In the time of Covid-19 and lockdown, you might be looking for new hobbies to keep yourself busy and productive. Perhaps, you’ve always dreamed of being a mad-scientist inventor but instead became bogged down by a 9 – 5 desk job. If that’s the case, now is the time to explore the vast opportunities that exist in printed circuit board (PCB) design.
While jumping into PCB design was once daunting and inaccessible to beginners, PCB design software opens up a new world of possibility. Check out this guide to get the basics of PCB design and how to get started with PCB design software today.
Who Will Enjoy PCB Design
PCBs are the foundation for all modern-day electronics. Although they’re incredibly complex and challenging to design, at-home hackers and tinkerers have been re-configuring and designing their own PCBs since the 80’s – even on cardboard plates! Anyone interested in electronics will enjoy learning about the mechanics of a PCB and creating their own. PCB design is also a great way to bond with older kids and teens over an engaging project that’s still educational!
Ditch At-Home DIY
While there are tons of blogs dedicated to at-home DIY PCB fabrication, this is the fastest way to burn out, become frustrated, and it is potentially dangerous. Some aspects of a well-designed PCB, such as drilling holes, creating two-sided boards, plating, and soldering, are extremely challenging with the tools you have at home. Some DIY PCB creators also use toxic etching chemicals to create traces on their boards.
Rather than going this route, we recommend using a PCB design software program. You can find these for free on the internet, and they will allow you to rapidly create prototype PCBs without the hazards and hassle. PCB design software will connect you to a community of minds that you’ll never get by tinkering in your garage.
What is PCB Design Software?
PCB design software is like a window into the minds of other PCB designers. PCB design software is a library of PCB designs from other users to simplify collaboration and testing out new models for an entire community of hobbyists and professionals. Using PCB design software, you can create your schematic and then convert it to a PCB with every precise detail in place. Many PCB manufacturers offer their software for free so that users can complete the entire process without converting files or adding in more steps. No more frustration with drilling holes or etching by hand!
To get started, you’ll first need an idea of what you’d like to prototype. Here is where you can get creative. You can either improve an electrical product you already own or even build your own. For folks looking to customize their remote work set-up, perhaps you’ll design a PCB to improve your keyboard or computer. Or, if you’re looking to entertain the kids, maybe you’ll create a fun LED board, light-up ornaments for the holidays, or a toy. If you’re a big kid yourself, try going out on a limb and building your very own drone. The possibilities are truly endless since PCBs are so customizable and are present in every electrical system. Once you have an idea in mind, you’ll find a community of tinkerers that can give you tips and tricks based on trial and error.
Next, look at finding the right PCB design software for your purposes. There is an overabundance of PCB design software tools on the market, and many of them are free. Make sure to choose one that’s connected to a PCB manufacturer. This is important because the free PCB software will allow you to create your schematic and convert it to a PCB, with all the resources within that library, but also give you the relief of knowing that the file the software creates is compatible with your PCB manufacturer. It would be such a bummer to design your PCB, but then be unable to build it because the manufacturer of your choice doesn’t accept your file type.
As you get started, you’ll probably first want to design a PCB prototype. Using PCB design software is a low-risk and cheap way to tinker. It gives you the freedom to make and learn from your mistakes. Some software also allows you to test your prototype virtually to make sure that all of the components are in place or help you spot where there might be issues with your design.
Once you’re fully satisfied with your prototype, you’ll be ready to hit print. If you’re taking advantage of a free PCB design software that is connected to a PCB manufacturer, this process is incredibly easy and quick. You’ll have your custom made PCB in no time to power up your newest creation.
PCB Design Made Easy
For PCB design beginners, hobbyists, and tinkerers, Advanced Circuits is the best choice. Advanced Circuits is a full-service PCB manufacturer that can bring your innovations to life. Their free PCB design software, PCB Artist, includes a components library with over 500,000 parts. Their software is incredibly intuitive for fast and free PCB layouts. Create as many virtual prototypes as you’d like until you get it just right. Once you’re satisfied with your prototype’s design, you can run your Gerber file through their free file checker to ensure you have all the necessary data, which also eliminates errors during the manufacturing process.
Keep On Creating
The best part of the tinkering community is their curiosity and creativity. If you’re starting to dabble in PCB design, don’t be discouraged or intimidated. Everyone started as a novice who slowly worked their way up to more and more complicated designs. With so many blogs and forums, you’ll be able to find advice from more experienced tinkerers to get you past any hurdle. And free PCB design software like PCB Artist will give you the extra confidence you need to keep on innovating.