Once you’ve completed the initial design and prototyping for your project, it’s time to create the PCB. For this purpose, you need a powerful, efficient and user-friendly PCB design tool that will help you formalize a layout and enter the fabrication stage with ease.
In the past, choosing a PCB design solution was a relatively simple process. There weren’t too many options and the software could simply be downloaded to your PC. But today, it’s a different story. There are now a plethora of different vendors attempting to get their share of a growing market. The decision is further complicated by the popularization of SaaS (Software as a Service) alternatives to traditional software.
To make things easier, we’ve put together some pointers on how to choose the best PCB design software for your needs.
Certain factors speak volumes for the quality and reliability of a PCB design tool. Here are five to look out for.
Cost: The amount of functionality you want to get out of the software should be in-line with what you’re willing to pay. There are free options out there, but the features, library and future support may subsequently be lacking. That said, you don’t always get what you pay for. Consider the following factors to determine whether the software is worth it.
User-Friendliness: A well-designed PCB tool can be learned quickly and fully utilized without spending countless hours trying to understand how certain features work. The way the software is designed, how it looks and how it performs is indicative of its user-friendliness.
Features: When it comes to features, it’s not only quantity that’s important, but also quality. That said, it largely comes down to your needs. Do you have a beefy system that can run a fully-fledged design tool, or do you want something more streamlined to get a basic layout on paper?
Library: A more robust component library will help you put together more reliable designs.
Reputation: Of course, a reputable design tool is a much safer bet. Look out for user reviews from industry experts who have tested the software. These can easily be found on video streaming websites, blogs, and community forums.
Now that you know what to look out for, let’s take a look at some popular options for different kinds of users.
ExpressPCB is better-suited to those who need a user-friendly introduction to PCB design software. It doesn’t have the biggest library, but it’s free to use and easy to pick up.
If you need a fully-fledged solution with all the bells and whistles, look no further than Altium’s 4PCB design tool. It’s powerful enough to handle the most complex designs, with a variety of additional features that you’d struggle to find elsewhere. You’re also guaranteed to get the latest components and tools as soon as they hit the market.
Just like ExpressPCB, TinyCAD comes at no cost to the user. However, it does feature a slightly larger library and a more streamlined interface.
Once you’ve found the right software, it’s time to get work. Be sure to choose wisely, as your decision will influence your final designs for projects to come.