Printed circuit boards, or PCBs, are useful for power or signals to be sent between physical devices. Designing your own PCB can be a really fun and rewarding task, but also a little complicated if you’re new to circuit boards. If you want to get stuck in to designing your own circuit board, but aren’t sure where to start, read on to find out the basics of circuit board design, how to create your own, and some top tips for improving your skills.
Designing Your Circuit Board
Before you begin thinking about how you’re going to put this together, you need to think about what you want your circuit board to do. If you’re new, we recommend going for something simple, like a flashing LED or temperature monitor. You then need to draw the schematics for this – you’ll need a PCB design software to make this happen, but don’t worry, there are plenty out there. Firstly, set out a circuit diagram, connecting your battery with other components via wires, and putting this into a simple schematics format. Without good schematics, creating a good circuit board is nearly impossible, so don’t rush it.
With your schematics, you can transfer these into a drawing of your circuit board (don’t worry – your software should be able to make this easy for you). That isn’t the end of it though – you need to spend some time making sure it looks good and works properly.
There are certain guidelines you need to follow when designing your circuit board. As with any circuit board, you’ll only be able to reach a certain size, depth, and tolerance. Check with your PCB manufacturer – this should be on their web page, and should feature things like how thick your board can be, the size range of your drilling hole and other important details. You need to make sure your board fits within these restrictions, and if not, resize it to match up.
When thinking about your traces, opting for something thicker than the minimum is always best. Although it can be tempting to go for the thinnest, this can leave your traces vulnerable and more open to damage when soldering. You also need to think about the amount of current you’re planning on running through your traces – the more current, the thicker they’ll need to be or else you’ll risk them heating up.
All of this can be a bit daunting, but really, the best way to learn circuit board design is by throwing yourself in the deep end, experimenting, and practicing. You can also pick up ideas from other people’s work – this all file viewer will let you view various PCB designs, so you can grab some inspiration for your own. Remember, your circuit board is never going to be perfect, especially your first one – it’s likely there will be a lot of problems. But keep trying; even experienced designers make mistakes, but practice will make you better and better.
— Featured photo by Flickr user twechie, Creative Commons