There's no short of free PCB design software to get your very own PCB ready. But which one should you choose ?
Each of them have a fairly time consuming learning curve. So you've to pick one carefully, it should be worthy enough to invest some time.
So, in this article you'll get a rough idea about many PCB design software, their features and more.
Classifying the free PCB design software packages
First of all, lets short them according to their usability and OS platform dependency.
- Native apps or single platform: Natives apps are usually designed to run on a single operating system. Like most premium PCB design software are built to run on windows only.
- Cross platform apps: A cross platform app runs on many OS platform, including Linux, BSD and macOS. They performs as well as a native app, it's highly recommended to choose a cross platform software.
- Web apps: Web apps could run on almost any OS platform with a descent web browser, including Chrome OS and Android. They have great portability, but lacks the performance compare to native apps, in most cases.
Now I'll short them according to their licencing model.
- Free and opensource software: The best choice if you're going to use a free PCB design software. There's many of them, just be sure to pick an active project with a large community base.
- Free software: They are free to use, without any feature restriction or expire date, still the software source code is not avail.
- Limited freeware or crippleware: You can use the software with some limitations, but usually don't have a expire time. Some of them works on the fremium model.
- Trialware: These are most the restricted type of freeware, you can't use them after certain period of time. Many features are crippled often, I try my best to avoid them. Anyway there's always some trick to use a trialware after their expire time.
Best Free PCB design software
So, you should not choose a crippleware or trialware if you're going to use it in long run without being forced to pay.
There's some opensource PCB design software as good as professional software, you've to just find it out. Let's start exploring them one by one.
Undoubtedly it's the best free PCB design software till now, fully featured and opensource, backed by CERN.
KiCad is a truly cross platform and multilingual application, runs seamlessly on Windows, Linux, macOS and most BSD flavors.
Till now there's five main tool in KiCad EDA suite,
- The KiCad program is the project manager, takes care of everything else.
- Eeschema is the schematic drawing tool, can also import schematics from other EDA software.
- Pcbnew is the PCB layout designer part, it can also render a 3D model of the final product.
- Gerbv is used to view the Gerber files, drill files and export to other formats.
- Bitmap2Component, it's used to create new component footprint, useful when you're using some custom part.
Here's the official website for more details and installation instruction, http://kicad-pcb.org .
Many opensource hardware project used KiCad to design their PCB. The best part is it's under heavy development, I hope it will be as good as any premium PCB design suites like Xpedition PCB or Altium Designer within few years.
I think the only downside is the user interface, it needs some improvement. The whole package is a bit large too, around 900 MB.
Fritzing is another opensource multipurpose EDA software, if you like to design with Arduino and breadboards, you're really going to love it.
Fritzng has four different tool set,
- A schematic capture tool, you can import almost every component and lots of third party boards to get your schematic ready.
- A PCB layout tool to create the PCB, though it's not very feature rich compared to other counterparts.
- A breadboard view tool, that's really cool, with lots of third party boards to import.
- A coding IDE, somewhat similar to the Arduino IDE, you can program an AVR or PICAXE Microcontroller.
It's a cross platform application, runs on Windows, Linux and macOS, the sleek Qt based user interface is quite attractive.
Here's the official website, http://fritzing.org/home/ , you can get more info, tutorial and installation instruction there.
Though it's said to be the EDA software for non-engineers, but it's much better than others if you want to design some graphics rich circuit diagram for presentation.
Eagle PCB design software
It's one of the most popular circuit designer software, used by hobbyists to large corporations, runs on Windows, macOS and Linux.
Eagle is purchased by Autodesk from CadSoft, here's the official website, to download the free version.
Though Eagle's free version is limited to only 80 x 100 square mm board size and two layer PCB, but it's definitely worthy to give it a try.
There's thousands of free online tutorials available about how to get started with eagle.
EasyEDA is a web based almost complete free PCB design software , you don't need to install anything to use it, works well on Chromebooks. Though it's relatively newer, but gaining popularity fast.
Here's the official website, https://easyeda.com/ , there's also a Chrome extension of EasyEDA.
You can do almost everything from schematic capture, PCB layout design, SPICE simulation, gerber file generation and optionally fabricate the PCB from them.
EasyEDA can import schematics generated by other some EDA software, like Eagle, KiCad, LTspice, Altium Designer and more, that's very handy.
gEDA is a opensource cross platform PCB design software, runs on Linux, BSD, macOS and Windows.
In It was close competitor of KiCad in past, but now the development process is somewhat slow.
It's available in the software repository of most Linux distributions, here's the official site, http://www.geda-project.org/
Anyway gEDA is a good tool for basic free PCB designing and schematic capture, but lacks the ease of workflow for large designs. Another advantage of gEDA is it's somewhat scriptable like Eagle, helps if you're really good at gEDA.
You can import schematics from gEDA to the opensource application GSpiceUI for simulation.
It was a discontinued product from Altium Limited, recently they've released it as a freeware for hobbyists and students.
CircuitMaker is particularly useful for mixed signal and RF PCB design, where track length and width plays a vital role.
Though it's free, but requires sign up to download. Here's the official website http://circuitmaker.com/ .
Sadly it runs only on Windows only, can't run on Linux even through Wine, So I've not tested it personally. As it's now being used by many, so it's beleived to be a good one.
It's a neat PCB design software by the company of same name, Pad2Pad.
Pad2Pad is in active development, runs on windows only, I've not tested it personally, but it's believed to be a good one.
It's a proprietary complete EDA software with many features including schematic drawing, PCB designing and SPICE circuit simulation.
A free version with limited features is available upon request, you can get it from here.
It's considered as a professional PCB design software, suitable for complex PCB design and FPGA design. If you're planning to use OrCAD in future, it's definitely worthy to spend some time on the free version.
This free PCB design software is developed by the electronics component distributor RS Components.
It's free to download and use, without any feature lock, but you've to register yourself to RS components. You can download DesignSpark from here.
DesignSpark have almost everything you need to fabricate a PCB from your concept, built to run on Windows only, latest version doesn't run under wine on Linux.
So that's it, a pretty comprehensive list of best free PCB design software , hope it will help you to pick one. And here's the round up.
Basically go with the KiCad if you're looking for a long term free solution with some serious production goal.
Fritzing is good if you've to deal with a lot of breadboards and hobby projects.
On the other hand, EasyEDA offers a quite usable PCB design software also with their PCB manufacturing service, and you don't need to install anything to use it.
If you're using some other, let me know through the comments.