Kicad is a software platform that allows you to draw electronic circuits, schematics and convert them to PCB designs. You can design your schematics, PCB and PCB layouts with KiCad. It has existed since 1992 hence it’s a mature open source software package that you can download freely from the internet.
Downloading and installing KiCad, is just a tip of the ice tip of the iceberg, learning how to use for making your wire and PCB design is the essential lion’s share. This article will cover the whole tutorial from downloading and installing KiCad to using it to create schematic circuits and PCB layouts.
KiCad t is useful on Linux, Mac OS X, Ubuntu, Debian, and Windows operating systems and other distributions. You should be able to manage to draw a simple beginner circuit.
Step1: Download and install KiCad
Go to the link http://kicad-pcb.org/download/ and choose which platform will host the KiCad IDE and download the latest and tested version of KiCad.
Create a new project
This tutorial will use the windows platform. However, there are minute differences with other OS platforms. For instance, the position of control in the dialogue box (windows has them at the tops while with Linux, they will be at the bottom). Also, the names of buttons and labels may vary but very insignificantly.
Go ahead to create a new project by either: easily use the keyboard Ctrl N, clicking on the Create New Project icon at the toolbar or select File to New Project from the top menu.
Name your new project
Your previous action will result in a dialog box where you ought to give your project a name. It is recommendable that you create a new folder with the project-related name, for instance, KiCad. Also, there should be a sub-folder in the main folder created in the Documents.
In our tutorial, we will use the folder-KiCad where we create the subfolder which is –flasher circuit a similar name to our project name. You can name your project and its folders by first creating the folders or within the dialog box then click save.
KiCad project file: Your whole KiCad project file will comprise of a project file (flasher circuit.pro), a schematic file (flasher circuit.sch) and a PCB file (flasher circuit.kicad_pcb). With your complete KiCad file, you can move to the next step of opening the schematic file and start designing your circuit diagram.
Image 1: KiCad tutorial
Step2: Drawing a circuit diagram
At the second toolbar, there is an Eeschema button that you will click on to open a new schematic project. Otherwise, you can use the top menu tools or the keyboard shortcut, Ctrl + E.
You will now have your project opened in the Eeschema editor whereby you can choose to maximize the window for clarity. You can see a title block at the bottom right of the schematic also, the page outline and boarders have numbers along the top and bottom sides by default.
Image 2: KiCad tutorial
Step3: How to zoom and fit the Schematic
Zooming and fitting the schematic comes in when you want to fit the window and view it at a full page. The processes involved are:
• To zoom in, use the keyboard F1 or the mouse to scroll up
• To zoom out, the keyboard F2 will do as well as the mouse to scroll down
• To fit the schematic to the Eeschema window, press the Home key button
Step4: Scrolling the Schematic
Scrolling of the schematic is aided by the scroll bar that appears at the bottom and right part of the schematic. You can use them to scroll to the left, right, up and down.
You can also use the mouse to scroll the schematic left or right by pressing the Ctrl key and using the mouse to scroll either left or right. To scroll it up or down, press the Shift key and again, use the mouse to move the schematic down or up.
Image 3: KiCad tutorial
Step5: Choosing and placing a components
To place a part in the schematic, go ahead and press the A key which will bring a dialog box for you to choose a component that you want to place. Also, you can go to the ‘place component’ icon which is on the right vertical toolbar click it and then click on the schematic page for it to appear.
Again on the ‘choose component’ dialog box, filter for type 555, Click and select the LM555 timer IC and finally click the OK button. You can move the LM555 timer IC with your cursor to where you want it positioned. How?
Left click the mouse and place the symbol in the middles of the schematic page. In case the page is not fitted to the Eeschema window, press the Home key button to make this work.
Placing other components in the Schematic
As discussed earlier we are designing a simple circuit that uses a 555 timer IC to flash or blink an LED. Therefore, adding extra components, we place three resistors with the values:
Before you place the resistors, zoom in to the LM555 part where you will continue to place them at an approximate distance from the LM555.
Placing similar components on the schematic
Again, press the A key for the ‘choose component’ dialog box to pop up. At the filter field, type ‘resistor’ and pick and click the one named R on the list.
Press the V key to edit the resistors value before placing it. A dialog box pops up where you replace the R on the Text field with the text 1k. Click the OK button and to view the component click on the schematic.
To add a similar composition to the one we have just placed, press the Insert key. Press the V key to change the resistor value to 4k7 in the text field. For a third component, follow the same procedure and change the resistor value to 10k.
Editing, Deleting and Fixing Mistakes
In case you placed a component that you do not need or wrongly, you can delete it placing the cursor on it and press the Delete key.
To change the resistor value, place the cursor on the component and press the V key which will cause the dialog box to pop up where you can change the value.
Moving and Rotating Parts
To move a component, place the cursor on it, then press M key. A menu will pop up where you can choose which direction you want the component to move.
To rotate a component let us say 900 press the R key.
Placing the Electrolytic Capacitor
We use the ‘choose-component’ dialog box that we bring out when you press the A key. Type “capacitor” on the filter field. Choose the CP component, click on it and press the OK button
To change the capacitor value, press the V key and change it to 100uF. Place the capacitor close to the LM555.
Image 4: KiCad tutorial
Placing a Non-polarised Capacitor
Bring out the dialog box and filter for the capacitor and select the component C on the list. Modify the value to 10n.
Placing an LED
Bring out the ‘choose-component’ dialog box and filter for LED. Place the LED_ALT part. There is no need to change the value.
Placing Power and Ground Ports
The power and ground ports are representations of where the power needs to be connected in the KiCad schematic circuit.
To place them, press the P key which will cause the ‘choose-component’ dialog box to pop up but this time, with a list of power ports. Filter for 9V, select and click on the +9V schematic symbol.
To get a ground port, press the P key and filter for GND. Select and click on the ND schematic symbol.
Step6: How to position components in KiCad Schematic
First, I hope things have been working in your favor through the other stages. All along you have been just placing the components around the LM555, but to create a complete schematic or circuit design.
Step7: Wiring and Editing Wires
Press the W key to put the KiCad schematic on wiring mode. You can clarify this, check the right toolbar for ‘place wire.’ Having confirmed the wiring mode, we use the mouse to do the wiring. To start wire, click on the pin to start.
To bend wires to the required destination or direction, move the mouse and click to fix the wire at the mouse click and again move the mouse to the destination pin. After that, you can move to draw the wire in the desired shape.
To delete a wire, hover the cursor at the wire and easily press the Delete key. You can after that click the pin to end to stop wiring.
Image 5: KiCad tutorial
Step8:Annotate Schematic Components
Annotations also have known as reference designators are the digits or numbers that are part of components name such as R1, R2, R3 and so on. For automatic annotation, click the “Annotate schematic components” icon at the top toolbar.
Consequently, a dialog box will appear, click on the Annotate button then click OK button on the confirmation box that will pop up.
Creating neat Annotations
Move the cursor around the resistor reference designator (not the component) then press M key to move it. In case you move the component press Esc key. To rotate the reference designator press the R key the neatly place in near the component.
To alter the grid size, right-click on the schematic and select the desired size on the Grid Select menu which pops up. In this example, grid 30.00mils is chosen for neatness. For extra practice, do the same action with other resistors.
Image 6: KiCad tutorial
Step9: Hiding Schematic Part Attributes
The schematic can have some unnecessary text that you may require hidden. To do this, hover the mouse cursor at the text then, press the E key whose results will be ‘Edit Value Field’ dialog box. A dialog box pops up, click on the invisible checkbox then OK button and the text becomes hidden.
Image 7: KiCad tutorial
2、KiCad PCB Layout Tutorial
Click on the PCBnew icon at the KiCad project manager to open the Pcbnew window. In case of an error message, click Yes to create a new KiCad PCB file. Continue to generate some schematic information, click on the settings icon at the toolbar and set the paper size to A4 and title as PCB layout.
Image 8: KiCad tutorial
3.1 Setting clearance
Set the clearance by clicking on the Design Rules> Design Rules menu get the minimum track and clearance at 0.25. In case that does not work, go to the Net Classes Editor tab alter the clearance field and track width at 0.25.
3.2 PCB Layout Editing
Working the colors out
To configure color layers visit the View menu where you will find Default, OpenGL, and Cairo. Choose the OpenGL view. On the right side menu, click on the square of the color you want. For instance: Blue 4 for B.cu (bottom copper layer).
Go to the top toolbar, click on the read netlist icon to import a netlist file. On the Browse Netlist Files button, a File selecting shows up, select and click on the tutorial.net; click the Close button.
A ratsnet is a combination of thin wires that connect component over, to use them, ensure you clicked on the Hide board ratsnet button.
To move apart, hover the cursor around it and press the G key then click on the area you want to move the part too. You can do this until you feel comfortable with the number of crossovers. Among other modifications, you can get your PCB layout soon.
• Press X to switch next layer.
• Press – to switch to the previous layer.
• Use B to move a component.
• Press B to update ground polygon pours.
• Press Delete to remove a trace or component.
• Press X to create a routing track.
• Press V to add through via.
• Press N to select the next grid size. Be careful not choose a grid outside of 50mils or 25 mils (highly recommended). Also, you can find the grid size option menu in the under “Grid: 0.0635mm (2.5mils).
• Click on Page Up key to return to the top copper layer.
• Press the Esc key to return to the normal pointer mode from the one progress.
• Use the ctrl+z to undo mistakes.
• Use ctrl+s to save your work which you ought to be often doing.
Image 9: KiCad tutorial
3.3 Extra Features
Generate Gerber Files
After completing the PCB layout model, you can further design Gerber files for the layer before taking it to the manufacturer. Creating a Gerber file describes a polygon carved from a copper layer. So how do you generate Gerber files?
Still, on KiCad, open a Pcbnew software tool that you will bring out the board file. To do this, click on the Design PCB with KiCad icon. Go to File then Plot, select Gerber as the plot format. Create a folder to save the Gerber files to press the Plot button finally.
Gerber File Export
Before uploading your Gerber files to the PCB manufacturer, use the curb view to view them and check if they are ready.
KiCad alone does not support auto-routing however, with its integration with the free route, you can have the feature. The free route might require you to install Java Runtime platform as it is a Java program. To get the automatic route, select Tools from the main menu toolbar – free path. A dialog box will appear to choose the Launch FreeRoute and Export a Specctra Design.
Having done that your PCB layout design is then stored in a .dsn file and you can access it via FreeRoute. It is okay to create your routes before involving the free route manually.
To start the auto-routing, go to the auto-router button at the top. At times, the routing could hang, and you are required to do the process manually. Go to the toolbar and click File icon then the Export Spectra File. You will have exported the .ses file. You can edit the tracts by making the changes at clicking the Pcbnew menu-Design Rules repeat the .dsn export process and open a new file with free route.
To view the PCB layout in 3D, click Alt-3. A 3D viewer will open, go to the Preference menu and enable the Realistic Mode and disable the rest. However, enable everything under Render Options.
Image 10: KiCad tutorial
In summary, all procedures covered are general functions of KiCad, We have not gotten deep in the mad as the tutorial is made especially for beginners. You can explore more on your own, and it will help with your practice and experience. Probably soon, you can become an expert.
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