All modern electronics like your smartphone contain inside a PCB – Printed Circuit Board. Why do electronics need a PCB and how do you make one?
You can think of PCBs as the framing inside of a house. Without the frame, you would not have a place to put your furniture. In electronics we use PCBs to connect together various components like the screen of a laptop to everything else. The PCB is what glues all these components together. Therefore you can imagine if you wanted to change the kitchen or the bathroom – you may need to change the framing of your house. Similar when you change components used in a PCB – your PCB may need to change.
Each unique piece of hardware like a smartphone requires usually without exception unique PCB which makes learning how to design one all the more important. There are a ton of amazing resources on the web and we will not cover every detail in this tutorial. Instead we will focus on the mechanics of designing a PCB in this tutorial series.
Step 1 – Pick a PCB design tool.
Today, the most popular FREE PCB design tool is called EAGLE PCB. Go here to download a copy. Certainly there are many other tools in the marketplace, including those that are online requiring no downloads – each with unique strengths – but like it or not, EAGLE is used extensively in the maker community and so this is the tool we will teach.
WARNING. This is a tool that is difficult to learn. Even readers that understand how to work with CAD software will have a step hill to climb. But for all those that aspire to maker-dom please follow along. We will design a simple LED PCB.
Step 2 – Make a Schematic
What is a schematic? It is the blueprint of our PCB. Without a blueprint, it is hard to make a house. Without a schematic, it is impossible to make a PCB. So let’s get started. Once you have installed Eagle, open up the software and you should see this.
Let’s start by creating a new schematic.
File -> New -> Schematic
You will be greeted by an uninviting blank, white screen. Next click on the ADD icon as indicated below.
You will be greeted withe the following popup window.
Type in the Search field at the bottom of this window ‘battery’ and pick from the selection AB9V or anything that resembles a normal battery you normally use. Click OK. The ADD popup window will now disappear and you will be staring at that white, blank window. Your mouse has turned into the image of a battery (this is a schematic symbol for your battery and not a real picture of one). Click on the schematic screen multiple times and you will notice many copies of this battery symbol being placed all over the schematic window. You can also RIGHT CLICK to turn your battery symbol 90 degrees.
We won’t need all those batteries so UNDO until you only have 1 on your schematic. Congratulations. You have placed your first component on your way to creating your first PCB. In the next part of our How To Make A PCB tutorial series we will connect up the rest of this schematic.
Now go make something.