The technology we are using today is a product of CAD software. Many PCB design software come with high-quality. They are also customizable tools to help you create your next PCB. Many of my friends cannot even recognize what a PCB is and don’t know how it can be suitable for their lives. This article will go through some of the best free PCB design software out there.
If you want to design PCB, you need professional PCB design software to help you save time and money. Working with a good provider of software will save you time and money. You don’t have to look for an online translation tool to help you read some of the boards. You don’t have to spend time learning how to use the software either. When you have PCB design software, it does everything efficiently for you. Read on to understand what is PCB design software and which one will serve you best.
You could ask yourself this question for those who want PCB design. What is a PCB? The PCB stands for a printed circuit board. It is a flat electronic component that has electronic components soldered and etched onto it. That is how a PCB works.
Alexander Bain introduced the early idea of the PCB in 1851. He created a board for Glasgow University that had both the electricity and data transmitted. It is a black slate-like component that has copper traces. The copper traces are where the electricity and data will go from one point to another.
The PCBs that we have today is helpful for many things. We can use them for telecommunications, electrical circuits, medical equipment, and automotive. It depends on the person designing the PCB who will be using it.
We can say that PCB is one of the essential inventions globally. It is changing the lives of humans everywhere. The creative technology for this product used CAD software that creates PCBs.
There are also plenty of other people looking to learn how to make a PCB. Finding the right road can sometimes be confusing. But you can always find the right step with your will and creativity.
PCB design process
The PCB design process is easy, but first, you must choose a PCB design software for your needs. That is the first step that you need to take if you want to start working on your PCB design in your life. The good thing about working with software is that it could help you create a PCB without issues.
1. Schematics PCB Design
This is the first thing you need to do to create your PCB. Creating an electronic schematic of your project is crucial in the process. You should do this stage carefully because it might have a bad PCB layout if you do not do it right. To help you with this task, many tools can help you create your PCB. Some are:
Inkscape is a popular program used to design posters, logos, and layouts on paper. One of the most used programs to create schematics from start to finish is Inkscape. Inkscape is free software that you can download on almost all platforms.
QElectroTech is another free program that can create schematics on PC and MAC computers. Users can only make printable PCB designs in QET using the STEP CAD files. It helps users with paper-free PCB layout design, layout, and library.
Altium Designer – If you are looking for paid software, you can opt for Altium Designer. This tool is good for beginners who want to start working with professional software. The price for this software is about $1500, which is cheap. In the long run, you will be getting many benefits from this software.
2. PCB layout Designing
You do this process next after the schematic designing part. It is not just drawing wires and writing stuff on the board here. You also need to think and plan before starting the layout design, which could take a while.
PCB Editor – This is a free and open-source PCB editor that we can use on Windows, Linux, and Mac OS. This software was initially developed in 1998 by one of the users of the Linux community. The development team has made several upgrades to this software since 1999. Now it is being maintained by a larger team of developers who produce new versions now and then.
KiCad is a total package tool for an electronic design. We can use it for schematic capture, PCB layout, and PCB production. It is well known for producing professional quality board layouts at an affordable price. It is free software that you can download from the internet.
Free PCBCart is a free web-based PCB layout tool. Users can create professionally designed boards online. Then they print them in China without worrying about shipping fees or import taxes. It is a convenient tool that users can create customized electronic boards online.
a. Placing the component packages
Placing the component packages is also crucial in the PCB layout process. You will need to follow some specific steps to do this. They include Planarization, Bounding Box Creation, and the types of packages you will use.
Routing is the next process that you need to do if you want to produce a good PCB in the end. It is another critical step that you need to do carefully. You will need to use routing software for this process. Some good programs can do this job easily, such as:
Free Router is a free routing tool used on Windows, Linux, and Mac operating systems.
Vias is another essential thing you need to produce a good PCB. This process will involve drilling holes into the board to connect different tracks.
FreePCB is free and open-source software that can create PCBs on Windows and Linux operating systems.
d. Pad Selection
In this process, you need to select your pads as per requirement. You will need to make sure that you select the right width and diameter for the pads. Too thin of a pad will not be strong enough, while too thick of a pad will result in higher resistance and lower performance of your PCB.
PCBWay is the most popular online PCB fabrication service. People can order PCBs, assemble them, and get them shipped to their houses safely.
e. Exporting the layout design
The last step that you need to do is export the layout design. You should export your PCB design in a vector format later in other programs.
After exporting your layout design, you will need to place your order on PCB fabrication services. You can place your order with Rayming PCB & Assembly to produce your PCBs and deliver them to your house.
Best PCB Design Software
Designing is not just drawing wires and writing stuff on the board. You also need to think and plan before starting the layout design. This could take a while. However, there are some steps that you can follow to make sure that you are doing it right.
The first thing you will need is to develop a proper design theme for your board. The theme should be good and attractive so that people will love it at first sight and want to buy your PCBs in the end.
1. Altium Designer
This is a paid PCB Layout software that can design circuit boards and create PCBs in general. It is the best in this area because it uses high-quality graphics. This software has codes for different PCB sizes and an excellent components library. It is a complete package tool that we can use for schematic capture, layout design, and fabrication of PCBs.
Features and specifications
- Schematic capture
- Layout design
- PCB layout
- Production of PCBs (in house and China)
- Automatic documentation and documentation with notes
- Online order status tracking and automated release of components. It allows production while keeping the design up to date.
- Component libraries with over 100,000 components. They include many SMD components and surface mount parts
- Auto capture of power traces, ground planes, and other essential trace characteristics
- Electronic Design Automation – EDA (tools for schematic capture, PCB layout, and documentation)
- A large library including libraries for BGA, SMT, and through-hole resistors.
- An integrated system for developing with custom add-ons
- Powerful libraries for optomechanical devices
- A graphic library of hundreds of icons and symbols
This feature-rich PCB Layout software and used by more than 50,000 users worldwide. It is also considered the best in this area because it is easy to use, has many functions, and is very reliable in general.
However, it is a paid software that can cost you $2500 if you use all the features.
KiCad is free and open-source software for creating PCBs or other electronic designs in general. It is a schematic capture, PCB layout, and electronic design automation software. We can also use it for producing matrices, schematics, and other PCB-related items.
It is free software that you can download from the internet. The software is user-friendly and is the most popular PCB design software.
It has a lot of functions that can help you design your PCBs. Therefore, many use it for its reliability and efficiency.
Eagle is a powerful PCB Layout software used on Windows and Mac operating systems. It has a user-friendly interface that makes it easy to use by anyone who has basic computer literacy skills.
Unlike most other PCB design software, this tool is simple and easy to use for non-experts.
It has many features that we can use to create complex boards. They include unlimited board size and layers and a multi-sheet board design capability. It can use schematic capture with PCB layout on the same screen.
However, the free version of Eagle is not good enough. It only allows you to work in a small area and gives as many features as other tools.
This toolkit is an integrated collection of tools for creating electronic circuits. It combines the four categories of tools needed for this task.
- Schematic capture editor (gschem)
- PCB layout editor (gpcb)
- Audio signal tool (gator)
- PCB autorouter
NASA also used it in its Space Shuttle in the beginning. We also use it to design other busses and GPUs.
The best thing about this tool is that it is free, open-source, and community-based.
We use it to create everything from simple schematic diagrams to complex PCBs.
However, it does not have many functions as you would see in Altium Designer.
This is another top-rated PCB design software. It can design and create various circuit boards. This software has the best features like parasitic extraction and 3D view. It is a total package design solution.
It also has a great library of components that we can use for creating your layout designs. You can find everything from resistors, test points to footprints for surface mount devices.
Universities and companies use it for professional purposes, making it one of the best options.
We can use it to create PCBs and schematics, layouts, and footprints. It also has rubber resistors, power distribution boards, and high-speed signal routing.
However, its free option is not good enough; therefore, you will have to purchase it if you use all the features.
This is a tool for developing boards and systems and managing complex projects. It has different types of PCB layout capabilities, code generators. Also, it has a user-friendly interface making it easy to use by even those who do not have any experience in this area.
It has PCB diagrams, schematics, printed circuit boards, and an EDA flow. You can use it for single or double side PCB designs.
It can also design custom components and has a powerful library of parts.
However, this tool is not very user-friendly, and therefore, it is not the best option for beginners.
It is a relatively new tool and has many revolutionary features. We can use it to design PCBs.
It is easy to use and has an efficient layout tool with a snappy user interface for creating schematics and PCB layouts. It also has a library of components and components footprints. You can quickly create electronic circuit boards.
You can also generate professional documentation and reports using the built-in report generator.
However, this is still a relatively new tool. Therefore, there may be some bugs or issues you might encounter.
This is a free program that we can use to design, document, and share your projects. It is a user-friendly tool that is simple to use and has an easy library of components to use.
Fritzing has an intuitive interface and can create schematics, PCBs, and layouts.
It also gives an option of exporting designs into popular formats such as KiCAD. This makes it one of the best options for users just starting in this area.
However, it does not have a library of parts. Therefore, you can use a limited amount of components for your designs.
This is another software used to design various circuit boards and other electrical devices. It is an easy-to-operate software with an intuitive interface. This makes it very easy to use even by those new to the field.
The best thing about this tool is that you can use it free of charge and work with any board. This is one of the reasons why it has gained a lot of popularity.
You can also share your designs using the internal file sharing option. You can also use it for both single and double-sided designs.
It allows you to create schematics, PCBs, footprints, and printed circuit boards.
However, several bugs in this software may cause issues during the design process. If you are new to this area or have no experience, this software could be good enough for you to use, at least as a senior beginner.
This is a freeware program that Dassault Systemes launched in 2011. It has a user-friendly interface and is easy to use even for beginners.
This tool helps create both schematics and PCBs. It has different tools such as track, bus, component, net, and drawing tools that you can use to create your layouts.
It also allows you to view the 3D model of your design and also the component model, schematic, or PCB model.
What makes a good PCB design software?
You should consider several factors when choosing the best PCB software.
You should keep in mind and check out some things before finally choosing the one for yourself.
The price of a PCB design software is an essential factor to consider. This is because there are several free options and paid ones that you can choose from.
A low-cost option could work for you, but it is best to go for paid software if you have a tight budget.
The software’s type of database is another essential factor to look at. Some have databases that have all the necessary parts together. Others only have limited types of parts available with their packages.
Also, look at the size and quality of the database.
3. EDA flow
It is also good to check the version of EDA flow if you are purchasing or using this software for professional purposes. It is also a wise choice to first get an idea about which type will be best for your needs before choosing one in particular.
Check whether you can read the help provided by the software before purchasing. If it is user-friendly, then this is a good sign as it means that the developers have put in a lot of effort to make it easy to use for beginners.
Apart from the factors mentioned above, you should check how well the software works for your needs and requirements. Run some demos and test-run your designs to see if there are any issues or bugs with them.
6. Library of Components
Another essential factor to consider is the software’s library of components. The more options it has, the better, as it means that you will find precisely what you are looking for.
7. Reputed Brand
Many brands provide PCB design software. Therefore, it cannot be easy to choose between them all. The best way to go about this is by checking out their popularity and reviews online and the number of users using their products.
The software should also be scalable to allow the user to increase or decrease the size of designs. This is important as you may want to share your designs on the internet with others. Therefore, you need a program that allows you to do this.
9. Public Domain
Some better software like PCB CAD is helpful under the public domain. In this case, you can modify and redistribute it without paying anything for it. You will still get full rights (read: license) for its use.
Where to find free PCB design software
There are several places where you can find free PCB design software.
The main places include:
1. Community forums
This is a great place to start looking for free PCB design software. However, you need to be very cautious before using such software. Many out there are not free but still, have some of their source code available for download. Therefore, this is not a good sign for safety purposes.
2. Web search engines
Another option that you can look at is a web search engine. Searching for ‘free PCB design software will pull up different results. However, you need to be very careful as many of these are scams and, therefore, are not a good idea.
3. Free Software Archives
This is another place to find PCB design software free of charge that the developer maintains. However, this is not very reliable as many users have reported problems with most of the programs listed in their forums sections.
4. Free Software Library
This is an excellent place to find free PCB design software that you can use for personal or educational purposes. However, this software may have limitations that could limit the number of boards and layers and the design’s size.
There is a lot to consider when choosing the best PCB design software. Depending on your requirements, purpose, and budget, you will choose one of the options mentioned above. The above guide is a good starting point for finding the best software for your needs. Try the demos and test the functionality of each before purchasing or downloading them to have a better idea about them. You may also want to check out other helpful resources like this course. Good luck!