When you are new at building a printed circuit board (PCB), you may be overwhelmed with the enormity of the task at hand. The layout of your first board seems to resemble more of a roadmap to China but until you’ve tested it, you won’t know if you’ve taken the most direct route or if you’ve gone through routes which twisted and turned, making the trip much longer and slower than necessary. This is pretty much what it feels like to design your first PCB layout. However, with a few tips from the pros, you can learn how to design an amazingly efficient board.
1. Your Choice of PCB Design Software Matters
One of the biggest mistakes many beginners make is in relying on the PCB design software autorouters. While those are a huge help once all the components are in place to check speeds and other factors in the circuits, we tend to rely on them too heavily when there are more efficient ways to route the circuit. The choice of PCB design software matters, but don’t rely too heavily on those autorouting features. If you are looking for a great software package that is user-friendly enough even for beginning electronic designers, check out http://www.altium.com/ who have a free trial that you can test out first.
2. Understand the Importance of Trace Widths
First, and foremost, you need to understand each manufacturer’s specs and within those, trace widths are critical. When laying down a copper trace make sure that you know:
- Minimum trace widths.
- How many layers a given board can handle.
- Recommended spacing of traces.
Get any of these factors wrong and the entire board will be rendered useless – at the very least slow and inefficient. This will help to prevent the need to start back at the beginning to reroute the entire circuit of your board.
3. How to Calculate Trace Widths
One of the most common ways a board can be blown is when it overheats. Trace widths, then, are a critical feature which should be as accurate as possible. Keep in mind that wider trace widths meet with less resistance when electricity flows along the circuit, so it is suggested that you use the widest trace widths practical for the circuit you are designing and as per manufacturer specifications on that particular board. For this, many techies use a trace width calculator along with their PCB design software. The manufacturer of your software may have an online calculator you can use or there might be one built into the software package.
While you may still be learning how to design a printed circuit board, you may be a specialist in your area of electronics. You know what you want your new gadget to do and success is dependent upon that all-important PCB design. With the right software and a good connection to the manufacturer of the board you will be using, you can have most of your questions answered quickly so that you can move your project quickly along.
Bonus tip: Don’t forget to leave ample space between traces to reduce the risk of shorting out your board. Routing depends heavily on traces and trace widths, so keep that in mind and you should do well.