Designing a PCB board isn’t always as complex as it sounds, but you do have to remember that each step of the process must be done to perfection because otherwise, the final product will not be one you’re happy with. It also takes practice to design a PCB board, so the more you do it, the better you’ll get at it.
Learning how to design a PCB board is not as difficult as it used to be, thanks to a variety of software programs and e-books – many of which are free – that promise to make the task a lot easier. Therefore, if you’re interested in designing your own PCB board, you might as well jump right in and give it your best shot.
Do You Need Special Skills?
Specialized computer skills are not needed to design the perfect PCB board, because most of the tools you’ll be using provide step-by-step instructions that provide the details you need to be successful. That being said, one thing you’ll want to have before you get started is a good software program, maybe even a CAD (computer-aided design) program. Many of them are free, but of course, the ones you pay for sometimes have features that the other programs don’t.
If you’re interested in some basic steps to learning how to design a PCB board, here are a few to follow:
Step 1: Design the Circuit Using Software
Can you design your circuit without specialized software? Of course you can, but it’s going to take you a lot longer. Since many of these computer programs are free, you might as well take advantage of them before you go any further. If you find you need additional help that isn’t provided by the free ones, consider upgrading to a program you have to purchase.
Step 2: Generate Your Film
The layout section of the software will help you with this part. The film itself is generated from the finalized circuit board diagram, and it is sent to the manufacturing unit, where it is printed out on a plastic sheet.
Step 3: Select the Right Materials
Since the PCB board will consist mostly of your fiberglass and the copper foil that are bonded to one another on either one side or two, you can use .059 copper-clad laminate that is thick and either single- or double-sided for your convenience. These materials are reasonably priced yet reliable and sturdy enough for the job.
Step 4: Getting the Drill Holes Ready
The drill holes are usually done either by hand or a specially designed machine, including a CNC machine. You can also store your drill pattern in the computer and record aspects such as number of holes per pattern and even your drill bit sizes, to name a few.
Step 5: The Image Is Applied
Applying your image can be done in several ways, but the most efficient option is to use a laser printer. You simply place a clean sheet of copper paper on the printer, store the design on your computer, then let the printer print the circuit layout you designed onto the copper paper. It is essentially just like printing anything else.
Step 6: Strip and Etch Your Design
You have to remove the unwired copper on the board with a chemical such as ferric chloride. You’ll also have to clean it up after placing it in a chemical bowl, all of which may take a while depending on how much cleaning you have to do and how greasy the design is to begin with.
Step 7: Test Everything Out!
Once you’re done, you have to do some testing, and manufacturers do this in several ways, including an ATG test and universal grid testing.
What Else Is Involved?
Body individuals and companies can design PCB boards, but with today’s advances and available software, DIY enthusiasts are getting better at the task all the time. Indeed, there are even contests for beginners and experts alike that give prizes for the best PCB board design, so you have a lot of options when it comes to designing your own. Learning how to design a PCB board is easy as long as you have a little creativity and you can follow basic instructions, and it can be a lot of fun as well.
If you have access to a design that you know has already been successful, you can easily use that design in the beginning because the rest of the process is fairly straightforward. However, after you get used to designing and creating PCB boards, you’ll find yourself wanting more of a challenge, and when this happens, creating designs on your own won’t be that difficult. Just remember to practice and learn from your mistakes, and the rest should be easy. Designing the perfect PCB board is much easier the more you do it, so you can become an expert at it before you know it.