KiCad 8 Makes Your Life Better Without Caveats

An image showing the new KiCad feature that allows you to easily generate schematic labels from IC symbol pin names

A few days ago, KiCad 8 was released, and it’s a straight upgrade to any PCB designer’s quality of life. There’s a blog post as usual, and, this year, there’s also a FOSDEM talk from [Wayne Stambaugh] talking about the changes that we now all get to benefit from. Having gone through both of these, our impression is that KiCad 8 developers went over the entire suite, asking: “this is cool, but could we make it better”? The end result is indeed a massive improvement in a thousand different ways, from small to fundamental, and all of them seem to be direct upgrades from the KiCad 7 experience.

For a start, KiCad works better with whatever other tools you might use. There’s the recently added LTSpice schematic import and overall serious SPICE simulation improvements, SVG and DXF import for the schematic editor, an “export copper” option for STEP, mechanical CAD import QoL tweaks, IPC-2581 export for whenever manufacturers start supporting it, and Cadence Allegro netlist export in case you’d like to use KiCad for schematic duty only. You can now also import footprint and symbol libraries from Altium and CADSTAR, as well as import EasyEDA projects directly, and this release brings enough features that you might just want to try those importers out.

There’s much more to see on the KiCad front itself, too – separation of schematic editor grid sizes for wire and text positioning, Git integration, a new flexible BOM export tool, live previews when tweaking schematic symbols or footprints in text editor, improved 3D viewer UI, ARM64 support on Windows, and even on-hover preview of symbols and footprints when picking them from a library list.

If your footprint or symbol differ from the library-contained one, there’s now an interactive diff window showing you the changes visually, and it’s now easier to edit footprint pads in bulk thanks to footprint editor improvements. Last but not least, there’s automatic schematic label and wire creation mechanisms for quick wireup, and improved net highlights in complex hierarchical schematic designs – the schematic editor has received a lot of love, and it is eager to share.

A lot of sharp edges have been filleted in on the PCB editor front, too. You can now resize length tuning patterns on the fly, easily assign nets to graphic shapes to aid your RF or capacitive touch design, power symbols now have editable names, and there’s a new pin 1 marker on the block that should work better in more situations than the previous convention ever could. For automation afficionados, we’ve seen `kicad_cli` introduced in KiCad 7, and now it adds ERC/DRC exports for all your automated pull request review needs, BoM export, gITF and VRML 3D model exports, and a bunch more.

KiCad’s usage is ramping up, and industry players are taking note – for instance, Wurth Electronics has recently pledged to bring all their components to KiCad as a library. On the KiCad 9 roadmap, we see stable API IPC interface for Python scripts, visual diff and merge for Git, license embedding into files, reusable schematics and design blocks, pad stacks and guard rings, ODB++ export, certainly, quite a bit more that we didn’t yet know we needed. Oh, and they don’t forget about keeping things up to date either – this release brings a trove of documentation and UI translation updates.

Whatever your toolkit is, chances are, KiCad 8 works with it way better now, and whatever kind of KiCad user you are, there’s something in this release for you. Consider trying KiCad 8 out, report bugs if needed, donate, or maybe even get some KiCad merch while at it. It is wise to hold off on a .0.0 release, but all the new features sure make it a tempting offer.

60 thoughts on “KiCad 8 Makes Your Life Better Without Caveats

      1. sad trombone, indeed.
        it’s totally doable for KiCad 7 at least. The gist is you need to install a specific Python, and then you also need to copy a dll into the KiCad directory.
        this link should set you on your way:!/
        Ultimately all this is all quite silly because the dependency simply arises from the libs linked by the build system — not a requirement of the the software. The OS is perfectly capable, but the libs import some symbols that don’t exist on win7. I suspect, but cannot attest, that it will work for kicad8 as well. What tangled webs we weave (er; link).
        An annoyance is that upon starting there is still a popup saying the platform is not supported. I blithely click through that and lay tracks and make gerbers as usual. Autorouted too. Have not simulated, though.
        One final tip:
        If you run it in a VM (as I do), then you /must/ to turn off hardware accelerated rendering. It will still work not having done so, but rendering will be the opposite of accelerated.
        After you’ve done those things it will spin like a top.

    1. 7 fans really should look into win10 ltsc. technically its enterprise windows so hard/expensive to obtain legally. grey market keys might be available, and even getting an iso is kind of hard. about all you can get from ms is the file hash, so you can at least verify a third party download.

      its trimmed down windows, sort of reminiscent of win2k, of which i was a huge fan of for its leanness and general ability to stay out of your way. its what an os should be, the bare minimum necessary to run software you actually want to use.

      i tried switching to debian on my #2 machine and that did not go well. lack of a nvidia solution is really what it boils down to. lost 2 or 3 weekends of projects because i was busy trying to fix the linux box that runs my 3d printer. its a windows box now.

      1. I like win10 well enough but my VMs become needlessly huge and perform poorly. Unfamiliar with “ltsc”; will have to check it out.
        Know that you’re not alone in your “I’ll just use Linux instead” disappointments/struggles. It’s a plausible solution, but comes with bindings. At least for me, I don’t use an OS because I think it’s nifty. I’m using it simply so I can operate the application that supports my project. I could care less about the OS. Ultimately it’s just a systems resource manager, and that’s all it ever should be.

      2. +1 for LTSC. None of the typical Cortana nonsense, updates can be user-controlled, telemetry can mostly be turned off. Perfect for those who love the simplicity of 7 (or 8.1 with tweaks) but need something more updated.

      3. Unfortunately, LTSC doesn’t receive updates as regularly as other versions – or at least it didn’t a couple of years ago when I tried it. Keeping it stable for Microsoft means not changing anything including not fixing a couple of annoying bugs. I endured for a year or two until I finally gave up and moved to Windows Enterprise. I don’t know how intrusive other Windows are, but this one doesn’t jump at me with ads and similar stuff so I suppose it’s friendly enough.

        1. its feature fixed. which i’m totally fine with. i don’t like ms pushing unwanted changes on a live system. don’t like ms taking liberties with my hardware. new features really just means more crap to slow down the stuff i want to use and hog drive space. the fact is i dont use most of the features that come stock with any home or pro version. i use my own browser (firefox), media player (winamp), office suite (libre), video player (vlc), etc. i dont use the windows apps usually unless i have to for some reason (like the calculator).

          it receives security updates though. its sure better than running 7 from a security point of view. really that, along with bugfixes and maybe some performance optimizations, are about all i want to see in os updates. as an alternate to 7 its a good choice, or in a system you just want to work when you start it without any surprises. thats why its on my bench computer. im running 10 pro on my daily driver. but i might give enterprise a shot on my next re-install (which sadly is a thing again).

    2. Just graduate from elementary school ‘so to speak’ and upgrade to Linux and your golden. All kinds of headaches just go away. Don’t play the Windoze game. I don’t and glad of it :) .

      Have to try out 8.0 at some point. Good to see they are working hard on making it the best it can be!

      1. ive actually had linux classes and have been using it for various things for the last 20 some odd years. yet i still dont think its suited for desktop use. especially when current gen hardware is in play. if you are not running a system specifically built for it you are going to have problems, and even then, youre going to have problems. the best linux experiences ive had so far have been on the raspberry pi and the steam deck.

        1. Odd. I’ve been using only Linux at home for over twenty years now. I prefer it for regular “desktop” use over Windows. I have to use Windows at work.

          Everything I do at home on the computer is under Linux. That’s everything from graphic design to writing letters to surfing the internet to designing PCBs.

          Hardware wise, I’ve had serious problems at work with Windows at work as well as problems with Linux at home.

      2. You Linux folks are really annoying! Not everyone is a jobless invalid still living with their parents who toys around with a 1969-based OS trying to get it to look and behave like MacOS.

    3. An alternative is to set up d dual boot system. Nearly all Linux distributions boot from an USB device, so it’s easy to give them a test drive. But if you want to continue this route, I suggest you buy an extra SSD. An 128GB SSD costs EUR15 these day’s and it’s plenty to run Linux comfortably.

      By installing Linux on a separate SSD, you do not have to change anything about your “main” installation, and you can use the boot functions of your “bios” (uefi) to select from which device to boot.

      For Linux, I recommend Mint for beginners. It looks “pretty standard” and works pretty much flawless and it needs very little maintenance. Also, with an up to date Linux system, it’s a lot safer to browse the internet.

  1. Glad to see KiCad keeps making progress. I wish there was a decent free software option for 3d mechanical parametric modeling too,. I’ve been using Freecad, but it’s a long way behind Solidworks or Inventor.

      1. This is the way, Pay for free software and everyone gets the benefits forever, maybe even look for an overlap with GODOT game engine that’s hit a critical mass of support in recent years. Nice front end in GODOT for backend FreeCAD would be a cool project, but like KiCad, needs time effort and money. KiCAD was supported for 10 years by only 1 or 2 people before OSHW companies and CERN started donating money and peeling off software engineers to raise everyone up.

        1. It does take some proper organization to supervise the work though. Simply donating money to OSS projects doesn’t necessarily mean they get better.

          You always get what you pay for. If you pay for nothing, you get nothing – which is why crowdfunding in general is a bit of a hit and miss. Many people just use it for begging with little intention of actually pulling through. It’s stable income as long as you don’t finish.

          See for example indie games where you pre-pay for the full version or donate while it’s still in beta. The development tends to stretch foooreeeveer… and the goalposts keep moving until people stop donating, and then they run out of money to finish it.

          1. Or another variant: “the software is free, support costs money”. Guess how buggy and difficult to use the software ends up?

            There’s all these business models where you pay for something else than what you really want, which attempt to fund development when you don’t want to risk your own money and you don’t have an article to sell until it’s done, but they all end up with sub-par results because the reward is for something else than a good finished product.

          2. You need to pay them enough to hire a product manager and enough buy-in behind them that crusty old developers fall in line or leave the project. KiCad was nearly unusable for many years because “we’ve always done it this way, YOU change” and not-invented-here. Once you hit a certain level of support (ideally without VC…) genuine user-focused improvements can happen versus a loose collection of pet features.

            This is the truth of FOSS: a sufficiently successful project will outgrow the needs and desires of the original developer, and at some point they may need to relenquish control for it to achieve the level of success they desired. Because the exact form of that success is rarely what the original developer imagined.

        2. The odds I would be in a position where bankrolling Freecad growing into a viable competitor for a low end commercial CAD package are about the same as the odds I could acquire the spare time and coding skills to make the changes myself.

    1. I really don’t get why are people constantly complaining about user interface.

      I mean i get it – Altium is very nice (end expensive) – somebody even called it “Office of eCAD”, but the rest?

      Older versions of OrCAD had exactly same workflow as KiCAD had – schematics – footprint assignment by string matching – netlist generation – pcb editor – don’t know about current version of OrCAD, KiCAD dropped the netlist requirement long time ago and the library browser / footprint assignment tool is really not that bad.

      pads? allegro? yes, they have very advanced features but the UX? It looks to me like “the more expensive – the worse UX”

      I had short experience with Virtuoso at university 15 years ago and it doesn’t look like that thing changed at all from then – and UX of that thing is really not good.

      People are constantly complaining about KiCAD UX but what are they comparing it to? Definitely not gEDA :)

      1. PTC Creo is expensive, and has a terrible ux. Fusion 360 has a mediocre 3D ux, and for its Eagle workflow, bad ux. It’s really not because Kicad is volunteers, it’s because nobody in dev pays attention to users’ needs. It’s mostly self-referenced design choices.

        1. No, it’s because any UI is *hard*, and good UI is exponentially *harder*, and any change, even the good ones, will inconvenience users who were used to “the old way”.

          Devs are always thinking about what users need (they themselves are users), but users are rarely aware of what devs need – so they often demand things that are actually impossible or difficult or directly contradict what other users are clamoring for.

          Kicad is consistently bringing major interface improvements on a regular schedule, and *still* people insist on commenting on every Kicad post about it’s UI even when it’s clear they haven’t bothered to try it.

          1. Devs fall into the experience trap. When you design a gadget for yourself, you automatically learn how to use it while you’re engineering and testing it. That’s why developers don’t notice poor UX choices. It actually creates the opposite impression, because changing the UI would require re-learning it, so the change for the better feels worse, so the developers tend to stick to their tracks. There’s also the sunk cost effect, commonly seen with inventors and hackers, where people fall in love with their ideas and try to press them to the breaking point to avoid “throwing away good work” – when they should recognize that the idea is going nowhere and should be abandoned.

            This is why the devs must pay very close attention to the users and work alongside them, and follow proven UX paradigms rather than just wing it. In practice, you need proper UX engineers, which doesn’t happen with non-profit projects that are typical to Open Source. There’s no incentive to do market research (you’re not selling it), and the first point of developing is for yourself or your immediate peers (experience trap), and the team consists of voluteers that change often, so there’s no proper allocation of tasks for expertise and maintaining a consistent vision is difficult. People who come later see a mountain of work that they’re not willing to repeat, so they just keep polishing a turd (sunk cost fallacy) and actively fight against change.

            That’s why “any UI is hard”.

        1. Yes, it kind of work both ways – can mean good but also can mean bad

          Sometimes the interface may look nice and polished at first glance, but than you realize it gets in your way all the time

          Here is an example:

          when i was in “high school” (we have different school system here, so it was more like what Germans call Fachschule than what Americans call high school), we had 3 years of AutoCAD (AutoCAD 2002) – in that time there was a demand for people, that can draw in AutoCAD to do conversions of paper 2D drawings to either 2D or 3D digital drawings, so they decided to teach that – not much of theory, just how to properly read technical drawings (blueprints) and how to use AutoCAD.

          After 1 year, my configuration of AutoCAD looked like the black model space and command line at the bottom – nothing else, no menus, no toolbars, nothing. Why? Because it was the fastest – you can type commands faster than you can move the mouse from middle of screen to toolbar, pick the right tool and move it back.

          And this is the thing – there is one way to make UI approachable by beginners and there is completely another way to make UI fast when you really know what you are doing.

          For me KiCAD is more on the fast side – if you know your way around, keyboard shortcuts (learn the defaults or define how you like it, the settings are there), concepts how some things are done, you can be pretty fast in KiCAD. Is there a learning curve? Yes. Is it that bad? Well it is definitely not emacs.

          There is really only one thing – whoever thought it is good idea to bind ‘N’ to grid change was a monster – but you can always unbind that in the settings so that’s fine.

    2. What specifically is wrong with the UI?

      It’s a bit “old fashioned” maybe but I’ve never had a problem with it. At least, not one where I could think of a definitively better answer.

    3. As a novice to PCB design I can tell you I’ve given KiCAD many a chance over many years, followed various tutorials etc and still found it’s UI to be aesthetically deficient and in general the workflow quite unintuitive.

      On the other hand EasyEDA is just that. 🤷

  2. This all looks great. I was a Protel/Altium user for years but KiCAD is now what I use for everything. There is only one small problem. “A lot of sharp edges have been filleted in on the PCB editor front”. I think you would fillet an inside corner and chamfer a sharp edge :-)

  3. > for instance, Wurth Electronics has recently pledged to bring all their components to KiCad as a library

    I would like to see more of this. I already use the Digikey libraries for Kicad, and the Sparkfun ones. Footprint creation is MUCH easier than it used to be in old versions of Kicad, but I would still prefer not to have to roll my own if I can avoid it. I use the Digikey and Sparkfun Kicad footprints plenty, and have definitely bought components from those vendors as a direct result of their Kicad support.

    I’m not a “big” buyer, but on an annual basis my personal component purchases would be a few hundred dollars, and probably add another zero for work-related hardware.

    If any manufacturers are reading Hackaday, go ahead and add kicad footprints to your components. If Digikey, Element14 or Octopart are reading this, how about adding a button to your search page that lets us filter results by “Kicad footprints available” ?

    1. Please, everyone keep posting the following:

      “If Digikey, Element14 or Octopart are reading this, how about adding a button to your search page that lets us filter results by “Kicad footprints available”

      Thank you in advance.

      1. A few years ago there was KiPart. I did not use it myself, but from what I understood, it crawled those websites to get parts and ordering information into KiCad. Those shops did not like it very much. They even block such applications by constantly making subtle changes to the interface such software needs to get it’s data. And as a result KiPart gave up after a few years.

        Also, Octopart has been bought by altium a few years ago, so I’d guess they are not very friendly towards KiCad. Octopart also does not index parts from LCSC. For many years I have suspisions all those western shops are collusing with each other (or at least look at their competititors for pricing). Nearly all parts they sell are much more expensive than they should be. Take for example an SMPS circuit in an SOIC-8 form factor. These generally cost over EUR2, while 20ct would be sufficient to cover manufacturing costs, and for 50ct there is plenty of margin for a “fair” profit.

    1. By far the 3D libraries take up the most space (Probably 90% or more of KiCad) If size really is an issue then you can safely remove those, but it does have the effect that you do not see 3D models in the 3D viewer, and can’t export them. On some Linux distributions, you can you can even opt to not install them in the first place.

      Also, consider to cleanup your data or buy more storage. I start getting nervous if my SSD has less then around 100GB of free space available, and storage is so cheap these days that cost is hardly an issue.

      That leaves laptops with soldered in SSD’s. If you have one of those, then bring it back to where you bought it for a refund, because it’s defective by design.

    2. I don’t see a problem here. Disk space is relatively ‘cheap’. I personally will no longer buy any SSD drive under 1TB. For HDD my minimum is now 4TB. My home computers (desktops/servers) all have a 2TB SSD just for the OS/application drives. Basically swimming in disk space. No excuse really for lack of ‘disk space’.

      Bottom line, KiCad, FreeCad, etc. should install anything that makes it easier to get the job done. Big libraries of parts, 3D visualization, etc. Whatever it takes. Disk space (and main memory) is no longer a reason to hold back an application.

      I still need to download 8.0. Don’t use much, but still like to poke around in it.

  4. I do wish they would change the default colors in the schematic capture.  One of the forums I moderate has a couple of colorblind members, and one of them has a type of colorblindness that makes him unable to see the green labels against the yellow background as shown above; and in spite of how many times he and I and others have asked members to post their schematics in black lines against a white background, they keep posting them in KiCAD’s default colors.  This goes for Eagle too, but it looks like Eagle is going down.

    A few have expressed a desire for Digi-Key or other distributors to provide a filtering term for finding parts they have KiCAD land patterns (footprints) for, and also members of the forum I mentioned above keep asking for land patterns for this or that part.  Is it really so hard to make one up?  I use a very old version of Easy-PC Pro, and I can make up a new land pattern faster than I can ask if anyone can provide me one.

    Someone mentioned OrCAD in the comments above.  I got very proficient at OrCAD around 1990 at my last job.  It was our first CAD.  We shopped around, evaluated a lot of demo packages, and since we didn’t have any experience with CAD yet and couldn’t really tell if one was better than another, we threw up our hands and figured that since OrCAD had been around longer than others we evaluated, it had a better chance of not having growing pains.  Boy were we wrong!  It had more bugs than an ant hill.  The engineering manager asked us to make a list of all the bugs to send to OrCAD.  It was practically a small book.  OrCAD sent us updates sometimes more than once a week, and they’d sort of fix one bug and introduce two more.  I have not worked with it in recent decades; but I see they still don’t know now to draw a resistor correctly, so I won’t expect much out of them.

    1. > Is it really so hard to make one up? I use a very old version of Easy-PC Pro, and I can make up a new land pattern faster than I can ask if anyone can provide me one.

      It’s “easy” to make a basic footprint of land patterns for an SMD device. It’s a bit more time-consuming to have a mix of surface-mount and through-hole pads, and proper courtyards, heatsink pads and routed bits of PCB for hardware mounting or isolation purposes… and you want an accurate 3D model too, so you can plan your enclosure and panel cutouts. The time adds up pretty quickly for even a moderately sized BoM.

      It would be much more streamlined to filter by “Kicad footprints available” at your favorite supplier, then select your parts accordingly. Download the footprints and datasheets into your project folder when you place the order, then you are set up for success when the parts and PCBs arrive.

  5. I have been using the 1992 for years. I have very simple S100 bus boards. The one thing that put me off on newer versions is its difficult if not impossible to incorporate the board files into new versions.
    Does this V8 allow one to open up/convert an old .pro, .sch or .kicad_pcb and use it directly in V8?

Leave a Reply

Please be kind and respectful to help make the comments section excellent. (Comment Policy)

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.