PCB Design Software – An Overview

02/10/2019, hardwarebee

Many years ago, before PCB design software tools were available, designing a PCB was a very difficult task, especially if you had 50-100 high-pin count ICs and many passive components. There were so many wires to connect manually, that some said it was as difficult as designing Paris traffic roads, tunnels and bridges from scratch.  Without any PCB design software tool, it was a tedious and time-consuming task that required many resources and effort.


old traffic road Paris map

Source: https://artswikipedia.com/image/old-traffic-road-paris-map/624


Today, designing a PCB is relatively a simple task thanks to PCB design software tools. These tools are called EDA (Electronic Design Automation) tools and are helping the PCB designer to layout simple or complex (multi-layer) designs. Some tools even offer automated features such place and route based on predefined settings and constrains.


Essentially, a PCB design software tasks are as:


  • Placing components (active and passive) across the printed circuit board
  • Connecting the wires based on a netlist generated by the schematic capture software
  • Simulating various signals (optional)
  • Generating Gerber files (production artwork)


From Idea to PCB

The first step in designing any hardware product is to create the schematics (schematic capture) based on your product specifications and requirements. There are several schematics capture tools on the market. Depending on your project scope you will needs to determine which tool is the best fit to you. There are several free schematics capture tool that are suitable for both simple and complex designs. You might want to start off by checking the free tools.


The next step is to design the PCB. This is where PCBs or Printed Circuit Boards come into the picture.


Once you are ready to start the PCB layout activity, you will need to choose a PCB design tool. There are many PCB design tools that are available on the market. Some are free and some are not.


When you start the PCB editor tool, you will need first to upload your schematic design into the PCB layout tool environment. If you have done that successfully, the PCB editor with show your PCB with all the components and air routing. The following picture shows a simple PCB design:


The next step is to route the design. This can be done manually or automatically. The following image shows a manual PCB routing with two layers (done by a marketing guy!). The picture shows the ICs and other components and the connection between them.



In order to be able to design your PCB, you will need a PCB Design Software. If you set out in search for the ideal PCB design software to sue, you will find that there are numerous options that you can go for. Deciding on one, however, which will be best suited to you, can be quite a difficult task as it will depend on multiple factors, including your project requirements. Let’s take a look at some of the parameters or factors that you need to take into consideration when deciding on the best PCB design software for you:


Starting your very own PCB design project can be a very exciting thing. But without proper knowledge and preparation, you can end up wasting your time and making major costly mistakes. Get yourself familiar with tools that you are planning to use.


To help you get a general idea of the kinds and names of software that are used to design PCBs, here are some that are most commonly and widely used:




EAGLE stands for Easily Applicable Graphical Layout Editor and does exactly what its acronym suggests. It enables you to edit the layout of your circuit board and render a schematic. It works with Windows, Mac, and Linux platforms and harbors an extremely easy to use interface that is interactive and intuitive. It is equipped with almost all of the tools you may need, having features that range from alignment tools to routing engines. Eagle is available in two packages, the free version and the paid version where you receive technical support and the latest software versions.



If you are looking for a free, open source PCB design software that is chock full of features and tools, then look no further than KiCAD. This design software works with Windows, Mac, and Linux, and is also supported by CERN. it allows you to render a three dimensional layout of your circuit board on a virtual platform using the various electrical components that are already listed in their existing library.




EasyEDA is an extremely easy to use and mighty convenient online PCB design platform that lets you run circuit simulations and test out your circuit designs. It is an extremely handy tool for beginners in particular as it will work in your browser and supply you with only the essential tools. On the other side, it is not as fleshed out with features as some of the other options on this list.




On this list, Altium Designer is probably the priciest option, but it may be worth the purchase if you are a company looking to invest in a PCB design software solution that will facilitate the work of your engineers. Using Altium, you can design and develop complex hardware along with editing and honing your schematic and PCB. It is stacked with a host of features that ultimately allow you to view the model as a three-dimensional rendering which you can navigate through. For a beginner, the Altium interface may just be a difficult to use since it is filled with tools and is rather complex in nature. It is, however, the perfect partner for relatively seasoned engineers.



At the end of the day, the software you choose to go with for your PCB design depends largely on what you need out of it. For a beginner, open source and online solutions are the best suited, whereas more experienced developers should go for paid, feature filled options.


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