Most of the time EE engineering students have to design their own electronics circuit and prototype their circuit on breadboard. It is amazing when the circuit functionality meets their objectives. However, it is even better if the circuit can be professionally arranged and prototyped on neat and tidy printed circuit board. Nice presentation probably help no extra homework marks but in the near future when they are going for a job interview, they can show their previous works in the college to their potential employers. This is the best proof of their learning results. For the case if you prototype on the breadboard, I believe it won’t last for a semester.
But the question is, professional PCB tools cost money, a lot of money. If your college or university has the subscription for those tools, it is fine for you to use them. For those who lack of this services might be looking for alternatives to do their works. Some of them might try to use hacked software, but what the best thing we live in this decade is we have a lot of open source software. Open source software mostly free and distribute publicly so that the community can do the modification or enhancement to that software. Yes, the development jobs are not limited to a group or a company, but technically the people all over the world. And, “basically” they are free of charge. I said “basically” because according to opensource.com
Programmers can charge money for the open source software they create or to which they contribute. But because most open source licenses require them to release their source code when they sell software to others, many open source software programmers find that charging users money for software services and support (rather than for the software itself) is more lucrative. This way, their software remains free of charge and they make money helping others install, use, and troubleshoot it.
Here the list some of the “free” PCB software we can download from internet.
- KiCAD – KiCad was originally developed by Jean-Pierre Charras, and features an integrated environment for schematic capture and PCB layout design.
- DesignSpark – Under development of RS Component. User can download component footprints directly from RS component online store.
- Zenitpcb – It is freeware for personal and semi-professional use and limited to 800 pins design.
- Expresspcb – Small-sized free software and capable to draw schematic and PCB layout.
- Diptrace – Freeware version limited 300 pins design.
To get it started, we have basic tutorials based on KiCAD to help you learn some concepts before you can do your own. Check it out at the links below.
- Brief introduction of KiCAD
- Tutorial 1 – Eeshema (Electronic Schematic Editor)
- Tutorial 2 – Pcbnew (Layour Editor)
- Tutorial 3 – Generate Gerber Files