Is it possible to remove all the components from a PCB, take pictures of it, and use any software to extract the PCB layout, or at least make a copy of the same layout?

If so, which softwares can do this?

If not, what other way can I copy the same design.

Note: The PCB design is my own. It is a complex 2-layered PCB, but I have lost all the Schematic and PCB layout files from my computer a long time ago.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I doubt there is a software for it. Is it possible for two layer board? I would say it is. \$\endgroup\$ – Eugene Sh. Aug 15 '16 at 17:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ How? I have lost the component list, and there are many. I have to figure out a way to somehow save my work. What would be your approach if you were in my shoes? \$\endgroup\$ – Mohsin Aug 15 '16 at 17:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ I though the question is about layout rather the BOM. The traces on a 2-layer PCB are usually visible, so it takes only patience (much of it though), to track them and write down. But I would say, the new design will take less effort. BTW, how have you fabricated this board? There should remain some email or whatever communication with your manufacturer. Unless you are the manufacturer... \$\endgroup\$ – Eugene Sh. Aug 15 '16 at 17:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ I am the manufacturer, and unfortunately there were no backups. Tried recovering the hard drive, but the recovered files are corrupt. Guess I'm back to square one then. \$\endgroup\$ – Mohsin Aug 15 '16 at 17:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ As far as the BOM, perhaps you have an old order confirmation or invoice sitting in your email? \$\endgroup\$ – bitsmack Aug 15 '16 at 17:36

I've not heard of any software that can outright convert image(s) to a netlist nor gerber files. Such a software may be theoretically possible, but it would be exceedingly difficult to write, so simply hasn't been.

What I would do... and this requires some affinity for photo-editing:

  • Take high-quality photos of both sides of the PCB. Preferably using a tall copy stand.
  • Make sure both sides are precisely aligned to reduce visual distortion.
  • Load the images into a photo-editing suite such as Adobe Photoshop or GiMP.
  • Make the images separate layers, say Layer2 and Layer4.
  • Flip the back side image (layer 4) horizontally.
  • Stack the images precisely on top of each other.
  • Create two additional layers, 1 and 3, onto which you can draw.
  • Increase the transparency of all layers.

At this point you can easily see where everything connects, as it is now truly see-through.

  • If the goal is schematic capture, just quickly sketch overtop each layer's traces (onto layers 1 & 3, use separate colors for each), add component pin numbers and outlines, part numbers, values, etc. Then hide layers 2 and 4, print the resulting sketch, and use this as a guide to enter the schematic. Use a pencil to scratch off each trace as it is entered into the new schematic.

I'd prefer this method, as once the schematic is entered, a great deal of PCB design and checking work is done for you by the CAE software, and the output is guaranteed to match the chosen footprints. Today with the advent of services like OSHPark, I'd not even waste time trying to fabricate the PCB myself. (Just send them the gerbers, they do the rest.)

  • If the goal is just PCB duplication, then many CAE softwares will accept importing images. KiCad for instance includes a "Bitmap2Component" tool, intended for logos. Using the prior steps, exactly trace where you want copper to exist for each side onto 1 & 3. Un-flip the back side image. Convert to black-and-white, then save as bitmap files. Import these in your CAE software as "components" and place one of each in the schematic editor. Save, then look at the PCB design. Place the "back side component" onto the back of the PCB. With a lot of patience and some luck, this might work. In KiCad, you may need to tweak things to make the "component" appear as a copper layer and not a silk. If drill holes are needed, it would probably be easiest to define these as separate parts and place them as needed.

I'd not recommend this route because of manual hole alignments, and indeed the whole board will be highly dependent on the camera. Parallax and barrel distortion manifest in all cameras; the only way to mitigate these is with a very long focal-length zoom lens or specialty camera.

Finally, once this project is complete, I'd take all the files generated and feed them into PaperBack and laser-print hard copies. File this away in the attic. Then in 20 more years when you need the files again, get the paper from the attic, scan them in, and convert back to files. Magic!

  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ Instead of a camera, why not use a flatbed scanner? That'd solve the distortion problem. \$\endgroup\$ – duskwuff Aug 16 '16 at 0:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ Or a photocopier. Most modern ones include a "scan and email" function. But often there is little control given - you might get a .PDF file only. \$\endgroup\$ – rdtsc Aug 16 '16 at 12:30

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.