In PCB projects, there are countless things to keep track of. Keeping designed traces at the exact size, voltage, and separation necessary to function properly can be a real challenge. As with any job, the right tools can mean the difference between hours and hours of work. Here is a list of free software that we have found that can simplify the process. From electromagnetic interference testing to Gerber generation to circuit board layout design, these free tools have you covered.
ZenitPCB is a free, simple, and versatile CAD, or computer aided drafting, program you can use to sketch out the layout of your circuit boards in a short amount of time. It can replace the manual drawing of schematic diagrams.
TinyCAD is another free computer aided drafting program geared towards circuit board diagrams, coming with all the necessary symbol libraries to start designing right away. Once complete, it’s easy to print the designs and publish them to the web.
The gEDA project is a free software suite (which stands for “GPL-EDA”) made for Linux and contains free tools for schematic capture, simulation, production, prototyping, attribute management, PCB design layout, and bill of materials generation. It’s a full-featured suite that makes it easy to run an entire project. There is also a very active community based around it.
The Saturn PBC Toolkit is a free piece of software that can be used to calculate many parameters on a printed circuit board, such as conductor impedance various other properties or electromagnetic compatibility. You can simulate certain properties of your circuit board to make sure they don’t violate the laws of physics.
EasyEDA is another free EDA suite that is web-based. The suite includes mixed-mode circuit simulation, schematic capture, and PBP layout design in a browser environment. Since it is cloud-based, this makes it cross-platform and a very convenient way to manage complex projects. There is, of course, no installation needed either.
DesignSpark PCB is an extremely straightforward piece of design software that is easy to learn and user-friendly. It’s intended to considerably reduce the time spent from the initial design to the final production phase of a project. The software’s capabilities include schematic capture, board design, and layout design. There is no charge for DesignSpark PCB, but to unlock all the features, you must register with the website.
Fritzing is an open-source project that supports everyone from amateurs and artists to researchers and designers. It’s an easy way to develop projects and interact creatively with the designs, and is an excellent entry-level tool that lets you learn about circuits as you go. It has been described as an EDA tool for non-engineers.
KiCad is another open-source piece of electronic design automation software that is worthwhile for anyone working in printed circuit board design. One useful feature is the ability to generate 3D views of the printed circuit board and its constituent parts. KiCad is cross-platform, and comes with Eeschema, which is used for schematic capture editing. You can also use KiCad to create decorative artwork for your circuit board.
FreePCB is a free printed circuit board design program that runs on Windows. It allows for up to 16 copper layers. You can also export designs in Gerber format, and the FreeRouting autorouter is very useful for saving time that would have been used for manual trace routing.
Verilator is a high-speed Verilog HDL simulator. It is supposedly the fastest free tool and even outperforms many commercial tools as well. It runs on the Posix operating system.
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