Which PCB design software is the best?

This is a difficult question. PCB designs with more complex design requirements would benefit from using tools such as Altium Designer, PADs, or Allegro.  Simple designs can be done using free or lower cost software packages.  Below are ten of the more common PCB design software tools available.

  1. Altium Designer

  2. PADs PowerPCB

  3. Allegro

  4. OrCAD

  5. Xpedition

  6. BoardStation

  7. Eagle

  8. KiCad

  9. ExpressPCB

  10. DesignSpark PCB

1.  Altium Designer

Altium Designer is a PCB and electronic design automation software package for printed circuit boards. It is developed by Australian software company Altium Limited.

Altium Designer's suite encompasses four main functional areas: schematic capture, 3D PCB design, Field-programmable gate array (FPGA) development and release/data management. Noteworthy features referred to in the reviews include:

  • Integration with several component distributors allows search for components and access to manufacturer's data
  • Interactive 3D editing of the board and MCAD export to STEP
  • Cloud publishing of design and manufacturing data
  • Simulation and debugging of the FPGA can be achieved using the VHDL language and checking that for a given a set of input signals the expected output signals would be generated. FPGA soft processor software development tools (compiler, debugger, profiler) are available for selected embedded processors within an FPGA.

Altium Designer is one of 911EDA's preferred PCB design packages. 911EDA is an Official Altium PCB Design Firm.

Altium PCB Design Software

2.  PADs PowerPCB

PADs is a PCB and EDA software package developed by Mentor Graphics. There are two versions, Standard and Standard Plus.

  • PADS Standard

    • Geared toward PCB designers and engineers looking for high-value, production-proven tools, PADS Standard provides schematic design and layout capabilities in an intuitive and easy-to-use environment. PADS Standard is ideal for less complex board design, and where cost is a high priority.
      • Features include:
        • Schematic design
        • PADS AMS Cloud online circuit simulation
        • Layout
        • Component part selection and verification
        • Powerful search and filtering with component information management
        • Create custom, IPC-compliant land patterns 
  • PADS Standard Plus

    • Choose PADS Standard Plus if you require simulation and analysis, and advanced layout, to produce high-quality PCBs fast.
    • Includes all the capabilities of PADS Standard, plus:
      • Integrated constraint management
      • High-speed constraints and routing
      • Signal integrity analysis with crosstalk using HyperLynx®
      • Thermal and analog simulation
      • Centralized library

PADs is one of 911EDA's preferred PCB design packages.

PADs PCB Design Software

3.  Allegro

The Cadence Allegro PCB Designer quickly takes simple and complex designs from concept to production in a constraint-driven design system to ensure functionality and manufacturability. Scalable technology allows designers to cost-effectively match all current and future technological and methodological needs for teams, organizations, and projects of all sizes and complexities.

The industry's latest bleeding-edge high-speed design, RF antenna, flex-circuitry, and design for manufacturing (DFM) technology in the Allegro PCB Designer gives you what you need to deliver the innovative products your customers demand. And the advanced design reuse and productivity features give you the advantage you need to beat your competitors to market.

Key Benefits

  • Speeds designs from placement and routing through to manufacturing
  • Includes powerful features such as design partitioning, RF design capabilities, and interconnect design planning
  • Production proven to increase productivity and help engineers quickly ramp up to volume production
  • TÜV SÜD "Fit for Purpose - TCL1" certified to meet ISO 26262 automotive functional safety requirements

Allegro is one of 911EDA's preferred PCB design tools.

Allegro PCB Design Software

4.  OrCAD

OrCAD PCB Designer is a tiered, scalable PCB design solution that delivers advanced capabilities and highly integrated flows. The powerful, tightly integrated PCB design technologies include schematic capture, librarian tools, PCB editing and routing (PCB Editor), Constraint Manager, signal integrity (included in Professional), autorouting (included in Professional), and optional mixed-signal circuit simulation.

OrCAD is one of 911EDA's preferred PCB design tools.

Orcad PCB design software

5.  Xpedition

Xpedition Enterprise is the industry's most innovative PCB design flow, providing integration from system design definition to manufacturing execution. Its unique, patented technologies can reduce design cycles by 50 percent or more while significantly improving overall quality and resource efficiency.

  • Multi-Board Systems Design
    • Replace inefficient paper and manual processes with an automated, fully integrated, collaborative workflow
  • PCB Simulation
    • Maximize the benefits of PCB virtual prototyping resulting in higher quality products, faster
  • PCB Layout
    • Collaborative placement and routing of highly complex printed circuit boards
  • PCB Design Creation
    • Capture, verify and communicate design intent throughout the PCB design flow
  • ECAD Data Management
    • Single, integrated solution for WIP design and library management
  • PCB New Product Introduction (NPI)
    • Optimize your PCB new product introduction process with integrated design for manufacturing and manufacturing product modeling

Xpedition PCB design software

6.  BoardStation

Tightly integrated in the overall design flow, Board Station XE combines the power of leading-edge auto-routing technology with interactive editing capabilities in a single, powerful and easy-to-use design environment.

By leveraging leading technology in PCB physical design, Board Station XE customers benefit from shorter design times, increased productivity, and unmatched design quality for even the most complex PCB designs.

There is no better way to add productivity and new technology to your Board Station flow than by deploying Board Station XE. And you don't have to give up your current flow to do it because the flows co-exist, leveraging the same licenses.

BoardStation PCB design software

7.  Eagle

EAGLE is a scriptable electronic design automation (EDA) application with schematic capture , printed circuit board (PCB) layout , auto-router and computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) features. EAGLE stands for Easily Applicable Graphical Layout Editor ( German : Einfach Anzuwendender Grafischer Layout-Editor) and is developed by CadSoft Computer GmbH . The company was acquired by Autodesk Inc. in 2016.

EAGLE contains a schematic editor, for designing circuit diagrams. Schematics are stored in files with .SCH extension, parts are defined in device libraries with .LBR extension. Parts can be placed on many sheets and connected together through ports.

The PCB layout editor stores board files with the extension .BRD. It allows back-annotation to the schematic and auto-routing to automatically connect traces based on the connections defined in the schematic.

EAGLE saves Gerber and PostScript layout files as well as Excellon and Sieb & Meyer drill files. These are standard file formats accepted by PCB fabrication companies, but given EAGLE's typical user base of small design firms and hobbyists, many PCB fabricators and assembly shops also accept EAGLE board files (with extension .BRD) directly to export optimized production files and pick-and-place data themselves.

EAGLE provides a multi-window graphical user interface and menu system for editing, project management and to customize the interface and design parameters. The system can be controlled via mouse, keyboard hotkeys or by entering specific commands at an embedded command line . Multiple repeating commands can be combined into script files (with file extension .SCR). It is also possible to explore design files utilizing an EAGLE-specific object-oriented programming language (with extension .ULP).

Eagle PCB design software

8.  KiCad

KiCad is an open source EDA software for Windows, OSX and Linux. Create PCB circuits for free with the most advanced features.

  • Schematic Capture
    • With the schematic editor you can create your design without limit; there are no paywalls to unlock features. An official library for schematic symbols and a built-in schematic symbol editor help you get started quickly with your designs.
  • PCB Layout
    • Make professional PCB layouts with up to 32 copper layers. KiCad now has a push and shove router which is capable of routing differential pairs and interactively tuning trace lengths.
  • 3D Viewer
    • KiCad includes a 3D viewer which you can use to inspect your design in an interactive canvas. You can rotate and pan around to inspect details that are difficult to inspect on a 2D view. Multiple rendering options allow you to modify the aesthetic appearance of the board or to hide and show features for easier inspection.

Kicad PCB design software

9.  ExpressPCB

ExpressPCB is a free PCB design tool provided by the PCB manufacturer ExpressPCB. You cannot export any files for manufacturing outside of ExpressPCB. Start by downloading their free CAD software ExpressPCB Plus! It includes ExpressSCH Classic for drawing schematics and ExpressPCB Plus for circuit board layout. Both programs are completely free, fully functional and easily installed with a single InstallShield setup program.  Learning to use their software is fast because of its standardized Windows user interface.

ExpressPCB design software

10.  DesignSpark PCB

DesignSpark PCB is a free electronics design software, (EDA software is a sub-class of computer-aided design (CAD) software.) Although there is no charge for the software, the user must register with the website to unlock the program and it displays advertisements which must be acknowledged before the user can begin working. DesignSpark resulted from a collaboration between electronics distributor RS Components and EDA software developer Number One Systems.

DesignSpark PCB design software