How to Design a PCB Layout: A Guide for Beginners

Breadboards may be ideal for prototyping circuits, but they aren’t always the best choice for using the product that you are building. During the process of manufacturing and design, you are likely to eventually want to make your project more permanent, and the best way to do this is by using a PCB. We’ve put together a simple beginner’s guide for optimizing your PCB layout design. 

#1. Start with a schematic:

Before you begin designing your PCB, it’s a good idea to come up with a schematic of your circuit. This schematic will then serve as a blueprint for laying out your traces and placing the various components onto the PCB. Use a pcb board designer to get started; this software will be able to import all your components, wires and footprints into the PCB file making the entire design process easier further down the line. Each schematic symbol that you use will need to be associated with a PCB footprint, which will define the physical dimensions of the component and the placement of copper pads and through holes. Use this step to determine which components you will be using. 

#2. Design optimization:

Next, it’s time to identify what each part of your PCB does and divide the circuit into sections according to their function. Keep components grouped together in the same PCB area to keep conductive traces short. This is because longer traces may cause interference and noise by picking up electromagnetic radiation from outside sources. The various sections should be arranged so that the path of electrical current is as linear as possible, and equally measuring separate traces should supply the power to each section. 

#3. Shape and size:

It’s certainly not uncommon to see a variety of unusual PCB shapes, such as triangular or round. Many PCBs are designed to be as small as possible, but the size and shape will depend on the product. If you plan on placing the PCB in an enclosure, then the dimensions may be dictated by its size and shape. You should measure the exact dimensions before laying out the PCB to ensure that everything fits inside. 

#4. PCB Layers:

If you’re designing a larger circuit, you may need several layers as it can be difficult to route the traces on one single layer. You can use two copper layers with traces routed on either side of the PCB. The traces on one layer can be connected to the other using a via, a copper plated hole that electronically connects the top and bottom layers of the PCB. Some double PCBs also have a ground layer; a copper plane connected to ground that covers the bottom layer.  

#5. Traces:

Most professionally designed PCBs have most copper traces bending at 45-degree angles due to the fact that this shortens the electrical path between components compared to 90-degree angles. It also avoids high speed logic signals becoming reflected off the back of the angle and causing interference. 

Once you’ve completed all these steps to optimize your design, you can begin putting your layout together using PCB design software.