Looking for PCB design software suitable for club use.

Thread Starter

recklessrog

Joined May 23, 2013
985
I am looking for some PCB design software that would be suitable for the members of my club to use. Abilities range from absolute beginners, to ex-pro engineers.
As it has been a long time since I have designed my own pcb's, I had been thinking of Design Spark, but the site is down for maintenance.
So something that is preferably free and with the ability to draw schematics with an extensive parts catalogue, and able to convert to PCB.
I'm hoping to find one that it is intuitive and suitable for beginners as well as the more advanced users. If this is a contradiction in requirements, then maybe two different ones that cover both ends of the spectrum.
I recently built them a large U.V exposure box and although there are preferred alternatives, we have about 6 lbs of Ferric Chloride for etching. We are also lucky to have been donated a lot of single and double sided pre-sensitized PCB's, and another local company is willing to give us all their off-cuts.

Any advice will be greatly appreciated :)

P.S We have been offered for a nominal charge, a second user version of "Circuit Wizard" Does anyone have experience with this, Pro's and con's?
 

ebeowulf17

Joined Aug 12, 2014
3,274
I found the eagle interface to be incredibly counter intuitive at every turn.

Most people I've heard from who like it don't rely on the GUI at all. If you're the kind of person who draws in AutoCAD by typing commands and coordinates into the command line, or who creates LTspice simulations by manually creating an ASCII file of the netlist, then apparently it's wonderful.

Personally, l prefer having a usable GUI and doing less typing. DipTrace is my editor of choice. I think the library of stock parts is good already, but even more importantly, it's easy to generate good custom parts that work (it is, of course, also possible to do this in Eagle, but it's one of the most excruciating processes I've experienced in computing.)

As far as I can tell, they're a close match in core capabilities at the free level, so it just comes down to which interface is easier and/or more efficient.

There are also a few open source options, but when l was shopping around a few years ago they fell into one of two categories - either they had an interface similar to Eagle, or they were in such early stages of development that they were not very useful yet. Things may have changed in the last 3-4 years.

I've used the free version of DipTrace at home, and the most basic paid version of it at work, for about 3 years now and I've never looked back. Couldn't be happier with it!
 

dl324

Joined Mar 30, 2015
11,276
+1 for Eagle. I've been using the free version for about 10 years.

Licensing for the newer free version is messed up though. I use a very old version to avoid hassles and because I don't feel like recreating custom components.
 
My personal viewpoint: I've had excellent experience with DipTrace. The only thing is that the full version might be kind of expensive, but they have a freeware version which is limited to 300 pins, which is okay for small-medium scale projects. They also have a non-profit version which is limited to 500 pins. The enviroment is user-friendly and they have a bunch of patterns for a large number of parts. The program is composed of: Schematic capture, PCB layout, Component Editor and Pattern editor.
 

Picbuster

Joined Dec 2, 2013
1,020
I am looking for some PCB design software that would be suitable for the members of my club to use. Abilities range from absolute beginners, to ex-pro engineers.
As it has been a long time since I have designed my own pcb's, I had been thinking of Design Spark, but the site is down for maintenance.
So something that is preferably free and with the ability to draw schematics with an extensive parts catalogue, and able to convert to PCB.
I'm hoping to find one that it is intuitive and suitable for beginners as well as the more advanced users. If this is a contradiction in requirements, then maybe two different ones that cover both ends of the spectrum.
I recently built them a large U.V exposure box and although there are preferred alternatives, we have about 6 lbs of Ferric Chloride for etching. We are also lucky to have been donated a lot of single and double sided pre-sensitized PCB's, and another local company is willing to give us all their off-cuts.

Any advice will be greatly appreciated :)

P.S We have been offered for a nominal charge, a second user version of "Circuit Wizard" Does anyone have experience with this, Pro's and con's?
I use KiCad works great free of charge with a huge component lib ( extreme easy to create your own components).

Picbuster
 

MrSoftware

Joined Oct 29, 2013
1,863
Do any of the above mentioned packages have 3D capability? For example, at work we use Altium Designer, and you can import STEP files of your enclosure, all of your parts, etc. Shape your PCB to match your enclosure, then see the physical fitment during layout, then see your PCB fit inside the enclosure to verify clearances, make sure your holes all line up, etc.. I would imagine this type of functionality must be fairly standard by now, but I haven't used the other packages to say. Altium has produced a free version called CircuitMaker, but I don't know anything about it.
 

mcgyvr

Joined Oct 15, 2009
5,394
Another vote for Diptrace here..
I use it (paid version as I routinely exceed their pin count) and am very happy with its capabilities.
I do quite a bit of what many would consider "non-typical" layouts with heavy copper/wide traces/large mechanical pads,etc... and its able to do everything I want.
I also found it to be FAR easier to learn than Eagle..
(Eagle has now been purchased by Autodesk though so I expect there have/will be some changes there to improve its GUI/user interface)..
 

bertus

Joined Apr 5, 2008
20,657
Hello,

What operating system is possilble.
The mentioned KiCAD is running on linux.
There is also gEDA under linux.
I am using OpenSuse Tumbleweed and both packages are available.

Bertus
 

John P

Joined Oct 14, 2008
1,819
i used to recommend FreePCB, and it still does what I want well enough to keep me using it. But it hasn't been updated in years, so now I'd look at KiCad first. Diptrace might be good, but why pay when you can get something free?

The last I heard, FreePCB and KiCad both used the same autorouter, which ran from a computer in Germany and on your computer using Java. Then that became unavailable, but I managed to pick up a free-standing version of the autorouter which works fine. Kind of slow for a big board, but I just let it run overnight.
 

MaxHeadRoom

Joined Jul 18, 2013
21,227

ebeowulf17

Joined Aug 12, 2014
3,274
Diptrace might be good, but why pay when you can get something free?
Just a question of needs, priorities, preferences at some point. There won't be one right answer for everyone. I've never hit any of the limits on the free version of DipTrace, so I'm NOT paying to use it on personal projects! Having said that, the price for the basic paid one at work was very reasonable for professional use, and I'm not against paying for a quality product as long as it doesn't feel like extortion (QuickBooks.)

For me, the most important thing was smooth workflow and easy interface. Electronics isn't something I do every day - I wear many hats at work. If I have a three month lull between one circuit design and the next, I want software that's easy to jump back into, not something I have to use on a daily basis in order to keep my skills up.

Not that I'm saying KiCad is that bad - I don't hate it like I hate Eagle - it just didn't seem as easy to me as DipTrace, so I didn't choose it. My priority was an easy, intuitive interface, and for my mindset, that meant DipTrace.

Again, not trying to push anyone away from KiCad, but since you asked about reasoning, I thought I'd share mine.
 

Thread Starter

recklessrog

Joined May 23, 2013
985
Thanks to everyone for the input, I have downloaded Dip Trace free edition onto the club computer and so far have found it intuitive to use but as it will be up to the other members to decide, maybe I will put a couple of the other recommendations on as well and see how they get on with it. I was not aware of how well things have progressed over the last 10 years, The Auto-routing is so much better now.

As we tend to "work with what we've got" in the way of components, it's good to see that the libraries still have components from the 70's and 80's listed.
 

ebeowulf17

Joined Aug 12, 2014
3,274
Thanks to everyone for the input, I have downloaded Dip Trace free edition onto the club computer and so far have found it intuitive to use but as it will be up to the other members to decide, maybe I will put a couple of the other recommendations on as well and see how they get on with it. I was not aware of how well things have progressed over the last 10 years, The Auto-routing is so much better now.

As we tend to "work with what we've got" in the way of components, it's good to see that the libraries still have components from the 70's and 80's listed.
I'm going to play devil's advocate against myself here. A few things to consider if you haven't already:
  • Although I've had no issues with the pin count limit for my own use, l don't know what size projects your club will want to work on. If it becomes an issue, will you ask want to pitch in on a paid version, or will you have to start over from scratch with KiCad or other freeware at that point? The pricing for higher pin counts, while not unreasonable, is higher than l remembered. If that's likely to be a deal breaker down the road, it's best to consider it now.
  • Do you use Gerber files or something else when making your own PCBs? I've only ever used DipTrace to generate Gerber files (and related drill and ASCII files) for board houses, so if you need something totally different, you should test those capabilities early on before you feel committed.
I hope DipTrace works out well for your club, but more importantly l hope you find what's best for your club, no matter which package it is.

PCB design is fun. Enjoy!
 

Picbuster

Joined Dec 2, 2013
1,020
Do any of the above mentioned packages have 3D capability? For example, at work we use Altium Designer, and you can import STEP files of your enclosure, all of your parts, etc. Shape your PCB to match your enclosure, then see the physical fitment during layout, then see your PCB fit inside the enclosure to verify clearances, make sure your holes all line up, etc.. I would imagine this type of functionality must be fairly standard by now, but I haven't used the other packages to say. Altium has produced a free version called CircuitMaker, but I don't know anything about it.
Kicad does
Picbuster
 

Gibson486

Joined Jul 20, 2012
327
KiCad.

I have used Altium and Eagle as well. I still prefer KiCad. People complain about the menus and how it does not follow the workflow of Orcad or Altium. Really? 1. It's free. 2. Take the 1 hour to familiarize yourself with it.

Eagle. I do not know. Every time I use it, it feels like going backwards in time.

Altium is great, but it is not free, and it is such a big package that you simply forget how to do things if you do not use it everday.
 
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