PCB designing is one of the most rapidly advancing technical fields to work in. Today, almost everything around us has a miniature printed circuit board working inside it. As our reliance on technology grows, the need arises for more engineers and designers with smart and innovative ideas.
So for all of you, who have been considering PCB designing, look no further. This is our guide on How to Learn PCB Designing, regardless of your prior experience. Read on to learn how you can get started, and become a designer quickly.
How To Learn PCB Designing From Scratch | Beginners Guide
Here, we have mentioned the 11 basic steps you can follow to understand how to learn PCB designing from scratch.
[Step-1]: Understanding Printed Circuit Boards
A PCB, or a Printed Circuit Board, is essentially a circuit, constructed onto a board. The board has lines, and pads to form connections between points or pins. The traces are the connections drawn between various components or connectors.
These allow power and signals to move across the board and to physical devices. A PCB is soldered to form the base for electrical connections and conduct electricity between components and the surface of the PCB. It is also the adhesive or glue that serves as a strong mechanical joint.
[Step-2]: Composition of a PCB
The next step is to understand what a PCB is made of.
There are four main components, namely, the Silkscreen, Soldermask, Copper and the Substrate.
- Substrate: It is the middle part and commonly made of fiberglass, known as FR4. This structure provides the board rigidity and thickness.
- Copper Foil: This is a thin layer, laminated to the PCB with heat and glue. The number of such layers can be anywhere from 1 to 16 or more. The thickness of the layer can also be varied in terms of Copper ounces.
- Soldermask: The outermost layer is the soldermask. It is this layer that provides the characteristic green (or sometimes red) colour to the PCB. It prevents accidental contact of the copper traces with other conductive elements.
- Silkscreen: The silkscreen is used for displaying information and labels to indicate details or part functions of LEDs or pins etc.
[Step-3]: Studying Terminology
There are a few terms related to PCBs and their designing, which you should be familiar with, before you can properly design projects.
Some of these terms are:
- DRC and ERC (Design Rule Check) and (Electrical Rule Check)
- Annular Ring: A copper ring around a plated through hole (TH) in a board.
- Drill hits: These are locations on the PCB where a hole would be drilled.
And there are many such terminologies, which it is better to be familiar with.
[Step-4]: Finding an EDA and CAD package
This is the first step in moving towards actual designing, and an opportunity for you to apply the knowledge you have gained.
To create a prototype, or model of a PCB, you will require a software package with the right tools to work with. The program should also be easy to use and have the functions you might require. We have included a section on this in detail, later on in this article.
[Step-5]: Beginning with a Schematic
There are two ways to initiate a schematic. You can either use templates from libraries, or you can start making it from scratch. This is essentially like a blueprint, and shows the components used, connections between components and interaction of different groups.
[Step-6]: Creating a Blank Layout
The first step to creating a layout is through schematic capture. You can start by creating a blank PCB layout document.
Then you can define some parameters such as shape, dimensions, layer stackup etc. The layer stackup can be edited in the next step as well. We will come back to this layout later, for routing.
[Step-7]: Designing a Stackup
Most commonly available designs work with a 2 or 4-layer PCB, built on FR4. Before placing components and parts on the board, you should define certain stackup parameters.
The stackup refers to how the copper and insulating layers are arranged in the board. If this is done right, it can help reduce noise, impedance, signal reflection and cross-talk, and even minimise radiation. You can select from a variety of laminates and materials for the making the stackup.
[Step-8]: Component Placement
Placing the components on your board is a major task and shows your planning and design skills. Many programs have an auto-placement feature, but for beginners, we recommend trying to place manually, and use the automatic feature for help when they are stuck.
There is a set of guidelines you can follow to ensure good placement, which you can refer to.
Also, you can insert drill holes before moving to the next step. Drill holes can be required for mounting and vias.
[Step-9]: Working for a Design Application
What are you designing the PCB for? Does it have to be used in a specific application? Is it for production? Ask yourself these questions, because the answer will determine how you proceed.
There are design rules that you have to follow, based on different categories of designing. You can select those which apply to your application and ensure that their validity is maintained in the design.
Routing can be a slightly tricky process to get right for beginners. So, to start with, you can refer to the routing guidelines. We will now go back to our layout.
Firstly, you should identify the critical tracks and route them as per requirement. Next, route the power and earth traces. These might be present as power planes and earth planes, which is a good practice with multiple benefits for the board.
Then you can route the remaining lines, using either manual or automatic routing. After autorouting, there may still be some lines remaining, which you can route manually.
It is preferred that you try and route manually and avoid the autorouter as much as possible to build a good design sense.
[Step-11]: Design Optimisation and Improvement
After understanding the basics of how to design a PCB, the next step is learning to design well. Your first design will definitely have some errors. But keep practicing. Your tenth design will have fewer errors.
And once you are confident in designing with minimal errors, you can move on to design considerations such as building a cost-effective board, or tailor the board for specific performance related applications.
Skills You Need To Learn To Become a PCB Designer
For all the designers who are looking to build a career in PCB designing, this section will be specifically helpful for them.
There are skills that employers look for in any capable PCB designer, and we have listed the main skills and techniques you should learn, in order to have a complete sense of PCB design and production.
- Good knowledge and experience with electronics and electrical systems will help in making designs faster and better.
- Schematic Capture is a major skill that you will have to work on, to become a PCB designer. In fact, this is one of the most important factors most people look for in a designer.
- Cost Effective Design Sense: This is a skill you will require if you’re planning to produce PCBs or work in a company where production is the main design outcome. There are multiple ways in which you can ensure cost reduction through the design.
- DFA, DFM, DFT: Design for Assembly, Design for Manufacturing and Design for Testing. These three skills are crucial for being a good PCB designer. Having these skills shows that you have a 360-degree understanding of all aspects that go into the start to finish process of design to production.
- Layout Techniques for EMI/EMC Compliance: The EMC, or Electromagnetic Capability, is used to monitor the radiation generated and conducted Electromagnetic Interference. A poor design can lead to EM emission, so its important to understand this and know how to design so as to avoid potential failure due to EMI.
- Documentation and Report Generation: Making assembly and production drawings, PCB documentation, Bill of Material, and so on. These are techniques you should work on, to become a better designer and be able to work flexibly in any area related to PCB design.
- Team Collaboration: If you are looking at working on big projects in industries etc. you should also look at team collaboration or cloud-based working. This is an advanced mode of designing where multiple team members work on a project simultaneously.
Best PCB Design Software For Beginners
For beginners, one of the most important parameters while selecting PCB design software is the simplicity of using it, and the time it takes to understand the workspace and get started with designing in it.
Based on these considerations, and the fact that beginners would prefer not to spend too much on their first EDA package, we have discussed here, four PCB design programs which you can take a look at.
KiCAD: This is a free to use program, which is also open-source, and works on Windows, MacOS and Linux based systems.
Upverter: Developed by Altium, one of the world’s foremost PCB design companies, this is also free software and runs on an online platform. You can access it from any regular browser. No downloads required.
EasyEDA: This software works on an online basis, and can be accessed through your normal web browser. It is also free to use. Along with being a simple program to use, it provides some great features like simulation and 3D model rendering.
DipTrace: This is a paid program, but the base version starts at $75, which is less than most other paid software. It also offers a great set of features and is really easy to use.
You can find a detailed guide on choosing the best PCB software, including the best PCB software for beginners, here. The article also gives you the factors to consider while selecting PCB design software along with 28 of the best EDA packages in the market currently.
Is PCB Design Hard?
As a beginner in any field, there will be numerous challenges you will have to overcome, if you want to succeed. This rule applies here as well. PCB designing is an engineering discipline that requires dedication and practice.
Certainly, it is not an easy process to learn PCB designing, and even designers who work professionally face various challenges such as designing for high performance and cost efficiency at the same time.
But at the same time, this is also what makes it rewarding. EDA also has a brilliant scope in the present and future industry sector.
How Do I Start PCB designing?
The way to master any skill, any discipline, is through study and practice. This works for PCB designing too. You can begin by studying and learning about printed circuit boards, how they function, what they are made of, where they are used and so on.
This will help you know what features you want in your design and what the outcome should be. Then, you need to apply that knowledge by working on designs in a software environment.
There are numerous tutorials and guides you can follow for additional support while designing. There are also online courses such as from Fedevel academy and more. With the right attitude and basic resources, you too can be a PCB designer.
Best PCB Designing Online Courses
These are some of the best PCB Designing courses currently available on online learning platform.
- KiCad Like a Pro 3rd edition
- PCB Design for everyone with EasyEDA a free and online tool
- Crash Course Electronics and PCB Design
- PCB Design Course Bundle (LinkedIn)
- Learn PCB Printed Circuit Board: A Complete Bundle
- PCB Designing in Altium Designer
- Learn the Art and Science of PCB Design with Eagle
Best Books To Learn PCB Design
- Printed Circuits Handbook
- Make Your Own PCBs with EAGLE
- Complete PCB Design Using OrCAD Capture and PCB Editor
- Designing Circuit Boards With EAGLE: Make High-Quality PCBs at Low Cost
- The Hitchhiker’s Guide to PCB Design
- PCB Design Using AutoCAD
- PCB Design for Real-World EMI Control
- PCB Design: Printed Circuit Board
- The Art of Electronics
- PCB Design and Layout Fundamentals for EMC
PCB Designing Future Career Scope
The requirement for innovative and evolving PCB technologies is rising rapidly. As the world is moving towards greater levels of automation, the opportunities are bright for PCB designers.
Modern technologies such as wearable tech, IoT (Internet of Things), connected systems and so on, all require advanced PCB designing. The industry needs young and innovative designers who can make a positive change and bring in smart ideas.
There are multiple industries, businesses, research and development (R&D) groups that hire PCB designers for all kinds of applications: personal technology, consumer electronics, automotive, defence and so on. Hence, it can be easy to build a career here, if you are equipped with the right skills and experience.
After reading this guide, you would now have a better understanding of how to learn PCB designing, the skills required, and the opportunities in store.
Learning PCB designing is mainly focussed on a good understanding of PCB composition and functioning, along with practice and experience in design using EDA software.
There are also specific skills that you can learn and work on if you want to pursue a career in PCB design, which has a lot of scope and opportunities in the current and upcoming industry.
With the right motivation, you can easily become the designer you wish to be. A good EDA package and some basic tutorials will also be of great help on how to learn PCB designing.