KiCAD for clankies

If you fancy designing yourself a PCB for a project then you’ve got quite a few choices. For a long time Eagle has been the standard. It offers just about everything that the novice and expert needs to create a professional looking board that blurs the lines between hobby and business. It has been acquired by AutoDesk, the people behind the hugely impressive Inventor 3D CAD package. Loved by clankies like me.

But what about open source software? Well KiCAD is the ‘other’ standard, with a slightly different workflow it still roughly follows what must be normal. That is, design a schematic and then tackle laying out the PCB.

I’ve not designed anything in Eagle for a long time and so have largely forgotten how to do it. So, thought that now I’ve switched almost entirely to Linux that I’d give KiCAD a go. Download through your favourite method and take my advice, download and print off the ‘Getting Started’ pdf.

The plan was to copy an existing layout first and see if I could make the PCB. I can report that I have achieved what I set out what to do. So, without boring you to death about the in’s and out’s of the software, here’s what I learnt….

  1. KiCAD has moved on. A lot – It is a simple and quick way to produce a hobby project. I understand as well that a big update is on the way.
  2. Workflow is different to Eagle – Schematic – Netlist – PCB rather that Schematic – PCB. This additional step is actually beneficial as it lets you make sure that the component can be sized separately from determining its functionality.
  3. AutoDesk still has a fantastic set of suite of applications and no doubt it will produce a superb link between electrical and mechanical that will be hard to beat. Commercially this will be hard to beat. The hobbyist will reap the benefits in time.
  4. KiCAD is fundamentally fit for purpose and definitely is not second best. What is clear is that the two suites follow different paths. There are a bunch of other pieces of software that fit the bill but most hobbyists have heard of both of these.
  5. RTM – Did I say Read The Manual? I’m going to say it again, read up. This isn’t a 5 minute investment and planning will pay off.
  6. If you’re keen on open source software then crack on. No need look elsewhere.

I’m going to continue with this project and no doubt learn new stuff. Today I learnt that importing .dxf files for the creation of PCB shapes is simple. A really quick way of getting the Altoids tin shaped PCB I need.

 

Alex Hill, G7KSE, is a regular contributor to AmateurRadio.com and writes from Cumbria, UK. Contact him at [email protected].

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