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Thread: PCB CAD Software

  1. #1
    Member dauntless89's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jun 2017
    Cedar City, UT

    PCB CAD Software

    Hi guys,

    About to start on a large project and I could use a couple suggestions.

    The prototype will be built as a series of daughterboards linked to a single motherboard containing essentially only the MCU. Essentially everything else will be handled on daughterboards. The daughterboards will be simple solderable breadboards. One objective is to keep the system modular so improvements can be made easily. Due to the complexity of the project, I would like to have all these components drawn up and mapped out in a PCB CAD program to keep things straightforward from a design and troubleshooting perspective. What's the best choice here? I seem to keep seeing Eagle, is there a better choice? Looking for something freeware as this is completely a home-gamer thing. Later on, as kinks are worked out and optimizations are made, I envision designing a PCB from scratch to make this thing smaller and more professional.

    Something else I will need for this project are ribbon cables. These will be used for carrying signals from daughterboards to the main MCU. What I'm looking for are ribbon-style cables 6-18" long with generally 4-12 pins in a single row, with female headers with the standard breadboard pitch of .1". I can continue with the Google routine, though if anyone has an off-hand suggestion it would save me some time.


  2. #2
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    May 2015
    San Francisco
    For the software, check out KiCad ( It's free and open source and can handle some very complex designs. While it's not trivial to get started, it's gotten a lot easier to use in the latest releases. Plus there are plenty of tutorials out there for it.

  3. #3
    KiCad is great, but the learning curve can be steep. If you aren't concerned about having your design in "the cloud", I find EasyEDA to be more than capable enough for my hobby projects. The LCSC integration is incredibly convenient because you can pick components that have high stock counts during the schematic design, and be sure you can order your BOM in one go (and they are cheap). The JLCPCB integration is also nice because the design constraints default to their cheapest PCB options. Everything works seamlessly enough to make me throw money at them.

    Regarding ribbon cables, what you are looking for are called IDC connectors. They come in a variety of pin counts and almost always in .1" pitch. You can get the ribbon cable in bulk, and it is possible (although finicky) to split it off to the number of conductors you want to terminate. The connectors themselves are easy to crimp with a bench vice or similar. you can plug them on bare male header pins, or use sockets to ensure correct orientation.

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