Electronic design automation or as known as EDA is a group of software tools utilized specifically to design PCB. If you are looking to add PCB design as one of your skills in 2021, but are still unsure on what tool to start using, hopefully this guide can help you!
Note: If you are looking for a full tutorial on PCB Design, you can follow this guide! Our tool of choice for this tutorial is KiCAD, simply because we love the tool.
For our list, we have chosen only free/open-source tools and our criteria for the list are the main functionalities, limitations, operating systems where it runs, and other exclusive features. (We have absolutely no affiliation with any of the companies in this list, so we are being absolutely objective about our choices.)
The king of free/open-source PCB design EDA software in the market. Most of the functionalities here are more than enough to get you going designing PCB. KiCAD is available for Windows, Linux and OSX. KiCAD is actively developed and is also receiving software support and development from CERN. It has an internal Ngspice electronic circuit simulation and external:
SPICE netlist export. It has numerous user interface languages and can import TinyCAD net lists, OrCAD EDIF, EAGLE (XML) while exporting PDF, Gerber, Gerber X2, Excellon, netlist, VRML2, STEP, IDFv3. It also has scripting support through Python which can be helpful in integrating it even with cloud platforms.
Our Rating: 10 / 10
DipTrace is an amazing PCB Design software, EDA/CAD package with autorouter, Schematic Capture multi-level hierarchy, real-time DRC, 3D Preview/export, and Gerber output. It also has external SPICE netlist export but runs exclusively only on Windows OS (unlike KiCAD). It supports more than 21 languages. It features more Imports (& Exports) than KiCAD, however has no option for scripting language. Great user interface and probably the easiest to learn for all beginners out there.
FreePCB is an open source printed circuit board design program exclusively for Microsoft Windows. FreePCB allows for up to 16 copper layers, both metric and US customary units, and export of designs in Gerber format.
Uses English or metric units (i.e. mils or mm) for most functions
as well as Footprint Wizard and Footprint Editor for creating or modifying footprints. It has Import and automatic export of PADS-PCB lists when saving files.
What sets apart FreePCB is its vibrant community, which constantly updates the software with new features, as well as its lightweight controlling UI, which makes it easier to run on most computers than other PCB. Its limitations are obvious: overall fewer imports, exports, and languages! So the final verdict is:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparison_of_EDA_softwareFritzing is an open-source hardware initiative that makes electronics accessible as a creative material for anyone for free through their open-source projects. It runs only on Linux and Mac OS and supports more than 10 languages. It supports imports such as gEDA symbols, KiCad symbols, SVG, and exports like Gerber, DIY etching, BOM, SVG, PDF, EPS. The user interface is moderate, however, it gets the job done. Having a harsher learning curve than FreePCB it ranks slightly lower in our ranking. However, what do we know – download it here and get your hands on projects starting.
Let’s face it. Altium PCB designer is the “Gold Standard” of the EDA’s. If you are serious about PCB Design and a future career in that path you will cross paths with Altium. The free version of Altium Designer is the CircuitMaker, which has many limitations but also offers you a feel of the Altium user interface and its built. Using CircuitMaker its users are allowed to fork existing projects or request permission to collaborate in existing projects. Importing schematic documents and PCBs from other EDA packages (OrCAD, PADS, P-CAD, EAGLE) is supported. Users are allowed to own unlimited projects, and there is no hard limit on-board complexity. CircuitMaker supports exports in standard formats such as Gerber and NC Drill, as well as printing of stencils for DIY circuit board etching. There are talks that Altium, added a “random sleep” routine into Circuit Maker in order to make it deliberately unproductive. But they would never do that (or would they?).
Design Spark is a free commercial package from RS components with no limitation on your schematic size so you should have no limitation on your creating your PCB design. It is regularly updated (with its latest release on 8 July 2020) and SPICE electronic simulation (industry standard). Its imports include EAGLE, DXF, EDIF while its exports Gerber, Excellon, ODB++, DXF, IDF, PDF, LPKF. Its limitations are that it runs only in windows and has only English as its only language, while it doesn’t support any other scripting languages. The reason why its still ranked higher than half the EDA’s in the list is due to the ease of use and its beginner friendly set up making it great for beginners and students.
Rating: 7.5 / 10
gEDA is a project developing full GPL’d suite and toolkit of EDA tools. These tools are used for electrical circuit design, schematic capture, simulation, prototyping, and production. The tools involved in the suite enable you to professional-quality design of low- to mid-level complexity. Using the gEDA tools, you can create PCB design of up to 8 layers (soon more) with an unlimited number of components and nets. It lists imports such as gschem netlists, image as background while also incorporating exports like the following Gerber, Excellon, SVG, PDF, EPS, PNG, GIF, JPEG, Specctra, XYRS. Its core strengths are that it runs on Linux, Mac and also Windows OS and is also completely open source with a high degree of regular updates. However, it lacks scripting support and has only English as its support language. It is also harder to set up, and getting up and running than other EDA’s.
Rating: 7.5 / 10
8. Zenit PCB
ZenitPCB Suite is an EDA tool directed to all those people who want to make printed circuit board for hobby, or to student and academics from universities or high schools, who want to create their own pcb with a professional approach and particularly without having to pay for expensive licenses. It is limited to 1000 pins (which is more than enough for semi-professional use). It runs only on windows and has multiple languages integrated for its users. It has a smooth interface and a very intuitive build. Still though, its very limited as compared to the other above-mentioned tools.
9. Osmond PCB
Osmond PCB design EDA is a tool specifically for Mac users. You can design boards of any size and shape and with as many layers as you want. With a spatial resolution of 10 nanometers. It supports multiple languages, and also imports such as gschem, netlists and exports which include Gerber, Excellon, SVG, PDF etc. This EDA is cool and all – runs smoothly and has a very intuitive interface – however it lacks scripting language integration, use for other OS and less language support than the other EDA’s. If you are on a Macintosh, it is still worth it to give it a try.
I know what you’re thinking, EasyEDA is not completely and its free version is limited while giving you all sorts of horrible ads etc. However its still a good EDA offering multiple features, running on Linux, Mac, and Chrome OS as a Web application and having support for more than 10 languages. Its list of imports and exports is pretty high and it also supports JSON as its scripting language. Good for beginners and hobbyists. Wouldn’t recommend it!
Rating: 6.5 / 10
ExpressPCB Classic is perfect when ease of use is a must, and you need to knock something out quickly. Schematic Link helps ease routing, and minimal setup is required to get your design completed and off to manufacturing! It Is very easy to use, however it is also very limited. No other language support other than English, supports only Windows OS and has very limited imports and export options when compared to the rest of the PCB. After using it for a while, and reviewing other reviews (see what we did there!) our final verdict is that we would not recommend it.
TinyCAD is a an open source program for drawing circuit diagrams which runs under Windows. Thats it! Nothing really where it outperforms any of the rest of the other tools. Honestly, we dont even know why someone would consider using it when you have KiCAD or DipTrace. Would not recommend:
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