So, you've gotten to the stage where you want to build your own PCB? This is a two part video taking a look at EasyEDA who seem to be doing a good job of making things easy for you.
There's a lot of online PCB manufacturing companies. Huge amounts, and many of them come and go. To be able to get one of these companies to manufacture your board, you need to send them a set of files, that are usually created from PCB CAD software. These are called “gerber” files.
Software like Eagle, ORCAD, Allegro, Altium don't come cheap and we all know about the Eagle subscription debacle. There are free alternatives like KiCad, but this is nowhere near as advanced as some of the paid software. Also, if you've ever used something like Eagle, then you know about the world of pain you enter, learning how to use it.
However, the trend these days is to offer online PCB design services. One of these companies is called EasyEDA.
EasyEDA offers you several things.
One of the most important; is that it's easy to use. Sure, there are some issues with their interface every so often, but they are constantly fixing these and letting you know of the new features.
If you're a new-comer to PCB design there's a lot of factors you have to get right for it to work.
Things like package dimensions are a killer. Choose the wrong package and sometimes you have to just throw the board away.
Routing, track widths, separation and that's just the beginning. You also have to create your design schematic and the devil is in the details. Get something wrong and the problem can amplify.
So, EasyEDA gives you both a schematic and PCB layout editor.
They also give you:
A whole lot of predefined components where most of them are provided as stock when you order your boards. There's also a large community supplied component database which has a lot of the odd parts that you might not find elsewhere.
You can also share your PCB designs with the community, which is a nice feature if you want to see just how someone else designs the same circuit, or you can pull it into your own design.
You can export your schematic and PCB design to PDF or SVG and I noticed that since I used it last they have added in an export to Altium option, which is nice to see.
You also have copper fill areas, differing track widths, auto-routing, cut-outs, odd shaped boards, Design Rule Checks and it can handle up to 6 layer boards. You can generate a Bill Of Material (BOM) report, pick and place file and they even have scripting capabilities. If you want to try your hand at SMD soldering, they can also create stencils.
In practice - real men don't autoroute
So, I tried out EasyEDA for a week designing a simple power board for a Raspberry Pi. Everything was fairly intuitive. Schematic entry wasn't an issue and when it came to routing, the inbuilt auto-router seemed to do a fairly decent job of it.
But real mean don't use an auto-router. So I also tried routing by hand, which works like any other CAD software.
Comparing Eagle to EasyEDA, they function in a fairly similar manner, except a little more intuitive.
For example; moving a block of components you click with the right mouse button and select an area of components to move.
Whereas with Eagle, you have to select the move tool, then select the group tool, select the components, then click right mouse button and select move group in the menu.
It's a minor thing, but when you use it all day Eagle can be annoying.
In terms of limitations, I'm struggling to find any for the casual Maker. However…
- One thing you have to remember is that you solely rely on their offering once you create your design. What happens if the company goes bust? They mention that they will open source their platform and make available all designs for a limited time. That seems pretty good, but it may be an issue for some still.
- You also have to consider whether the board you are designing is commercially sensitive. Customers may not want to see the design being created on a website for IP reasons.
Importing from Eagle
So, what about converting over to EasyEDA from something like Eagle? I knocked up another board in Eagle, which is something I'll be making available on Tindie soon. Then tried to import this into EasyEDA.
The schematic capture worked OK. No glaring issues there, except that I'll have to manually select components to complete the BOM.
The PCB side had a bit of an issue. I had several keep-out areas under the MCU, which I normally do to ensure there's no under package short circuits.
On EasyEDA these didn't translate well as there's no concept of a keep-out area. You can see this in several other places:
There's supposed to be a keep-out area under the WiFi module
and also under the USB connector to ensure there's no interference from the ground plane.
Also under Eagle the copper fill pushed out into areas more, whereas under EasyEDA they came up blank leaving components stranded, where they were connected to ground properly under Eagle.
This is all to be expected from any importing software. I've never seen anything import 100% every time, but these are some things to be mindful of with EasyEDA.
Note: you can also just import the gerbers into EasyEDA and still have them manufacture a board for you. You don't need to use the CAD side.
So, what do I think of EasyEDA?
There are a few features still missing in the current version and importing schematic and PCB designs will require a number of fixups.
However, overall I think it's still a pretty good product. Combined with the ability to order components through LCSC much cheaply than elsewhere, they are providing a full E2E package for PCB manufacture.
Once the orders for my boards are complete and delivered, I'll follow up with a second video.
Oh by the way: EasyEDA have a deal on at the moment with free shipping on your first order up to $25 in value. So, go and check that out.