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Our Top 10 printed circuit design software programmes


There are many software programmes to design printed circuits, whether free of charge or not, from the prototyping phase through to industrialisation. How to choose between freeware for DIY fans and complex software suites costing tens of thousands of dollars ?
Based on Proto-Electronics client preferences, we have drawn up the top 10 best electronics CAD software programmes.

1. Eagle

Autodesk Eagle

EAGLE is a PCB design software developed by the German CadSoft Computer GmbH created by Rudolf Hofer and Klaus-Peter Schmidiger in 1988. The company was acquired by Farnell in 2009 and by Autodesk in 2016, a world class software heavyweight with over 2 billion euros of turnover. EAGLE stands for Easily Applicable Graphical Layout Editor.

Autodesk EAGLE:

The software is available in 3 versions:

  • EAGLE Free: the limited trial version for DIY fans
  • EAGLE standard: 99 diagram sheets, 4 signal layers and a 160 cm² printed circuit area
  • EAGLE Premium: the professional version with 999 diagram sheets, 16 signal layers and an unlimited printed circuit area

Features and specifications

  • Diagram editor (connected to the library, electric rules, generation of an interconnection list)
  • Annotation of changes between the diagram and the PCB
  • Diagram hierarchy
  • Layout diagram with advanced features

EAGLE has the advantage of being one of the PCB design software heavyweights. At a reasonable cost of $500/year, it has a significant community that puts tutorials online. It also has an extensive component library and runs in a Mac OS X or Linux environment.

However, John Teel, the electronics design expert on the blog finds the EAGLE graphic interface both complex and not user-friendly.

2. Altium

Founded in 1985 as Protel Systems in Australia, the company changed its name to Altium in 2001. Currently American, it is a PCB modelling creation software leader. The firm has 6000 new users every year and is aiming for a 200 million dollar turnover in 2020.

Altium Designer

On the Altium website you can download a full free trial version for 15 days, including virtual workshops.

Features and specifications

  • Design environment with diagrams, layout-routing, documentation and simulation
  • Design for Manufacturing (DFM) to guarantee that your PCB designs are functional, reliable and easy to produce
  • Easy data migration using powerful conversion tools
  • 3D flex-rigid design
  • Printed circuit design
  • Diagram design
  • Production file output

With a licence starting price at $7000, the Altium software suite is especially suited for electronics engineers working for major industrial groups or in the Internet of Things. It is also extensively used by universities and leading schools. On the down side, it requires a long learning phase that will discourage DIY PCB fans.

Altium Design only runs on Windows according to the specifications available on their website.

3. Proteus


The Proteus electronic CAD solution, was developed by Labcenter Electronics Ltd., a company founded by John Jameson in 1988 in the United Kingdom. Widespreaded, Proteus is marketed in over 50 countries

Features and specifications

This suite has two main software programmes:

  • Proteus ISI: diagram creation and electric simulation
  • Proteus ARES: printed circuit routing solution with automatic component positioning

Other available Proteus modules

Proteus VSM

  • Full built-in workflow
  • Diagram design
  • Simulation
  • Measurement and analysis
  • Bug correction
  • Troubleshooting

Proteus PCB design software

  • PCB design with up to 16 layers of copper
  • 14 million components in the library
  • Interactive manual routing

Proteus Visual Designer

Combined with Proteus VSM, it provides a complete solution to edit flow diagrams and a hardware gallery for a built-in Arduino and Raspberry Pi development environment.

4. KiCad


KiCad is an open source, free printed circuit design software suite. It was developed by Jean-Pierre Charras from the Grenoble IUT in France in 1992. This design software includes diagram management, PCB routing and 3D modelling possibilities for electronics engineers.

Features and specifications

  • Kicad: project manager
  • Eeschema: electric diagram editor
  • Pcbnew: printed circuit editor
  • Cvpcb: utility to select the physical imprints of components used on the diagram
  • Gerbview: Gerber file viewer
  • Pcbcalculator: design aid tool to calculate resistance values, track widths, etc.
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5. Cadence OrCAD PCB Designer

Born in 1988 of the merger of SDA Systems and ECAD, Cadence Design Systems is currently a leader on the electronics CAD software market. Based in San José in California, it is a NASDAQ listed company with a turnover of about 2 billion dollars.

Cadence publishes Allegro PCB Designer and OrCAD.

Features and specifications 

Diagrams, layout and routing

  • Interactive, real time routing with built-in constraints
  • Automatic shape creation and update
  • Automatic BGA assistance

PSpice simulation and analysis

  • Performance and reliability improvement while optimising costs
  • Automatic circuit validation
  • Electronic circuit mechanical and electric simulation

OrCAD diagrams

  • Symbol editor
  • Built-in electronic component search
  • Built-in design constraints

6. DesignSpark

Design Spark

DesignSpark is an electronic CAD software programme born of the collaboration between the world leading component distributor RS Components and the Number One Systems software developer.

Features and specifications

  • Diagram entry
  • Routing and automatic component positioning
  • Project interface to organise design files
  • 3D viewer
  • Gerber and Excellon drilling file generation

7. Protel

Some people still use Protel, the former version of Altium Designer. The reasons vary from one user to the other and, as seen above, software assessments can be very subjective:

  • Latest version too expensive?
  • Not enough new features to justify the upgrade?
  • Not user-friendly and not easy enough to use?
  • Difficulties encountered by some users to adapt to the new graphic interface?

8. Cadstar

Cadstar is another design tool for the simplest to the most complex multi-layer PCBs.  Originally developed by Rascal-Redac, this software entered the Zuken portfolio, a Japanese multinational that pioneered electronics CAD software, founded in 1976 in Yokohama.

Cadstar is a full printed circuit board design environment, from initial design to product manufacturing.

Features and specifications

  • Printed circuit topology and routing
  • Diagram capture
  • Mechanical integration for data transmission using STEP or ACIS
  • Analysis, measurement and checks (reliability, signal integrity)
  • Library management
  • Design review for project managers

9. Sprint-Layout

Sprint-Layout is an electronic prototype design software published by Abacom.  Using good ergonomics and capacities worthy of professional software, combined with a very competitive price, Sprint-Layout has become unavoidable for electronics engineers.

Features and specifications

  • Automatic PCB routing on two sides
  • Extensive traditional and CMS component library
  • New component creation
  • Gerber and Excellon file generation
  • Anti-aliasing
  • Design-Rule-Check


PADS is another drawing software programme developed by CADLOG, the European leader in industrial electronics software. Based in Italy, the chairman is Filippo d’Agata and the French headquarters is in Cannes.

Features and specifications

  • Diagram entry
  • Component libraries (ParQuest integration, Digikey integration)
  • Project rules
  • PCB topology (powerful, interactive routing, DFM and DFT checks, RF module)
  • Archive management
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