First-time PCB creation

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zirafa

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Jun 21, 2013
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Another KiCAD user here. I think it has made some massive improvements over recent years, although being open-source, it definitely has quirks. Once you get the hang of the workflow however, it is fast to use. Also I attended the first KiCAD conference a few years back and the community support is strong, for what it's worth.

This short & fast introductory video is a few years old but still excellent imo, and shows the basic schematic->footprint->layout workflow.

 

JMan

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Wow, thank you both! Those videos are great. I might go with KiCAD on the strength of those tutorials alone. I haven't had much time since I first tried Eagle a few days ago to tinker about (work and life and all that), but I'm hoping to dive back in today or tomorrow after work.
 

MidnightArrakis

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I'm looking to get some pcbs made. It would be a small section of a larger build that is originally on a breakaway board, but the way I want to mount it requires some sort of standoffs, for which the original doesn't have holes (or any other mounting options, so why put it on a breakaway board...? But I digress). I also want to change one or two of the footprints, which will not affect nearby components in this case. So I'm basically recreating a bit of an existing board to fit my build layout better.

It seems to me that the best way to do this is to simply get the pcbs made by one of the common services that I see folks here using. The problem is, I have zero knowledge of how to create a Gerber file use pcb design software. However, like many who get into DIY, I'm more than happy to invest some time in learning. So my question is, is there a good and (relatively) simple software out there for a beginner to work with -- ideally one that isn't terribly expensive since I'm really just dipping my toe in the water for the first time and have no idea if this will be something I do routinely? Oh, and since it probably matters, I am on a Mac.

Thanks in advance for any suggestions!
I thought I would add my 2-cents worth to this discussion in order to try and help you out. Now.....you must remember that I am "ONLY A BEGINNER" when doing PCB layouts, as I only have 40+ years of experience performing PCB designs for defense contractors, medical electronics firms, NASA, R&D labs and telecommunications and video electronics companies. So, I am still learning about this stuff!!!

Here are a couple of other - FREE - PCB layout programs for you to consider: 1) PCB Artist and, 2) PCB123. Now.....while I personally have no knowledge of how well either of these products work, they are both a couple of other "flavors" to try out. I can say, though.....the "PCB Artist" is also connected to a "PCB prototype quick-turn" fabrication shop, which you may find to be of some interest, especially if you have never ordered PCBs for yourself before. Try them out.

I will also include here in my response to you that the use of individual GERBER files and an EXCELLON N/C Drill file to have your PCBs fabricated is now an old-fashioned and - outdated - file format!!! To those on this forum or in this thread may still use GERBER files because they have been around forever, the industry as a whole, is trying to get away from using GERBER data files because they are "non-intelligent". GERBER files are just ASCII text files and they do not contain a shred of "intelligence" other than X/Y co-ordinate points and a "Size/Shape" code.

In today's PCB world, it is now much easier for both yourself and for the PCB fabrication shop to use the - NEW - preferred output file called: ODB++

>> EVERYTHING << that a PCB fabrication shop needs to not only "fabricate" your PCB is in this file, but also all of the data to perform the electrical testing and to have the parts assembled onto your PCB is all within an - ODB++ - output file. Something to just keep in mind, OK???

As far as wondering about schematic symbols and PCB footprints and the libraries of these various symbols within each different PCB system, just go ahead and use with whatever is in the PCB program that you select. Whether this is a "one-off" project or merely the beginning of you becoming a PCB Designer, I would use the provided libraries.....UNTIL you learn and understand enough about "layer-stackup" and "pad geometry" to venture out about creating your own symbols and footprints. Most symbols and footprints these days follow industry standards (i.e. IPC Guidelines) for a variety of reasons. While it appears as though most members on this forum don't really care about such things (i.e. "I don't care about having to meet any standards. I just want to get a PCB in my hands regardless"!!!), in my line of work, I - HAVE - to follow industry standards or my PCB designs will not be accepted!!! Simple as that!!!

Here are three different companies that each have their own schematic symbol and PCB footprint libraries and - ALL - of which also meet the industry standards to be accepted by various industries (i.e. aerospace, defense, industrial, medical, R&D, telecommunications, video, etc.): 1) SamacSys 2) SnapEDA 3) Ultra-Librarian. And, should you venture out into the area of purchasing your own electronic components, you will notice that the two most commonly used parts distributors (i.e. Digi-Key [SnapEDA & Ultra-Librarian] and Mouser [SamacSys]) each use one or more of these "symbol provider" companies for you to immediately download what you need. Easy-Peezy!!!

Now.....here is something to think about when you notice the lack of high-end CAD-design software programs available on a Mac. Why does Apple themselves use WINDOWS-based CAD-design programs to design their own products??? Now, Apple may use some "VirtualPC" platform to run WINDOWS software on a Mac, but the point is.....it's - STILL - a WINDOWS-based program!!! I cannot tell you the numbers of times I have been contacted by recruiters working on behalf of Apple contact me to either design their PCBs or their mechanical chassis using well-known high-end industry-standard WINDOWS-based CAD-design software programs!!! It makes me laugh.

What do I use? I use the CADENCE/OrCAD "PCB Editor" Release 17.4 PCB Design software for my PCB designs. I have things configured so my PCB design files import straight into my SolidWorks Premium 2021 3D Mechanical Design program so I am able to work with both my mechanical and PCB designs together in a single environment. But.....that's just me!!!

Well.....hopefully an item or two here has proven to be useful to you. Should you need anything else, feel free to let me know, OK???

/
 

JMan

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Great info, thank you for your perspective! I have seen your posts on another thread recommending using the ODB++ format. I will look into it for sure, since this is my first go-around and I have no "old ways" to be stuck in, so from my perspective it's all the same -- I will either get in the habit of creating Gerbers OR creating ODB++, so no harm in learning to do the latter right off the bat. Thanks again for your valuable insight.
 

Lee_M

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I'll second zvukofor's recommendation of EasyEda, it's free, really easy to use, and is directly integrated with JLCPCB, who make nice quality PCBs at very good prices.

The downside is that it's cloud-based, which means you need an internet connection to use it (not to mention that it can make your browser a bit laggy if you have the app open in a background tab) but you can download your finished gerber files for future use if you're worried about losing them.

Regarding ownership of designs made using the program;

"All files created to the site belongs to the poster. EasyEDA does not own, nor has any claim to, your IP (Intellectual Property)."


If you design any schematic symbols or footprints for individual components, they become available as part of the public library as default, but I see that as a helpful way of the community supporting itself and it's nothing to worry about in terms of IP.
 

zvukofor

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Actually, i use standalone version, not browser-based. It is pretty fast and low on resources.
But being able to use browser-based version anywhere i need it is a nice thing to have.
 

Whoops

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I used Eagle in the past, and had loads of component Libraries for Eagle, that was an advantage.

Can those Eagle libraries be used in KiCAD? any way of making them compatible?
 

ruffrecords

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I used Eagle in the past, and had loads of component Libraries for Eagle, that was an advantage.

Can those Eagle libraries be used in KiCAD? any way of making them compatible?
Best to check oout the Kicad web site. I know they have an embryonic Eagle design import feature so presumably that involves reading Eagle component libraries.

Cheers

Ian
 

Matador

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This question comes up frequently, and it's like asking for beer recommendations: everyone has their favorite for different reasons, and everyone is right. :) Internet posters aren't going to be able to tell you what works for you, you just have to spend a few hours with each one until one clicks with your working style.

I used Eagle for years, until they moved to their "you don't own the software you bought anymore" monthly subscription model. I also tried Diptrace, and never made any traction with it. EasyEda frustrated me when wanting to do slightly more than simple things, like defining custom annular rings. KiCad's workflow fit well with me, although I hate that it doesn't support a command line interface at the bottom for issuing direct CAD commands via the keyboard (like SET LAYER 25, etc). On the flip-side, KiCad's forced hierarchal schematics actually made me draw more readable schematics.

Again, try them all and it will be obvious the one that works best for you.
 
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swpaskett

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Jumping in kind of late here, but I started with Eagle some dozen years ago, life got busy, I moved to Mac, found time again, and went looking for Mac native schematic capture and found... Eagle. Yes, new Eagle is different from old Eagle. There are a lot of things about it I don't like, but it does run on Mac, I sort-of know how to use it though won't touch their new simulation feature (not even sure it works) because I always find it easier to build something than to simulate it. The big negative, as I see it, is massive redundancy in their libraries and lots of inconsistencies. After a while you learn which of the "identical" parts to use, but finding the right one to begin with is an exercise in trial and error.
My Mac Air chokes on VMs, not enough horsepower under the hood, and I refuse to buy anything from Microslop anymore, ever since they killed Win 7 to sell more Win 10 licenses (I have a nice machine gathering dust because I refuse to buy Win 10). Every app I have ever used that uses a wrapper (wrappers translate Win system calls to OSX calls) doesn't perform well either, so for me Eagle is it, even though I bristle every time I have to log into Autodesk.

There is something to be said about the lack of serious, quality, design-ware for the Mac platform, but I don't know what it is. I always find something that works for me, but I have to look 3 times as hard as I ever did to find something for Windoze. I suspect part of the problem is the lack of openness in the Mac environment. It's a sealed box, both hardware and software-wise. Developers don't like dealing with that, especially for low volume apps. You can't do much to upgrade a Mac if you find your machine lacks power -- other than buy another box from Apple. And finally, there are all the security features Apple keeps tossing in -- with good reason -- that always seems to break something on my Mac with every upgrade. Again, I always find a way around it ("degrading" my security "upgrade") but it adds up to lost time and some frustration in the mean time.

As an aside, I have been using Aisler for board fab lately. They take native files so no need to generate Gerbers. I find that a plus because I often screwed things up at that point. Their prices are reasonable if you opt for slow (2-3 week) delivery, which is fine for me -- I have more time than money. My boards are usually small, an example is a Schoeps-ish mic pre about 0.5 x 2 inches -- I got a dozen boards for under $11. Minimum buy is usually 3 boards, and they panelize. Boards come with plating, solder mask and silkscreen, and they will cut you a stencil, too. As a side business they will sell you the parts and even assemble the board; a plus for folks like me with dim eyes and shaky hands who are being forced to surface mount. And, if it matters to you, boards are fabbed in USA or Europe, depending on your locale, not China. Mine have all come from Texas. I suspect Aisler (based in the Netherlands) is just a reseller with contracts with some fabs around the globe, but so far no problems.
 

Lee_M

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Actually, i use standalone version, not browser-based. It is pretty fast and low on resources.
But being able to use browser-based version anywhere i need it is a nice thing to have.

Huh, I didn't realise there was a standalone version.

That must be a relatively new addition, do you know when it was introduced?
 

zvukofor

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Oct 31, 2012
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Can't really say when they made a standalone, i jumped on board this february.
BTW, EasyEDA can import Altium and Eagle files...
 

Yash

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KiCad's workflow fit well with me, although I hate that it doesn't support a command line interface at the bottom for issuing direct CAD commands via the keyboard (like SET LAYER 25, etc).

Have you tried scripting it with Python?
 

Yash

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Apr 30, 2018
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Always free, powerful, open-source, scriptable, no limitations as in 'buy the other version for more pins or layers', backed by CERN and others (e.g. Digikey library), etc... I like KiCAD a lot.
 

ruffrecords

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Here is one to keep an eye on, especially if you want an easy to use package rather than all the professional bells and whistles you get with something like Kicad:

LibrePCB

Early days yet (only 7 years of development behind it) but the core philosophy is start with the library management, get that right from the start then add the rest. It is usable right now for simple boards and Aisler accept its native files for PCB fabrication. Totally free and runs on PC, Mac and Linux. Here is a video presentation from the developer back in 2018 libreVideo

Cheers

Ian
 

Matador

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One thing I've always hated about schematic/layout programs is not clearly delineating between what is necessary for schematic's (symbols), versus what is needed for layout (packages). OrCad was always good about this, and KiCad is close: Eagle was terrible, with each individual symbol/package combo needing to be predefined.

The schematic shouldn't care about pins - the symbol for a device/part should indicate the required input and output connections...full stop! Symbols should be linked with packages: a TL074 op amp has the same basic symbol hierarchy regardless of the type of package. On the flip-side, packages shouldn't be linked with symbols: a DIP-8 is a DIP-8, whether or not the device inside is a microcontroller, an op-amp, or a set of BJT's. Once you indicate the package, you should be able to freely assign symbol entry and exit points with physical pins, as which point it should be available on the schematic.

Schematic/layout software dances between these two extremes, and I never understood why.
 

abbey road d enfer

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One thing I've always hated about schematic/layout programs is not clearly delineating between what is necessary for schematic's (symbols), versus what is needed for layout (packages). OrCad was always good about this, and KiCad is close: Eagle was terrible, with each individual symbol/package combo needing to be predefined.

The schematic shouldn't care about pins - the symbol for a device/part should indicate the required input and output connections...full stop! Symbols should be linked with packages: a TL074 op amp has the same basic symbol hierarchy regardless of the type of package. On the flip-side, packages shouldn't be linked with symbols: a DIP-8 is a DIP-8, whether or not the device inside is a microcontroller, an op-amp, or a set of BJT's. Once you indicate the package, you should be able to freely assign symbol entry and exit points with physical pins, as which point it should be available on the schematic.

Schematic/layout software dances between these two extremes, and I never understood why.
My version of Eagle (v5.00!)allows exactly what you describe. Actually, e.g. a TL074 is 4x opamp symbols + 1x power pins symbol. The package can be anything, DIP8, SOIC,...
But if you want to make a unique symbol and a unique package for the same TL074, you can do it. You create a TL074 symbol and aTL074 package. It wouldn't make much sense, but each one his own.
 

MidnightArrakis

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Great info, thank you for your perspective! I have seen your posts on another thread recommending using the ODB++ format. I will look into it for sure, since this is my first go-around and I have no "old ways" to be stuck in, so from my perspective it's all the same -- I will either get in the habit of creating Gerbers OR creating ODB++, so no harm in learning to do the latter right off the bat. Thanks again for your valuable insight.
If you PM me, I can get you a - FREE - version of the OrCAD Release 17.2 PCB Design software. It's slightly "dated", but more than "good enough" for what you are looking to accomplish!!!

See YA!!!

JBW

/
 

z11111

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As a lot of other people have mentioned in here, KiCad is probably the way to go if you are just starting out. I use Eagle (on old version 8, I don't want to upgrade - I actually wish I could have stayed on Eagle 7 but updated Mac OS for other programs and that broke it) just because I've been using it for many years and therefore am comfortable with it (plus, I frequently work on projects with other Eagle users), but if I could do it all over again I wish I went with KiCad instead because it has better features to suit my ideal needs and more intuitive functionality. I know a lot of pros / audio industry vets using KiCad.

That being said, there are a lot of audio related Eagle resources readily available, part libraries, etc. I chose Eagle just because I had coworkers / collaboraters already using it and figured it would make sense for me in that regard. The free Eagle is fine if you're only doing 2-layers.

For small prototype runs of PCB manufacture, I've been using JLC PCB (they're under the EasyEDA umbrella) for many years with great results. I prefer them (and their SMD assembly!) to the frequently used PCB Way, OshPark, Smart Prototyping, SEEED (stay away from them - they've messed up huge runs of boards for me over the years), among others I've tried once or twice. The JLC stuff is probably the highest quality you can get for the price, solid customer service, fairly easy ordering process, FAST shipping and turnaround. My orders usually show up in less than a week from China to USA. At least for Eagle (and I assume KiCad as well), JLC provides scripts for gerber exporting as well as design rule checks so that is pretty helpful if you aren't using your own.

That also being said re: fabs, OshPark is super straightforward and intuitive. I used OshPark to mfg most of my early PCB designs just because I could upload an Eagle file and it would work without needing to generate gerbers or do any additional work. If you're JUST starting out in PCB design, I'd recommend doing a super simple layout (such as a Linear Power Booster guitar pedal) first and foremost just to get the hang of things.

I hope this post is helpful and not too redundant!
 
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