Intro to PCB Design Software

PCB Design

A common tool used by engineers in the electronics industry who design printed circuit boards is PCB design software. There are numerous providers of intuitive, practical software that engineers use to speed up the entire design process and bring a PCB design to life.

What is PCB design software? 

PCB design software are valuable design tools used by engineers to quickly and accurately design printed circuit board layouts. It allows design engineers to collaborate with one another, work from templates, and pull components from previous designs and libraries.

Another major feature of PCB design software is the ability to test designs to verify performance before they’re etched onto a physical circuit board.

Design software allows the designer to make big changes, as well as small changes and tweaks, without having to start over. All it takes is a click of a mouse to change voltages, switch circuit paths, or components.

The best software will also alert the designer to potential problems with the design, as well as offer solutions as to how it can be improved. 

Who can use PCB design software?

Both professional designers and hobbyists will get a great deal of satisfaction from using PCB design software. It can remove a lot of the frustrations and trial and error processes that would otherwise slow things down.

However, learning how to efficiently and quickly use design software can be time consuming. Some software can be easier to learn, however are likely to lack some of the features and functionality that professional designers require. The software that has these in-depth and professional features will take time to master, however it is worth the investment if you have the time.

Some software can also help you to overcome challenges with automatic component placement. While some manual changes may be required, it can speed up the overall design process considerably.

What software do we use at ABL?

When it comes to PCB designing and manufacturing, ABL Circuits use a variety of different systems and items of equipment. This ensures our clients receive the highest quality printed circuit boards from us and enable us to achieve the fastest complete PCB service in the UK.

As an expert PCB design company, we use Altium. Altium is a sophisticated CAD PCB Design software which allows us to model our PCB design layouts in 2D & 3D, giving our customers an exact working model of their design. Ensuring once the printed circuit board is manufactured, it works exactly as our customers expect.

Our vast knowledge ensures we can identify any potential issues with your printed circuit board in the early design stage. That means any problems and issues can be resolved early on in the process and therefore not delay your PCB from being manufactured.

As we’ve used this specific PCB design software for so long, we know it thoroughly and have an extensive knowledge of how it works and what its capabilities are. This allows us to have the confidence that you could not get a better design for your printed circuit board.

The benefits of using PCB design software

There are numerous benefits to using PCB design software, which means it’s by far the preferred method of design by most engineers. PCB design is complex, so anything to help make the process go more smoothly is always welcomed, and below are some of the biggest benefits to using design software.

Save time, energy, and money

As mentioned above, using design software can considerably speed up the process. Not only can you produce a design in a fraction of the time it would take to do it manually, but also test it and fix any issues.

As a result, not only does using design software save you time, but also energy and money. Because the faster you perfect your design, the sooner it can be manufactured.

Identify issues early

Great design software can be so intuitive it can do some of the difficult work for you. As a result, not only can it identify potential issues and faults, but also offer solutions for how they can be improved.

Test new ideas

Because software cuts the amount of time it takes to design and test a PCB, it allows for more opportunities to bring ideas into reality with minimal risk.

​​Reduced complexity

With design software, mistakes can be rectified and overcomplications can be corrected in next to no time. Because of this, complex designs can be refined, which means there are no cut corners and fewer imperfections.

How to choose the right PCB software for you

There are a number of factors to consider when choosing PCB design software:

  • Features – does the software provide the wide range of features you need?
  • Complexity – does it have a steep learning curve?
  • Cost – are the features reflected in the cost? If it’s cheaper, it may only have basic features

Different design formats 

Each unique PCB design software doesn’t produce universal editable file formats. However, once the design has been completed, a file can be generated that allows the manufacturers to turn the schematic design into a physical PCB.

This is done by transferring the CAD file into a photolithographic CAM system, which are available in various formats.

Some of the most frequently used are:

Gerber files

Gerber files are the most common file formats. The files simply contain a 2D artwork that tells the manufacturer where each component will go. Each Gerber file has the information related to one PCB feature on a single layer. That means, boards with multiple layers will require multiple Gerber files.

ODB++

ODB++ is another common format used by a range of software. ODB++ sorts data in a hierarchy and can be compressed into a single file. This allows a large amount of data to be included, such as component placement, bill of materials, and dimension/fabrication data.

IPC-2581

Much like Gerber files and ODB++, IPC-2581 is another commonly used format. Each step is accompanied by guidelines to ensure maximum quality during the manufacturing process.

Need expert support on PCB design?

Get help from our PCB design experts and find out more about our PCB design service. To discuss how we can support your needs, check out our range of PCB services here, or contact us today.