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Schematic Capture & PC Board Layout

As an engineer who enjoys tinkering on various hobbyist projects, I have occasion to draw schematics and (when the bank account allows it) order PC boards. I've tried several different schematic capture packages. Some were supplied as part of PC layout software (Express, Eagle). Some were part of circuit simulation software (LTSpice, TINA-TI). I am not entirely satisfied with the versions I've tried so far.

Part of the problem is that I'm spoiled — I used Viewdraw (now part of Mentor Graphics) at a previous job. With Viewdraw, I could create extremely professional schematics. I have high standards when it comes to drafting. I dislike drawings with excessive jogs in the “wires.” I can't tolerate drawings where a number of connections are so close together (rather like a bus structure, but this is analog, so get off the bus ) that you can't trace from one end to the other.

I like to line up components with one another to the extent possible. I like to be able to move and copy sections of the schematic easily. Finally, I like a schematic capture program that makes it quick and easy to create new components. The component symbol must have all the attributes to make it work properly in the schematic and in the PC layout — for the occasions in which I follow through and get PC boards made.

Just to put my design work in perspective, I am typically drawing a one- or two-page schematic. There are perhaps 100 components. If I follow through with a PC board, it will be several square inches in size. So, typical hobbyist project. Still, it's nice to have a large library of components from which I can draw. Adding text to the components and being able to edit the text (size and placement) is good. Adding text labels in general is pretty handy. Geometric shapes are useful.

I could do everything I've just described (and much more) with Viewdraw. Now, obviously, you would expect this from a schematic capture program designed for professional use and priced accordingly. I'm willing to lower my standards a bit for a home-use product. Much of what I've seen does not produce the crisp schematics I'd like. Most don't seem very user friendly.

I would like to hear from you on schematic capture programs you've used. What do you like about them? What don't you like? Was it free or did you have to buy it? Cost? Would you buy it again? And do you have any special drafting tricks to make the task easier?

Share your thoughts with us below. We'd especially like to hear from engineers who are doing their own board designs (professionally) after they've done the circuit design.

56 comments on “Schematic Capture & PC Board Layout

  1. Vishal Prajapati
    April 16, 2013

    I generally design whole board schematic capture and layout on my own. I have too used different programs for that like many others. Initially I had used ORCAD capture and ORCAD Layout. Untill version 9 it was not very user friendly, though it had lot of good features. But we need to provide enough time to learn each and every functionality. Once acquainted, it was a cake walk.

     

    Then I some time ago I moved to open source KiCAD suit. I feel this tool is much easier to learn than OrCAD. Though it doesn't have lot of components and footprints but that can be made in the software it self. I really started liking this tool now. It provides almost all the features that is typically needed for PCB Designing.

     

    I have also tried Eagle and Altium. Eagle was easier than Altium and KiCAD is easiest to learn.

  2. jkvasan
    April 16, 2013

    Brad,

    At the start of my career I used smArtwork. I do not know if this software or the company which made it exists.

    Then came the Orcad. Orcad was easy and expensive. One important thing about Orcad is you could have as many aliases for the same net as you wanted. This would be particularly useful in re-aligning your signals when you draw your layout.

    Eagle, of course, is an affordable software. I dont like its schematics much but its pcb artwork is very good looking.

    Designspark is free and good. I had used it for several projects. I find it very comfortable and usable.

  3. jkvasan
    April 16, 2013

    @SE,

    pcb123 is a great tool. I have used it to just see how it is. 

    ExpressPCB is another such tool locked to a manufacturer.

  4. David Maciel Silva
    April 16, 2013

    There were few during my journey started with TANGO FOR DOS, that era was something incredible, but with the passage of time and the various failures was performed migration to Protel a tool much more elaborate, versatile and with a great interface, also used in parallel PROTEUS (ARES), good but there was a huge shift in computing systems, and was eventually replaced by PROTEL ALTIUM, which can be executed by the operating system WIN7 (PROTEL not supported).

    The Altium is an integrated tool for development beyond printed circuit simulation and enables the development of codes for FPGAs, I found a tool to use with him is the ULTRA LIBRARIAN, which is able to import the manufacturers' footprints and schematic symbols for.

    Link to dowloand:

    http://www.silabs.com/support/Pages/CAD-CAE-Schematic-Footprints-and-Symbols.aspx

    More informations about altium:

    http://live.altium.com/#signin

  5. duanebenson
    April 16, 2013

    The PCB123 CAD package is a part of Sunstone Circuits. It does feed right into Sunstone's board house, but they describe it as they get paid for the software a little each time you buy a board so they don't need to charge upfront for the software.

    ExpressPCB is a different company completely, but they contract with Sunstone to build their boards. It can get a bit mixed up, because Sunstone calls their quick-turn service “PCBexpress.”

  6. Brad Albing
    April 17, 2013

    Just looked at the KiCAD site and schematic capture tool. Looks decent – I'll try it and see. Thanks for the heads-up on that one.

  7. Vincent Rheaume
    April 17, 2013

    Making a schematic is one thing, but getting PCBs fabricated is another thing, especially when you're working on a personal project; as Brad says in the original article, “when the bank account allows it, order PC boards”. 

    On that subject, I feel it would be a good thing to link to PCB prototype services: 

    http://oshpark.com/pricing (5$ per square inch for three copies of a 2-layer board, no tooling fee, no shipping fee in the US; for 4-layer boards, 10$ per square inch for three copies)

    http://www.pentalogix.com/5-quick-protos-p-602.html (“5 quick protos” service: amazingly fast, no tooling fee, and has the option of 2-, 4-, 6- and 8- layer boards. I couldn't find cheaper prototypes for 6 layer boards when I searched last year. )

    https://www.batchpcb.com/faq (10$ setup plus 2.50$ per square inch for 2-layer, 8$ per square inch for 4-layer)

    http://www.seeedstudio.com/depot/fusion-pcb-service-2-layers-p-835.html?cPath=185 (9.90$ + shipping for 10 copies of a two-layer board, 5cm*5cm max; other prices available for bigger boards and 4-layer)

    OSHpark and Pentalogix boards are fabricated in USA (unless that changed)… I've had good experiences with both Pentalogix and BatchPCB, I'm going to try OSHpark next. 

  8. Brad Albing
    April 17, 2013

    VR – some good info there – thanks.

  9. DAVID.PFALTZGRAFF
    April 24, 2013

    I have used Altium and EAGLE. Although Altium is very good, I can't justify the cost for the type of jobs I do.

    Meanwhile EAGLE has been able to do everything I've asked of it and produced very good boards – from 1 through 6 layers. As with all new software there's a learning curve, but EAGLE's was not difficult. It comes with a fairly good (but somewhat outadted) library. I've had no problems adding components as needed. Once you get used to it, it produces reasonable BOMs with little difficulty.

    For most of my work, I've used Sunstone. Very good people to work with and excellent quality boards.

    For lower cost prototypes and production, if you don't mind production in China, two houses are iTeadStudio (http://imall.iteadstudio.com/) for protyping and low volume and PCBCart (http://www.pcbcart.com/) for production. Although these do not meet the high standards of Sunstone, they have been satisfactory for prototyping purposes.

    Until we can find an alternate solution, still the biggest expense for low volume assemblies is the bare PCB!

     

  10. BPaddock_#2
    April 24, 2013

    I've not seen anyone meiton the gEDA Project, gschem, pcb, gerbv, icarus (Verilog simulation and synthesis tool), gtkwave, long staples of the UNIX/Linux world:

    http://www.geda-project.org/

    There is now a Windows port as well:

    http://bibo.iqo.uni-hannover.de/dokuwiki/doku.php?id=english:geda_for_ms-windows

    User supported symbole site:

    http://www.gedasymbols.org/

    The learn curve for these tools can be steep, however they offer a flexability not found in other packages.

    The gEDA Project GerbView, gerbv, works well with many other tools and doesn't keep nagging you to upgrade to the latest version every few months, like some well known Gerber Viewer programs.

    Unrelated to gEDA/PCB there is also FreePCB for Windows:

    http://www.freepcb.com/

     

     

  11. keyboardwizard
    April 24, 2013

    Brad, you got time enough for checking schematic and layout software. Enviable!

    As I'm eager to learn from the other's experience, here is mine.

    In the early 80s I started with Racal Redac, unaffordable, 320×240 pixel CRT screen, no error checking. Some years later I was one of the first Eagle-customers. They didn't like me posting hints and faults but by and by I found everything I needed in updated versions. There are still some pits and traps you have to cope with, but :

    It is affordable, has for-backward-annotation, a good resolution and board area, and what I enjoy most ist a reliable design rule check. I don't use the autorouter which indeed produces mysterious routes. And I can't find anything ugly with the schematic editor as you stated before.

    Some systems are definetely better but do they pay the difference? Do you need all the features ? Others are bulky to handle, a thousand clicks for a component move.

    Hope you make a good decision 🙂

     

     

  12. cello10_#1
    April 24, 2013

    I was introduced to OrCAD 10, nine years ago and I have used it ever since.  I've had to custom tailor the schematic symbols and font sizes to my liking and that has taken considerable time and practice.  In the default setting form, OrCAD 10 schematics look terrible.  I generally work on 'D' size sheets but print to 'B' size.  But once you get the symbols edited and the fonts adjusted properly, you can generate schematics that meet Brad's criteria for proper schematic quality.  OrCAD allows you to export to AutoCAD.  However, the schematics look better when you print directly to PDF.  So I include the revision block up in the top right hand corner for configuration control.  You couldn't ask for much more flexiblity in a schematic capture program and you can export to just about any PWB program available.  The main problem with OrCAD 10 is that it is now considered obsolete.  Cadence OrCAD 16.5 is the latest version.  The PWB layout program has been discontinued but it was never very good anyway.  I love PCAD 2002 for laying out boards.  That is also an obsolete program.  The name got changed to Altium a few years back and the latest versions will export 3D models of your boards.  This has become a must for demanding customers that want instant 3D models of the product you are developing for them.  But for home use, once you get used to OrCAD and PCAD it's hard to get excited about using a less professional program like Eagle.       

  13. Rcurl
    April 24, 2013

    I started out with SmArtwork from Wintek (long gone now) and moved to Circuitmaker 2000. It seemed buggy and had problems that were not resolved once Altium bought them (and eventually pulled the product).

    About five years ago I moved to Diptrace and have been extremely happy with it.  It is extremely intuitive, affordable, and produces good quility output. Up until I started using Diptrace I had been unhappy with autorouters and didn't trust them, but the one in Diptrace changed my mind. Yes- I still have to spend a good bit of time tweaking the output, but it is still a trememdous time saver.

    You can get a free 300-pin limited version to play with it. Bay Area Circuits offers a free version of Diptrace that is limited to ordering boards from them.  They call it “PCB Creator”

    As far as ordering boards, I use Advanced Circuits “33 each” for most of my prototypes, and I get larger quantities from PCBfabrication.com or MyRoPCB. 

     

     

  14. RDJ
    April 24, 2013

    Interesting. I used to use ViewDraw years ago and hated the program, as it seemed to be full of bugs. The only thing I liked about it was the hierarchical schematics. I've been using the professional version of Eagle for the past decade. The ULP (scripting language) of Eagle is useful and powerful, and it's easy to make new symbols. For more money Orcad and Altium are also powerful but more complicated to learn. Altium in particular provides STEP (3D) output, which is becoming ever more useful as mechanical and board design merge, particularly in this age of affordable 3D printing.

    For hobbyist use, I think KiCAD is a good choice. The freeware version of Eagle is also good, but limiting. For viewing Gerber files 'gerbv' is the way to go. I do all my development on Linux workstations, and the combination of Eagle and gerbv allows me to produce multi-layer boards with ease. I do wish Eagle had integrated STEP output though.

  15. Pedro1
    April 24, 2013

    I like freedom of choice.  What I don't like are fancy schematic tools that lock you in and make you pay annual fees just to access your own designs.

    Lately, I have been looking at Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) alternatives. Two tools, KiCad and gEDA seem to get most of the attention. They both let you draw schematics, generate a netlist and create a board layout.

    Most of my designs include high pin-count components.  Wiring up high pin-count components in a schematic editor is tedious and error prone.  Recently, I found a new approach to defining the connectivity of my board. I use a board design language called PHDL. PHDL is a simplified hardware description language for board design. Large busses are handled elegantly, comments can be inserted anywhere and your source design is compatible with normal version control tools like SVN or GIT. You can work on your designs with any text editor so there is nothing to install or maintain.  Anyway, if any of this appeals to you check it out at http://sourceforge.net/p/phdl/wiki/Home/

    And keep building boards!

  16. grbosworth
    April 24, 2013

    I bought a schematic capture and board layout program (IVEX) in 2000.  Within a couple of years the company was out of business and I have been unable to get the latest footprints from anyone.  I am so upset.  I hope this does not happen to other engineers.

  17. mikey the great
    April 24, 2013

    I have started using Ki Cad and wanted to say if you search there are quite a few vshared components out there.  These seem to be a lot in Europe.  Perhaps we could start are own share of ones that might be more domestic.

     

  18. Ed.Aho
    April 24, 2013

    In the early days, I used Orcad and wasn't completely happy, so I then moved to Schema and Tango, which I liked.  Then as theyse were bought by the big boys (taken off the market).  I then tried Pcad and Protel, and even PADS, and now these have been bought by the bigger players.  So, of the big players I have worked with Mentor (which I use at work now) and Cadence, and Altium (which is my favorite by far).  However, all these are very pricey and out of my budget for my hobby/consulting use.  I don't like Eagle – it is clumbsy IMHO. 

    Someone mentioned Diptrace – which I've tried and does seem very good – and might be the one I would recommend.  Has many powerful features which Altium has.  It can be used as a free tool or purchased at different prices depending on complexity.  If you have heard about Eagle – do yourself the favor of trying Diptrace. 

    There are others too which are very good.  One is Proteus / Ares (from Labcenter.com).  This tool is very good too.  Easy and powerful (also similiar to altium).  Shows 3D views of your board – which can be a very useful tool.  Comes in different price ranges and they upgrade for the difference in price.  One big advantage here is, if you also like to use SPICE simulations, this tool comes with a very nice SPICE tool.  So you can build your schematic, simulate it, and then go to PCB design.  If you want to simulate with your microcontrollers – it does that too.  amazing!  The very nice thing is that it does each of these things in an elegant fashion.

    http://www.labcenter.com/products/vsm/comparison.cfm

    So, finally – my recommend would be Diptrace for pure schematic and pcb design, but if you want to simulate and do everything in a very professional level – look into Labcenter's product.  At about the same price breaks as Diptrace you get a better all around tool IMHO.

  19. Centerfielder
    April 24, 2013

      I would highly endorse ExpressPCB for up to 4-layer circuit boards, it is the most intuitive CAD program I have ever used.  I have always preferred less automated applications so the lack of large libraries does not bother me since you can quickly create new parts.

     

  20. Brad Albing
    April 24, 2013

    OK – more tools to try. You can never have too many tools.

  21. Brad Albing
    April 24, 2013

    You're right about the board cost – just a necessary evil. Otherwise, you'll have to build it on Vectorbord, and obviously that's not really practical for large boards and/or surface-mount components.

  22. Davidled
    April 24, 2013

    We used Cadsoft Eagle PCB Design S/W tool. It is not complicated for user manual. Also, like Pspice, circuit behavior can be checked. It is easy to build the new components using library. Multilayer up to 9 layers can be easily built using auto routing function.  We did not see any major limitation for this tool, when our engineer used it.

  23. Brad Albing
    April 24, 2013

    OK – not a big fan of steep learning curves, but I'll take a look at the gEDA Project tools.

    The FreePCB for Windows sounds better. I'll look at that, too.

  24. Brad Albing
    April 24, 2013

    Well I have time because, in essemce, it's part of my job.

    Thanks for the comments on Eagle.

  25. Brad Albing
    April 24, 2013

    OK, that helps. Thanks.

  26. Brad Albing
    April 24, 2013

    Will do on the boards.

    KiCad and gEDA keep showing up in comments, so I'll pursue those.

  27. Brad Albing
    April 24, 2013

    Bummer to pay for software and then have them go belly-up.

  28. Brad Albing
    April 24, 2013

    Another vote for KiCad. Thanks.

  29. Brad Albing
    April 24, 2013

    4 layers would always be sufficient for any of my projects, so there's a vote for Eagle. I'll set up a proper poll over the next week so all y'all can actually vote.

  30. Brad Albing
    April 24, 2013

    I'll never need 9 layers, but it's good to know it's available.

  31. mllloyd1
    April 24, 2013

    I've used Altium, Orcad and PCAD in my day jobs. All of those are waaay more ($$$ and features) than I need for hobby/home projects.

    For home/hobby stuff, I used Circad (http://holophase.com/) trial version for years when I used to etched my own boards (trial version doesn't output gerbers). Circad is very fast and very easy to use.

    After several attempts over the years, I have settled on a love/hate relationship with Eagle; I'll let you figure the rest of that statement

    🙂

    I've used Kicad and like it a lot.
    I've used Diptrace and like it a lot more. That's what I use now for home/hobby stuff.

    … Except …

    For really simple boards that I don't need/care about schematic capture, the ease of use of Sprint Layout is very hard to beat. If it had integrated schematic capture, I would use it instead of Diptrace.

    Besides the esthetics of the output (i.e. “good looking schematic), my acid test for home/hobby use CAD SW is “can I make a simple schematic and simple board layout WITHOUT using the manual?” Circad, Diptrace and Sprint Layout passed that test easily for me.
    Your mileage may vary …

    mlloyd1

     

    edit:

    FreePCB was OK, too, but at that time I really wanted integrated schematic capture so I didn't play with it as long as I could/should have.

  32. WKetel
    April 24, 2013

    I downloaded the Cadsoft “eagle” free version a while back and I am still trying to learn how to make it work. Much of my problem is that I used Autocad at the previous 5 jobs, and so I am used to doing things differently from the way that Eagle does them. The differences are quite fundamental. Of course, I started designing boards when the tools to do it were tape and stick-ons. Also red and blue pencils.

  33. Alan S
    April 24, 2013

    I grew up on command line PADS, graduated to windows 3.11 version with a mouse, eventually full blown PADS et al with data bases, linked libraries and plenty of bells and whistles.  Throw the CAD folks a schematic and a board returns.  Nice.  Currently I am a one person design shop and use Eagle, quite happy with it, quirks and all.

    Board houses want gerber files.  They don't know what they were made on, they don't really care.  They use the industry standard gerber formats.  On the other end I can sketch a schematic on a piece of paper and spend a lot of time and effort dealing with the schematic capture quirks.  Want to send something to someone in another group that uses another program?  Can't.  No standards.  Why are there no standards for schematics and boards?

    That was rhetorical.  Maybe CAD companies want you tied to their product.  Forever.  Want to translate hundreds or thousands of schematics and boards?  Not likely.  Imagine if you could decide to change from CAD-A to CAD-B, or vice versa?  Imagine an aquisition being able to just send over their files, ready to use.  Even at the hobbyist level, wouldn't it be nice to try several programs and not have a trail of schematics drawn in assorted incompatible programs, having to update each one if you ever want that schematic again?

    Software and hardware is full of industry standard formats.  Here's my vote for industry standards for schematic capture, board layout and library file formats!

     

  34. JackGrat2
    April 24, 2013

    Depends on what you need the tool for.

    For home or hobby use – free is good – of these KICAD works well despite a slightly tweeky coordinate system. Cadstar has an eval package that is excellent for small designs. I see the good comments about DipTrace – will have to give that a try.

    For low end companies – Altium has a good set of features for the price. Now that they have a component vault data structure, better association of symbol and footprints to a component. The version control system does get in the way of the design flow and can make life difficult for new users. Includes Mentor's IPC Footprint Wizard and Aldec's FPGA simulation engine, a real value in one package.

    For most professional design – PADS is best hands down – alway had a very good library management tool – excellent layer control – designs are saved to an ASCII readable file (may not sound like much, until you've had a design database corrupted).

    Cadence Allegro and Mentor Boardstation round out the upper end – requires a team to operate – librarian, designers, training. Just make sure to save your work every 15min – worst data corruption I've seen can be made in Allegro.

    Useful link:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparison_of_EDA_software

  35. Brad Albing
    April 24, 2013

    Thanks. More good first-hand info.

  36. llamer
    April 24, 2013

    Pedro dixit:

    “I like freedom of choice.  What I don't like are fancy schematic tools that lock you in and make you pay annual fees just to access your own designs.”

    I could not agree more with this statement!

    At work we use the full blown Altium suite and even if it is very powerful I strongly believe that you cannot get full proficiency on it unless you use it very frequently; otherwise, you'll end up using only a small subset of its features.

    However, as Pedro said, I value freedom of choice over features, not to mention having to pay annual fees to access my own designs, hence I try to use FOSS tools whenever possible.

    For my consulting job I used KiCad for a while and it is a very nice and well rounded package that can even be even in production environments for medium/small size projects.

    However, later I found that gEDA, despite its stepper learning curve (compared to simpler programs), is much more powerful and highly customizable than KiCAD and, as others said before, it is very professional and has some features that even more expensive packages do not have. I strongly recommend it.

    For checking gerber files, 'gerbv' is my first choice

  37. Douglas.Butler
    April 24, 2013

    I have used black tape, Tango, OrCAD, PADS, and Altium.  My favorite right now is Easy-PC by Number One Systems.

    I absolutely hated Altium.  I was forced to use it for nearly 9 months and it made every simple task on onerous process.  The result was nice looking schematics and PCBs but at 4X the effort of OrCAD, PADS or Easy-PC.

    SherpaDoug

  38. Davidled
    April 24, 2013

    ->you'll end up using only a small subset of its features.

     I am wondering if engineer can only buy specific subsets of functionality for any tool, not all packages. In my experience, whenever purchasing any schematic tool, always in most case, 100 %, all full function of tool has never been used in the end.  A small portion of tool has been used, unless the project requires more

  39. keyboardwizard
    April 25, 2013

    I know how much time you can mess away with testing software, in particular schematics and layout software. Because this is the kind of program you really work with, unlike others, like word or excel, browser and email which you just use. The trial periods are always too short . That's why people love the system they became familiar with over a long time (apart from high class programs with must-have features you don't find in reasonably priced categories)

  40. Vishal Prajapati
    April 25, 2013

    Proteus is definetely an amazing tool for simulation as well as PCB designing. It supports lot of Microcontrollers for the simulation and even provide inbuilt GNU compiler for lot of platform. It allows you to even step by step debugging of code in the software it self. The only problem with it is its cost. It is way too expensive.

  41. Nymbus
    April 25, 2013

    I've used ORCAD, PCAD, ACCEL, EASY PC, DESIGN SPARK and MENTOR mainly for schematic capture.

    Easiest to use from this list was ACCEL. I found it intuitive, powerful yet simple, library manager allowed quick creation of schematic and PCB components. Documentation was comprehensive and used standard terminology making it easy to search for help. Schematic output very professional with easy to creat B.o.M.s.

    The most difficult to use and configure was Mentor. It is everything Accel is not. It is a very powerful tool but if you're not using it day in day out you'll find it difficult to attain proficiency.

    For a freebie, Design Spark is pretty good. I use it for my own home work. Easy to install, easy to use, intuitive, good search and help.

  42. Davidled
    April 25, 2013

    ->The trial periods are always too short

    If company gets the trial version, it could be extended to more than 30 days or 60 days.  Sales Rep is very negotiable and also need to engineering input for any malfunction and defects with huge discount, as long as multiple licenses are purchased. Consequently, other extra software tool being developed is sent to company for letting engineer use for their engineering tool.

  43. Brad Albing
    April 26, 2013

    I'll look at ACCEL and Design Spark (mentioned elsewhere).

  44. Brad Albing
    April 26, 2013

    I'll look at Easy-PC and see if I like it.

  45. d_erickson
    April 26, 2013

    I use ExpressPCB a lot in both prefession and hobby. Their $51 mini-service ($75 with silk screen and soldermask) is great for protos, one-offfs, adapter boards, and test hardware.  3 boards,  2.5″ x 3.8. You will spend more money thinking about how to prototype something than the boards cost. 

    Next up is Proto-pro, $175 for four 21 sq. in. boards.

    The schematic and layout tools are very easy to use and free, and less than 1 week from order to boards. I do mostly SMT 0805 / 0603, down to .5mm pitch. Check out some of my projects at http://www.djerickson.com. A downside is no DRC, but there is a 3rd party DRC tool for $20.

    Dave Erickson

     

  46. Brad Albing
    April 26, 2013

    Thanks Dave.

  47. wawaus1
    April 28, 2013

    Have you tried PCB123?

    http://www.sunstone.com/PCB123.aspx

    I have been intending to try it but haven't had a chance yet

  48. Brad Albing
    April 29, 2013

    I looked at PCB123 quite a while ago, so I have no new info. I'll check again.

  49. p_tek
    May 16, 2013

    Having started with P-CAD 4.5 (Dos) and then P-CAD 2000/2001 I moved companies. The new company standard was (and still is) OrCAD which I hated (at least the layout side). I looked around at the (free ) packages available for commercial use at the time with a view to using for prototypes.

    I found TinyCAD (schematic), FreePCB (layout) and Viewmate (gerber viewer).

    These have served me well for both in-house and manufactured PCBs. It has also relieved the shared licensing issues (never available when you need it) associated with paid-for systems.

    There have been issues but the authors and support groups have been very helpful. A big advantage with them is that the databases are readable as text rather than being a binary format.

    I have been using them for 7 years now.

    Philboard

     

  50. Vishal Prajapati
    May 16, 2013

    Thanks for sharing different tools. Sometimes we don't want lot of features but whatever it does should be neat and clean. I looked at TinyCAD and it looks nice. I am not sure about FreePCB but shoud be interesting also.

  51. DEREK.KOONCE
    May 16, 2013

    I have been using OrCAD 386 for years. It is from the 1980's and is DOS based. Though old, it is very solid, no bugs, wonderful Yahoo! support group, and the cost is free. When Win7 came out, it looked to be a problem running the software, but the guys on the list figured out a way to make it work. It outputs gerbers and DXF files. Oh, and the best part, it is free.

    As for board houses, I have been using EI Connect for some time at work. Had a contractor do some stuff with ExpressPCB, but the problem is getting control of the gerber files for documentation. Recently found SunStone as an interesting option – free software, not proprietary, they can provide gerbers, and they take gerbers (unlike ExpressPCB).

    Did a short comparison between SunStone and EI Connect for a proto build. Like SunStone prices. Though, EI Connect could be a big advantage with their $25 for a 5×5 board pricing; only issue is that they want a 3 board minimum. If they can get it down to one 5×5 for $25, then it can be a very valuable source since if one can panelize the artwork to fit in a 5×5 space, it can mean up to 8 boards for a small 2.4 x 1.1 PCB.

  52. dscpcb
    September 2, 2014

    Use https://www.dsc-pcb.com 

    And i am sure that you will get satified with the quality and price.

    It's not the lowest, but with the quality and price ratio, from my point of view, they are the best.

  53. pcbpradeep
    September 1, 2016

    Hi p_tek,

    This is pradeep I am a PCB designer. In my company i got to work on P-CAD 4.5 and I am very new to p-cad 4.5 (dos) version. some how with a hard effort of 15 days i learnt to open file and edit things. I got failed in generating the out-put, mainly NC drill and aparture. This made my situation worst. let me know can you help me out in this you can use pcbpradeep(at)gmail.com. I googled lot and OOooof nothing clear only one document with unclear insturctions.

     

    waiting for your help

    pradeep

  54. ayworksatps2019
    September 11, 2019

    Believe that you don’t have to be so demanding on these matters. Everyone wants the process to be a little easier if it would achieve the expected result.
    Software like AD can reliably export the results, or have a try at the free layout60?
    I suggest that you can require something free DFM consultation from a manufacturer, which will help. I recommend this company, which also provides rapid prototyping and assembly.
    PS Electronics https://www.quick-pcba.com/pcb-factory/

  55. Abby
    September 11, 2019

    I have used Altium and EAGLE.
    For low-cost prototypes and production, you can try China’s WellPCB (https://www.wellpcb.com/pcb-assembly.html) company, although these do not meet the high standards of Sunstone, the price is very high, the quality is excellent, I hope to give you one more choice!

  56. jonyb12
    October 15, 2019

    In the past, I have used Altium Designer 17, Ultiboard and Diptrace (although it’s expensive, the 3D preview it’s really nice). I know that outsourcing the PCB assembly may be cheaper, but in the long run, having your own in-house equipment may reduce the costs, especially if you’re working on bigger projects. For affordable equipment, I can recommend https://neodenusa.com/ .They are currently offering financing as well.

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