Wednesday, March 30, 2011

DesignSpark PCB

Prototyping boards / stripboards are hardly the easiest way to make printed circuit boards. Because of the fixed pads and tracks it's impossible to optimize the layout, minimize board size, and eliminate the use of jumper wires to electrically join the components. In fact it's this latter "dis-feature" that drives me up the wall. Cutting short lengths of wire and soldering them onto the board is the kind of exasperating work that has made me stay away from making PCBs as much as I can. Personally I find it a pain in every part of the body using these boards. And for all the work the outcome is hardly pretty.

So graduating to "real" PCBs has been a relief. The only reason I've procrastinated is that when I tried Eagle years ago I just couldn't comprehend how to use it. Turns out that Eagle isn't the most intuitive EDA software. Kicad was another candidate recently, not least because it's freeware. But it made me tear my hair out as well. Fortunately I found one that's easy--almost fun--to use. DesignSpark PCB is completely free (for now at least) and has no restrictions on board size, layers, and other features. According to tests performed by some individuals, DS came out the winner amongst various EDAs (including Eagle and Kicad). I don't know how rigorous the tests were and how objective their assessment is, but personally I did find it relatively easy to get started. With DS I was able to produce my first PCB within a couple of days.

Apparently DS is a "non-crippled and modified version of Easy-PC." Moreover, another Easy-PC derivative, PCB Artist, is almost exactly the same as DS. What's so cool about the PCB Artist is that I've found a good number of video and pdf tutorials on their page. And practically all of what you can learn about PCB Artist applies directly to DS. Meanwhile, DS tutorials can be found right on software itself under the Help menu. At least one of the PCB Artist pdf tutorial is almost exactly the same as that of DS.

Most of the work in setting up DS will be customizing the component/schematic/pcb libraries. Even with the extensive number of parts from various manufacturers already in the libraries I've found myself adding more and more components and editing the pads of existing items in the pcb library. I've also realized that I waste a not insignificant amount of time shifting from one library to another so I'm copying the most often used components to my own library. I will be editing the schematic library as well--a lot of the symbols are not at all pretty.


  1. This is one of the world's most powerful free PCB design tool. It provides extra functionality and enables the PCB design software to be used with Spice simulation tools from several major manufacturers. Thanks a lot.

  2. very nice and i like the way you express everything. I hope every reader take advantage of this useful info..