Creating A PCB In Everything: Eagle DRC and Gerber Files

For the next post in the Creating A PCB series, we’re going to continue our explorations of Eagle. In Part 1,  I went over how to create a part from scratch in Eagle. In Part 2, we used this part to create the small example board from the Introduction.

This time around I’ll be going over Design Rule Check (DRC) — or making sure your board house can actually fabricate what you’ve designed. I’ll also be covering the creation of Gerber files (so you can get the PCB fabbed anywhere you want), and putting real art into the silkscreen and soldermask layers of your boards.

The idea behind this series is to explore different EDA suites and PCB design tools by designing the same circuit in each. You can check out the rest of the posts in this series right here.

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Creating A PCB In Everything: Eagle, Part 2

In the last (and first) post in this series, we took a look at Eagle. Specifically, we learned how to create a custom part in Eagle. Our goal isn’t just to make our own parts in Eagle, we want to make schematics, boards, and eventually solder a few PCBs.

The board we’ll be making, like all of the boards made in this Creating A PCB In Everything series, is the Nanite Wesley, a small USB development platform based on the ATtiny85. This board has less than a dozen parts, most of which are through-hole. This is the simplest PCB I can imagine that has sufficient complexity to demonstrate how to make a board.

With that said, let’s get onto the second part of our Eagle tutorial and lay out our circuit board.

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Creating A PCB in Everything: Eagle, Part 1

For the first in a series of posts describing how to make a PCB, we’re going with Eagle. Eagle CAD has been around since the days of DOS, and has received numerous updates over the years. Until KiCad started getting good a few years ago, Eagle CAD was the de facto standard PCB design software for hobbyist projects. Sparkfun uses it, Adafruit uses it, and Dangerous Prototypes uses it. The reason for Eagle’s dominance in a market where people don’t want to pay for software is the free, non-commercial and educational licenses. These free licenses give you the ability to build a board big enough and complex enough for 90% of hobbyist projects.

Of course, it should be mentioned that Eagle was recently acquired by Autodesk. The free licenses will remain, and right now, it seems obvious Eagle will become Autodesk’s pro-level circuit and board design software.

Personally, I learned PCB design on Eagle. After a few years, I quickly learned how limited even the professional version of Eagle was. At that point, the only option was to learn KiCad. Now that Eagle is in the hands of Autodesk, and I am very confident Eagle is about to get really, really good, I no longer have the desire to learn KiCad.

With the introduction out of the way, let’s get down to making a PCB in Eagle.

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The Future Of Eagle CAD

Last week, Autodesk announced their purchase of CadSoft Eagle, one of the most popular software packages for electronic design automation and PCB layout.

Eagle has been around for nearly thirty years, and has evolved to become the standard PCB design package for electronic hobbyists, students, and engineering firms lead by someone who learned PCB design with Eagle. The reason for this is simple: it’s good enough for most simple designs, and there is a free version of Eagle. The only comparable Open Source alternative is KiCad, which doesn’t have nearly as many dedicated followers as Eagle.  Eagle, for better or worse, is a standard, and Open Source companies from  Sparkfun to Adafruit use it religiously and have created high-quality libraries of parts and multiple tutorials

I had the chance to talk with [Matt Berggren], former Hackaday overlord who is currently serving as the Director of Autodesk Circuits. He is the person ultimately responsible for all of Autodesk’s electronic design products, from Tinkercad, 123D,, and project Wire, the engine behind Voxel8, Autodesk’s 3D printer that also prints electronics. [Matt] is now the master of Eagle, and ultimately will decide what will change, what stays the same, and the development path for Eagle.

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Escape Cable Hell with an Audio I/O Multiplexer

If you ever find yourself swapping between a mix of audio inputs and outputs and get tired of plugging cables all the time, check out [winslomb]’s audio multiplexer with integrated amplifier. The device can take any one of four audio inputs, pass the signal through an amplifier, and send it to any one of four outputs.

The audio amplifier has a volume control, and the inputs and outputs can be selected via button presses. An Arduino Pro Mini takes care of switching the relays based on the button presses. On the input side, you can plug in devices like a phone, TV, digital audio player or a computer. The output can be fed to speakers, headsets or earphones.

At the center of the build lies a TI TPA152 75-mW stereo audio power amplifier. This audio op-amp is designed to drive 32 ohm loads, so performance might suffer when connecting it to lower impedance devices, but it seems to work fine for headphones and small computer speakers. The dual-gang potentiometer controls the volume, and the chip has a useful de-pop feature. The circuit is pretty much a copy of the reference shown in the data sheet. Switching between inputs or outputs is handled by a bank of TLP172A solid state relays with MOSFET outputs, and it’s all tied together with a micro-controller, allowing for WiFi or BLE functionality to be added on later.

[winslomb] laid out the design using Eagle and he made a couple of footprint mistakes for the large capacitors and the opto-relays. (As he says, always double-check part footprints!) In the end, he solder-bridged them on to the board, but they should probably be fixed for the next revision.

[winslomb] built the switch as his capstone project while on his way to getting a Masters in EE, and although the device did function as required, there is still room for improvement. The GitHub repository contains all the hardware and software sources. Check out the video below where he walks through a demo of the device in action. If you are looking for something simpler, here is a two input – one output audio switcher with USB control and on the other end of the spectrum, here’s an audio switch that connects to the Internet.

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Altium Gives Away The Farm With New Circuit Maker Software

Things are about to get interesting in the world of PCB design software for the open source hardware community. This week, Altium launched the open public beta for its new Circuit Maker software, and it’s a major change from what we looked at previously. Everything is free.

You heard that right, free. Unlimited board size, and unlimited layers – all free. And this isn’t some stripped-down, bare-bones software here. They’ve thrown in almost everything under the sun; a 3D viewer, team project collaboration, EagleCAD and DFX import, integrated Octopart supplier and pricing information, no commercial usage limits, and project sharing. And if that isn’t enough, the “engine” seems to be the exact same back-end that is used in the full $10,000 Altium Designer as well(with a bit easier to use user interface on top). This is a major departure from the pre-beta we covered back in September. Altium was going have board size and layer limits, with the ability to “upgrade” at a cost. So by now you’re thinking to yourself “OK, what’s the catch?” Well there are a few gotchas – but only a few.

The software uses cloud based storage for your project files, and is community based. It won’t work without an Internet connection, there is no local storage, and it forces you to share your projects with the world. You do get two “Sandbox” designs that you can hide from the world before you generate your gerber files, but after that, your project is online for the whole world to see. Will that be a deal killer for the OSHW community? We’ll find out soon enough.

One thing is for sure, anyone with a doggy Internet connection is not going to enjoy using Circuit Maker (we’re hoping they remove that limitation in the final product). And as with any cloud based service, we wonder how many people will be willing to trust their designs to a free service that could be turned off on a whim? Or will the unlimited board size and layers, combined with Altium’s name and robust software win people over in the end?

If you want to see in-depth review of Circuit Maker, we highly recommend you watch the video after the break.  [Dave Jones] of the eevblog, gives you a full rundown on the beta version. Dave’s in a unique place to review this software, not only has he been using Altium since the mid-80’s as a professional engineer, he’s also a former Altium employee.

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EagleUp pulls your PCBs into SketchUp

[Karl] wrote in to tell us about a software package called EagleUp that will import your Eagle CAD PCB designs into Google SketchUp. It bridges the gap between the two using the open source image processing software ImageMagick.

As you can see above, you’ll end up with a beautifully rendered 3D model of your hardware. This is a wonderful way to make sure that your enclosure designs are going to work without needing to wait for the PCBs to arrive from the fab house. It is available for Windows, OSX and Linux (although the last time we tried to run Sketchup under Wine nothing good came of it — perhaps it’s time to try again).

In [Karl’s] case, he’s working on an Arduino compatible board based around the Xmega. He mentions that EagleUp is a great way to get an idea of how component placement will end up, and to see if the silk screen layer is going to turn out well or not. Here’s a link to one of his test designs.