PCB Design tips


I established a working prototype for my product idea on a breadboard. The Imp is great!
I now would like to take the design one step further and develop a PCB suitable for a first small series. I only need to add a few compontents to the April board so this should be feasible I thought.

As a designer, I do not have any experience in designing PCB’s. I checked out Fritzing and it seems like a good option for me.

But I still run into some issues. I found the April breakout board for Fritzing via this forum, but I would like the embed the separate components on my own print. Does anyone have tips? The ID chip for example is not in the Fritzing parts database so I’m kinda stuck right now.

Please share your thoughts on how a designer could design a PCB…


If you’re just getting started, a couple of (entry/hobbyist level) programs you might want to check out are ExpressPCB (http://expresspcb.com/) or Pad2Pad (http://www.pad2pad.com/). The upsides are that both have fairly easy to learn (though proprietary) design tools (which are free), as well as board fabrication services. I’ve used both often for simple boards, and have been happy with the results. The downside again is that their tools are non-standard (i.e. non-Gerber output format), so you’re pretty much captive to have them fabricate your boards. Being free, the tools are also understandably limited … but you’re trading off complexity/capability for a shallower learning curve. You might want to at least check them out, then perhaps migrate to something like Eagle (http://www.cadsoftusa.com/eagle-pcb-design-software/?language=en) if you need more capability in the future.

The Electric Imp breakout board from sparkfun is similar to if not identical to the April board.


The design files are available in Eagle format so if you learn this software you can modify that board to suit your needs.

oshpark.com has an excellent service for building bare boards and it accepts Eagle files so you would not have to learn how to make Gerber files.

What is left after that is the soldering…

Thanks for the tips. I started off in Eagle and I must say I’m quite surprised how smooth it’s going so far. This tutorial by Sparkfun is a MUST for every beginner by the way: http://www.sparkfun.com/tutorials/108

Hi Again,

As I do not have the gear to solder SMD components, I would like to use ‘through hole’ components. Does anyone know good alternatives for the 3.3V DC converter and the ID chip?


the ID chip is only available in SMD.
For the 3.3V it depends on the input voltage you have. at 5V, a linear regulator like the LM1117T-3.3/NOPB will do fine. but it will get very hot with higher input voltages.

ok thanks. Maybe it’s time to invest in some SMD soldering gear then :slight_smile:

Sparkfun do it as a brake out board https://www.sparkfun.com/products/11551

I’d think you’d be surprised and pleased by how much surface mount work you could get done with just a nice fine-tip soldering iron (and some good fine motor skills of course :slight_smile: ) You wouldn’t want to do a large board by hand, but for a few components it should work out fine for you … it’s really not too bad, even working with 0603s as well as some pretty fine-pitch ICs. You might want to give it a go … I don’t think you’d have a problem with the devices you mention.

Well I’ll just give it a go then :slight_smile: thanks

SMD soldering is pure fun. It’s much easier than it seems! I can highly recommend Fritzing for PCB design. Check the datasheet of the ID chip for instance, it is available in SOIC 8 or TSSOP 8 packaging which are both supported by Fritzing. It can even produce Gerber-files. Good luck!

May I add, I learnt SMD soldering from Sparkfun tutorials and random Youtube videos.

I would recommend EAGLE’s tutorial page.
You can find many answers there, i solved many problems with the help there!

@mjkuwp94 has correctly indicated that as a basic PCB designer you need to take some basic baby steps and gradually work your way up. Most new PCB designers start taking designs from the internet, modifying them and posting them as their own designs which in the end leaves them with zero idea of what they are doing or how they are doing it. You can try Eagle, express PCB or design spark whatever suits. I personally like design spark more because of its simplicity. Start with basic PCB designing with DIP packages and then start using SMD and making bigger designs which will help you avoid many issues that you may come across if you try and jump instead of climbing one step at a time.

electronic manufacturing services

As far as I know, the April board is the only one available for Eagle. Has anyone created any of the other reference boards in Eagle or Fritzing? I’d love to buy Altium, but 3 grand is a bit steep unless you are using it commercially.

The electric imp shield from Sparkfun was done in Eagle. I am doing my stuff in Eagle but I don’t have anything like the reference designs.

If they are open hardware, please share if get the chance. I’m trying to build my skills.

Any comments for Protel 99 SE?