Newbie question on designing your own 'board' instead of using wires


I made an Arduino project with simple connections but quite a lot of wires... as I would like to redo the project but don't intend to loose hours again on the wiring I'm looking for a better solution. Which software is easy to create any 'gerber' files that can be used to have your own PCB prints? I'm looking at the most easy software to use and only need connections to be created and holes, no components on there.


I'm looking at the most easy software to use

They all claim that and they are all not true.

only need connections to be created and holes, no components on there.

I don't think there is one like this.
Look here for some options:-

Use Eagle to create your schematic and PCB design. Then find a board manufacturer (lots of people like OSH Park, Seeed Studio and iTead Studio). All of those manufacturers will provide a CAM file. Simply go to your PCB in Eagle, open up the CAM file in the CAM Processor tool and hit Export. Put all the files that are generated into a ZIP file and send it through the site.

Most of the hobby-level PCB manufacturers offer good tutorials about how to prepare Gerbers and use their service, so start by checking out one of their sites.

I would not say Eagle is easy to start with.

Fritzing is maybe a good choice for this.

Can Fritzing be used for this? I already used it a few times to make a layout for breadboard - no PCBs yet. Bit afraid that Eagle is too difficult to start with.


I made my first PCB last week (it didn't arrive yet...)

Eagle was really tough to get it do anything useful.

Fritzing was easy.

+1 for Fritzing - getting the layout right is rather easy. Watch some of the youtube tutorials :slight_smile:

Fritzing is great for the first few PCBs while your learning. But when you realize Fritzing is limiting your design, you will go to Eagle.

There are dozens of tutorials for Eagle and it's actually not that hard to learn. Eagle just has more options you can use.

I think that Sparkfun has the best tutorials for Eagle.

IMHO, if you start out with Fritzing, it's going to make learning Eagle that much harder. I started out using Fritzing, it's a great program, but is limiting as to what you can do with your designs.

Also, if you have specific questions about how to do something in Eagle, just ask in this forum, there are a lot of members here that have the knowledge to help.

Bit afraid that Eagle is too difficult to start with.

EAGLE was the first schematic/PCB design software I used, and to date is the only package I've used - I didn't find it remotely difficult to understand and learn. I just watched a quick intro video by Jeremy Blum (on youtube) and took it from there, I'd give it a try!

On a personal note I did schematic design and PCB layout for 30 years and I find Eagle totally incomprehensible...
The Program feels like it was designed by a C programmer or I was totally spoiled by Protel/Allium Pads/Mentor and Cadence... All of which I've used at one time or another Protel/Altium for 20 of the 30 years.
The Only thing that Eagle has going is the price.. A Full Seat (all the Bells and Whistles) is less than $2K/Yr where an Atium Full seat is $6K/Yr @ $325/Mo.... Min 12 mo.
Eagle is the VW of Cad Programs... It Will get you there... eventually.


I find Eagle to be very straightforward to use now that I have gotten used to the libraries & finding parts. That was very aggravating to start, way too many choices.
Next was making symbols for new parts. Very awkward the first couple, once I started doing it more often and remembering a process it got easier.
Still haven't got a handle on making a new part from an existing library & saving it outside of that library, but I'm pretty quick at creating a new one from scratch and then editing my own for stuff I forgot. Even figured out how to make oddly shaped boards, like one with multiple curved radius edges to fit in a custom servo case.

Even with a beginner/hobby license, you can cram a Ton of stuff onto a single page schematic and squeeze it into a 80mm x 100mm board. I finally moved up a level to get to 100mm x 100mm so I wasn't feeling like I was giving up 20mm x 100mm of board area when I ordered from itead, standard sizes being up to 50mm x 50mm (10 for $9.90), then up to 100mm x 100mm (10 for $24.90) at the time - they now offer a up to 50mm x 100mm size board as well (10 for $22), which the 80x100mm eagle limit would fit right in to.
You can do a lot with the Netlist, Partlist, Error Check, and Design Rule Check to make sure your final board is buildable and nothing has been left off.

And for quick discussions here in the forum, I still use expressPCB a lot. Very quick to put something together.

The Only thing that Eagle has going is the price.. A Full Seat (all the Bells and Whistles) is less than $2K/Yr where an Atium Full seat is $6K/Yr @ $325/Mo.... Min 12 mo.

Eagle has a one-time purchase price. I have the pro commercial version, $1K for the schem and pcb module (no need for autorouter) - purchased about 5 years ago. I do NOT have to pay $1K every year.

While the other software, as you say, is $2K, $6K PER YEAR.... OrCad is $10K (not sure though if this is subscription or one-time).

In the end, everything ends up being a gerber file.

If the project works, that's the most important thing.

There are some "stupid" and "quirky" things I hate about Eagle... my experience being coming from AutoCAD (though I didn't use AutoCAD for PCB design).

I use Eagle for all my PCB design, for 2 years now, currently with 6.2.
I find that with attention to parts placement, I can let it autoroute and it does a pretty good job with 2 layers, even with complex designs, usually just needing some vias named GND to connect the top & bottom ground polygons together, and sometimes tweaking trace routing by hand to let the ground polygon fill in places it couldn't reach otherwise.
The iteadstudio DRC & CAM files work well for making sure boards can be made, down to 8mil trace width with 8mil clearance if desired. I usually go with 10mil for traces, 12 mil for vias and 24 (or wider) for power.
One thing that is a gotcha sometimes is having the trace width too wide and then it cannot connect to an SMD pad, usually for power.
I also put restricted area between narrower SMD pads (like FT232 and ATMega2560) to help prevent solder bridging.

The solder mask should take care of this, shouldn't it?

Eagle has a default 4mm spacing on the solder masks of all pads. you can reduce or remove this in the DRC rules. Then if a trace runs between narrow SMD pads it should be fully masked so there shouldn't be any issues.

"The solder mask should take care of this, shouldn't it?"
You would think. I just like to give myself more margin when hand soldering based on what experience has shown of my capabilities.
I know the standard Atmega2560 couldn't be masked by itead, had to make the pads a little narrower so solder mask would go in between.

Another option is DIPTrace. Like Eagle, there's a limited free version available. Unlike Eagle, though, the limitation is based on number of pins (300 or 500 pins in the free version), not board size. Versions are available for Windows and Mac, though the Mac version is just running in WINE. It works, but it's not very Mac-like. There's also a detailed PDF tutorial you can download/print. for more info.

We should remember the OP said:
"I'm looking at the most easy software to use and only need connections to be created and holes, no components on there."

I use Eagle and Altium over a few weeks, but I learned Fritzing in a few hours, and that's what he is looking for. At least for now.

Hi all

Thanks for your great input! I started off installing a few and just from looking at steps and clicking around a bit I liked PCBExpress best for now... might move on to another one as soon as it's needed though.

From the website I understood that the first step was to create a scheme using ExpressSCH and this is the result:

Before moving on to the next step I was wondering about a few things:

  • As I'm using a lot of leds I just want to have 'pins' on my PCB where I can connect the wires to from the LED matrix. Should I draw something for this in this sketch?
  • I'm using some pushbuttons as well, should I put them on here as well?


If the LEDs & buttons will not be mounted on the board, then you can just use 2-hole connectors for the buttons (1 to the uC, 2nd the Gnd), and 2 16-pin headers for a 8x8 LED matrix, or 2-pin connectors for individual LEDs, connected up as if you had 64 LEDs on the board for each MAX7219.

For your uC, Aref only needs a cap to Gnd.
VCC & AVCC need connection to +5v and a Cap to Gnd each. Same with the MAX7219s, 1uF and 0.1uF on Vcc pin.
Reset needs a 10K pullup resistor to +5V.

I would also include pins so you can download code into the uC, either for an FTDI type module (Rx, Tx, DTR going to 0.1uF cap to Reset, +5, Gnd, CTS (connected to Gnd)), or an ICSP interface for downloading bootloader or code with no bootloader (MISO, MOSI, SCK, Reset, +5, Gnd).
Really beats pulling the chip every time you need to make a change.

What about using keil and proteus?