There was a time when you had to make a PCB layout design on paper, which worked fine but isn't very feasible now. In this 21st Century, we now have various design tools that make this job easier and less time-consuming. So why not use such tools rather than those age-old traditional methods. If that's what you have been looking for, a tool for PCB layouts, Schematic design, etc then we got you just the right thing. KiCad EDA is one such open-source tool that helps you in making Electronic Design Automation(EDA).

This software comes with many tools and features for users to design various schematics through an integrated environment. Things like capturing schematics, layouts for PCB, Spice Simulation, material bills, 3D PCB models, etc are possible with the tools available in this software. A tool that is perfect for professionals who work in electronic designs.

Now, for anyone who has never heard terms like these before, it can be a little confusing and intimidating. Do not worry though, because we are going to explain everything about this software and what its webpage offers. In the meantime, use this KiCad download link to download it for your device. Choose your OS to download the right one for your device.

How Does KiCad EDA work and what can you do with this Software?


We have already given you a basic idea of what this software is and the kinds of tools it offers, but we shall talk about those things in more detail. KiCad EDA is a combination of many other tools incorporated to provide various functionalities to users. Tools like Eeschema, KiCad, Pcbnew, GerbView, PI Editor, PCB Calculator, Bitmap2Component.

Each file has a different file extension and its own functionality. These extensions include *.pro, *.sch, *.lib, *.net, *.kicad_pcb, *.kicad_mod, *.g*, *.drl, etc. KiCad EDA supports files with only these and a few other extensions. Each extension is specific to its software tool. With these tools, the software can do pretty much any design you want.

From a simple design to complex boards, this software is for everything. In terms of board size, it supports 14 technical layers, 4 Auxilary layers, and 32 copper layers. When it comes to the kind of files that it can produce, you got drilling files, Gerber files, location files of components, and many more for those boards. In terms of execution, KiCad is a little different from other tools. How is that?

Instead of creating the schematic footprints and footprints together, this one does them separately. Then assigns the footprint to components of those schematics. Now, there is one important thing that it needs to design PCB footprint and Schematic components. That is its libraries, without libraries of PCB footprint and Schematic components, it is impossible to make any design.

You may have to download those libraries separately, and that can be done from this page. Open the link and download the required library.

Workflow of KiCad EDA

Like many other programs, this one too is written in C++ and runs in Windows, Linux, Mac OS X, and FreeBSD. If we talk about the workflow of KiCad, it is pretty simple actually. It has 3 steps in the process of designing a schematic. The first step is designing the schematic itself in the EeSchema, and this is where most of the work takes place.

Here, you add various symbols that are available from your KiCad library. In case, it doesn't have the one you are looking for then you can create one from the library editor or export/import or use Quicklib to create a component. After the initial design is made, it is then sent to the PCB layout where additional components, if necessary, are added. This is known as Forward Annotation

The next step is to send it back to EESchema to choose gates and pins for the schematic. This process is called Backward Annotation. Then a Netlist(info on a circuit's electronic components) is generated in EESchema and sent to PCBnew, where a few other steps take place. Finally, You can either send it to GerbView to inspect files or not, it's your choice. This is the basic process of how KiCad works, though it is better understood from the above workflow chart.

These are just the basics of how this software works, but if you are interested to find out more about it, then this KiCad Tutorial guide will help. Open the link for the KiCad tutorial and you know will everything there is about this software functionality.

Accelerator Keys and Hotkeys


While working in KiCad is simple, there is a way to make it even simpler and faster. That is with the help of Accelerator keys and hotkeys. You can use Accelerator keys like Shift+A, Shift+P, Shift+W to enter symbols, Power port, and wire respectively. As soon as you click a command, the cursor will change to that command and you can add it where ever you want on the design. Only after you left-click on a location, the accelerator key will work.

Similarly, when it comes to hotkeys, the reaction is a bit quick. Meaning, as soon as you click a hotkey, the command will run. Unlike the accelerator key where you also have to use a left-click.

Tools in KiCad EDA


Remember that we mentioned a few software tools that come integrated with the KiCad software? Here we are going to discuss those software tools briefly and what they are used for.

EeSchema

Works on Windows, Linux, and Mac OS along with every file being compatible for interchange. Meaning a Windows file also works on Linux, vice versa. This schematic capture software contains various pins, sheets, connections, etc without any storage limit. Using this software, one can create layouts, access designs of PCB, use it for library management, and a few other things.

It is integrated with PCBnew to develop PCB designs and to get info on all the electrical components. Apart from already having libraries for various symbols and components, you can even use a library editor to make new ones. Some of the main tools integrated into this include, Sheet management, Annotation tool, Netlist tool, Bill of Material tools, etc. To read more on Eeschema, check out this Document.

Pcbnew

This is the main software that is used in the creation of the Pcb circuit boards. It works alongside Eeschema in the design and creation of circuit boards. This contains many libraries on the circuit board layouts which are called foodprints(those white lines running in a pattern on a circuit board). This tool also manages all those footprints and loads them while going through the netlist.

In case there is an update or change required in the footprints of a design, then the required change is carried out in the schematic. Later, the changes are updated in the Pcbnew from the generated netlist. Sometimes you might face issues with the nets as they may be connected in a place where they are not supposed to. Usually, netlist has all the info on those connections. Pcbnew uses Design Check Rule, a method that prevents such issues from happening by making sure that the connections from the netlist are the only one that has been executed.

Use the link given for this software to know about the installation procedure and every other detail about it.

CvPcb


This acts as a bridge between your components of footprints and schematic designs while designing a printed circuit board layout. So how does it do that? Remember Eeschema? You already know that Eeschema generates a netlist that contains info on all the components in the circuit board design. So this netlist is used to associate those components of schematics with the footprints of the printed circuit board.

Some of the features of this tool other than the previously mentioned one are footprint viewing, model viewing of 3D components, list filtering of footprints, et cetera. All this is to make sure that everything goes on according to the netlist and every component is where it is supposed to be. This can also be used to check the list of every footprint that is accessible to you. Use Eeschema to run CvPcb from its toolbar. To learn more about its commands and toolbar check this CvPcb document.

GerbView


A very simple tool that is used to view certain files like Gerber and drill files. It can show Gerber files that are in RS-274X format. Multiple layers are accessible to display in 3 different modes. Those modes include Raw mode, Stacked mode, and transparency mode. Each mode provides a slightly different view of your schematic design and helps you get a better view of each layer since most of the time there are multiple layers.

To view any such file, you can use the top toolbar that contains multiple options. Users can load files, set page size, print, zoom in/out, and do many other things. Similarly, the left toolbar has more, tools. Those tools let you perform a little more complex tasks like measuring the distance between points. Some other options include toggling grid display/ polar coordinate display, show/hide layers, etc.

Try its other commands from the menu bar or preference menu, but to learn about them, view this document on Gerbview.

PI Editor


This is another elementary tool that does simple things like adding text or graphic info to the designs. This info can be added by using simple texts, lines, rectangles, bitmaps, and polygons. This is an editor tool for your design page layout to add frame reference and text blocks and other simple graphics. It uses bitmaps for logos. The editor has an input file and an output file for page layouts both written in different formats.

You can use numbers, strings, and format symbols in your design using the PI editor. You might have to learn more about those format symbols and how to use this editor. For that, this informational document can be of help.

IDF Exporter


Ever hear about IDF? It means Intermediate Data Format. This is used in electronic wire assemblies to change the contents of a project into IDF standards. So you can say that it is a form of data exchange feature. The IDF exporter does exactly that and exports outlines from boards and components, cutlines, and many kinds of IDFv3 mechanical data and libraries.

PCB Calculator


The PCB calculator in KiCad has multiple tools that help users find out parameters, variables, and any other value for components in a PCB design. You cannot make a proper design without knowing the value of the components that you are using. Board classes, Trans line, Regulators, Color Code, Track Width, Electrical spacing, and RF Attenuators are the tools that you can use to find values of various components.

For example, regulators help you find out the value of resistors that you are using in a regulator. The electrical spacing tool is to understand the amount of distance for placing conductors based on their voltage. Similarly, Color code is to find the value of a resistor based on the colors. Every resistor is color-coded with multiple layers, and one can find out its resistance and tolerance value based on those colors. Pretty basic stuff, but still interesting right?

This might be interesting to learn, even if you do not have a need for it. So read on those calculators and how to use them from this guide.3

Just like the above software tools, there is one more tool called the KiCad Plugins. These are basically like libraries that are used to add more functions to a tool or software. The link to more info on the plugins this software uses.

Other Features, Services, and Option from KiCad EDA


Other than the multiple tools and software that are available to download from the KiCad EDA website. There are many other features, services, and options available to users, and we are gonna provide a little info on what they are and how they are useful.

Contribute your Skills


All the source code and tools info of KiCad is stored in a Gitlab Archive libraries and others can also contribute to it. So if you are skilled enough and know your way around Gitlab then maybe join their community with a merge request. This request is to be submitted on the specific repository that you wanna work on in Gitlab. After the access is granted to that repository, make the desired contribution. Don't forget to mention the changes or addition that you make to the footprints, schematic and also add an image.

If you do not know how to make a merge request or want to join their librarian team, then check out these instructions. Similarly, you can also join their Docs Team or Developers Team to contribute your services and skills.

A sponsorship is Always welcome


The team at KiCad works hard to provide their services and tools for free, that doesn't mean help isn't welcomed. KiCad is only able to provide such service because they are backed by some corporate sponsors like AISLER, Digi-Key Electronics, Kicad Services Corporation, and a few others. If your corporation is interested in helping this amazing team to bring out the best products for their users, then become a sponsor. Use this sponsorship link to know more and join their sponsorship program.

Need Help?


Asking for help might be difficult for some but sometimes you might not be able to handle everything on your own. So if you ever run into trouble with this open-source tool then there is a community of users and developers who can help you out. There's just isn't one but 3 different ways to get the help you need.
You can join their Forums to ask questions you need answers to, maybe try something new, and check out their Discord channels where constant discussions take place. If you want to go old school then this KiCad mail group might be perfect for you.

Download and install the KiCad EDA software for your device depending on your operating system and make all kinds of schematic design and PCB layouts. This open-source tool has a ton of amazing features and options for all kinds of users and requirements. Also, this software comes integrated with many other software tools that offer many options to make your designing experience a lot smoother. Read the article in its entirety and understand what it is and how it works. Also, don't forget to check out all the other features and services that KiCad EDA offers its users from their website

Frequently Asked Questions(FAQs)


What is KiCad EDA?
The KiCad is an open-source software used by developers and designers to make schematic designs for their PCB layouts. The main features of this software are PCB layout, 3D viewer, and Schematic capture, but it offers a lot more than that. Download and install the software to find out.

Which platforms support KiCad EDA Software?
Apart from the most use ones like Microsoft Windows, Linux, macOS, and Ubuntu, there are a few others too. Flatpak, Debian, OpenSUSE, Fedora, Linux Mint, are the few platforms that can run this software.

What is PCB?
Printed Circuit Boards(PCBs) are something that you can find in almost every electronic device. Things like mobiles, laptops, TVs, and many others have a PCB. These are used to add electronic components to the device. For example, in PCs, you see motherboards, RAM, HDD/SSD attached to a PCB.

Which version of KiCad EDA Software is currently available?
If you want to download the latest version of this open-source KiCad EDA software then choose the KiCad 5.1.12 version. This was released in November 2021.