Design Your Own Printed Circuit Board
PCB Video TutorialBy Ryan Winters
Solderless breadboards are great for building and testing a circuit because they are reusable and don't require soldering. Designers will be able to easily create temporary prototypes and experiment with circuit design. Moving forward in the next phase of design, designers use prototyping boards where connections are soldered into place, creating a solid and more permanent connection.
However, if you want a real proof of concept or finish-quality look, you'll want to design your own printed circuit board (PCB). Designing your own PCB is easier and less expensive than you might think. Some major benefits to using PCBs are that they can be more easily mass produced and you get consistency. Not only that, but the component and circuit density can be increased greatly. And, personally, I like to be able add my own logo to my designs.
There are other benefits as well. You can run signal traces much closer together and all around the board, which would be very difficult on a prototyping board. The signal traces are going to be more reliable and you can add useful features, like copper-pour for creating a ground plane or reducing interference around components. A finished PCB also gives your project some credibility – it's much nicer to present a finished and tidy circuit board rather than a rat's nest of jumper wires.
There are many software programs for creating schematics and PCBs, but the one I'm going to demonstrate in this video tutorial is called PCB Creator. It is provided free of charge from our local PCB manufacturing partner, Bay Area Circuits.
To get started, I created the schematic and converted it to a PCB layout. The software's built-in error checker will compare the two and should point out where I might have missed a connection, which, by avoiding mistakes, can save time and money. Another nice feature is a 3D preview of the PCB. Some software even includes 3D components, so you may be able to completely visualize your PCB on your computer screen.
At the end of the design phase, the software allows you to export the files in the Gerber format, which is what the PCB fabrication house is going to need to build the PCB. Bay Area Circuits also offers a tool they call InstantDFM (design for manufacturability), which checks your design against the rules and tolerances they have established for their machinery. It can tell you if signal lines are too close or if you forgot to include the drill file. All of these tools can help you to make a good PCB the first time around.
Ryan Winters is a Product Manager at Jameco Electronics and a Bay Area, California native. He is mostly self-taught and his hobbies include working on cars and computers, fiddling with electronic gadgets and experimenting with robotics.