This article with talk about the 5 Best Free PCB design software’s in the market today. Before not many years, PCB s used to be designed manually with the help of a photo mask on a Mylar sheet. Schematic circuit used to be drawn on a plain paper.
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The solder pads used to be laid out on the Mylar manually.The copper lines were routed to connect the pads. Self-adhesive tape was used for creating the copper traces. Mylar sheets had per-printed and non-reproducing grid points which was an assistance to the board designer. Finally, the board was fabricated with the finished photo mask which was photo lithographically reproduced onto a photo resist. This photo resist was coated on the copper-clad boards.
However, as the complexity of the electronics circuits increased with the advancements in the technology, the manual method was no longer effective and it required a great deal of complex and tedious work.
Nowadays, the Printed Circuit Board Design is done using the special software’s which helps the designer to create the design more efficiently and faster.
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We will look at 5 Best Free PCB design software’s in this article.
To produce a printed circuit board, you need ECAD software which enables you to do following things
- Schematic Capture
- Layout (Placement & Routing)
- Generate manufacturing data
Schematic Capture is the phase in PCB design where you draw the interconnections between the electronic components that are there in your design. There will be symbols depicting the logical structure of an electronic component like an IC, passive devices such as resister, capacitor, connectors and modules, board figures etc.
Layout is where you place the physical symbols also known as Footprints on the work space of the Printed circuit board. The works pace is a boundary of the PCB which depicts the actual dimensions of the board. The footprint is an exact depiction of the physical structure of the component having a definite boundary and solder pads (known as PAD STACKS) on it. A footprint is just a symbol and it can be used for multiple instances or entries on the board. For example, a data buffer and a level translator can a same physical package and can share the same footprint as well.
Generation of manufacturing data is a phase where you create the final files that go to the PCB fabrication house and these files have universal format which is accepted by the majority of the fabrication houses. In the general terms these files are called as GERBER files. Along with manufacturing data, you also create the files which are required by the assembly house for the component assembly on to the bare physical PCB.
Best Free Circuit Design Software
There are several software’s available in the market to perform these things to design the PCB. Some of these software’s available are free for download and use while some of them are paid. We will see some of the best and most popular software’s available and the enthusiasts can choose from these for their PCB design work.
Note: These free-for-use software’s usually come with a limited functionality and do not support the advanced tasks that are required to design a relatively complex and high-end PCB’s. Some of them do not generate the exact manufacturing data that is required by the manufacturing house to produce a PCB.
Manufacturing house sometimes charges you to compensate for the incompatible formats. We will see in other article some of the best known PCB design software’s which cost you millions of dollars on purchase but gives you much more than that of the free software like more advanced features, customized and highly accurate error checking features (known as DRC – Design rule Check), auto-routing features, automated tasks, design reuse options, multiple user environment and mush more.
The comfort level of working with these software’s is incomparable with that of free ones and these also reduce the time-to-market by its highly advanced efficiency.
List of 5 best free PCB design software
EAGLE is available from Cad-soft and it is very user-friendly, relatively advanced and easy to work with. EAGLE is available for Windows and well as Linux and MAC platforms. It also provides an auto router which helps you to route the signals automatically for you. More and more hobbyists and enthusiasts find EAGLE as one of the best available best free PCB design software’s.
Express-PCB is available to download from the link express PCB official site. It is a good tool for schematic and layout if you are working on smaller designs. Express PCB is supported on major windows versions such as Windows NT, Windows 2000, Windows XP, Windows 7 etc. It is one of the best free PCB design software.
PCB123 is from Sunstone Circuits. It can be downloaded from the Sunstone’s official website. Due to high efficiency and simplicity, users considered PCB123 is one of the best free PCB design software’s. It also comes with a very good documentation which helps the beginners to learn it quickly.
TINA is available from Design Soft and very popular software among the designers. It gives you the simulation software which is complements the PCB design tool very efficiently. TINA provides built-in symbol and footprint library which makes the designer’s job much simpler. It also enables you to view the 3D view of the PCB and helps you efficiently place you components as per you mechanical constraints and requirements. The support for Flexible PCB design also adds to the overall marks and it scores more in this area over the others.
KiCAD is the next and the final one in our list of best Free PCB design software’s. It is open source software developed by Jean-Pierre Charras. The current revisions of the software’s are being developed by KiCad Developers Team. KiCAD suite has 5 major parts which are divided in the project manager, schematic, footprint, layout and Gerber programs. KiCAD also provides the 3D viewer along with the editor. It also helps user visualize the placement of the components more clearly.
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With this last software, we come to an end of the article. 5 Best Free PCB design software’s in the market today. There are several other PCB Circuit Design Software available which can do the job for you.
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However, the best free PCB design software’s out of them is chosen based on, the individual’s preferences and the comfort level to work with them. Even the each of the more advanced software’s has its own strong and weak points. The preference is again based on the individual’s liking and the needs.