Top PCB Layout Design Software: Which One Is Better for You

In China, there’s a saying: “Sharpen the axe before cutting the wood.” This means that spending time to sharpen tools, like a knife or axe, can increase work efficiency and reduce the difficulties of the task at hand. In the field of circuit boards, practical design layout software is the designer’s “axe,” used to assist in creating circuit traces, component placement, hole configurations, and more. Finding the right PCB design software that suits your needs before starting a project can make your work more convenient and efficient.

So, which PCB design software is the best?

This is a question that most people have, but in reality, it’s challenging to determine which one is the absolute best, as everyone has their own preferences, habits, and requirements. For students, affordability, simplicity, and tutorials may be important, while enthusiasts might seek open-source communities for help and inspiration. Engineers, on the other hand, might demand professionalism and automation. Regardless, finding the right tool for the job is crucial.

To help you achieve this goal, FS Technology in this article lists and summarizes some most used PCB design software, outlining their pros and cons, to assist you in making comparisons and quickly finding your ideal “utopia.”

Table of Contents

Altium Designer(AD)

Multifunctional PCB Design Tool

Altium is an EDA software company that provides PC-based electronic PCB design tools for engineers. The company’s EDA software suite, Altium Designer (AD), is considered a benchmark in the electronics industry and is used for circuit design, PCB design, and various engineering tasks related to electronic devices.

With each new version update, Altium Designer enhances user experience, fluidity, and ease of use, making it the best PCB design software for students and enthusiasts. Through practical tool operation, users can easily master techniques such as schematic design, circuit simulation, PCB layout editing, automated topological logic routing, signal integrity analysis, and design output.


  • Entry-level design software with simple operation and a clean interface. Many engineering colleges offer courses specifically for learning AD.
  • Faster layout design for simple circuits.
  • Allows electronic engineers to focus more on design than on processes, thanks to technological assistance.
  • Offers convenient features such as zooming, panning with the mouse, hole modification with Shift+W, and wire width modification with Shift+V.
  • Provides a fast way to find similar objects and edit attributes uniformly.
  • Integration of schematic and PCB layout tools allows designers to easily achieve bidirectional conversion between schematic and design.


  • Controversies exist regarding vias and poor routing, as the drawn traces are thicker compared to other tools, making designers less adaptable to handling detailed issues.
  • Many advantages rely on shortcut functions, requiring substantial memorization, which may pose a challenge for beginners.
  • Caution is advised for professional projects, as compared to other tools, AD is more suitable for basic circuit structures and has limitations for multi-layer PCB. Projects with more than six layers are not recommended.


Powerful and free PCB editor

KiCAD is a well-known open-source PCB layout design software with an active community and is freely available for use. As a cross-platform tool that can run on OS X, Linux, and Windows, offering comprehensive PCB design capabilities. KiCAD not only supports basic Gerber file output, schematic design, and PCB layout but also provides advanced features like modular design, 3D model support, and DRC. It is considered an alternative to Protel for Linux, including four powerful programs: Project Manager, Eeschema (schematic editor), Cvpcb (footprint selector), Pcbnew (layout program), and Gerbview (Gerber file viewer).

Some Usage Tips:

  • Component Movement: Use the ‘M’ key to move components and the ‘R’ key to rotate them.
  • Copying: Hold down the Shift key and drag the target component to duplicate it.
  • Quick Deletion: Hover the cursor over a component or press the ‘D’ key for quick deletion.
  • Automatic Component Numbering: After completing the circuit schematic, click the component numbering button for automatic numbering.
  • Language: The default language is English, but you can switch to other languages in the language options.


  • Suitable for circuit designs ranging from simple to complex, supporting up to 32 layers.
  • Provides an integrated design environment, eliminating the need to use multiple programs simultaneously.
  • Has relatively low hardware requirements and can run on lower-configured computers.
  • Offers a rich design resource package that can be downloaded and installed for immediate use.


  • Component and library management may be somewhat complex for new users.
  • Reported some stack-based buffer overflow issues in past versions.


The most used PCBA layout tool

A free tool introduced by the UK-based electronic component distributor RS Components, aimed at helping electronic engineers, students, and enthusiasts turn concepts into reality. If you choose DesignSpark as the primary tool for a commercial project, you can leverage its capabilities to explore alternative design solutions and enhance creativity.

Some Usage Tips:

  • Dimension Zooming: Click on the blank area of the interface and drag the mouse wheel.
  • Beautify Traces: Press the ‘S’ key on the keyboard to adjust trace thickness.
  • Format Conversion: Open the component library, enter edit mode, save or export in ASCII format, and then import into the DS component library editing tool.
  • View Inner Layers: In 3D view mode, there is a ‘Settings’ icon on the left, click on it to view more layer lists.


  • Comprehensive library of 3D part models of various types.
  • Effective testing of designs through simulation experiments.
  • Ability to combine multiple different design elements to create a more complex overall assembly.
  • No restrictions on schematic dimensions.


  • DesignSpark’s component library may be relatively small, and sometimes you may need to manually add or create some custom components.
  • Not entirely free, as certain advanced features require an upgraded version.
  • Primarily supports the Windows operating system, so macOS and Linux users may need to run it through a virtual machine or other methods.
  • Excessive reliance on online resources, which can affect the user experience in areas with poor internet connectivity.


This is a design software with mixed reviews. After examining some user reviews of Eagle, it appears there is a divide in opinions. Engineers from FS Technology state that Eagle’s design capabilities are above average, but it may not be suitable for commercial projects and might require an upgraded version. Currently, Eagle PCB offers three versions: Standard, Premium, and a free Education version. Choose according to your needs for a better experience.

Some Usage Tips:

  • One-Click Deletion: Quickly delete all selected elements by holding the Shift key and pressing the Delete key simultaneously.
  • Reduce Repetitive Work: Use commands provided by the software to place components and input attribute values, saving time through the copy command.
  • Feature Recognition: Hover the mouse over specific locations to immediately receive descriptions of those features.
  • Use Ctrl + Right-Click: This shortcut combination allows for quick operations like moving, deleting, and copying groups.


  • Offers excellent value for money, even in the paid versions.
  • Provides a lightweight, simple, and precise schematic editor.
  • Supports electrical rule checks and netlist generation.
  • Annotations move back and forth between schematics and printed circuit boards.
  • Automatic synchronization between schematics and circuit boards, with automated Gerber design file output.


  • The interface design is significantly different from other PCB board layout software, which may require some adaptation.
  • Difficult to achieve high-speed layouts.


Free Online PCBA Design Tool

PADS is a part of Siemens Digital Industries Software, formerly known as Mentor Graphics, a US-based company. With the advancement of electronic manufacturing technology and changing demands, there is a trend towards using PCB with higher layer counts and more complex circuit structures. PADS layout editor aligns well with this trend. It offers an easy-to-use creative platform tailored for PCB layout, making it accessible to users at a more reasonable price.


  • Powerful automatic router.
  • Provides considerations for thermal design analysis.
  • Supports various high-end modules.
  • Allows engineers to use three-dimensional models in design.


  • Integration of more features leads to higher computer resource usage, potentially causing lag on older or lower-performance computers.
  • Primarily supports the Windows operating system.
  • Requires regular maintenance and updates to stay compatible with new hardware and operating systems.
  • The functionality may be too complex for DIY enthusiasts, making it more suitable for commercial projects.


Powerful online PCBA design tool

Cadence is a globally renowned EDA (Electronic Design Automation) and semiEDA company dedicated to promoting innovation in electrical design. It enjoys popularity in the fields of IC (Integrated Circuit) and electronic product manufacturing. When electronic professionals require more predictable and compact design cycles, they turn to Cadence’s Allegro PCB Designer. This tool allows customization of every aspect of layout. Due to its constraint management and high-speed capabilities, Allegro is particularly well-suited for outstanding digital designs.


  • A comprehensive and integrated EDA editing software covering multiple areas from IC design to PCB design, enabling engineers to complete various design tasks in a unified environment.
  • Highly customizable to cater to different types of design projects, offering dynamic concurrent team design capabilities.
  • Performs exceptionally well in simulating circuits and validating design performance.
  • Provides users with training, documentation, and technical support to help them address issues and make the most of the tool.
  • Offers a rich IP core library, facilitating rapid design without the need to build each component from scratch.


  • Considerably more expensive than other PCB layout editors, which may not be practical for individual engineers or small teams.
  • License management can become complex and may require dedicated IT support.
  • Requires a high-performance computer to run complex design projects.


In this article, we have introduced several design software options. Before making a decision, ask yourself a few questions:

  • Do I have a budget?
  • Am I using it for professional purposes?
  • Do I want to collaborate and share my designs online, or is confidentiality important?
  • Do I primarily work on one computer?
  • What operating system will I be using?

Based on your answers to these questions, find the design software that best suits your needs. If none of the mentioned software options meet your requirements, you can also explore Fritzing, Orcad, PCBWeb Designer, ZenitPCB, TinyCAD, and Osmond PCB, all of which have received positive user reviews.

Advanced Reading

PCB Layout Design Tutorial Guide for Your Next Electronics Project

How to design the circuit board layout step by step?

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