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12 Best PCB Design Software for Circuit Board Design - PCBasic

The demand for printed circuit boards for different industries has increased since 2010. And that's why you need the best PCB  design software to produce quality boards in less time.

From students to educators and a team of engineers, each group requires a PCB design app that suits their demand. The complexity of schematics differs from one industry to the next. Sadly, finding one PCB  design app that satisfies everyone is not an easy task. 

The post presents different electronic circuit design software for wide groups. From free ECAD software to powerful circuit board design programs for complex circuits, the post is all-inclusive.             
                       

What is a PCB Design Software?


PCB files are generated by CAD software, often called PCB design software. This type of software can design PCB layouts and PCB schematics. The software then extracts the circuit board design files into PCB Gerber files.

Some might think the files will end with the .pcb file type because it's a PCB design. However, the reality is the file type will usually be .gerber. The PCB design CAD software is needed to develop the circuit board and generate Gerber and BOM files.

Those PCB files are used as fabrication files to help manufacturers produce the PCB board we use in our final product.

Now that we know what PCB file design CAD software is, it's time to learn about the top 12 CAD design software we could use to design our PCB board.

Best PCB Design Software Summary


1. KiCad EDA (Free PCB Design Software)


how to design PCB easily

● Name: KiCad EDA
● Price: Free
● Developer: KiCad Developers Team
● Target Group: Beginners, students, professional engineers
● Version: 7.0.8

KiCad EDA is a free circuit design software that targets advanced engineers and students. It runs on Linux, Windows, and macOS. Besides the intuitive user interface, KiCad EDA's latest version is compatible with many CAD programs. The free circuit board design software also helps in schematic capture and 3D viewing of PCB designs.

Although it's a free PCB design tool, it has many admirable features and functions. For a clear view, you can pan, rotate, and even change the color and lighting on a rendered PCB. After designing the PCB layout, KiCad EDA software has an inbuilt tool that checks for missing connections and drivers and verifies correct pin joining.

The open-source PCB design tool allows you to update or create a new PCB from schematics. That's possible since it's compatible with leading CAD programs. So, when looking for the best free circuit software, KiCad EDA is worth considering.

Pros:


● It's a free, open-source software
● Available in plenty of languages
● Boasts a user-friendly interface
● Useful for professional engineers and students

Cons:


● There's a slight difficulty in managing its footprint

2. Altium Designer ( Ideal for Veteran Engineers Handling Complex PCB Design Work)


Altium PCB file designer


● Name: Altium Designer
● Operating System: Windows, Linux and MacOS
● Developer: Altium
● Target Group: Students, Educators, and Professionals
● Price: Term based pricing plans begin at $355 per month, perpetual license at $11 970
● Version: 23.9.2

Altium Designer is a cloud-based circuit board design software. That makes it very convenient to collaborate with other engineers and incorporate their feedback during the entire PB design process. Besides being a circuit design software, it also helps in MCAD and data management.

The fast schematic capture and a unified library make Altium Designer more efficient. Furthermore, it's useful even for multi-board PCB design and allows for an intuitive 3-dimensional view of your work.

If you can dig deep into your pocket, then Altium Designer gives you a deal for your cash. It offers the user advanced-level PCB design, the best circuit simulation, enterprise-level management, and cooperation.

Pros:


● Faster library creation
● Simple to learn and boasts a visually appealing user interface
● Has vital tools for creating and visualizing even rigid-flex designs
● Has 3D viewability for the entire board
● Free six months of access for verified students

Cons:


● License for accessing full features is costly
● Steep learning curve

3. EAGLE


EAGLE PCB layout software - Multi Circuit Boards

● Name: EAGLE
● Developer: Autodesk
● Version: 9.6.2
● Operating System: Windows, Linux, and MacOS
● Price: Free restricted version, $70 per month, $366 yearly, or $1635 every three years

EAGLE stands for easily applicable graphical layout editor. Initially, EAGLE PCB design software was free. But, since Autodesk took over the software, its free version has restricted use. Though it may look somehow old-fashioned, EAGLE still has admirable functionality.

The PCB software provides more than the standard schematic and board layout creation. It gives users auto-routing, 3D viewing, and DRC features for streamlining their work. Also, EasyEda and KiCad can easily access files created by EAGLE.   

New users may find the EAGLE PCB layout software online tutorials and support materials from reputed companies very useful. You can enjoy the full potential of the EAGLE software by subscribing to the standard or professional version.

EAGLE counts as the best PCB design software for robotics, industrial control systems, and consumer electronics industries. The EAGLE free version is only best for hobbyists. Otherwise, the standard and premium versions fit advanced engineers.

Pros:


● Easy-to-use interface and features
● Useful for both beginners and professionals
● It has plenty of community support and tutorial materials for beginners
● High design flexibility from rich component library and 3-dimension visualization


Cons:


● It may take new users time to learn its advanced features
● You must subscribe to realize its full potential

4. EasyEDA 


EasyEDA Simple WEB PCB design


● Name: EasyEDA
● Operating System: MacOS, Windows, and Linux
● Developer: EasyEDA
● Price: Free plan with limited use, individuals $19.9 per month Enterprise $39.9 per month ( billed annually)
● Version: 6.4.25

EasyEDA is a cloud-based PCB design software that has garnered attention in recent years for its user-friendly interface and accessibility. The electronic circuit design software targets beginners and small-scale PCB designers. Like Altium Designer, it's also cloud-based and gives easy accessibility from anywhere so long as you have an internet connection.

EasyEDA has an equipped library for components, symbols, and footprints. So, creating components during circuit prototyping is quick. Its schematic capturing tool is of hierarchical design and helps to create clear and organized schematics for even complex projects.

Like other leading programs for circuit design, Easy EDA supports 3D visualization, auto-routing, and direct rule-checking of PCBs. As circuit design and testing software, EasyEDA allows you to test the functionalities of circuits before prototyping.

Pros:


● Cloud-based and easy to access from various locations through the internet
● Cost-effective free version with limited abilities
● It supports a gentle learning curve and boasts a large base of active community support.
● User-friendly interface


Cons:


● Requires reliable and fast internet connectivity
● It has limited features for complex or high-end PCB design projects, unlike Altium Designer

5. CircuitMaker ( Best Free for Beginners and Window Users)


● Name: CircuitMaker
● Operating System: Windows
● Target Group: Advanced Engineers, Educators, and Students
● Developer: Altium
● Price: Free
● Version: 2.2.1 

If you are enthusiastic about electronics or have it as your hobby, then CircuitMaker is the best free circuit design software to consider. Besides being free, it boasts a user-friendly schematic capture tool and an extensive library of footprints and components. That means it simplifies the component selection or placement process in the PCB design process.

Further, CircuitMaker circuit design software has a large base of community users. And being cloud-based, you can share finished projects with others or engage in real-time collaboration on projects. Even for beginners, CircuitMaker provides an easy-to-navigate and intuitive interface.

So, if you are looking for free PCB design software that supports real-time collaboration between users, give CircuitMaker a chance.

Pros:


● Free and cost-effective for hobbyist and small-scale PCB design projects
● Has active online community support that's useful in troubleshooting or widening your knowledge
● Supports real-time online collaboration, editing, and cloud-based storage capabilities
● Regular updates by Altium keep it competitive and relevant all the time

Cons:


● Its design makes it less ideal for handling complex and high-end PCB design projects
● New users may need more time to get their way around the CircuitMaker software

6. Fusion 360


● Name: Fusion 360
● Developer: Autodesk
● Operating System: Windows, Linux, and MacOS

Fusion 360 and EAGLE share the same developer, Autodesk. You need a licensing fee to realize the full potential of the Fusion 360 circuit board design software. Otherwise, its free plan with limited schematics, board layers, and board area only fits beginners.

Some of the top features of Fusion 360 include a friendly schematic editor, PCB layout editor, collaboration tools, BOM, and manufacturing output tools. Like other leading programs for circuit designs, Fusion 360 offers vital tools like DRC and interactive routing.

Further, the software integrates with Autodesk Fusion 360. Thus, it's a helpful circuit design and testing software. Interestingly, Fusion 360 is cloud-based and allows real-time collaboration with individuals on a project. By sharing a library with Tinkercard, you can export circuits from one software to the next.

Fusion 360 PCB design software finds its application in aerospace, industrial automation, consumer electronics, and automotive industries.

Pros:


● Unified integration of PCB design, mechanical design, and collaboration tools
● Cloud-based and thus supports real-time collaboration on projects
● An exhaustive library of components and manufacturing outputs streamlines production
● Efficient PCB design workflow because of the easy-to-use interface

Cons:


● Costly for small businesses or individuals
● May take time to learn if you aren't already familiar with Autodesk Fusion 360.

7. DipTrace


● Name: DipTrace
● Developer: Novarm ltd
● Operating System: Windows, Linux, and MacOS
● Price: Starter $75 and the DipTrace Full $995
● Version: 4.3.0.5

DipTrace is a PCB design software that offers you four main applications. That is schematic capture, printed circuit board layout editor, pattern and component editor. In the entire PCB design stages, the DipTrace circuit design software supports a 3D view.

So you can zoom in or out and even edit the color on various parts of the board. As for its flexibility, you can export the PCB in multiple formats, including VRML 2.0 or STEP. Meanwhile, it supports quick mechanical CAD modeling.

Further, DipTrace has an advanced circuit designing tool compatible with multi-sheet, multi-level hierarchical schematics and cross-module management ability. Due to its intelligent manual routing, advanced verification features, and broad import and export verification features, many users regard DipTrace as valuable electronic design circuit software.

Unlike other software, DipTrace's free version isn't restrictive regarding board size and supports up to 500 pins and dual board layers. Also, its library allows for the creation or importation of new components, making it a get-to-go PCB design software.

Pros:


● It has wide export and import capabilities
● Highly discounted license fee
● Not too restrictive on features for the free version
● Supports real-time 3D view
● Simple to drag and drop user interface

Cons:


● The free version limits the user to 300 pins
● Not compatible with older Windows versions

8. DesignSpark


● Name: DesignSpark
● Developer: Rs Components
● Operating System: Windows
● Target Group: Students, Beginners, and Educators
● Version: 6.0.3
● Price: Free

It's a free circuit board design software once you make a one-time registration. DesignSpark stems from a collaboration between prominent electronics distributor RS and Number One Systems (EDA software developer).

Like other programs for circuit designs, DesignSpark has a powerful schematic editor and third-party libraries that help draw complete circuit diagrams. After drawing your desired schematics, you use its PCB wizard to create the right PCB layout file.

Furthermore, DesignSpark gives you the PCB layout editor to help make some iterations on the layout of the PCB. Also, its auto-router automatically places the components and lays out the tracks between the components.

DesignSpark serves as one of the best free circuit design software for small businesses and hobbyists. It's worth noting that there is also the DesignSpark Pro version that's not free. So, if you intend to work on complex or large PCB design projects, then the Pro version fits you.

Pros:


● It requires no subscription plan except a one-time registration requirement
● Fairly easy to learn
● Availability of training materials and an online community to help new users

Cons:


● It has no 3D viewability
● Lack of circuit simulation capability

9. Altium 365 ( Best for Privacy and Complex Circuits)


● Name: Altium 365
● Developer: Altium
● Operating System: Windows
● Target Group: Large-scale enterprises and Seasoned engineers

Altium 365 is a circuit board design software emphasizing improved data management and teamwork collaboration. It's a useful program for PCB layout, schematic, and PCB designing work. One unique feature of Altium 365 is that it encourages collective work between ECAD and MCAD engineers, thus ensuring faster completion of work.

Moreover, it counts as the best online PCB design software since it's cloud-based. While working on a project, it fosters bidirectional data sharing without fear of distortion or loss. Altium 365 electronic circuit design software puts you in control of who can view, edit, download, or reshare your work.

The PCB design app is also best for complex PCB design work since it supports multi-board and schematics. For convenience, Altium 365 allows you to share schematics, layout, screenshots, and even comments. So, it's easy to understand when a colleague proposes changes to your project.
Although Altium 365 isn't a free ECAD software, the app has a free trial version. Therefore, you can opt for the standard, pro, and enterprise versions.

Pros:


● Offers the complete range of tools you need for PCB designs
● Encourages collaboration between ECAD and MCAD
● Allows real-time sharing of work with other team members
● Supports data privacy

Cons:


● Component creation in the library is slightly time-demanding

10. CAM350


● Name: CAM350
● Developer: Downstream Technologies
● Operating Software: Windows
● Target Group Level: Small, Medium, and Business Enterprises

Transforming engineering data into PCB fabrication isn't easy. There is the danger of data distortion and making gross mistakes that delay the process. That's where CAM350 PCB design software comes into the picture. It helps streamline the PCB design process through data file preparation, verification, and optimization.

By using CAM350 circuit board design software, you go through vital processes such as data analysis, testing, milling, and even drilling. That minimizes the chances of making gross mistakes during the PCB design. Furthermore, CAM350 allows you to have a 3D data visualization of the final product.

The PCB design app conducts far-reaching DFM checks such as IPC netlist and solder bridge checks. A straightforward DRC check process further minimizes PCB design flow errors. 

You can view, edit, and make changes to the Gerber files. Unlike other programs for circuit design, CAM350 provides accurate line-spaced panels. That makes it the best PCB design software for automotive and electronic manufacturing industries.

Although CAM350 uses a quotation-based pricing format, it provides a free trial version for its customers.

Pros:


● Allows users to open, view, and edit Gerber files of various formats
● Simple and straightforward to use user interface
● Cost-effective PCB design software


Cons:


● Some users claim the software takes a long time to load

11. OrCAD Capture


● Name: OrCAD Capture
● Developer: Cadence Design Systems
● Price: Begins from $580 to $1950
● Target Group: Students and Educators
● Operating System: Windows
● Version: 17.4- 22.1

As the name implies, OrCAD Capture is a powerful circuit design software that helps in accurate schematic capture. The software makes capturing, creating, modifying, and verifying even the most complex PCB designs less troublesome. 

OrCAD capture doesn't have an inbuilt simulator. However, it enables you to carry out system simulation by exporting netlist data to OrCAD's simulator (OrCAD EE). OrCAD capture boasts an extensive component library and an integrated part search in its dashboard. 

So, it cuts down time browsing for components. Moreover, it provides design rule checks that help synchronize schematic capture and PCB editing. Thus, you can eliminate the costly engineering change of orders.  
Creating and editing schematic symbols becomes easier with OrCAD Capture software. Although it isn't a free PCB design software, OrCAD capture has a free trial period. Thus, you can get started with the software right away. 

Pros:


● It supports easy part identification and search in the dashboard
● OrCAD supports side-by-side comparison of designs
● Permits sharing of add-on for customizing the PCB design environment
● It gives a free trial version

Cons:


● It's compatible with Microsoft Windows operating software only. 

12. OrCAD PCB Designer


PCB file design


● Name: OrCAD PCB Designer
● Operating System: Windows
● Developer: Cadence Design Sytems

OrCAD PCB Designer is a printed circuit board software with powerful tools for every PCB design process. The tools such as schematic capture, library management, and signal integrity analysis help reduce production time for even the most complex PCB design work. Moreover, it features design reuse ability; thus, you won't have to begin every project from scratch.

As a compatible circuit prototyping software, OrCAD PCB designer integrates with other OrCAD tools. It's compatible with OrCAD Capture, PSpice, and Allegro PCB Designer. Also, it's scalable and supports multilayer.

OrCAD PCB designer boasts powerful Direct Rule Checks. So, it ensures that you come out with PCB that meets the industry standards and is manufacturable. When using OrCAD PCB designer, cooperation between the ECAD and MCAD team becomes simpler.

And during the entire process, you can view your PCB in 3 dimensions from any angle. Therefore, you can predict where the board has to flex or bend to give optimum fit ability. During routing, you can instantly define, edit, or update any shape.

Pros:


● A simple resolution of impedance issues
● Supports real-time DRC checks
● Instant shape management and creation while routing
● Smooth cooperation between MCAD and ECAD engineers
● It gives quick and effective routing


Cons:


● The free version has limited libraries

What to Look for in PCB Design Software?


The current market has a plethora of printed circuit board layout software. Digging through such a long list to choose the best PCB design app is demanding. So below are the vital considerations that can help you locate the right PCB circuit design software that suits your needs:

Ease of Use


The best online design software is the one that feels easy to use. Otherwise, even if it's rich in features, the software won't benefit you.
When determining the ease of use of a printed board circuit app, focus on the ease of accessing its features and tools. Accomplishing everyday tasks from the program shouldn't involve making countless clicks with the mouse.

Further, ask yourself the following questions: How organized is the workspace? Is the user interface friendly? Is it compatible with other leading circuit design software? 

Short Learning Curve


Each program may require you to take some time and familiarize yourself with how to use it. However, the learning curve for various circuit designs differs. So, aim at the PCB design program offering a short learning curve.
Otherwise, apps with a steep learning curve will demand a long time to navigate their pages and execute simple tasks.

Set of Features


The set of features differs from one PCB software to the next. But the best PCB software should have at least the following standard set of features:


1. Component Library


A rich component library shortens the PCB design work process. Instead of taking a long time browsing the net for components, you'll drag and drop components on your circuit design board. The best way to gauge how robust the component library is is to know the range of electronic parts you'll use.


2. Layers


The number of layers a PCB design app can accommodate differs from one software to another. Whereas some free PCB design software accommodates only two layers, others support multilayers. Hence, gauge the complexity of your project and the number of layers it requires, then choose a compatible software.


3. Simulation


A good circuit design software should have simulation capability. After designing the board, you can test its use under different scenarios. The testing stage unearths the design flaws, such as extremely close components and poor heat resistance. A simulation test gives you a clue on how the board may perform in the real world.


4. 3D view


Look out for the circuit design software with a 3-dimensional view feature. The circuit design and testing software should allow you to zoom in or out any part of the board.

Price


Another vital feature of the best circuit design software is price. When shopping for the right PCB software, compare the listed price, subscription fee, licensing fee, and other hidden costs.

Know the range of features that you want from PCB software. Then, dig out the PCB apps that provide those features. Don't rush out purchasing an expensive circuit prototyping software. Remember, there are many free PCB design software with excellent functionalities.

Frequently Asked Quesitons


1) What is the Cheapest Way to Make a PCB?


The cheapest way to make PCB is to go for the two-layer board using FR4 laminated fiberglass. However, the dual-layer board should be twice the size of its corresponding 4-layer board. 

2) Can I Learn PCB Design on My Own?


You can learn PCB design on your own, though it's demanding and requires dedication and time. However, there are several online platforms for learning PCB design. 

3) What is the Freeware for PCB Design?


There are several free software that you can use in PCB design. Such freeware includes KiCad, EasyEDA, CircuitMaker, and DesignSpark. 

Conclusion


Regarding fabrication and mass production, choosing the right partner for the journey is essential. PCB design software can be powerful when used for exemplary purposes. But PCB files, BOM files, and CAD designs are not enough.

At PCBasic, we provide multiple pcb and pcba fabrication options. For small to large-scale hardware projects.


Whenever you use Altium or Eagle for your Design, as long as you generate those Gerber and BOM files, we can help you to turn your project into reality!

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