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PCB Design Basics – An Introductory Guide

PCB design using design software

PCB design plays a critical role in the success of any electronic product. Done correctly, it ensures a device that performs optimally while also meeting cost and other requirements. This article is an introduction to the basics of PCB design, including the types of software needed to design a circuit board. Also, the different types of PCB designs, from those the simple to the complex.

What is PCB Design?

PCB design means the process of creating a schematic and layout for an electronic circuit board. This includes determining the right components and materials, routing traces, and placing components.

The goal is to create a board that meets required electrical performance specifications while also accounting for reliability, and safety considerations.

PCB Design Full Form

The full form of PCB design is “Printed Circuit Board Design”. A is PCB a board made of non-conductive material with traces printed on it. These boards act as the physical structures for electronic devices, providing mechanical support and electrical connections between components.

PCB Design Definition

To help you further understand the concept of PCB design and layout, here’s its definition: PCB design is the art and science of creating a board layout that ensures optimal performance, among other features. It involves ensuring a board meets specific design rules and electrical performance requirements.

Importance of PCB Design

PCB design is a crucial part of the process that leads to a successful printed circuit board. The importance of PCB design ranges from ensuring the board meets electrical requirements to meeting cost targets, and includes the following:

  • Ensuring optimal performance of electronic devices
  • Maintaining the reliability and durability of electronic products
  • Minimizing production costs by optimizing board layout and materials
  • Reducing the likelihood of electronic interference and signal noise
  • Facilitating the integration of advanced features and technologies into electronic devices
Using PCB design software
Using PCB design software

PCB Design Software

Designing a PCB is a complex process that requires specialized software. This is a computer program that allows engineers to create circuit diagrams and layouts, simulate the performance of a board, and generate production files. PCB design software can be a free or commercial program.

Free PCB Design Software

Free PCB design software is a great option for hobbyists, beginners, and budget-conscious engineers. Popular free PCB design software includes KiCad, EasyEDA, DesignSpark, Fritzing, and LibrePCB. This type of software is often limited in features but fit for basic boards.

Paid PCB Design Software

Commercial PCB design software offers more advanced features, such as support for complex routing and simulation tools. Examples include Altium Designer and other paid types. Although more expensive, these types of PCB software offers more functionality and is best suited to professional projects.

Automotive PCB design
Automotive PCB design

PCB Design Examples

PCB design is an integral aspect of modern electronics, impacting various industries, from consumer electronics to military and aerospace. In these industries, PCB design differs in many ways, depending on the application requirements. Key PCB design examples, including their major requirements for various applications, are listed below.

Electronics PCB Design

Consumer electronics such as smartphones, laptops, and tablets rely heavily on well-designed PCBs to function effectively. Usually, consumer electronics PCB boards must be reliable, low-cost, and designed for mass manufacturing.

Electronics PCB design must also aim to allow the devices to maintain their small form factor, pack in more features, and offer improved performance. And when used in high voltage, high power applications, be able to dissipate heat efficiently, as well.

Automotive PCB Design

In automotive applications, it’s critical to ensure that boards can withstand extreme temperatures and vibration while also providing reliable performance. Automotive PCB design must also be made with environmental concerns in mind, as any components should be able to resist damage from corrosive materials.

With today’s vehicle sophistication, automotive PCB design is taking on new challenges, such as the need to support high-speed data transmission, memory, and processing requirements. That’s in addition to the focus on power efficiency and weight reduction or miniaturization.

Medical PCB Design

Medical PCB design must meet stringent safety requirements, including EMC and signal integrity standards. These boards also require high accuracy and reliability. Designers, therefore, need to be mindful of how their boards will interact with the environment, as any interference can have devastating consequences.

Most often, medical device PCB design must take into account the need to withstand exposure to sterilization methods such as radiation, pressure-washing chemicals, and autoclaving. Designers also need to consider how the board interacts with medical equipment or devices while ensuring they are compliant with the latest standards.

Industrial PCB Design

Industrial applications often require robust, reliable, and high-performance PCBs. Industrial PCB design, therefore, includes consideration for extra layers to maximize space efficiency or enable more advanced features.

It’s also important to consider environmental factors such as high temperatures and vibration when designing industrial boards, as these can cause reliability issues if not properly accounted for. The use of higher-quality materials to ensure durability is, therefore, a common practice when designing industrial printed circuit boards.

PCB Design for Military & Aerospace Applications

Military and aerospace PCB design standards are much more stringent than those of commercial boards. These applications require strict adherence to quality standards, as any malfunctioning board can result in costly failures.

When designing these boards, designers must factor in EMI/EMC requirements, temperature constraints, and shock and vibration dampening. Most often, military and aerospace boards must be lightweight and have high power efficiency, especially when used in aerial vehicles.

Simple PCB design
Simple PCB design

PCB Design Cost

The cost of designing a PCB is determined by several factors, including the complexity of the design and the number of layers. Professional PCB design services are typically priced at an hourly rate or a fixed fee per board. Usually, your specific PCB design cost will depend on complexity, as explained below.

Simple PCB Design

Simple PCB designs are generally the least expensive variety, as they usually involve only a single layer and simple components. Most often, you can expect to pay a few hundred dollars for basic design services. These types of PCB also take less time to design and make for a faster turnaround in production.

Complex PCB Design

More complex PCB designs are typically priced at a higher rate. This type of design usually involves multiple layers and components, so the cost can easily reach thousands of dollars.

To get an accurate quote for PCB design cost per hour or other rates, we recommend contacting your chosen manufacturer. In some cases, you may be able to reduce your PCB design cost by opting for turnkey PCB services. This is when the manufacturer offers PCB design, fabrication, and assembly as a package.


To sum it up, PCB design is a complex process that requires specialized software and the knowledge of latest circuit board technologies. Designers must, therefore, be aware of the requirements for each application before they can create an optimal board for the end user. This includes electrical, mechanical, environmental requirements, and cost considerations.


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