Printed circuit board (PCB) design plays a fundamental role in developing electronic products, laying out the interconnections between components.
While advanced tools exist for professionals, beginners can benefit tremendously by starting with free PCB design software. This allows honing skills and learning the ropes without investment.
This article explores the 10 best free PCB design software for beginners based on features, simplicity and output. By leveraging these excellent free tools, new users can gain valuable experience to take on more advanced projects down the road using paid tools.
EasyEDA is a popular free online PCB design software with a simple and intuitive user interface that is great for beginners. It allows you to design circuits and PCB layouts within the browser using drag-and-drop tools. Designs can be simulated instantly to verify functionality.
Key features include built-in circuit and PCB templates to accelerate work. The interactive drag-and-drop interface makes component placement and routing very straightforward for new users. EasyEDA also offers convenient design sharing and team collaboration features.
The software outputs manufacturing-grade Gerber files, Bill of Materials (BOM), and fabrication files. For a free tool, EasyEDA packs an impressive set of features from schematic capture to PCB layout in a single integrated suite. The intuitive UX makes it ideal for beginners starting out.
KiCad EDA is an open source PCB design suite that is widely used for its generous free features. The suite contains separate applications for schematic capture, PCB layout, Gerber file export, 3D modeling, documentation and more.
KiCad is extremely versatile in features and functionalities like advanced routing, differential pairs, and multi-board schematic/layout. The suite can handle up to 32 copper layers. Component libraries are vast thanks to open source sharing.
While extremely capable, KiCad does involve a steeper learning curve. But the suite is so fully featured that it gives beginners an opportunity to carry projects through a complete design cycle for great learning.
DesignSpark PCB is a free PCB design software offered by RS Components. It is designed for electronics engineers, students, makers and hobbyists. The layout interface uses interactive ratsnest lines to represent connections, which helps in routing. Real-time design rule checks (DRCs) also assist beginners.
DesignSpark allows users to design multi-layer boards of high complexity suitable for industrial applications. A handy bill of materials (BOM) generator helps prepare for procurement. The ability to design custom footprints also aids learning. Overall, DesignSpark packs robust features for free and helps accelerate the learning curve.
DipTrace offers a free version of its PCB design software as a gateway into the more advanced paid versions. DipTrace Free still retains core features like multi-layer boards, auto-routing, copper fill, design rule checks and shape-based autorouter.
The free version supports two signal layers and is limited to 300 pins. One unique aspect is its ability to directly import Eagle schematic files for easy transition. Component libraries are plentiful. Documentation and tutorials help shorten the learning curve as well. Altogether, DipTrace Free provides a functional free package with common professional features.
Sprint-Layout by Abacom offers a free entry version with the basics needed for simple single or double-sided PCB projects as a stepping stone to more advanced capabilities. It allows up to 300 pins per side on a 6-layer PCB.
Helpful features for beginners include a built-in autorouter for lighting fast routing and heat maps to visualize routing congestion. Copper pour, power planes and PADS import capabilities provide a good learning experience. The convenience of automatic backups helps avoid beginner mishaps as well.
Fritzing uses a unique, beginner-friendly interface consisting of a breadboard, schematic, and PCB view. This allows designers to transition from a prototype breadboard model to the final PCB without changing tools. Fritzing is open source software focused on makers, educators, and hobbyists.
The software package covers the full workflow – from EDA schematic entry to PCB layout and export. Its sharing capability also facilitates learning in teams. A parts editor tool allows customizing or creating new component models. While limited in advanced features, Fritzing as a free package helps kickstart beginners in a creative, low-risk environment through the entire cycle.
NanoCAD PCB Designer
NanoCAD is a suite of free CAD tools that includes a PCB design application targeted at beginners through its ease of use and intuitive UX. It integrates a schematic editor, PCB editor, and 3D viewer in one. Checking the PCB for violations in real time helps avoid mistakes.
Useful aids for new users include the auto-placement of components and grouping functionality to easily move sets of components. A handy undo manager also enables reversal of mishaps. These conveniences combined with the simple interface help new designers get comfortable with the tool quickly.
PCBWeb is an online browser-based PCB design tool created for hobbyists, students, and engineers to provide limited but useful free access. Users can design simple PCBs with the ability to export Gerber and BOM files.
The tool allows interactive routing, placing components, ground planes, and reediting layers. A handy auto-routing feature helps beginners overcome one of the steepest parts of the learning curve. PCBWeb provides a quick, no-fuss entry into simple PCB design atop the convenience of online access.
For a professional-grade free PCB design suite, Cadence OrCAD offers a generous free trial that allows up to 2 schematic sheets of up to 100×100 cm with a 2000-component limit. This provides ample room for full-scale projects. Advanced features like constraint-driven, high-speed design are available.
Such an industry-leading tool gives beginners a chance to work through detailed tutorials using actual commercial workflows to learn OrCAD’s capabilities. The package covers the schematic-layout cycle with all reports and outputs. This helps pave the way to expert skills.
Autodesk EAGLE offers a basic free license targeted primarily at hobbyists, makers and startups. Parts and schematics are limited but include most common components to create simple boards and learn.
EAGLE supports single layer boards of up to 100x80mm size. While restrictive for advanced usage, these parameters give new users access to real electrophoretic verification, Gerber files, and library management in a commercial tool while building knowledge and confidence.
The wide range of excellent free PCB design software covered here lowers the barrier for beginners to gain first experiences in circuit and PCB design. Entry-level options like EasyEDA, Fritzing and NanoCAD make starting out easy. Intermediate solutions like KiCad, DipTrace and DesignSpark offer expanded capabilities to ramp up. And OrCAD and EAGLE provide a professional-level experience for paid upgrades later. By combining self-learning with free tools first, beginners can establish an essential foundation in PCB design skills to eventually undertake more complex work.