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So you want to design a PCB, eh? This will be a good resource and place to start!

(Last updated: Spring 2021)

(Be very aware that this page may not be updated as frequently as we'd like, and therefore might be out of date. Apologies.)

There are three main PCB CAD programs: KiCAD (free and open-source), Eagle (now owned by AutoDesk), and Altium (the industry standard). These each offer their own advantages and have their own disadvantages that won't be covered here.

As of Fall 2020, AutoDesk has divided the Eagle software into a free limited hobbyist edition, and a “professional” version that is integrated into Fusion360. So… the guides linked below are mostly restricted to the free edition. A lot is the same for the Fusion version, but there are a number of differences that we're not covering here.

SparkFun's Eagle tutorials: Better PCBs In Eagle

KiCAD tutorials from the devs: Kicad tutorial

An Eagle walk through by our own PCB MPI, Ben H: How To Eagle

Is there an officially recommended PCB CAD/EDA program?
No, there is not an official recommendation. GT students get Fusion360 for free, and all that entails, which theoretically makes the integration between the mechanical and electrical easier and more fluid. Altium offers a very steep discount for a student license that was (as of Fall 2020) only $100 a year. KiCAD is basically Python to Altiums's MATLAB - it's open source and free, but you have more work to do for yourself to get everything working, and it can be buggy at times. Not sure where Fusion360 fits into that analogy.

Is there a recommended DRC/CAM file I can use?

Do you have any recommendations for professional fabrication houses?
We don’t officially recommend a specific fabrication houses. All of them have positives and negatives. The following is a very incomplete list of fab houses that we've used with varying levels of success.

  • You can use PCB Shopper to compare prices across a number of different fab houses.
  • JLC and AllPCB are two Chinese companies that offer super fast turnaround and super low prices with a wide range of capabilities and good results. But since they're made in China, there may be shipping and IP issues.
  • OshPark is the cheapest USA-based fabrication house because they aren't actually a fab house - they're a middleman to another fab house. Basically, they collect a bunch of designs, and when they have enough, they all get sent off. They're well-known for their purple PBCs, and their capabilities are growing all the time. They also can make solderpaste stencils through their affiliates at OshStencils.
  • Advanced Circuits is another American-made fab facility that has a much more extensive list of capabilities than OshPark. It's more expensive, but the quality is higher, and the turn-around times can be same- or next-day, if you're willing to pay for it. They also have deals on rectangular 2- or 4-layer boards, and deals for students.
  • Epec Engineered Technologies is the most expensive of this list, but also the highest reliability and widest range of fabrication options. If you need a 16 layer board with super-fine pitches and tolerances and varying copper weights for the internal stack with specialized prepreg, and you need 1000 pieces assembled tomorrow, these are your people. (Okay, that's an exaggeration, but seriously, for non-standard work, or precision standard work, Epec is great.)
  • pcb-design.1611079139.txt.gz
  • Last modified: 2021/01/19 12:58
  • by benh