PCB Layout Software: The Ultimate FAQ Guide

In this guide, you’re going to learn how to choose a suitable PCB layout software.

Depending on your PCB fabrication requirements, there is suitable layout software for you.

Here are the critical aspects you need to know.

What is PCB Layout Software?

PCB layout software encompasses computer programmes used in the design of printed circuit boards.

You use these programmes to identify preferred design elements for your circuit board according to your application needs.

You can come up with the PCB’s schematic layout and even test its functionality through simulations.

PCB layout software

PCB Layout Software

Which PCB Types can you Design using PCB Layout Software?

Printed circuit boards are found in different forms and shapes and employed across various fields.

You will find PCBs in electronic devices such as cellular phones, medical equipment such as x-ray machines and lighting applications.

PCB layout software can be used to design different board types for use in these applications. They include:

Single-layer PCBs

These are printed circuit boards with only a single conductive layer upon which components are affixed.

Such PCBs are suitable for low power applications with high volume application thanks to their reduced costs.

https://youtu.be81R3fmnx9-8

Double-layer PCBs

Double-layer PCBs are also referred to as double-sided PCBs given their two conductive layers typically furnished over a core.

These board types can attach more components than the single-sided boards and support significantly greater circuit demands.

Double layer PCB

Double layer PCB

Multilayer PCBs

Multilayer PCBs are composed of more than two conductive layers but in an even count.

Consequently, you will find multilayer boards with four layers, six layers and so on.

Multilayer PCBs are furnished by laminating several layers together in a press.

These board types are employed for applications with extensive circuitry.

Multi layer PCB

Multi layer PCB

Rigid and Flexible PCBs

Rigid PCBs are furnished over solid laminates that are inflexible.

Many PCBs are rigid, taking different configurations such as multilayer boards.

Rigid PCB

Rigid PCB

Flexible PCBs are fabricated with bendable materials such as polymers.

Flexible PCB

Flexible PCB

These boards cost more to manufacture and can be offered in other constructions such as double-sided and multilayer.

Flex-rigid PCBs

You will also find printed circuit boards that combine elements of rigidity and flexibility in their build.

These boards are referred to as Flexi-rigid boards, and their design allows for efficiency.

You find the board size is significantly reduced, allowing for miniaturization with low weight feature.

Rigid flexible PCB

Rigid Flexible PCB

How do you Design PCB using PCB Layout Software?

Creating a PCB layout is a sequential process that involves several steps.

These steps provide you with an efficient way of developing a PCB design with useful functionality.

The design process using the PCB layout software takes the following form.

  • Create a schematic for your PCB.
  • Using the PCB layout software, you will create a blank layout for your PCB.
  • Carry out a schematic capture where you will join it to your circuit board.
  • Follow up by laying the design for your stack-up, that is, how many layers you require.
  • Establish your design guidelines and address the requirements for designing for manufacturability.
  • Populate your board design with the required components.
  • Add bored holes to be used for attachments.
  • Provide the trace routing on the layout.
  • Include labelling and feature identifiers.
  • Produce the files by executing a command on the PCB layout software.

What are the Available PCB Layout Software?

There are many PCB layout software available for use in your circuit board designing efforts.

These software are made with different features and could be purchased or used free online.

· Autodesk Eagle

Eagle is a PCB layout software that is available in free, standard and premium versions.

The free version has limited features regarding the number of diagram sheets, signal layers and total printed circuit area.

The premium version offers unlimited space and over 16 layers and a thousand sheets.

It can run on all major platforms with an extensive database of features and components.

You can annotate your schematics and design layouts with an indication of hierarchy.

Furthermore, automation is possible for given aspects with a library connection that allows editing.

· ZenitPCB

The ZenitPCB is a PCB layout software that is employed for professional PCB design.

Its flexibility and ease of use allow you to complete tasks quickly.

You can begin a project with a schematic diagram or jump right into the layout design.

· KiCad

KiCad is another open-source PCB layout software that is excellent in schematic development and other PCB design elements.

With KiCad, capturing PCBs in 3D designs is possible with the possibility of simulations.

You can design printed circuit board layouts of up to thirty-two layers using KiCad.

· Altium Designer

The Altium Designer is one of the most popular PCB layout software that runs on the Windows platform.

It is complex software that will require some learning to master adequately.

You can develop schematic layouts and PCB files with impressive graphics using Altium.

Furthermore, you can carry out simulations with this layout software allowing you to test critical board aspects.

Altium will enable you to carry out 3D design with the production of file output.

DFM elements are incorporated as well ensuring design functionality and reliability.

· PCBWeb Designer

The PCBWeb Designer is open-source software that allows the design of schematics with multiple sheets.

Furthermore, executing trace routing is made faster and simpler with the capability for multilayer configuration.

Also, this PCB layout software allows you to manage the BOM and parts usage.

· Osmond PCB

You find this PCB layout software runs on Apple desktop versions.

Highly flexible, you can design PCBs with unconstrained size and layer stack-up.

Additionally, the OsmondPCB layout software allows you to integrate both through-hole and SMT components in your design.

· Proteus

Proteus has two major PCB layout software offerings: Proteus ISI and Proteus ARES.

Proteus ISI is dedicated to schematic diagram generation and conduction of electric-based simulations.

Proteus ARES is fashioned to guide the routing process of PCBs and the automated positioning of components.

Using the Proteus PCB layout software, you have a database backup of tens of millions of components.

Furthermore, you can design PCB layouts of over sixteen layers with the possibility of simulation.

You can also carry out manual routing with a system for measurement and analysis.

· gEDA

A Linux-based PCB layout software, gEDA is employed in a wide range of PCB design elements.

You can generate schematics and layouts with this software, simulate designs and manage the prototyping process.

Furthermore, management of BOM and net-listing is applicable with this software.

· DesignSpark PCB

DesignSpark PCB is one of the go-to PCB layout software due to its user-friendly construction but enhanced design capability.

It is a result of a collaborative effort between tech giants RS Components and Number One Systems.

DesignSpark PCB has been made to ensure the conception of design; its layout and execution take a relatively short time.

You have routing options and automated positioning of components with file organization feature by interfacing projects.

It is possible to also view your designs in 3D with the provision of Gerber files for drilling procedures.

· EasyEDA

EasyEDA is a freely available online-based PCB layout software with enhancing technical capabilities.

You can design schematics and layouts employing simulation procedures to establish the stability of your designs.

You can use EasyEDA across different web browsers for various board designs.

· Solidworks PCB

Solidworks PCB is a PCB layout software with enhanced features and capabilities.

The Solidworks PCB is user friendly with the capacity to carry out bi-directional mixing when needed.

Furthermore, you can include aspects of computer-aided design when using Solidworks PCB layout software.

· Ultiboard

The National Instruments corporation backs the Ultiboard PCB layout software.

Ultiboard allows you access to an extensive database of board elements and features which you can incorporate in your design.

Its user-friendly nature and depth will enable you to make designs in shorter periods like with prototypes, for example.

· DipTrace

DipTrace as a PCB layout software is user friendly with an abundance of features.

You can generate board designs of various shapes with a choice of either automatic routing or manual routing.

Schematic information is provided that can allow you to easily convert to the circuit layout with the ability to carry out updates.

· Cadence OrCAD PCB Designer

The Cadence OrCAD PCB Designer is a proprietary product of Cadence Design Systems.

The PCB design software is fitted with design capabilities such as tuned routing and automation.

Elements that can be subjected to automation include board shapes, updating and component fitting.

Design simulation and subsequent analysis are also possible with the OrCAD designer.

You also have intrinsic constraints to guide elements of your design with a component search menu.

· XCircuit

The XCircuit allows you to present schematic diagrams for your circuit layout while also featuring electronic design automation aspects.

It is especially useful when determining the routing procedure.

With this software, you can develop various schematic diagrams while generating netlists for your circuits using the same presentations.

· Sprint-Layout

The Sprint-Layout offers PCB designers an extensive database of components to work with.

It supports a dual automated routing process with the ability to allow you to create new components.

Your designs are subjected to rule-checks and Gerber files, and Excellon files can be generated.

· Cadstar

The Cadstar PCB layout software is capable of making simple PCB layout designs and sophisticated PCB constructions.

Cadstar supports routing process and schematic capture.

It is a complete software package allowing you to incorporate DFM elements.

Cadstar can mechanically integrate data transmission through STEP and even ACIS.

You can analyze the design checking for integrity issues and overall reliability.

Also provided is a populated library catalogue for components.

· PADS PCB

PADS is a PCB layout software with an extensive component library that allows uploads of schematic diagrams.

You have the guidance of specific rules when developing designs with a comprehensive circuit board topology.

You can check your design’s compatibility to aspects related to DFM and DFT while also managing archived files.

What are the Benefits of using PCB Layout Software?

A printed circuit board design process seeks to come up with the best layout that will provide high reliability and performance.

Using PCB software design is a fast and efficient process with attractive benefits such as:

  • The diagnostic procedures with PCB layout software are simple.

When using the PCB layout software, you can simulate the layout to test the functionality of the board.

Simulation allows you to determine the workability of your component positioning and routing, allowing changes.

  • The length of the conductive trace contributes to its radiation level and susceptibility to electromagnetic interference.

Longer signal tracks are prone to quality impairment through interference such as noise generation.

When you employ PCB layout software, you can adequately determine an optimum length for the conductive track with low interference.

  • Using PCB layout software allows you to make more reliable products extracting an extended service life.

You can subject the layout design to various virtual environments to determine their response and therefore make adjustments.

  • Determining the construction of a PCB is an important aspect that can be overlooked. You can use a PCB layout software to determine the best and most efficient build for your PCB design.

Based on your schematic information, a PCB layout software can highlight whether a single layer construction or multilayer build is appropriate.

Which Factors Influence the PCB Layout Software Selection?

PCB layout software allows for the design of more sophisticated circuits with higher performance attributes.

Additionally, using PCB layout software is susceptible to reduced errors which attach cost savings and hastens the conception-to-production time.

The following factors will guide your choice of PCB layout software:

 PCB layout

PCB Layout

Cost

The cost of acquiring a PCB layout software is essential, especially when there are budget considerations.

While there are free PCB layout software accessible online, the functionality varies, and whatever you desire may not be provided.

Alternatively, premium PCB layout software with immense design capabilities come at a price.

Ease of Application

Diverse persons such as professional designers, students, instructors and hobbyists, require the use of PCB layout software.

These software can be made such that they are easily interpreted to allow more straightforward usage.

Developers can tone down the technicality of various aspects by simplifying functions such as dragging and dropping and using simpler graphics.

Software Support

Software is prone to bugs, and issues from time to time, and PCB layout software are no different.

Your PCB layout software choice should have various support features for when in need.

You should be able to contact the developers, or they should provide a help feature for when you encounter issues.

Augmentation of Productivity

When working with PCB layout software, you should be able to save designs for future reuse or improvement.

Furthermore, a comparison feature is admirable, allowing you to share with other designers or users.

You also find compatibility with previous or future versions is a desirable feature for using PCB layout software.

Functionality

PCB layout software should offer you the utmost functionality when it comes to design elements.

Most PCB layout software developers attach the most sophisticated functions to their premium products at a fee.

When using free PCB layout software, you should be aware that you will require to upgrade at some point.

Updates and Add-ons

As time goes, improvements are made to PCB layout software to provide them with additional features and enhanced capacities.

When selecting this software, you need to have one where updates are provided to augment its capabilities.

Additionally, some software described as free might be linked with add-ons which will require to be paid for.

It would help if you evaluated whether you will need these add-ons in your design process.

Are PCB Layout Software Capable of 3D Designs?

Yes, there are.

3D design entails the presentation of layouts in three dimensions rather than the accustomed two dimensions.

A three-dimensional approach allows for a layout presentation in the x, y, and z – axes.

You find that with a 3D model layout, you have a better conceptualization of the PCB’s mechanical and electrical aspects.

What are the Advantages of using PCB Layout Software Capable of 3D Design?

The 3D design allows you a three-dimensional visualization of your PCB layout as opposed to a 2D design’s two dimensions.

Some of the benefits derived from employing a PCB layout software with 3D capabilities are as follows:

  • You can position components accurately in a 3D layout model, allowing you to visualize its final appearance.

Consequently, you can identify problems with the component placement such as shadowing, enabling you to make corrections before actual construction.

  • You can achieve more precise frameworks for your silkscreen concerning the components and designators.

The visualization achieved through 3D design allows you to ensure no overlapping of components and designators for reference.

  • When you employ 3D enabled PCB layout software, you achieve better accuracy when carrying out fabrication, especially on hardware interfacing.

With a 3D design, you can visualize the use of fasteners such as screws and rivets and determine their appropriate sizes.

  • The validation of physically mounted components with their respective landing pads is possible with 3D design layout software.

By furnishing actual models for features such as components and their landing pads, you expect smooth board assembly.

  • The tolerances achieved through 3D designing are close, allowing optimum use of the PCB real estate.

Precise measurements of objects and features are employed, resulting in decreased wastage.

What is the Role of Schematic in PCB Layout Software Design Process?

A schematic is a depiction of your PCB design that informs on several board aspects.

Use of schematics ensures your approach top board design is progressive.

Consequently, the design process is easier compared to direct board design.

The role of a schematic in PCB designing is to inform you of the following:

  • The board components to be incorporated in your circuit board layout.
  • The configuration of these components and their connection.
  • The interlinkage of component clusters and their functional similarity.

Can you Control Blind Via in Altium PCB Layout Software?

You can determine the features of your blind via in Altium PCB layout software through the following steps:

Vias

Vias

  • Upon opening the PCB layout file on Altium, you select the intended via and highlight for its properties.
  • Select the drill pair manager and subsequently add the desired number of drill pairs to it.

You find the Altium PCB layout software automatically acknowledges the blind vias to be in use.

  • Determine in which layers the vias will begin and where they will terminate before closing the drill pair manager.

Altium PCB layout software will save the changes and reflect on the design.

How do you Create a Blank PCB Layout using PCB Layout Software?

Creating a blank layout for your PCB typically follows the schematic process.

As such, you will need to link your schematic to your PCB layout software.

You can generate a PCB document file by creating a blank PCB document form the menu of your PCB layout software.

You then identify significant board aspects for your PCB, such as shape and size.

These are defined by the dimensions and layer stack-up, which you can still alter at later stages.

You can then link the schematic document file to your PCB document file.

The schematic information is subsequently imported to your PCB document.

Can you Copy PCB Board Design using PCB Layout Software?

Copying PCB designs manually is a slow and challenging process and whose accuracy is wanting.

However, using a PCB layout software to copy a circuit board design can help you achieve better accuracy.

However, the process especially extracting schematic information, requires specialized skill and experience to execute successfully.

An initial step in the PCB copying process is to scan the circuit board you intend to copy.

You will then upload the image to your PCB layout software.

Only single and double-sided boards can be suitably copied via this method.

The inner layers of multilayer boards are not visible from the surface requiring you to dismantle the outermost layers.

For multilayer circuit boards, a more practical approach will be to disassemble the board layer by layer.

In this process, you will name and list all the features on every layer.

Alternatively, you can use sandpaper to expose each successive underlying layers of a multilayer PCB.

Upon a successful reveal, you can scan and copy the layer.

What are the Features of PCB Layout Software EAGLE?

EAGLE is an acronym for Easily Applicable Graphical Layout Editor.

It is a PCB layout design software with complete usage and available in three versions.

You can find a free version that serves hobbyists, a standard version and a premium version.

Notable features you will find with EAGLE software are:

  • The EAGLE PCB layout software can be used to design circuit boards with unrestricted size and sixteen layers.
  • It has a diagram-specific editor with access to configuration rules and library that allow generation of a list of interconnections.
  • You can follow-up changes established between the schematic representation and the circuit board.
  • There is a provision of a hierarchy of schematic diagrams.
  • You have the options of advanced features to use on your layout.

What are the Design Guidelines when using PCB Layout Software?

PCB Design Software

PCB Design Software

The design of a PCB is a procedure that requires specialized skillset to ensure the development of an effective PCB.

Design guidelines for PCBs are put forward to guide the process, ensuring the achievement of a valuable product.

The guidelines encompass different aspects such as board constraints, overall layout, layer arrangement, and thermal and signal quality issues.

Some of the guidelines are described thus;

  • When designing a PCB, you need to select points of reference that will adhere to the manufacturing process.

For instance, where automation is employed, reference points guide the pick and place machines.

  • You must provide enough board space to accommodate the circuit.

The application device will determine the board size as well as the intended board population.

  • The layer stack-up is another critical design aspect to consider.

How many layers does your application requirements, or is enough to accommodate your circuitry?

You should note that fabrication costs increase with the layer count.

  • Another essential design element for your board is the positioning of the circuit areas.

The position of circuit areas can be determined by the electronic components employed on the board.

Similarly, thermal control issues will affect the placement of circuits.

  • You should determine the layer arrange beforehand making sure to avoid partial planes. When you require shielding for your signal planes, the arrangement of internal layers will be vital.
  • Partial planes, on the other hand, can cause warping and eventually board failure due to thermal stress issues.
  • The track parameters are especially important when you require a thermally, efficient design.

Important track parameters to consider include the track width, track spacing and thickness.

Additionally, these parameters will be affected by your board size and current carrying requirement.

  • Thermal management is not a significant issue for small performance PCBs.

However, PCBs used in powerful applications will feature thermal design elements.

Of most importance is providing avenues for sufficient PCB cooling such us employing heatsinks or ceramic features.

  • You also find making accommodations for signal quality issues is vital in high-frequency applications.

You can influence signal elements by how you position your conductive traces.

You can reduce noise generation by reducing parallel lines and crossing the tracks at right angles when needed.

At Venture Electronics, we help you choose a suitable PCB layout software the meet the specific needs of your applications.

In case you have any questions or inquiries, feel free to contact Venture Electronics Team.

Scroll to Top