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DesignSpark: Better Than Eagle? – A New
Look At PCB Design Software
by Ryan Sailor ▪ 12.11.2013 ▪ Editorial

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In an industry of software where the features are similar across the board. Developed by Allied Electronics and RS Components (both of which are the North American and European branches of the same company) in 2010. With the number of more modern EDA products on the market that are free. there were only a few good offerings and most engineers choose by experience or comfort with a particular brand of PCB software. Newcomers often traverse old forum posts where PCB veterans suggest the same few design applications for the same few superficial reasons. but supposedly “commercial quality” software. It’s completely free. Sparkfun usually uploads EAGLE format files for their open-source hardware. Meet DesignSpark This article will take a look at DesignSpark PCB. EAGLE is one very popular PCB design software created by Germany-based Cadsoft Computer GmbH. The name “EAGLE” is almost ubiquitous with amateur PCB design. I’m guilty too. The problem is that if you spend some time with EAGLE and then some more time with other. probably due partly to its freeware option but certainly mostly due to the fact that everyone keeps mentioning it whether for better or worse. ExpressPCB.The PCB design software market is admittedly a little stagnant. many of which have fewer (to no) board size restrictions than EAGLE Free. DesignSpark is a product that tries to meet the technical needs of a wide range of open in browser PRO version Are you a developer? Try out the HTML to PDF API pdfcrowd. I think it’s worth taking a detailed look at several EDA options for PCB design newcomers. but regardless of their cost they all seem to be good for different reasons and it’s best to try out a bunch of them before deciding which to use for a project. gEDA. EAGLE is an old-timer: it’s been around for a while and as such has become somewhat of a standard. EAGLE. They range from free to commercial products. The bottom line is that until . newer EDA (that’s Electronic Design Automation) software and you will realize that EAGLE’s UI is definitively out of date. and AutoTRAX DEX. In fact. it’s the user interface and user experience that makes all of the difference. Take a look at this comparison on Wikipedia for starters. Yeah. In a number of forums you’ll see mentions of KiCAD. Fritzing.

Let’s dig in. Projects can contain an unlimited number of schematics and a single PCB layout. When you want to add files to a project. Getting To Know DesignSpark DesignSpark starts out pretty empty: you see more functionality when editing either a schematic or a PCB layout. or a project. There are a few reasons DesignSpark PCB is my first reviewed program. DesignSpark PCB is one part of a group of DesignSpark products and resources. fewer bugs.engineers while still being accessible. which gives a list of components based on chosen library. Taking a look at the schematic view – see image below – there are three frames and two toolbars that form your editing experience. and more native . When creating a new file. The right frame has four possible tabs: Goto. There’s a serious attempt to develop a supportive community which means better tech support. shown in the screenshot below. In fact. it’s a free program without limitations like freeware versions of commercial products. The left side shows your basic options for the current view and the top toolbar is mainly settings. it supports EAGLE files and libraries which means the transition from EAGLE doesn’t mean losing past work. Component Bin in schematic view. PCB layouts. you can choose to create standalone schematics. Add Component. First. and Layers in PCB view. Lastly. as well as some supporting files. so it’s great for budding engineers and makers. Add Component is the library access window. you must create and save them first and then add them to the project. If you need a more open in browser PRO version Are you a developer? Try out the HTML to PDF API pdfcrowd. The Goto tab lets you search your file for any type of net. component. whatever. Projects are for file management as well as handling schematic to PCB layout synchronization. It’s supported by a major electronics distributor which seems determined to maintain the software for the foreseeable future.

it’s three wizards: . Technically. While I’ve had experience with PCB software before. you can open the Components window from the toolbar. The schematic view in DreamSpark PCB showing all panels. open in browser PRO version Are you a developer? Try out the HTML to PDF API depth search for components. I know that using DesignSpark has an easier learning curve than EAGLE. In PCB Layout mode. There are two big reasons: component creation and ModelSource. Schematic manipulation is easy. PCB symbol. It’s good for if you want to keep your schematic uncluttered without removing component properties that you might need later. the right pane has a Layers tab that allows selection/hide/show options. and component. DesignSpark has a very intuitive component creation wizard. Component Bin is storage for unused components.

power. The files are available for download from their website. According to DesignSpark. From there. a large spreadsheet-like list will download.000 entries. but it’s not much of a hindrance. For the most common PCB footprints. or ground . ModelSource is a library of component schematics and PCB footprints made free by RS Components. Dreamspark alleviates the frustration by including a small “DreamSpark” component library that contains all of the basics – easily accessible from the frame on the right. For example.They’re very easy: you are presented with a choice of standard templates to help you get started. I/O Expanders or Connectors. Having free components is good. open in browser PRO version Are you a developer? Try out the HTML to PDF API pdfcrowd. There are three drop-down menus that allow you to narrow down your search category. for an SOIC package (such as the one in the image below. you have to expand the frame to see everything. Schematic Symbol Wizard PCB Layout Wizard One little annoyance I had in EAGLE that still exists in DreamSpark is that while there is plenty of space in the toolbars. From there. chip width. right) you can specify pad count. a visual dialogue lets you define the dimensions of the chip without needing to do any hand drawing. For example. you can narrow your search even more using the parameter columns. there is no quick select icon for basic passives. Once you find the right category. and pad dimensions. pad shape. Probably one of DreamSpark’s best features is ModelSource. The bottom frame of the main program window is reserve for ModelSource. the library contains over 80. which is automatically added to a library named after its category. you can load the part data. Then it’s a matter of drawing some lines and placing pins. but DreamSpark’s ModelSource integration is even better. While it was rather cumbersome to find a capacitor in EAGLE’s library system. When in use.

com . though. you can make a copy of the component into your custom components library and edit the pins. DesignSpark has options for auto component placement as well as auto routing. sometimes I found that I had to close and open a file before the downloaded parts from ModelSource displayed in the components library frame. The PCB layout is similarly intuitive.It’s not perfect. but doesn’t include the 32-bit D-Series. Notably. if a similar part exists. Fortunately. A view of auto-routing and copper fill in the PCB layout. open in browser PRO version Are you a developer? Try out the HTML to PDF API pdfcrowd. Also. when you want to use a part that isn’t there. or it’s also missing the I2C version of an I/O expander. ModelSource has most Atmel chips.

Summary Pros Simple Layout Integrated 80. It’s non-committal: I promise. Program stability is moderate. when you have a row of components too near the board edge. the BOM quote is straight from RS Components. You should be able to find a solution to your problem there. but it’s hard to find much attention given to the program outside of DesignSpark forums. I made a ground plane by drawing a rectangle covering the entire bottom layer. DesignSpark doesn’t attempt to tie you to any particular manufacturer. I had one issue when back annotating a change from the PCB layout to the schematic. It’s nothing special. DesignSpark PCB outputs industry standard files to send to manufacturers. On the other hand. The online community is fairly active. and via resistance. You can disable “Online DRC” by un-checking the option under the Tools menu. In the image above. Something I didn’t like about the PCB layout view was that auto-DRC errors are displays at scarlet components on the layout. Unlike other company-sponsored free EDA software. a bunch of small letters appear underneath which have to be manually deleted. they have a PCB quote tool that gives an estimate from a few different manufacturers. At least the forum is fairly active with about 7000 and 1000 posts in its top two categories: General Electronics Design Questions and Schematics Entry and PCB Layout.After a few adjustments to the technology file – the grand master of all PCB design rules – the auto-router was able to route with 100% completion. When your design is complete. In fact. During back annotation. A little icing is that DesignSpark includes a handy set of design calculators including heat sink dimensions. even after repeated attempts.000 component online library (ModelSource) Active community Frequent updates open in browser PRO version Are you a developer? Try out the HTML to PDF API pdfcrowd. so I had to manually remove the qualifier for each one. and if you look closely ground traces were automatically connected. So. but it’s a nice bonus. the program crashed. Copper fill was similarly easy. Trace avoidance was automatic. track . This had to do with an issue where similarly named nets across schematics were given qualifiers that made the PCB layout think they were different traces. I’m hoping this is a one-time problem because otherwise this can get problematic whenever a project requires multiple schematics.

with a more smaller learning curve. with more properties and options hidden in menus than desired. Tweet open in browser PRO version Like Share 18 Are you a developer? Try out the HTML to PDF API 5 Share 1 pdfcrowd. For a free package. For its minor faults. comprehensive.No board size or schematic limits Free! Cons Options and properties hidden in menus No undocking of different tabs Stability problems with PCB to Schematic back annotation Not much mention of program outside of official community Windows only! *thanks jayfehr for pointing this out* Overall. It can be a little rough on the edges. it still feels almost commercial. but at least they’re there. DesignSpark PCB is a great deal. community-driven PCB Design . DesignSpark PCB is a very accessible. The UI is definitely better than EAGLE. and definitely worth giving a shot if you’re looking for new EDA software.

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△ ▽ ✉ Subscribe • Reply • Share › d Add Disqus to your site Popular Tags android Arduino ARM audio avr 3d printer imager 5 Privacy biolite BLE bluetooth Bluetooth Low Energy color sensor cortex M4 deep DIY Dragon Innovation education gabotronics Holiday indiegogo instructable instructables Internet of things iOS open in browser PRO version Are you a developer? Try out the HTML to PDF API pdfcrowd. I use Linux and I'm not going to dual-boot or run a windows emulator just for one program.1 Comment  Recommend Tech Marinade ⤤ Share Join the discussion… Daniel Carrera Yanes • 7 months ago I went to the DesignSpark but it's only available for . so it's useless to me.

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