With any hardware project, the starting point is to design and create a prototype to assess whether the ideas are realistic and workable. A flat surface like a breadboard is a good starting point to verify the project using available parts and components lying around. From this basic concept, it’s time to move to a printed circuit Board (PCB) design to create a plan that’s usable to produce the final board in production.
Anyone who’s studied to be an electrical engineer knows that software is the best option for getting designs up quickly and especially for making on-the-fly changes that would cause a paper draft to be abandoned and redrafted when done manually. There is software that you download and install, but also newer Software as a Service (SaaS) options too, which work entirely online and are accessible from a variety of computer systems and operating systems.
Let’s consider the best software tools now.
Eagle from Cadsoft
Eagle is a well-known package that’s been used as the PCB design software of choice for years. The Eagle format is a common one when open-source PCB designers release their latest PCB designs in much the same way that the Microsoft Word format is a word processing file standard.
There is both a freeware and a premium version. One advantage is that completed Eagle board designs can be sent to a PCB fabricator directly. The interface is still a little old fashioned, but it continues to see GUI refinements along the way.
Upverter was an early online service that came to people’s attention. It has a thoroughly new, clear-cut interface that makes Eagle’s look positively antiquated. You only need an account and you can get started because Upverter is a SaaS product; there’s no time-consuming download and install process.
With the modern looks comes a few downsides with this newer software. It doesn’t have all the options and features that Eagle does which has been around many years more. Being an online SaaS , it’s easy to see other open-source board designs and get some inspiration from it, so you’re not toiling away in complete isolation any longer. Also, with open-source projects, this SaaS doesn’t charge for its use.
The Altium Designer software has a central focus on allowing the designer to embrace their creativity and not be stifled by the complexity of the software tool. Use this downloadable software tool to design PCB layouts rapidly, drag components into position and move elements around. The unified interface makes it easier to produce a unified PCB in record time from a dependable schematic to a final board design ready for fabrication.
The 3D visual engine is particularly good here which enables board designers to use the rich 3D imagery to figure out circuitry problems and resolve them with improved efficiency.
There is a PCB software design tool for every designer. Each tool has its pros and cons to weigh up before making your final selection. You can also try out more than one using a free trial period to give the software a spin and see how easy it is to design with.
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