New to PCB Design and trying to learn.

Discussion in 'General Electronics Chat' started by net, May 20, 2010.

  1. net

    Thread Starter New Member

    May 19, 2010
    Hello everyone,

    Hopefully I can get some clarification from this forum on the subject I am trying to teach myself.

    I have read a couple articles on PCB design and got myself up to speed on some of the terminology used.

    I am however confused on a couple of things.

    1.) What free software can I use for PCB Design? I am new so paying for software I barely understand is kind of pointless at this current point in time.

    2.) How do I figure out what goes where? Is this entirely up to me?

    3.) How does the tag system work, the markings on the boards I.E. A400, B400, C400, D400 etc...

    Thank you all for any clarification that is provided.

  2. John P

    AAC Fanatic!

    Oct 14, 2008
    I've had great success with FreePCB, which you can read about here:

    People always recommend Eagle, but the free version is limited in board size and the number of components it'll let you have.

    In general, yes you can place components anywhere. But you should try to minimize trace lengths, consider parts that are sensitive to electrical noise, and obviously be aware of anything that needs to interface with off-board components.

    If by "tags" you mean part numbers, then those are added manually if you're laying out a board by adding components one at a time. But it's far easier and has far less risk of errors if you work from a netlist generated by another program. That's a file that has all the parts and their connections listed. In that case, the part numbers come already assigned.
  3. t06afre

    AAC Fanatic!

    May 11, 2009
    You may perhaps look at the this site They have a freeware option. At least it should get you started. But I guess you will find other free version.
    For your second question. You draw your schematic in a schematic editor. Then export the netlist and footprint information to the PCB editor. In a combined editor like Eagle from cadsoft this is done very quick(like this explanation is ;) ).
  4. net

    Thread Starter New Member

    May 19, 2010
    Thank you both very much.

    I downloaded and am currently using FreePCB.

    I have created a new project and playing around with the software.
  5. sage.radachowsky


    May 11, 2010
    hi 'net' --

    I use PCB Artist with much success. I have made most of my components in the library with the PCB and schematic symbols to match, but they also have a library of components.

    It is free, but there is the catch -- you must order the first boards from Advanced Circuits. That is okay for me because their prices are good for prototyping, and if it's a production item then you can get the Gerbers (machining files) from the order for bulk copies.

    I find PCB Artist to be very easy to use, and well written. I have tried Eagle and also the expensive Altium system and I find them harder to use.

    For your other questions, I can only say that PCB layout is an art, at least an artisanal craft like carpentry... it takes a lot of learning developed by practice to do really good layout. The automatic layout engines can't really hold a candle to good layout by a skilled person. I have done about 25 boards now and I am still learning tons about how to do a compact and useful layout.

    Let me say, don't go too crazy on a prototype -- give yourself a big board area to work with. When you want to make 1000 pieces of something, *that* is the time to try to make it really small.

    Then, think carefully about the placement of items. Place things near each other that are logical and connected.

    Also, when you have a choice of pinouts, you may find it good to go back to the schematic and rearrange a few connections to make the layout better. This is especially true with microcontroller pins, and dual / quad / array chips where there are myultiple options.

    Most of all, have fun! I find PCB layout more fun (and more productive) than sudoku or other brain puzzles.