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Do you know of any freeware or low cost circuit / PCB design software?

I know a few which I have listed below but I was wondering if there were more of its kind. Please mention the good features and issues you've faced with the software.

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It looks like you're looking for free as in 'free beer', not free as in 'free speech'. Is this correct? –  Kevin Vermeer Jan 25 '11 at 10:50
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... For those, like myself, that read @Kevin's comment [above] a bit too early in the morning, he is asking if Edward is looking for low/zero cost software ("free beer") or open software ("free speech"), as colloquialized by R. Stallman. –  tyblu Oct 25 '11 at 14:21

16 Answers 16

Kicad is free and open source, and it is a relatively well-integrated package of schematics and layout editor.

gEDA is free and open source. It is older than Kicad, has more tools which produce nicer output, but is less well integrated.

Since they are open-source packages there are no arbitrary restrictions on the free version (like e.g. board size in Eagle) and no license hassles.

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Eagle seems to be the most popular free PCB tool.

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There are excellent tutorials for it at sparkfun.com. –  edebill Dec 22 '09 at 3:43
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Eagle is not free but there is a light freeware version with board area limited to 100 x 80 mm (4 x 3.2 inches) It's excellent but necissate some time to learn and once it's done you'll get perfect result –  mba7 Dec 23 '09 at 23:25
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The free version of Eagle is lacking much of the functionality of the full version. –  Michael Eakins Nov 17 '10 at 12:57

This may not count as a PCB design software, but it takes a new, creative approach to circuit and PCB design, and lets you prototype around with a breadboard view.

It's called Fritzing and there are versions for Windows, Linux and Mac.

View screenshots of the main feature modes:

Breadboard view

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It crashes every 5 minutes on my Win 7 x64 –  Jader Dias Oct 19 '10 at 0:33

I personally prefer using Diptrace

http://www.diptrace.com/

It is available for non-commercial use in a limited form (250 pins) for free and then hasd a scale of different costs depending on use and scope.

I have tried Eagle and find diptrace easier to use with a fairly extensive library and more importantly an easy to use parts designer.

I have used this to create gerbers which I had turned into PCB's with no issues whatsoever.

I would thoroughly recommend giving it a try, I think it is as powerful as Eagle and simpler to use...

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Diptrace is my favorite as well. Free is 300 pins, two signal layers. Also, if you are non-profit or a student then you can upgrade to the lite version, 500 pins 2 layers, for free. –  Mark Aug 1 '13 at 22:21

I use gEDA/PCB. The file formats are open an ASCII. The open file formats make a wide variety of EDA automation tasks possible. The ASCII format makes them easy.

I have switched from Eagle to gEDA/PCB. I have found gEDA to be a more productive tool. The schematic capture is better but the PCB layout seems more difficult. The scriptability is what has made the difference. There are also tools for simulation.

Be careful of choosing a free version of an EDA tool that is crippled or a tool that locks you in to a specific PCB vendor. There is a learning curve associated with any EDA tool or other complex piece of software. It will be very time consuming to switch tools.

The footprint library that I use is available at http://www.luciani.org Also I have a variety of EDA automation scripts on my site.

As an example of gEDA/PCB I did a remix of the Drawdio circuit design that ladyada did. The remix includes the EDA files and documentation. All of the files are at http://tinyurl.com/bq8pq4

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In case it goes bad in the future, that tinyurl resolves to wiblocks.luciani.org/remix/index.html –  Michael Kohne Dec 22 '09 at 18:39

Easy PC from Number One Systems works really well for small/medium sized projects, it supports multi-layer PCBs, includes a Schematic editing tool, and has an entry level Autorouter, or you can buy the pro Autorouter as an addon. Grab a free demo from their site.

PCB routing by hand is quick and intuitive, and you can create the netlist right in the PCB editor itself, by simply wiring any pin to another. All unconnected wires show up as a ratsnest. Then as you connect wires with tracks, the ratsnest line disappears.

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Mentor PADS is another one with a free eval. It has unlimited size and 8 layers. Its limitation is the number of devices: 30.

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PCB123:

The latest version of our free PCB design-tool has an intuitive CAD interface that lets you create new PCB designs quickly; offering freedom and flexibility in your schematic and layout editing.

Features:

  • New board wizard.
  • Ability to import net lists from multiple CAD vendors.
  • 145,000+ parts in the library.
  • Fast, accurate DRC/DFM.
  • Two-, four-, and six-layer support with soldermask and silkscreen.

Link to comparison with other products: Compare PCB Design Tools

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It's still in its infancy, but Upverter is an online schematic editor website that's free as long as you don't mind making your projects open source (they charge a fee for private projects). As of this writing they don't have a PCB layout tool but it looks like that's in development and might be deployed soon.

I've found upverter to be a bit clunky and unwieldy but they're still young and the team is very responsive so I'm happy to put up with the quirks of their online schematic editor for now. I'm looking forward to the PCB editor. So maybe not a complete tool chain now, but it has a lot of potential.

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If you don't need gerber output, the demo of omnyglyph (formerly circad) at http://www.holophase.com/ should be enough. I've used this almost unknown software from the very first version for MS-DOS.

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You can also get DesignSparkPCB which is a unlimited package given away free by RS Electronics - www.designspark.com

It's based on Easy-PC, but the files are not compatible.

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I have now tried Eagle and Fritzing. Fritzing does not yet have a library big enough for me, so I am sticking with Eagle. I found an Eagle library from Sparkfun that made it a lot easier to use. A footprint for nearly every part I use is in this library. It is here. It has made Eagle redeemable for me. There is also a shortcut script they make that I intend to try.

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The link does not work. –  Reid Mar 29 '12 at 16:47

I use ExpressPCB, which is a free unlimited software package that allows you to design schematics and PCBs. You can also send off your design to ExpressPCB and they'll manufacture the board for you.

Screenshot: ExpressPCB Screenshot

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I looked at that briefly a while ago, can you generate Gerbers or other netlists/BOMs for export, or are you locked into ExpressPCB forever? –  Kevin Vermeer Jan 26 '11 at 20:45
    
Yes, you are locked in. No, it doesn't even support netlists/BOMs or anything. It's purely a layout package, you have to manage all your netlists yourself. –  Connor Wolf Jan 26 '11 at 22:10
    
Just had a look, you can export a DXF mechanical drawing (not too sure what that is), and import a netlist. The schematic program allows you to copy a BOM to the clipboard. –  BG100 Jan 26 '11 at 22:30
    
@BG100 - DXF is a fairly well supported, ASCII-based format (it's short for Document Exchange Format) which is most prominently used by AutoCad software. It suffers from versioning and standardization problems (everyone has their own little subtle changes), but many other PCB programs have an import/export option for DXF. So, no schematic export, but at least you can get your board. I'd say DXF is not quite as good as Gerbers, but it looks like they weren't aiming for lock-in as a software feature. –  Kevin Vermeer Jan 28 '11 at 18:56
    
@Fake Name: My understanding is that ExpressSCH (schematic) and ExpressPCB (layout) can be linked together, so you don't have to manage your netlists yourself. –  davidcary Apr 1 '11 at 15:33

Altium is releasing a new free PCB design tool: http://circuitmaker.com/

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I want to put in another pitch for Circad now OmniGlyph. I've used it since it first came out. I started out with OrCAD when it was new so that gives you an idea how long I've been pounding away on CAD systems. I tried to use Tango (Didn't care for it), Protel and ahhhh my memory is really fading. Schema? I think thats what it was called.

I like the simple ascii format files. *And the format is not some secret format. I hate buzz words like "seemless" but it does take you from schematic to PCB with a perfect pass fail on your connections. Or to make it simpler... All the connections on the Schematic get to the PCB which is the point. And lost btw on so many other CAD systems. I also like that this program is not a constant mouse for this keyboard back and forth. And on that topic its not filled with Left Shift h type keyboard commands.

You can mouse around or type. (its all optional either way) The non secret file format is valuable if you want to parse our things or replace components or any other thing you can think up.

Tech support is better then any other program I've seen. It clear that English is the primary language (Not Indian) and whoever you speak to has (for me) the answer or gets the correct one back asap. Oh, this might just be an impression I got, but I've reported a couple things (One that was an obscure bug) It got fixed in days and I got an email sending me the fixed version. This happened in DAYS!? And NO I'm not kidding.

I don't know if that happens all the time but I know for sure it doesn't happen with any other software I own. I've heard second hand about feature requests being added which totally blows my mind. Windows is updating weekly but that seems to be mostly to slow my system and only causes new improved screens of death.

I forgot the last maybe most important thing. Its unbelievably small (Thus Fast) and setup can be as easy as making a directory any putting OmniGlyph into it. So - Backing up everything (Program, Libraries, Schematics, Mechanical drawing parts etc) fits on a thumb drive (And you can tun it from that btw) So if Windows coughs up a furball your back up running instantly. Or at least as fast as you can fix or reinstall windows.

5 out of 5 stars for me.

Download the free version at http://holophase.com/ Check out this user group I set up on E-Groups (Now Yahoo Groups) I'm the really handsome gent who looked perplexed on the left side of the site

http://tech.groups.yahoo.com/group/CIRCAD/ I think I was trying to understand an 8080 memory test program.

#1 Fan - Jay

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Here's a free one that I haven't seen mentioned that is pretty nice for simple layouts:

ngspice

My company primarily works with PADS and Eagle, so +1 on recommendations for those. However, as mentioned, not free!

Fritzing and Diptrace are both worthwhile to take a look at.

Edit: please see comments below

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Nothing I found in a quick look around where you linked says that ngspice can be used for layout. Can you link to something that specifically shows how ngspice is used for layout? –  The Photon Jul 2 at 23:39
    
Oops, sorry. I guess this is a circuit simulator and not layout software. An engineer at my company recommended it. Here are 2 others that are free: CADstar express 300 pins; 50 component maximum limitations CometCAD 102x102mm, 2 layer limitations –  SFCircuits Aug 3 at 13:38

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