I'm too stupid for PCB software

Thread Starter

Hamlet

Joined Jun 10, 2015
435
I'm having a very hard time with designing a very simple pcb breakout board (no schematics!)

I've tried three different software platforms expresspcb, easyeda, kicad...

It seems that the first thing you do is create your schematic by plugging your parts into the board,
then drawing your connections, and fiddling with this and that.... Expresspcb didn't seem to require the
make-a-schematic-first steps, but they are expensive.

I don't want any of the schematic/autorouter baloney. I just want to design the copper traces around a dip component (package?),
get a finished gerber file, & then shop it out to have it fabricated.

I was doing great with expresspcb, but then I found out how expensive they were, and that they don't
give you the gerber file unless you order something, so I canned them. I then went over to easyeda (wasn't easy, but their fab is really cheap, 10x boards at 100x100mm, with shipping, for just a few bucks).

I've been giving Kicad a test-drive, which feels like air-traffic control on LSD with spiders in your pants. Just getting the board set to specific dimension seemed a labyrinthine challenge.

I created the following with expresspcb, was close to what I wanted,
but deleted the program when I found out the cost and their gerber-files aren't free:
1616648401491.jpeg

I tried looking for tutorials, but I haven't found anything that doesn't jump all over the place, start in the middle of
a complex project, or assumes nomenclatures are understood without defining terms.

Sure, I can achieve my goal with a laser printer, clothes iron, & HCL, but that isn't practical for 500 items.

Does anybody have any tips or encouragement?
 

crutschow

Joined Mar 14, 2008
26,737
Schematics are the language of electronics.
Why do you not want to start with that, which is the usual procedure for designing a PCB?
 

Papabravo

Joined Feb 24, 2006
15,471
Anything worth doing takes time and effort. If you have neither, then find somebody to do it for you or....Abandon hope all ye who enter here!
 

Papabravo

Joined Feb 24, 2006
15,471
Schematics are the language of electronics.
Why do you not want to start with that, which is the usual procedure for designing a PCB?
It looks like just chips and pads -- a breakout board. There are no connections between the chips. I suppose you could get a big sheet of Mylar and do it "old school" at 4:1 with puppets and tape, shoot photos and have them make negatives for fabrication. Don't know if there are any fab houses that can still do that any more.
 

Thread Starter

Hamlet

Joined Jun 10, 2015
435
Schematics are the language of electronics.
Why do you not want to start with that, which is the usual procedure for designing a PCB?
Because I have schematics, I just need the breakout board. I'm going to try
DesignSpark PCB PRO next, and see if it's any better.
 

Delta prime

Joined Nov 15, 2019
813
Hello there :)I have some tips to contribute
Look for EDA programs that have
Schematic capture, library, simulation, PCB layout, and manufacturing file creation your Gerber files. This keeps you from having to constantly relearn different software and translating design data in order to jump from one tool to the next,versatility to add properties and attributes to net and component objects, and it should have a powerful set of design rules checking to keep you honest.

Now for some encouragement.

I've been giving Kicad a test-drive, which feels like air-traffic control on LSD with spiders in your pants.
You should not say that... like it's a bad thing, that's my encouragement.
:p
 

boostbuck

Joined Oct 5, 2017
33
This took a couple of minutes in Eagle. But all these tools start with a schematic. Plenty of people have avoided a schematic by designing copper tracks using MS Paint (I shudder)....

Board.jpg
 

Yaakov

Joined Jan 27, 2019
2,362
I've been giving Kicad a test-drive, which feels like air-traffic control on LSD with spiders in your pants. Just getting the board set to specific dimension seemed a labyrinthine challenge.

Does anybody have any tips or encouragement?
I am sure you know that you are not stupid but in any case Kicad is feature rich software with a terrible interface. The learning curve is not just steep, it's an overhang. The value of Kicad is that is can do such a good job not that it makes it easy.

My encouragement would be that I have seen people go from zero to making a usable board in Kicad in a reasonable amount of time. There is an advantage to knowing it. If you want to invest the time, it's probably worth it. If not, you can probably find someone online to make your Gerber file chap using the image you posted here.
 

bwilliams60

Joined Nov 18, 2012
1,386
Kicad is as others have said, very labour intense in learning but there are good videos on Youtube to help you through it and a forum that is supported by some very good members who are willing to help you get to the finish line. They usually respond quite quickly. There is no quick easy way to get to where you want to be but I found Kicad worth the journey. Take notes or videos as you go. The second time through is much quicker. You will learn a lot along the way. Good luck on your project.
 

BobTPH

Joined Jun 5, 2013
3,002
I understand where you are coming from.

I made my first boards with ExpressPCB, for home fabrication. It was a breeze. It did most of what I needed and it did it very naturally.

Then, like you, I needed Gerbers. So I went to Eagle. Awful UI. Very hard to learn. Tried Kicad, and it was even worse.

People just do not know how to make software that is both feature rich and easy to use. It is not that hard. You make the easy stuff easy, and hide the complexity until it is needed.

I ended up writing my own CAD tool. It has more functionality than ExpressPCB though nowhere near Eagle or Kicad. And is, IMHO, far easier to use than any of those, though I might be a little biased. I see no reason for requiring a schematic, my tool does not, but it also uses one if you want, and can determine missing or incorrect connections. This is exactly what I mean about not requiring the complexity for people who don’t need it.

Bob
 

SamR

Joined Mar 19, 2019
3,180
I then went over to easyeda (wasn't easy, but their fab is really cheap, 10x boards at 100x100mm, with shipping, for just a few bucks).
And what was the issue with easyEDA? And my first brush with it was also not easy, very counterintuitive.
 

MaxHeadRoom

Joined Jul 18, 2013
22,641
I am a Kicad fan, and yes, there is a learning curve, but like many Cad programs, it is worth it in the end, usually those that seem dead simple, often have many shortcomings.
The example you show is a dead simple board where it would only take a very short while to draw up and produce Gerbers.
Just consisting of nine identical patterns, just a matter of copy and paste ?? :confused:
 

shortbus

Joined Sep 30, 2009
8,429
Hamlet I too am too stupid for the PCB tools or so I thought. I too tried and failed at all of them, until trying DipTrace. It just clicked for me . But even a simple board like that is best done starting with a "schematic capture".
 

BobaMosfet

Joined Jul 1, 2009
1,502
I'm having a very hard time with designing a very simple pcb breakout board (no schematics!)

I've tried three different software platforms expresspcb, easyeda, kicad...

It seems that the first thing you do is create your schematic by plugging your parts into the board,
then drawing your connections, and fiddling with this and that.... Expresspcb didn't seem to require the
make-a-schematic-first steps, but they are expensive.

I don't want any of the schematic/autorouter baloney. I just want to design the copper traces around a dip component (package?),
get a finished gerber file, & then shop it out to have it fabricated.

I was doing great with expresspcb, but then I found out how expensive they were, and that they don't
give you the gerber file unless you order something, so I canned them. I then went over to easyeda (wasn't easy, but their fab is really cheap, 10x boards at 100x100mm, with shipping, for just a few bucks).

I've been giving Kicad a test-drive, which feels like air-traffic control on LSD with spiders in your pants. Just getting the board set to specific dimension seemed a labyrinthine challenge.

I created the following with expresspcb, was close to what I wanted,
but deleted the program when I found out the cost and their gerber-files aren't free:
View attachment 233572

I tried looking for tutorials, but I haven't found anything that doesn't jump all over the place, start in the middle of
a complex project, or assumes nomenclatures are understood without defining terms.

Sure, I can achieve my goal with a laser printer, clothes iron, & HCL, but that isn't practical for 500 items.

Does anybody have any tips or encouragement?
@Hamlet- you need to wrap your mode around some important things about the process

You always make a schematic. Here's why:
It identifies all components by Name, Label, and Value
It identifies exactly how they are connected (your 'netlist')
It documents the circuit 'logic' in graphic form

Then, when you create a PCB, you import/attach the schematic netlist to the PCB, so that it can help you verify that every thing matches the schematic in value, and connection. The reason this is important is because schematics can have lines that cross- PCBs can't. it can be difficult to keep track of what vias connect to what/where, and if everything is properly connected- the netlist feature alone is worth $$$ in PCB design.

PCB software also let's you keep track of layers, and attach a silkscreen.

I personally recommend DIPTrace, but at the end of the day you have to go slow and gut your way through it. Both the vendor, and the people here will help you learn how to use it, whichever package you try- I'm betting all of us combined have tried most if not all of them free and commercial.

Is it easy? No- but it gets easier the more you do. And it is so rewarding. You're not 'stupid' Never cut yourself down- others are all too eager to do it. Simply figure out how you learn- what senses you rely on most in learning, and then orient your educational materials/exposures to feed those senses to help you learn most efficiently.
 
Last edited:

wayneh

Joined Sep 9, 2010
17,031
I've been giving Kicad a test-drive, which feels like air-traffic control on LSD with spiders in your pants.
Well put. I've felt that way every time I've looked at Eagle, KiCad or the like. Very daunting for the beginner. I seem to recall that DipTrace seemed a little more friendly so it's interesting to see others mention it here. I felt like LTspice was tough at first but it's a breeze by comparison, because the scope is so much narrower.

I believe Eagle can run simulations much like LTspice. Do these other tools also offer that?
 

Ian0

Joined Aug 7, 2020
1,579
I thought much the same thing about being forced to start with the circuit diagram, but I started a new job and my employer had Pulsonix, so I had no choice. The revelation came when the first pcbs came back from the pcb manufacturer - all the tracks in the right place, I had no need to cut tracks and solder bits of wire on the back. It worked first time.
 

Thread Starter

Hamlet

Joined Jun 10, 2015
435
Because I have schematics, I just need the breakout board. I'm going to try
DesignSpark PCB PRO next, and see if it's any better.
Well, I tried DesignSpark (digikey product?) and it immediately was fubar. The libraries (components?) were
automatically turned-on when installed, and the instructions for turning them on were confused, so it took me an hour to sort that out, only to discover their library search function isn't cross-referenced for common terms.
 

BobTPH

Joined Jun 5, 2013
3,002
I agree with using a schematic to make a real circuit, but for a breakout board, it is nothing but a waste of time.

The big advantage of using the schematic is that it checks all the connections for you. In the case of my tool, it also inserts all the pats roughly in the same relative positions as the schematic, which I thought would be useful, but turned out I always completely rearrange them.

Bob
 

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