PCB Design: How to Create a Printed Circuit Board From Scratch

To design a Printed Circuit Board (PCB), you need to draw holes, pads, and wires for your circuit.

Illustration of PCB design

When you’re done drawing the board, you can either send the design to a manufacturer that will make it for you (it’s actually pretty cheap) – or you can etch it yourself at home.

This skill is called PCB design and it’s easier than many think.

In this guide, I’ll lay out all the steps for you. And once you’ve gone through these steps one time, the second time everything is much easier.

Who Else Wants To Develop Their Own Electronic Product?

Do you have an idea for an electronic product that you know will sell? Do you know how to create it?

Back in the days, my friends Olav and Elias and I were certain that we had a revolutionary product idea. We wanted to develop a touch-less controller for games, so that you could play games with your body as the controller.

We had learned a lot about circuit design at the University, but had very little practical experience. And we had never developed an electronic product before.

Our touch-less controller prototype
Our touch-less controller prototype

So many things could go wrong…

Printed Circuit Board Guide For Beginners

Microcontroller tutorial soldering

Oh man! When I made my first printed circuit board, I was so thrilled!

It was extremely satisfying to be able to touch my own circuit board design. And today it’s time you learn it too.

And the truth is that the process isn’t that hard. There are just a few steps you need to go through. And anyone can do it – even if you have no experience from before.

PCB Design Rules

When you design a circuit board, you need to follow the PCB design rules of your manufacturer. These rules are the limits of the machine that makes the circuit boards.

A manufactured circuit boardCircuit board design

The first time I looked at the rules I got really bummed out because it seemed so freakin’ complicated.

“Why can’t they just make my PCB???”

After a while I calmed down and had a look at what I was up against. And it wasn’t that bad after all ;)

How To Build A Circuit In 6 Steps

6 steps for how to build a circuit:

  1. Find a circuit diagram
  2. Draw the circuit diagram into Eagle
  3. Draw board layout in eagle
  4. Get your circuit board made
  5. Order components
  6. Solder components to your board

Tweezers on circuit board

Free PCB Design Software

Kicad 3D viewer

There are many PCB design software solutions available. The software you use should be able to draw both schematics and printed circuit boards.

And it should be able to output Gerber files that you can send to a PCB manufacturer and get your board made.

Below I’ve compiled a list of three free cross-platform programs available for Linux, Windows and Mac OS.

I have copied their own description of themselves from each of their websites. Just to give you an idea of what they are about (or at least how they like to present themselves).

And at the end, I’ll let you know my favorite ;)

Using a Gerber Viewer To Check For Errors

A Gerber viewer is a great tool to use before you submit a PCB design to fabrication. This way, you will see exactly what you are sending to the fab house and you might find potential problems that aren’t easily spotted in the layout editor.

Gerber viewer screenshot

PCB Terminology 101

It is always good to know a bit of PCB terminology. Here is a reference table with the most common words.

What You Need To Know About the Gerber Format

The Gerber format is the file format you use when you want to get your PCB made. By creating Gerber files from your design, your design files can be viewed by all the manufacturers out there.

If you want to understand the basics of Gerber files you should know that they:

Cheap PCB Design Process

Making a cheap PCB is easier than you think. Here is short summary of how to create your layout and a list of some PCB manufacturers that you can choose from to get your circuit board manufactured.

Blinking LED PCB from OSHPark

PCB Design Guidelines For Better Layout

Here are some simple PCB design guidelines that can help you create better board layouts.

Board size and trace width

There are always limits to how big your board can be, how thin your traces can be and the smallest drill size you can use.

PCB Manufacturing Preparation

Before you send your board layout to PCB manufacturing, you should always check your board for errors.

There is a high chance of errors when you design a new board. And very often you don’t discover it before you have manufactured the circuit board and are trying to troubleshoot it.

If you’re able to remove all errors before you make the board, you’ll save a lot of time!

Many errors can be removed by making sure your schematic is correct.

When you’re sure your schematic is correct, there are a few other checks you should do to minimize the chances of any problems.