KiCad is an EDA software suite for the creation of professional schematics and printed circuit boards up to 32 copper layers. KiCad runs on Windows, Linux and Apple OS X and is released under the open-source GNU GPL v2 free of charge.
With KiCad you can create schematic diagrams and printed circuit board up to 32 copper layers. KiCad comes with a rich set of libraries with 3D models as well.
KiCad is a mature EDA software tool under active development by a team of developers and a vibrant user group. KiCad team counts three main developers and a dozen of regular contributors.
KiCad includes a project manager and four main independent software tools:
Eeschema, schematic editor.
Pcbnew, printed circuit board editor.
Gerbview, GERBER file viewer.
Cvpcb, footprint selector for components association.
The KiCad project was started by Jean-Pierre Charras, a researcher in the field of electrical engineering at GIPSA-LAB and a teacher in IUT de Saint Martin d'Hères in France.
KiCad in Numbers
KiCad is under heavy development. Below you can have an idea of the size of KiCad in both lines of code and equivalent estimated value in US$. Source: ohloh.net
Since its birth, in 2007, KiCad has shown a great level of acceptance among users. In the following plot you can find an indication of how KiCad compares with other open-source and non open-source electronics CADs. Source: Google Trends.
KiCad in 3 Steps
KiCad allows you to develop your printed circuit board via three interconnected and independent main applications: Eeschema, Cvpcb, Pcbnew. This is, simply put, done in three steps.
STEP 1, schematic capture. With the KiCad schematic editor Eeschema, you can create a sophisticated electronic sheet or a group of hierarchical sheets. Several schematic components come with the default KiCad library. A Electrical Rules Check tool (ERC) is available.
STEP 2, component association. Pcbnew allows you to associate each single schematic component with its footprint component. A very large component footprint library comes with KiCad.
STEP 3, PCB layout. The Pcbnew board editor can handle up to 16 copper layers plus 12 technical layers (silk screen, solder mask, etc.) and allows you to layout the final printed circuit board.
To successfully perform these steps KiCad comes with additional software tools. Two library component editors allow you to create or modify schematic components and footprint components. The 3D viewer allow you to render a final 3D model of your PCB. For the generation of the necessary compliant files for manufacturing your printed circuit board (GERBER files for photo-plotters, drilling files and component location files) Pcbnew and Gerbview are used. Postscript or PDF file generation is also possible.
KiCad Component Libraries
Kicad comes with a large set of open-source library components. A text-based format is used for both schematic and PCB component. This allow the direct editing of your library files with any text-based software.
Both Eeschema and Pcbnew have a library manager as well as a library component editor for modifying and creating components and footprint parts. You can create, edit, delete or exchange easily library items. Documentation files can be associated to components and footprints, and key words, allowing a fast search by function.
Very large Libraries, created over many years, are available for schematic components and footprints. Most of printed board modules (footprint) are available with their 3D shape model.
The other very exciting aspect pf Kicad is that library components for both PCB and schematic are actually plain text files. As natural consequence, you can generate library components in many ways, for instance by using this great library component generator.
KiCad comes with an extensive set of several PDF manuals distributed with the KiCad software tools accessible via the Help menu. All KiCad documentation files are written in LibreOffice and are constantly updated. KiCad also comes with a detailed PDF tutorial accessible via the Kicad Help menu.
All KiCad documentation is available online from the KiCad documentation page.
KiCad for Developers
The reference website for KiCad developers is https://launchpad.net/~kicad-developers
As version control system KiCad uses the Bazaar system. The most recent KiCad source code can be branched by command:
bzr branch lp:kicad kicad.bzr
The most recent KiCad documentation and translation files can be branched by command:
bzr branch lp:~kicad-developers/kicad/doc
The most recent KiCad library set can be branched by command:
bzr branch lp:~kicad-lib-committers/kicad/library
Of course you must have Bazaar installed. You can do this for Debian or Ubuntu by command:
sudo apt-get install bzr bzrtools
For a GUI-base solution, you can use Bazaar GUI software bzr-explorer. For the Ubuntu Karmic or newer the bzr-explorer can be installed with the commands:
sudo add-apt-repository ppa:bzr-explorer-dev/ppa
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install bzr-explorer
For developers with write access they should use the ssh url:
bzr branch bzr+ssh://<username>@bazaar.launchpad.net/~kicad-testing-committers/kicad/testing