123D Circuits: Autodesk’s Free Design Tool

Arduino fanatics rejoice: Autodesk and Circuits.io have jointly released a new electronics design tool with some unique features: 123D Circuits. Anyone familiar with Autodesk knows they have a bit of a habit of taking over the world, but you can relax knowing this is a (pretty much) free product that’s filed under their Free 3D tools—though we’re not quite sure what is “3D” about a circuits layout program.

123D is web-based software, and using it requires account creation on the circuits.io website. Anything you design sits on the cloud: you can collaborate with others and even embed your circuit (with functioning simulation) straight into a webpage. Unfortunately, your work is public and therefore accessible by anyone unless you fork over $12 or $25 monthly: the former only gives you 5 private circuits. Dollar signs pop up again when you hit “finish circuit;” they offer to sell you PCBs in multiples of three.

Some features of the free account, however, may tempt the Arduino veteran away from a go-to program like Fritzing. Plopping in a virtual Arduino lets you edit its code on the fly in another window, which you can then simulate. If you’re new to circuit design or want some guidance for using 123D Circuits, they have provided an extensive list of applicable Instructables. Check out their promotional video below.

45 thoughts on “123D Circuits: Autodesk’s Free Design Tool

      1. +1 Fritzing does this better and is not dependant on 3rd party whims of pulling the plug. I’m reminded of the TinkerCAD web based cloud 3D design tool. When I first got into 3D printing, I fount it to be the simplest way to quickly design models. a few months later I was showing a friend the ropes of his new 3D printer and suggested this tool, He told me that his account can’t save more than 1 project (a restriction they added to new free users), A few weeks later, I got a mail from tinkercad saying they were pulling the plug on the tool and that I had a week to download my files in a propritary format before they shut down the sole method of opening/editing them.

        I learned my lesson about ‘the cloud’ that day, and I learned sketchup +STL plugin in order to have a local app and a guarentee that I can always access my work despite a third party’s business model.

        2 months later I got another mail from tinkercad saying they were bought out by autodesk, and that all my files and free service have been restored! as if they deserved a medal!

        No Thanks!

    1. I am curious what is wrong with cloud based unless you are trying to design circuits for a profit, in which case there are probably non-open source alternatives available for those who don’t like to share.

      1. Wait till that day where your internet gets wonky, or when you want to show someone something at a place where you do not have internet. There are places in this world where you are not connected 24/7, and they are plentiful.

        1. I love when things like this get thrown out like they’re some gotcha trump card that ruins everything and makes it pointless.

          First… yes, you are correct. There actually are plenty of places left around here in which one may not be “connected” 24/7. Shocking, I know. But, I’ve googled it, and it appears to be so.

          But I ask, what happens when I want to show someone something at a place where I don’t have my pc? Or they don’t have the right software on their pc? Or I forgot my USB stick at home?

          What happens when my PC gets “wonky”? Does that mean I should scrap software altogether and design my circuits and code by hand? Then I could build my own programmer and upload the code bit-by-bit with a dip-switch. Actually, this would be kind of cool, but it doesn’t mean the added features and functionality a computer and software bring to the table are any less desirable.

          1. I have control over my PC, I have some control over my internet connection, but I have no control over a cloud application. Hopefully the long term stability of their product with change my attitude, but my past experiences with cloud only applications and storage urge me to “wait and see” instead of “early adopt”.

      2. The problem is that people refuse to understand that:
        If all you have is a hammer, you’ll just end up breaking
        the thing your trying to fix unless it just so happens
        to be a nail that needs to be driven in.

        Each tool has it’s place. The marketing for the cloud
        however, is akin to giving a glass of muddy water
        to a person and claiming that it’s crystal clean
        spring water.

        My point is as follows:

        If you do something on the cloud, make sure you have a
        backup copy on your computer and make sure that it is
        in a format that you can open with a program that you
        have on your computer.

        If you have a file that you need to share with someone
        across town and you don’t need to be on location,
        using a cloud site that allows you to share the file is
        very appropriate.

        There is nothing wrong with using cloud services as
        long as you keep in mind that the day may come when
        those services are no longer available, and you are
        comfortable with the high risk that your data has
        in being compromised.

      3. As someone mentioned earlier. Cloud services have a habit of getting people use to them, keeping their work and holding both hostage without payment down the road and it becomes a decision of shelling out money or abandoning all your work and training.

        Auto-desk, is probably the worse company I’ve seen as far as useless free software. Usually their “free trial” software blocks out saving and opening making anything but paid subscriptions utterly useless. Its sad they bought Eagle; I’d lay a bet it will soon be useless as free software soon too.

      1. In taking a quick look at the site, I wasn’t sure if you could download your designs to use your own manufacturing processes and I am personally not a fan of cloud-based applications that can’t take advantage of my computer hardware.

      2. “Cloud based” works in some very specific cases e.g. Xilinx WebPACK
        software where they run their backend “secret sauce” in the cloud to
        synthesize your design transparently. Their tools otherwise would be
        priced out of reach for a segment of their commercial customers or
        individuals. The rest of the Xilinx tools however works on your PC and
        you do not share your design with other users or would be competitors.

        I fail to see what this particular “cloud based” solution has to offer
        for the mature market of schematic/PCB/Simulation and IDE for software
        development. I already have a good selection of the free/trial or low cost
        tools that I prefer to use.

    2. I quote:
      What plan should I choose?

      Use a free plan to learn about the platform, if you’re making open hardware designs you don’t have to pay a penny to use our tools. If you want to keep circuits private, you can choose a paying plan according to your needs.

      Sigh – I too am no fan of clouds

  1. At least for me, the great advantage is the fact of they already have how to print your PCB. You only do the logic connections and some physical layout, but they already generate gerber or whatever is the file format to make the PCB.

    1. Perhaps some editorialization on my part, but one must pay for private designs, and they are priced at a premium, therefore no freedom of choice for the free user. The intention of that sentence was to say “unfortunately there is only one option, public designs, unless you pay for the private ones.”

    2. It’s also a bit narrow minded to act like openness is objectively, universally a good thing. Everybody’s gotta eat, and it closes a lot of doors for entrepreneurial types if the tools available for those without existing capital aren’t set up in a way that lets you make the money you need to buy the tools you need to make money.

      1. I found out the hard way:
        That can actually kill a person and I do mean dead and buried in the ground.
        It’s no fun being homeless, hungry and everyone demanding that “your not supposed to be trying to make money, your supposed to just do it for Jesus.”
        That’s hate and it really messes with your head!

    1. Can’t tell if you’re being sarcastic or not, but yes, github.com is in fact great for software developers. I’m seeing more and more indie games and open projects using GitHub, and not for no reason.

        1. Sourceforge took too long to support anything other than CVS… when it finally added subversion, google code was live supporting subversion and some other thing. When they were done launching subversion, google code was already supporting git and mercurial. So google code pretty much killed sourceforce. Then google being classical google announced they would close google code and everyone migrated to github. it was dumb luck.

          btw, bitbucket is way better than github (also supports Hg) and allows for a few private repos on the free accounts.

    2. Except that github is a site build around an “offline” tool called git, which enhances the tool and can still work offline with any other tools that you want (from notepad to eclipse).

      While this locks you into the tool and requires you to work on the website.

      So they have little in common actually, except that they are a website where you can share things…

  2. Fucking AutoDesk…. some how they’ll make this suck and/or cost lots-of-money for end-users… I dont know how specifically, but Autodesk isnt a ‘charitable foundation’, they have end-game plans for the products/companies they acquire.

    1. They don’t get a dime from hobbyists. However, offering the software for free to students and potential professional users gets autodesk in the hands of future paying users. Same reason a lot of colleges offer free Microsoft software and Photoshop seats.

    1. Received a speedy response to this question from circuits.io customer support this afternoon:

      “We currently don’t yet support the use of external libraries in the Arduino simulator, but we are working on that. This feature is expected somewhere next week.”

  3. I was signing up for projectignite and noticed that in the teacher interface you have multiple references to the url .123dcircuits.io. This link does not appear to be correct (it is the typical link farm page you often get for parked domains) but it also currently goes to a page that lists among other things, “Happy Hour Washington DC”

    I think the link should have been 123dcircuts.io but it probably best to just point to https://circuits.io/

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