven, synchronized design flow
  • Interactive routing engine
  • Customizable DFM analysis
  • Real-time design feedback
  • Extensive component library ecosystem
  • High speed, signal, and power integrity analysis
  • Team collaboration capabilities
  • Custom reporting and scripting
  • Manufacturing output automation

OrCAD balances features and usability for cost-effective, capable PCB design. It integrates well across the entire electronics workflow.

5. Zuken CR-8000

Show Image

Zuken CR-8000 is a proven PCB design solution for surface mount and complex multilayer boards. It features multi-board assembly and 3D packaging capabilities.

Key Features:

  • High speed design capabilities
  • Constraint manager for controlled flows
  • Multi-board assembly design
  • Photorealistic 3D visualization
  • Flexible layout editing tools
  • DFM analysis and verification
  • Library creation and custom reporting
  • Manufacturing documentation automation
  • Interfaces with MCAD tools

CR-8000 balances functionality with ease of adoption for seamless PCB design. The 3D packaging design environment helps streamline the electronics workflow.

6. Pulsonix PCB Design

Pulsonix PCB Design is an intuitive, easy to adopt platform with excellent usability. It offers advanced functionality like design reuse, manufacturing automation, and interactive routing suitable for many applications.

Key Features:

  • Streamlined, unified interface
  • Constraints manager for correctness
  • Concurrent multi-layer routing
  • Intelligent schematic navigation
  • Integrated 3D viewer
  • Extensive library management
  • Design reuse and block creation
  • Customizable reporting
  • Scripting interface for automation
  • Team collaboration capabilities

Pulsonix offers superb usability without sacrificing capable performance for mainstream PCB applications.

7. Autodesk EAGLE


Autodesk EAGLE is known for affordability combined with powerful features. Different pricing tiers allow customization for hobbyists, startups, and advanced users.

Key Features:

  • Easy to learn user interface
  • Extensive component libraries
  • Real-time DRC during routing
  • XML data exchange capabilities
  • Custom scripting and user language programs (ULPs)
  • Mixed-signal schematic and layout
  • Multi-sheet schematics
  • Integrated version control
  • Third party integrations via APIs

EAGLE continues gaining mainstream share given its balance of ease-of-use and capability at reasonable cost.

8. Pads Professional

Pads Professional enables concept through production PCB design with powerful automation and reuse capabilities.

Key Features:

  • Rules and constraint-driven flow
  • Interactive routing engine
  • Sketch routing capabilities
  • Intelligent component placement
  • Integrated MCAD collaboration
  • Automated manufacturing documentation
  • Role-based design collaboration
  • Programmable automation interface
  • Packaged part reuse and automation
  • Library lifecycle management

PADS leverages automation and customization for efficient PCB design tailored to specific user needs and applications.

9. Solidworks PCB

Solidworks PCB provides a single integrated environment to support the entire electronic development process including MCAD collaboration.

Key Features:

  • Multi-board assembly design
  • Constraint-driven, synchronized workflow
  • Real-time DRC during layout
  • Integrated ECAD/MCAD component reuse
  • Automated manufacturing documentation
  • Design reuse and automation
  • Revision control and design history
  • Custom library development
  • Programmatic automation interface
  • Team collaboration capabilities

Solidworks PCB tightly couples the electronic and mechanical design workflows for streamlined product development.

10. Altium Concord Pro


Altium Concord Pro provides cloud-based PCB design capabilities accessible from any browser. It’s ideal for global team collaboration.

Key Features:

  • Cloud-based design environment
  • Managed component libraries
  • Interactive routing engine
  • Real-time design rule checking
  • Unlimited file storage and history
  • Automated outputs and documentation
  • Seamless team collaboration
  • Task management and notifications
  • Custom reporting and visualizations
  • Role-based access control
  • Dashboards and analytics

For organizations seeking a cloud-based PCB design platform, Altium Concord Pro is purpose-built for the task.


This lineup of leading PCB EDA tools demonstrates the breadth of options available today. From advanced capabilities like high speed signal analysis to cloud-based global team design, these platforms enable productivity and innovation across the PCB workflow. For organizations evaluating PCB design systems, this overview provides a starting point to narrow down your shortlist based on feature needs, budget, and electronic design culture and ecosystem. By matching organizational requirements to tool strengths and deployment models, engineering teams can leverage PCB design automation to achieve product goals and accelerate market success.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What are the main advantages of an integrated PCB design tool?

A: Integrated tools with unified schematic, layout, library management, and manufacturing capabilities reduce tool switching and streamline workflow. Integrated tools also enable greater synchronization between domains and automation across the design flow.

Q: How important are library and component management capabilities in a PCB design system?

A: Library capabilities are very important. Ready access to comprehensive component libraries speeds design time by eliminating repetitive symbol and footprint creation work. Library lifecycle management also assures designers access the right validated library elements rather than outdated or unapproved footprints.

Q: What training is required to become proficient in a PCB design tool?

A: Most tools can be learned in 40-80 hours of hands-on training. Learning the basic features can happen faster. But mastering advanced productivity tools and workflows takes longer. Formal training is recommended to gain proficiency faster. Some tool providers offer certification programs to document tool expertise.

Q: What are DRCs and why are they important in PCB design?

A: Design rule checks validate a PCB layout adheres to specified clearances, spacing, trace widths, and other constraints. DRCs are critical for ensuring manufacturability, reliability, and performance. DRCs integrated into the tool avoid surprises late in the design process.

Q: How does Revision Control help with PCB design?

A: Revision control systems record incremental changes and provide version history. This supports parallel workflows and tracks design progress. Revisions enable designers to experiment without risk of losing working baselines. Integrated revision control improves design team collaboration.




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