Every electronics design project starts with PCB design. And this requires creating a layout that defines how electronic components are logically connected on the PCB.
It would be best to have the right layout software to successfully design a PCB. In other words, a program that enables you to understand how correct your circuit is quickly, plus its limitations.
Only then can you refine your design? But how can you choose the best software among the multitude of programs available?
This article outlines some essential features and our unbiased review of the best PCB layout software.
Table of Contents
- Essential Features to Consider When Choosing a PCB Layout Software
- 9 Best PCB Layout Software
Essential Features to Consider When Choosing a PCB Layout Software
Here are some features to look out for in a circuit diagram program:
- Assisted routing: Routing boards manually is challenging, especially if it’s complex. For this reason, you need a program that provides assisted routing.
- Schematic capture: Especially for complex designs, starting with a schematic diagram is essential. Otherwise, you risk having a design filled with errors.
- Forward and backward annotation: Besides schematic capture, it should be possible to begin by laying out a board directly. This feature is especially essential for complex designs.
- Automatic DRC (Design Rule Checking): Ensure you can check if a layout complies with design rules.
- Autorouting: Granted, it’s easy to trace simple circuits manually. But complex circuits typically have several vias, necessitating some automation in the routing.
- Autoreplacent: Usually, you will need to do some manual replacement. However, if your design has many components, auto-replacement features make things easier.
- Real-time component data: Usually, this feature is handy for complex designs with many components. Because for such designs, keeping track of the status can be time-consuming.
- Export options: The more file design formats the software can export, the more CMs you will use to build a board. So, ensure the software can at least export Gerber files.
- DFM (Design For Manufacturability): Simple circuits may not require compliance with DFM general industry standards. But for more complex designs, such compliance is critical for reliable and functional designs.
- Thermal capability: Complex circuits involve high-power devices and multiple signals requiring adequate thermal dissipation and distribution.
- 3D visualization: This feature is necessary for integrating MCAD (mechanical computer-aided design).
9 Best PCB Layout Software
There are two versions of Eagle (Easily Applicable Graphical Layout Editor). These include:
- Free: A limited trial version.
- Standard: This version has 99 diagram sheets, 4 signal layers, and 16 square centimeters of printed circuit area.
- Premium: This version has 999 diagram sheets, 16 signal layers, and an unlimited circuit area.
Eagle has an extensive components library and runs in MacOS and Linux environments.
Also, the program has a wide community (largely due to its reasonable price tag of $500 per year) which shares tutorials online.
Further, the software offers a diagram hierarchy. Mind you; the diagrams have several features.
(Caption: Altium logo)
Altium’s design environment has diagrams, layout routing, simulation, and documentation. In addition, the software is DFM-compliant, with powerful conversions for easy data migration.
Further, the software provides 3D design and flex-rigid printed diagrams.
However, Altium has a high price tag. For this reason, it’s mostly seasoned professionals working for major industrial groups who use the software. That said, it has a 15-day free trial version that includes virtual workshops.
(Caption: Engineers in a major industrial group)
With Proteus, you can manage multiple product variants from a single schematic. Also, you can customize BOM content and style by configuring it in the BOM module.
Proteus comes in different programs. First, Proteus ISI with diagram creation and simulation features. Second, Proteus ARES with printed circuit routing solutions and the ability to position components automatically.
Then there’s Proteus VSM with several features, including a built-in workflow, bug correction, simulation, troubleshooting, diagram design, and measurement and analysis.
Further, there’s Proteus Visual Designer combined with Proteus VSM for editing flow diagrams. This one has a hardware gallery for Arduino and Raspberry PI development environments.
DipTrace is compatible with Eagle, Altium, KiCad, OrCAD, and PADS. That means it allows sharing and exchange of data across all these platforms.
And as far as schematic capture, the software provides hierarchical multi-sheet schematics. Also, the software has advanced verification features and import and export capabilities.
Further, DipTrace provides routing, real-time DRC, Gerber, ODB++ manufacturing output, and real-time 3D preview.
EasyEDA is an easy-to-use freeware that provides integrated component purchasing with its extensive library (over 800,000) of real-time components. Also, the software has schematic capture and simulation features.
In addition, EasyEDA allows you to discuss and share schematics publicly and privately. Further, it supports Gerber file formats. Therefore, registered users can download such files for free. Also, they can receive Gerber file inputs from third-party tools.
KiCad is an open-source printed circuit software that’s free. But don’t underestimate this program, for it has several features, such as KiCAD project manager, printed circuit editing with PCBnew, and an electric diagram editor feature known as Eeschema.
Also, Gerber file viewer and PCB calculator, a design aid tool with which you can calculate factors like track widths.
Further, it provides diagram management, routing, and 3D visual modeling capabilities, which electronics engineers can highly appreciate.
This is another free software with absolutely no hidden costs. It’s a simplified analog circuit simulator with a user-friendly interface.
The caveat to its simplicity is it has fewer components and lacks the typical powerful features you would need for specialized applications.
Still, it applies schematic capture and a unique simulator algorithm. So professionals can apply it to evaluate a general concept and prove a design’s feasibility.
However, any detailed analysis would require employing other tools. For this reason, IdealCircuit is most suited for students and novices wanting to study electronics theory.
Though used extensively for motor drive simulations, PSIM is also employed in power electronic circuits. The software has a friendly interface and provides schematics capture and rapid simulation.
Also, PSIM has design verification with Monte Carlo, frequency, sensitivity, and fault analysis tools. In addition, it offers electromagnetic interference (EMI) filter operation and is easy to link to other platforms.
LTSpice is a SPICE-based analog freeware software for circuit diagrams. But don’t let its lack of a pricetag dissuade you, as it’s a high-performance simulation with no limits to features, nodes, or components.
Also, it has an integrated schematic editor with advanced features. For example, it provides schematic captures and allows individual component configuring.
In addition, it has an extensive components library that offers almost all ADI power management and signal chain tools.
Note, though, that LTSpice has an outdated, bland interface.
Best PCB Layout Software: Which One Is the PCB Layout Software?
There are several PCB layout software, including the nine listed above.
Best PCB Layout Software: Can I Design a PCB?
Yes, by using decent software, you can design a simple PCB. And although it does not have to have all the features mentioned above, some, like automated routing, schematic capture, and design rule checking, are necessary.
Best PCB Layout Software: Is PCB Layout Software Free Download?
Some, like KiCAD, are free, while others, like Altium, are free only for a trial period, typically 15 days. Then others like Eagle have a limited trial version.
Now you know what to look for in PCB layout software. And to make things easier for you, you can’t go wrong with any of the programs in our best PCB layout software list.
Whether professional, novice, or hobbyist, you can find suitable software that meets your needs. Some, though free, have advanced features professionals can use, while some have limited features better suited for novices and students.