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Choosing PCB Layout Software

pcb

When you finish the design and prototyping of your project and you want to make a PCB, you need to use some kind of PCB layout software. While there are a plethora of commercial products, most of them expensive – very expensive, there are relatively few that are low cost or free for the open source designer. This guide will look at the options available and make recommendations based on the author’s knowledge and preferences.

NOTE: There may be some other applications than the ones I have mentioned. Since I use Linux on my PC, I have only looked at the packages than run under Linux. I believe the ones listed run under all three mainstream operating systems, but I am only certain about Linux versions.

Online PCB Software

Some commercial PCB fabricators offer their own free online software. While some of these products may be quite capable, they suffer from one huge drawback – you are locked into their services. If you want to have your PCB made elsewhere, you are out of luck. For that reason I don’t give these programs a second look.

Eagle CAD

screen shot of Eagle CADThe Eagle CAD package offers both schematic and PCB layout programs. It … Read the rest

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Make Your Own PCB
  1. Making Your Own Printed Circuit Board - An Overview, part 1
  2. Making Your Own Printed Circuit Board - An Overview, part 2

Making Your Own Printed Circuit Board – An Overview, part 2

In the first part of this article, we covered the extensive subject of imaging a design onto a blank board and the best way to etch that board. After completing these steps, you will have a PCB almost ready for assembly. I will now explain the remaining steps. Some are essential and some not so much. As usual, each has their own set of problems to overcome.

Drilling

Now that you have a nice shiny PCB with your traces and pads imprinted on it, you need to drill the holes for thru-hole components and vias. The easiest way to do this is with a desktop drill press. Since I don’t have a dedicated PCB fabrication setup, I found another easy method for drilling holes at home. Harbor freight sells a 12v powered Dremel-type tool. While this tool is way under-powered for most tasks, it turns out to be a virtue when drilling small PCB holes. I simply chuck up a #60 bit and the hole already etched in the copper pad provides a nice indentation to hold the bit steady. The low power prevents the drill from getting squirrelly and jumping out of the indentation. You can probably get similar results with … Read the rest

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Make Your Own Stereo Microscope – On the Cheap!

Do you have an old telephoto lens lying around that you can’t use anymore? If you add an inexpensive pair of binoculars and a couple of prisms, you can make your own zoomable stereo microscope. This article tells how – http://www.funsci.com/fun3_en/uzoom/uzoom.htmRead the rest

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Make Your Own PCB
  1. Making Your Own Printed Circuit Board - An Overview, part 1
  2. Making Your Own Printed Circuit Board - An Overview, part 2

Making Your Own Printed Circuit Board – An Overview, part 1

PCB Image Transfer

If you start tinkering with electronics, eventually you will want to make your own printed circuit board, or PCB as it is generally called. In the olden days, this subject was pretty straightforward. You went down to your local RadioShack, and bought an etching kit. You drew your single sided design using a marking pen and some supplied stickers. The board was fairly big, and it had only a few simple through-hole components.

Those days are now pretty much gone. Now most electronic projects are much more complex, the boards are much smaller, and you need to deal with 2 layers, surface mount components and vias. In this overview, I will tackle the different problems you may encounter and the methods available. I won’t cover PCB layout software or commercially made boards. I’ll deal with those topics in separate articles.

Basic Steps

Making a PCB involves several steps. Today’s PCBs require a lot more steps than they used to, but for your own use, these later amenities can be omitted. The steps involved are:

  1. Imaging your design onto a blank PCB
  2. Etching
  3. Drilling
  4. Amenities – solder mask, silk screen, tin plating
  5. Vias
Each of the steps can be fairly involved and each … Read the rest
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