Eagle or Kicad?

800px-Uno_pcb

Learning a new software requires time, patience and skills! Beside these trivial aspects, each software has its concepts which turn to be their signatures and lead to fan clubs or … detractor groups.

Computer Assisted Design (CAD) software are among the  most complex software. They consist in a mix of technical and mathematical functions which relate to physics, mechanics, electronics or chemistry. In addition, most editors have now a strong concern for ergonomic which leads to complex graphics while keeping the human interface as simple and intuitive  (Really?) as possible.

Depending upon who originated the idea for an application, our CAD will be either powerful, fit for purpose or easy to use! Does the optimal mix exist? I am unsure… Human brain is made in such a way that this perfect mix is very unlikely in spite of the tremendous efforts paid by the developer teams. A quick look back to Microsoft Windows versions gives a perfect illustration of this weakness!

This post deals specifically about CAD applied to Printed Circuit Boards (PCBs). In no means this post is intended to be exhaustive! I will only deal with two of the PCB CAD that I am using and that I know the best. That said, I am not an expert in any of them and I do not have any financial interest in any of them too!

eagle

Eagle is commercial software which has many years of background. As a consequence, this is a robust and reliable software. The back side of the stability of this software is … the stability of its design. Improving the overall performances of the application would require to restart from a white page, to the cost of long development and testing time, introducing the risk of bugs and errors.  However Eagle is very popular thanks to a decisive marketing decision: the fully featured software is available for free for small PCBs. This is a cleaver idea which lead many students to start learning PCB design with Eagle and finally stick to it because they fear investing time in learning a new software which may fail to fulfill their expectations.

kikad

 Kicad is an open source software which has been designed and written by a person who was learning C and decided to exercise his new skill on PCB design software! Great try! Alike Eagle, the process of designing a PCB relies on main sections dedicated to schematics and PCBs. Alike Eagle, these sections share the same drawing engine. What changes a lot from Eagle is that Kicad is free, whatever the size of the PCB! Beside this economical reason, Kicad -in its latest version – has a fancy interface.

Using Kicad interface might be confusing in the beginning, and it takes some time before recording all the short cuts and tricks which make Kicad a real powerful tool. It is even more true at the PCB design stage. Drawing traces is far simpler and more efficient in Kicad, although some tricky bugs may bother you a lot (e.g. forcing vias for connecting ground planes)!

I learned from the past that using my own components and modules libraries makes a lot of sense as it is very tiring for the nerves to discover that these expensive first shots of your PCBs have a little mistake that you could have been avoided if you would have used your own library. I found that the Eagle process of designing libraries is uncomfortable while I found the Kicad process easier in spite of  some pit falls.

I recently made the strategic decision to quit Eagle, even for professional systems. As I am getting deeper and deeper in Kicad, I find it still very powerful, at least as powerful as commercial software. As an example of its growing popularity, PCB makers grant recognition to Kicad by acknowledging their file formats.

In recent advanced use of Kicad, I found the printing of bitmaps tricky, and even more complex if printed on the bottom face of the PCB. Beside that Kicad design is based on text files which make the development of additional tools plain easy.

From what I read here and there, Eagle is still very popular. This  is surprisingly true within the “open” community! The explanation probably relates to the time investment needed to switch from one software to the other…

Kicad: download page

Eagle: download page

As usual, your comments are welcome

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.