How to Learn PCB Design?

Designing your own printed circuits boards is a challenging yet deeply satisfying field for electrical engineers.

But it can be extremely confusing on how to get started in designing your own PCBs. Which software tool should you choose?

What track width should I use? Which parts do you choose? Where do I even start?!

While it's possible and common to learn PCB design through osmosis and reading tons of online articles and books, it's still good to have a framework of WHAT you should even be learning to get started. So here is a general list of things you should know if you're considering getting serious in designing your own PCBs.

A Quick Roadmap to PCB Design

  1. Understand how a manufacturer creates a PCB layer-by-layer.
  • Once you have an idea of the materials that make up a PCB and how they’re placed on top of each other, you get an idea of what the designer needs to create in order for that manufacturer to make the PCB.
  • How to get this knowledge? Check some videos on YouTube and/or go to a PCB manufacturer’s web page for some pointers on the process. YouTube might be more fun though.

Get a bird’s eye view of the PCB design process. A great resource for this is The Hitchhiker’s Guide to PCB Design, created by EMA Design Automation.

3. Get an idea of what a circuit schematic is, its purpose and how to read it - Ideally, one would review basic circuit theory and how to design circuit schematics from scratch, but it’s not mandatory right now.

4. Know how to search for electronic components/devices, and how to log their information, like manufacturer part number, supplier part numbers, sourcing, etc. This information during part search is necessary for creating a bill of materials (list of parts you need to buy), and knowing what PCB land patterns to make for those parts. about PCB land patterns…

5. Understand what a PCB land pattern (commonly called footprint) is - You can learn about this from IPC-7351 and IPC-2221, if you buy them. However, there are free websites that explain how to make footprints. I don’t recommend getting into the weeds about them right now before learning the principles of PCB layout

6. Understand PCB Layout - There are distinct phases to ‘laying out’ a PCB, starting from:
    1. stack-up (speak with manufacturer), 
    2. track widths (current carrying capacity found from schematic phase) and 
    3. clearances (voltage withstanding and other factors), 
    4. part placement strategy (this is where just knowing what a footprint is comes in handy, and information from the mechanical design engineer and other project stakeholders), 
    5. trace routing strategy (depends on a myriad of things like): 
        a. then designing for manufacturing (learn from manufacturer’s guides and IPC-7351/2221/2222, blog posts, etc.), 
        b. signal integrity (learn from books and Dr. Eric Bogatin, Lee Ritchey),
        c. electromagnetic interference (learn from books and Rick Hartley), 
        d. which also all come into play during all phases of PCB layout.

7. Know what manufacturers want you to give to them in order for them to manufacture and assemble the PCB (organization and documentation).

So this is the general framework you can use if you're planning on getting serious with designing your own printed circuit boards.

For more information, download my free PDF "7 Secrets To Become a Professional Hardware Engineer (or PCB Designer)".
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