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TOPIC: PCB Design Reccomendations

Re: PCB Design Reccomendations 6 years 11 months ago #16118

  • Jon Chandler
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Gary (W4GNS) asked me for recommendations regarding PCB design software. As others may have the same questions, I'll post here so that all can see.

There are many options and opinions about what software package is best, and what I'm writing here is my opinion, based on what I know and use. If you have other opinions, please feel free to share them here but please explain why "this is better and that sucks."

My recommendation makes a few assumptions:
    This software is going to be used once in a while for relatively simple boards
    The maximum board size to be designed falls into the range of low-cost options by iTead and Seeed
    A 2-layer board will meet the design needs
    Boards are not being designed to sell

If the boards to be designed fix within the above constraints, I would recommend the Eagle Freeware version. It's free, with the following limitations (as copied from their web site:
    The useable board area is limited to 100 x 80 mm (4 x 3.2 inches)
    Only two signal layers can be used (Top and Bottom)
    The schematic editor can only create one sheet
    Use is limited to non-profit applications or evaluation purposes

The freeware version gives you the ability to create a schematic. to lay out a board and to produce industry-standatd Gerber files needed to fabricate the boards. Eagle has a large number of libraries, including custom libraries for Sparkfun and Adafruit industries.

I have to be honest here. Eagle has a steep learning curve and no matter whether you use Windows, Linux or Apple, the user interface will be unfamiliar. But I also know that people can use it effectively very quickly.

I've put on a course to help people get started at Metrix Create Space a couple times. By the end of the second 2 hour session, people were able to create their own boards. Link to tutorial

If you need to design larger boards or boards with more layers, my recommendations are sightly different. With the non-freeware versions of Eagle, the schematic capture, PCB layout and auto-routing modules are licensed (and priced) separately. I have the Eagle Professional layout module because I need to make larger size boards to fit in certain enclosures. Not any more complicated than anything the freeware version can handle, but I need the physically larger size. With Eagle, you must license (i.e., pay for) all of the modules at the same level. Since my circuits for the most part aren't complex, I can't justify the cost of the upgraded schematic capture module.

Instead, for schematic capture, I use the open source program Tinycad, which I've mentioned before. It's not as integrated as using only Eagle modules but it works reasonably well.

I specifically do not recommend on-line software provided by Express PCB or other circuit board vendors. These software packages lock you into using their fabrication services and will not allow you to make industry-standard Gerber files without the payment of a large fee.

Many people seem to like Diptrace. The little bit I've worked with it, it seemed to be a bit kludgy in its own way. The free version has a limited number of pins that can be used rather than a physical board size.

Hope this helps....

Re: PCB Design Reccomendations 6 years 11 months ago #11778

  • MrDEB
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kludgy?? Never heard of it but its in the dictionary.
YES Eagle has a steep learning curve.If your doing professional design work then EAGLE is your software. You get what you pay for.
DIPTRACE is quickery in that when you design a part then figuring out how to attach a pattern AFTER you save then close the program. Really funky.
BUT the software is FREE and you can obtain a upgraded version allowing more connections.
Doesn't sound good but it is easier to learn than EAGLE if you only plan to do a board for hobby use.
And it will produce GERBER FILES.
You draw schematic, convert to PCBoard then run auto router. THEN clean up as desired. Have yet to run auto route and not have to re-edit here and there.
A nice feature is verification of design rules and comparing to schematic.
AVOID EXPRESS PCB at all costs.

Re: PCB Design Reccomendations 6 years 11 months ago #11782

  • majenko
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I was forced to use Express PCB once because that is what a client had created their schematics in.

Truly vomit worthy.

I have never seen anything quite so bad.

As a Linux user I pretty much exclusively use the gEDA suite. It has pretty much all the features you need, and isn't limited like a lot of the "free" ones. Yes, it takes some getting used to the interfaces, but the same can be said for the other programs.

It's under fully active development all the time as well, so you get new features added all the time. Just the other day the ability to select the colour of your solder mask, exposed pads and ident suddenly appeared in the PNG export facility. Nice.

And of course, being open source, you can add your own features as well

Re: PCB Design Reccomendations 6 years 11 months ago #11783

  • Jon Chandler
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... Yes, it takes some getting used to the interfaces, but the same can be said for the other programs....

I think this is a key "feature" of all these programs. It takes some "hands on" to learn to use this type of program. Designing a board is a complex process so some new things will have to be learned along the way.

Re: PCB Design Reccomendations 6 years 11 months ago #11784

  • Baldor
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My opinion about learning curves and complexity of the interfaces is not valid, being I'm an user of complex CAD/CAM (CATIA) since 20 years ago.

In one day, I tried several schematics/pcb packages, and decided for eagle, it looked the frendliest one for me. The only thing that needed some learning where the rules and the automatic trace configuration, more related to the PCB terminology than how it works.

The only thing I did not found by myself after an hour, was the metod for filling the ground planes, is not evident by itself.

I must take a look at the gEDA tool. Sounds interesting.
Aprendiz de mucho, maestro de casi nada.

Re: PCB Design Reccomendations 6 years 11 months ago #11785

  • Jon Chandler
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The only thing I did not found by myself after an hour, was the metod for filling the ground planes, is not evident by itself.

The create a ground plane:

1. Select the polygon tool (looks like a rectangle with a bite of the corner).

2. Draw a closed rectangle in top top or bottom layer as desired.

3. Click on the ratsnest icon (looks like a large x with dots at the bottom of the tool menu shown below.

4. Select NAME from the dropdown EDIT menu, click the low left corner of the newly created plane and rename it to the same name as the ground net.



The final step is to adjust the clearance between pads, traces, vias and the ground plane. This is the ISOLATE distance in Eagle. There needs to be some clearance to prevent shorts; too large of distance may prevent a complete plane around pads and between traces as shown below.



To set the ISOLATE distance, from the dropdown EDIT menu, select CHANGE, ISOLATE and the desire spacing and click in the lower left corner of the place.
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