There are many free and open-source PC Board design software packages out there, but KiCad has become one of the more popular ones due to its combination of low cost and flexibility. As with most design software, it does take some practice to learn how to use it, which is why we created this guide on how to design PCBs in KiCad.
Whether you’re just getting started or want to review your skills, this guide will get you up and running quickly, allowing you to create your first PCB in no time.We’ll walk you through starting a new project, designing your circuit, creating the Gerber files to send off to your manufacturer, and much more.
Step 1: Open The File
To open up your chosen schematic file you need to double click on it. This will bring up your schematic editor, and also provide you with access to other tabs as well as additional views of your schematic. If you have more than one page in your project, they will appear separated by tabs that can be accessed at any time.
The first thing you should do is get rid of all unused components so that there is no clutter or confusion when designing your circuit board. You can do this by selecting each component individually and pressing delete or right-clicking on them to select Remove from Project from the menu.
Remember not to select any electrical connections you may have made during your design process because these are required for our circuit board to function correctly. When you are done removing everything that isn’t needed, save your project file under a new name so that you don’t lose what you’ve already done.
Step 2: Save Your Work
To save your work as you go, you must keep your progress handy. You can do so by clicking Save on KiCad’s main toolbar, or by using the CTRL+S on your keyboard.
As you work, you’ll want to save your work often. To do so, click File>Save Project (at the top left) or use the keyboard shortcut Control + S on Windows/Linux and Command + S on Mac.
Before saving, make sure that you haven’t included any hidden layers by clicking Layers>Show/Hide>Hidden Layers and making sure all layers are checked. It’s also helpful to set up a backup location for your project files.
If you choose to Save a project before compiling it when creating new projects, KiCad will automatically create backups of your files before compiling them into an output file. If something goes wrong during compilation, simply open one of these backups and continue working from there. The next time you compile, KiCad will overwrite your old backup with a new one.
Step 3: The Project Tree
You’ll notice that on your right-hand side, there’s a list of nodes. This is where you keep track of all your libraries, schematics,PCB designs and pcb fabrication files. The project tree will start with just one node called Unnamed; click on it and give it a name. That way you can return to it quickly and easily.
By default, designs are displayed as hierarchical project trees of symbols, footprints, and 3D models. Clicking on an object displays its properties in a panel at the left.
Right-clicking on any object opens a context menu for modifying it. It is also possible to create new project folders and objects from within KiCad using these menus.
There is no limit to how many objects or projects you can have in KiCad. When creating or editing the schematic sheets or PCBs, remember that the current sheet refers to either sheet 0, the top sheet, or sheet 1, the bottom sheet.
Step 4: Board Settings
The software is now configured for new designs. If you’re happy with all of your settings, click OK to save them and make sure that Configure Project for Manufacturing is unchecked. We want our design files to be suitable for creating prototype boards, but we don’t need any extra vias or silkscreen layers as those would just be an unnecessary drain on our budget.
The part of KiCad you’ll be focusing on is called Board, and it’s located under Preferences > Board. Click on that, then click Save as Default Project, then click OK. Now, any new projects you create will use these settings by default.
You’ve already got some elements selected in our schematic; now let’s check out how to add components from libraries. This is done using something called Footprints. For each component you want to add, different types of Footprintsdetermine their size and placement on your board.
To get started, find your library folder in Documents >KiCad Library> Components. There should be two folders inside here, such as footprints_1_0 and footprints_1_4. The former is used for older versions of KiCad while 1_4 has newer parts available.
Find one you like and double-click it to open up its details page. Here you can see a list of all the possible ways that components could be placed on your board, along with their respective sizes. Scroll down until you find one that matches your needs, and then right-click on it.
Once you have chosen a footprint, go back into your schematic editor and place your cursor where you want it on your board. It doesn’t matter where exactly, just somewhere near where you think it might fit nicely. Right-click again and select Add to Selection.
All instances of that component will now appear highlighted, allowing you to easily move them around without accidentally dragging another object instead. Move them around until they look good, and then press Ctrl+S to save your work.
Repeat steps 3–5 for each other component you want to add. When you’re finished adding everything, click File > Export Gerber Files… A window will pop up asking you where you want to export these files to.Choose your preferred file type before clicking Save.
Step 5: Trace Settings
To ensure your traces have sufficient space between them, you’ll need to change several settings in KiCad. If you’re working with 2 mils (0.002 inches) traces, choose Min trace width / Min clearance 0.2 mm and Min spacing 1 mm from under Advanced Tracing on the left side of the Project Properties dialog box.
If you’re using 5 mils (0.005 inches) traces, select Min trace width / Min clearance 0.5 mm and Min spacing 1 mm instead. For 10 mils (0.010 inches) or 20 mils (0.020 inches) traces, use 2mm/4mm as appropriate for those sizes.
Note that these values are set per layer, so if you want to use different values for top and bottom layers, simply click on the Top or Bottom layer in the Project Properties dialog box before changing these values. Once you’ve made your selections, click OK to save changes.
Now that you’ve got your trace size set up correctly, let’s move on to via size. Vias are used to connect one layer of copper to another through plated holes. These connections allow us to route signals through our board by allowing us to go from one layer to another without going all the way around (which would waste space).
The reason why we have two types of vias is that they serve different purposes depending on where they’re placed. Printed Circuit Board Blind vias are located inside a hole, which means they’re not visible from either side of our board. On the other hand, buried vias can be seen from both sides.
Step 6: Fabrication Output
You’ve created your schematic, laid out your board, and routed everything beautifully. Now it’s time to order those fab files. For now, let’s focus on getting these fab files ready for manufacturing.
- Use DRC to ensure there aren’t any issues with trace width/spacing or via holes.
- Add solder mask.
- Add silkscreen.
- Check for manufacturability (is your design feasible?).
Export Gerber files.
Step 7. Exporting Gerber Files
Now that you have everything drawn up, save your schematic and board files. You will be using these files when it comes time to order your board. Start by going File > Save or hitting Ctrl+S.
To save Gerbers, you must create and name an output folder. Go ahead and do that now. After your boards are all laid out, you’ll be able to export them as Gerber files.
If you’re doing more than one layer of a board, like if you have an inner ground plane, then make sure that you select a Separate file per layer for Gerber, otherwise, they won’t work.
Also, make sure that you check every single box under File Options except Place component origin at the lower-left corner of pad/hole. This option puts components off-center on pads and is only useful if you plan to manually place components later.
Once you have checked those boxes, go to File > Export Gerber Files. A window will pop up asking where you want to save your Gerber. Name your project or whatever makes sense for what you’re making and click OK.
Then another window will pop up asking which layers you want to export. Select All Layers and click OK again. Finally, a third window will appear with progress bars telling you how long it will take to generate your Gerber. It can take anywhere from 10 seconds to over an hour, depending on how many layers you have selected and how complex they are.
Would like to know more about printed circuit board assembly? Email us at email@example.com