Best Circuit/PCB Design CAD Software: Comparison & Reviews

Nowadays, it is common practice to use CADs for circuit/PCB design in the professional field.

In addition, with the emergence of inexpensive circuit design CAD/PCB design CAD with open source or subscription licenses, they are now being used for hobby electronic work and for educational purposes by students.

However, various vendors develop and sell circuit design CAD/PCB design CAD, and you may be confused about which one to choose.

In this article, we will introduce "Recommended Circuit Design CAD and PCB Design CAD" that can be used mainly in the professional design field.

This article is written by an engineer with more than 10 years of electrical design experience.


What is Electrical CAD?


Types of CAD

Types of CAD
  • Electrical CAD
    • Circuit Design CAD
    • PCB Design CAD
    • Electrical Control Design CAD
  • Mechanical CAD
  • Architectural CAD
  • Civil Engineering CAD


CAD (computer-aided design) generally refers to software for design and drafting using a PC.

The use of CAD has improved the efficiency and accuracy of design and drafting work compared to handwriting.

There are various types of CAD, and the ones introduced in this article are "circuit design CAD" and "PCB design CAD.

As simulation and analysis functions are added to "circuit design CAD" and "PCB design CAD", they are sometimes referred to as EDA tools (electronic design automation tools).

Price Structure

The following are the main circuit design CAD/PCB design CAD price structures.

Price Structure
  • Perpetual License + Maintenance Cost
  • Fixed Term License
  • Subscription License
  • Free Trial License
  • Freeware/Open Source Software

Perpetual License + Maintenance Cost

A perpetual license is a price structure adopted by most CAD vendor.

However, in the case of CAD, there will be periodic costs for maintenance, support, and version upgrade.

This confusing pricing makes it difficult for the user to understand the overall cost.

Fixed Term License

With a fixed term license, you pay a usage cost every certain period of time.

The price structure is easy to understand, but there may be restrictions such as term limits or optional cost for additional features.

Subscription License

A subscription license is the same as a fixed term license in that you pay a recurring cost, but it focuses more on user requests to improve the performance and functionality of CAD.

For example, with video streaming services such as Netflix, there are always new videos available to watch, so the quality of the product offered will increase despite the same monthly cost.

CAD for subscription license is also thoroughly user-first, with the ability to always use the latest version and easy contract and cancellation.

Free Trial License

A free trial license allows you to experience the software for free, with some restrictions on the paid license.

Restrictions include board size, number of layers, number of component pads, etc., and it cannot be used for commercial purposes.

Freeware/Open Source Software

Freeware/open source software CAD is essentially free to use.

Freeware basically does not disclose its source code. It is often provided as a personal hobby, or by PCB business companies or electronic component online shopping companies for sales promotion.

Open source software is based on the premise that "the source code is publicly available" and "redistribution is possible. Not only the originating developer, but also many people around the world can participate in the development.

License Authentication

There are four main types of license authentication methods for circuit design CAD/PCB design CAD.

License SharingOut-of-company UseInternet ConnectionLicense Server

USB Dongle

USB dongle authentication is a USB terminal-type hardware with an activation key inside, which is connected to the PC to activate the CAD.

The license key can be managed physically, but it needs to be sent, so it takes several weeks before the license is available, and it is difficult to take it outside the company for security reasons.


Standalone authentication means that you can obtain a license from the official web site of the CAD vendor in advance and activate the license in an offline environment.

However, since a license is required for each PC used by the user, it is difficult to share the CAD.


Network authentication is to access the license server of the CAD manufacturer for activation.

It can be used anywhere as long as there is an Internet connection, and the license can be shared very easily.

Private Server

Private server authentication involves setting up a license server in the company and then activating the license over a LAN.

This is sometimes called network authentication, but in this case, the license server is installed inside the company, making it almost impossible to use outside the company.

Features of Circuit Design CAD

Circuit design CAD is a software for creating circuit schematics. The created schematic data can be passed on to the PCB design CAD.

The main features of circuit design CAD are as follows.

Features of Circuit Design CAD
  • Improving the Efficiency of Design and Drafting Work
  • Linking with Circuit Simulator
  • BOM (Bill of Materials) and Netlist Output


Improving the Efficiency of Design and Drafting Work

Circuit Design CAD Design and Drafting Work

By using circuit design CAD, you can improve the efficiency of your design and drafting work.

For example, schematic symbols can be called up from the parts library, and wiring between each component can be processed quickly and accurately compared to handwriting.

However, with the standard parts library provided by free circuit design CAD, there are few components that can be used, so in many cases you will have to create your own.

It takes a lot of time to create schematic symbols and footprints, and there is a possibility of making mistakes.

For commercial purposes, it is better to use a paid circuit design CAD, because if even one of the footprints is different from the actual component and you proceed to PCB manufacturing, you will have to rebuild everything.

Also, it can be freely edited and copied so that it can be used in the next time.

ERC (Electrical Rule Check)

Circuit Design CAD ERC
Circuit Design CAD DRC

After creating a schematic, you can perform an ERC (Electrical Rule Check) to confirm that there are no electrical errors in the wiring.

If there is a wiring error, the CAD will display the result as an error or warning, allowing you to correct the mistake early in the design process.

There are also circuit design CAD with DRC (Design Rule Check) functionality. It can check the layout to make the schematic easier to read.

The items to be checked for ERC/DRC can be selected at the user's discretion in the circuit design CAD settings.

Linking with Circuit Simulator

Circuit Design CAD Circuit Simulator

Recently, there has been an increase in the number of circuit design CADs that can be liked with circuit simulators such as LTspice, PSpice, and HSPICE.

The circuit simulation can be performed directly from the schematic created by the circuit design CAD. Therefore, there is no need to create a schematic on the circuit simulator side.

BOM (Bill of Materials) and Netlist Output

Circuit Design CAD BOM

Circuit design CAD can output BOM (Bill of Material) and netlist.

BOM output can be customized, so it is easy to create company-specified BOMs.

Netlist is "the connection data between components in a schematic".

Usually, netlist output is available in a variety of third-party formats other than CAD vendors.

This allows you to deal with different CAD vendors when you outsource PCB design to your subcontractors.

In other cases, it can output a netlist for SPICE, which can be verified with circuit simulators such as LTspice, PSpice, and HSPICE.

Features of PCB Design CAD

PCB design CAD is software for pattern work by placing components on a PCB on data.

The created PCB layout data is used for PCB manufacturing and mounting. Usually, this is done by a PCB manufacturer.

The main features of PCB design CAD are as follows.

Features of PCB Design CAD
  • Improving the Efficiency of PCB Layout
  • Linking with Auto Routing Tool
  • 3D Functions
  • Gerber Data Output
  • Linking with Analysis Software


Improving the Efficiency of PCB Layout

PCB Design CAD PCB Layout

PCB design CAD can be used to improve the efficiency of PCB layout.

Rather, PCB design CAD is essential in PCB design because it is almost impossible to deal with multilayer boards by hand.

If the vendor is the same, you can have the circuit design CAD output data to the PCB design CAD for layout of the PCB.

Since the connection status is known, there is no wiring error in pattern work. It is also easy to modify and change the pattern work.

You can also handle schematics from other vendors as long as the netlist data is available.

Linking with Auto Routing Tool

PCB Design CAD Auto Routing Tool

For circuits that require many wiring points, such as CPUs and FPGAs, you can save time by linking an auto routing tool.

However, it does not take electrical characteristics into account, so power supply lines, analog lines, etc. must be wired manually in advance.



DRC (Design Rule Check) can be performed to check for violations of design rules for wiring, vias, etc.

Generally, DRC is performed after board layout is completed, but some PCB design CAD perform DRC in real time, allowing for error-free wiring work.

There are also PCB design CAD with MRC (Manufacturing Rule Check) functionality, which can be used to check for violations of manufacturing rules such as clearance between components and silk lettering angles.

The items to be checked for DRC/MRC can be selected at the user's discretion in the circuit design CAD settings.

3D Functions

PCB Design CAD 3D Layout

You can use the 3D viewer to view the designed PCB and check if the components are placed on the PCB as you imagined.

It can also be linked to a mechanical CAD to check the interference of PCBs and components in the case and to take thermal analysis.

Gerber Data Output

PCB Design CAD Gerber Data

PCB design CAD can output gerber data (manufacturing files and drill files) for PCB manufacturing.

The "Gerber format" is almost a standard format in the PCB industry.

Linking with Analysis Software

PCB design CAD can be linked to analysis software such as SI/PI analysis and EMC to perform various simulations before PCB manufacturing.

Nowadays, electronic products are required to have lower voltage, higher signal speed, smaller size, and more functions, so these analyses are becoming more and more important.

How to Select Circuit Design CAD/PCB Design CAD

The following is a summary of important points to consider when selecting a Circuit Design CAD/PCB Design CAD.

Note that open-source CAD is inferior in terms of support, so it is basically recommended to choose from paid CAD.

Also, please refer to "Comparison of Circuit Design CAD/PCB Design CAD" for a detailed comparison of the differences between each CAD.

How to Select Circuit Design CAD/PCB Design CAD
  • Cost Performance
  • Usability/Product Performance
  • Support

Cost Performance

When introducing a Circuit Design CAD/PCB Design CAD, aren't you concerned about the "price"?

However, it is very important to consider "cost performance" rather than simply choosing free CAD.

For example, if the labor cost is \$50/hour and the price of CAD is \$1,000/month, it is worth implementing if it can save more than 20 hours/month of work compared to free CAD.

Example of Cost Performance Approach
  • Price of CAD: \$1,000/month
  • Labor Costs: \$50/h
  • Break-Even Point:\$1,000÷\$50=20 hours/month

Therefore, it is necessary to select a CAD system that strikes a balance between "Usability/Product Performance" and "price".

Note that even paid CAD offer a free trial edition, which can be used for hobby use. Some support, such as online manuals and forums, may be available.

Usability/Product Performance

Naturally, the Circuit Design CAD/PCB Design CAD to be introduced must have the performance required for design work?

Paid CAD meets the basic specifications and offers various functions such as parts library, auto routing, 3D functions, and linking with circuit simulators and various analysis software.

"Creating component data for schematic symbols and footprints" is a particularly time-consuming task, so having a component library available can significantly reduce design time.

However, the higher the performance, the higher the CAD price tends to be, so be careful not to purchase CAD that is over-specified beyond their design level in terms of cost-effectiveness.

In addition, since these Circuit Design CAD/PCB Design CAD are designed for professionals, they tend to be packed with too many functions, making settings and operations more complicated. A good UI/UX is also important.

Recently, by linking an online electronic component company with a parts information database, some CADs can check the inventory and prices of parts used in circuits.

Basically, all paid CAD offer a free trial edition, so it is a good idea to actually use and compare them when selecting a CAD.

Free CAD usually does not have the ability to work with online electronic component companies. This is the difference between free CAD and paid CAD.


Paid Circuit Design CAD/PCB Design CAD are well supported.

Recently, in addition to telephone and e-mail, some companies have also established Internet-based support systems, such as webinars, online manuals, and forums, which are becoming more convenient.

Even if some problems occur in the operation of the CAD, the company that sells the paid CAD is basically quicker to respond.

Free CAD, on the other hand, is basically unsupported because it is funded by the authors' volunteer spirit and donations.

If a freeze or file crash occurs, it is the user's own responsibility, and we do not know when stable version will be released.

Also, some people say that well-known free CAD is explained a lot in books and websites, but in reality, many people do not know how to use it only from those explanations.

It is a fatal disadvantage in the job to have design work stalled for days, so it is better to choose from a paid CAD system with a good support system.

KiCad is well known as an open source CAD. However, we regularly receive questions on how to use KiCad on this site, perhaps because of the lack of support available, and we feel that it is better to use "paid CAD".

Comparison of Circuit Design CAD/PCB Design CAD

Here is a list of recommended circuit design CAD and PCB design CAD.

In some cases, a free trial edition is available, so you should definitely try it out for yourself.

RankingNo1No2No3Out of RankingOut of RankingOut of RankingOut of RankingOut of RankingOut of Ranking
Circuit Design CADQuadcept Circuit DesignerAltium DesignerKiCad Schematic EditorEAGLE Premium
(Fusion 360)
OrCAD CaptureCR-8000 Design GatewayPADS StandardDesignspark PCB ProFritzing
PCB Design CADQuadcept PCB Designer" KiCad PCB Editor"OrCAD PCB DesignerCR-8000 Design Force"""
Price of
Circuit Design CAD
+License Type Cost
Perpetual License Cost
+Maintenance Cost/year
UNCLEARPerpetual License Cost
+Maintenance Cost/year
\$449/year€ 8~
Price of
PCB Design CAD
"Free"Perpetual License Cost
+Maintenance Cost/year
9.8 million yen
+Maintenance Cost/year
Perpetual License Cost
+Maintenance Cost/year
Other Purchase
and Discount
Volume Discount
Continuity Discount
Altium Designer SE
Perpetual License
N/APaid every 3 years1 Year LicenseN/AStandard Plus
Free Trial EditionAVAILABLE
Non-Commercial Only
Limited to 4 layers and 100 pads *1
Free for 15 days
English SupportEXCELLENT
Online Manual
Phone etc.
Online Manual
Chat etc.
Windows 8.1
Windows 10
Windows 11
Windows 8.1
Windows 10
Windows 8.1
Windows 10
Windows 11
Windows 8.1
Windows 10
Windows 8.1
Windows 10
Windows 11
Windows 8.1
Windows 10
UNCLEARWindows 10Windows 8.1
Windows 10
Windows 11
Private Server
N/ALicense KeyUSB Dongle
Network Address
UNCLEARMobile Compute
Account RegistrationN/A
Parts DatabaseEXCELLENT
Linking with
online electronic component companies
Parts LibraryEXCELLENT
Share(About 250k parts)
File-based Libraries
Altium Content Vault
Circuit SimulatorEXCELLENT
Linking with LTspice
Altium SPICE simulator
Linking with Auto Routing tools
Altium Auto Route
Linking with Freerouting
Linking with 3D CADs
Linking with 3D CADs
Linking with 3D CADs
Data ConversionEXCELLENT
Schematic Data
PCB Data
Schematic Data
PCB Data
EAGLE Project
SI/PI AnalysisGOOD
Cloud Simulation Service
Altium SI simulator
(No PI Analysis)
Linking with DEMITASNX
Linking with EMC tools
VendorQuadcept Inc.Altium Ltd.CERN
*Development Support
Autodesk, Inc.Cadence Design Systems, Inc.ZUKEN Inc.Siemens Industry Software Inc.RS Group plcInteraction Design Lab Potsdam
Head OfficeJapanUSASwitzerlandUSAUSAJapanUSAUKGermany
Main FeaturesCan be used anywhere in the cloud
Simple and Inexpensive Subscription
Simple SubscriptionOpen Source SoftwareLinking with
Mechanical CAD
Used in over 85 countriesLargest company in JapanFormerly known as
"Mentor Graphics Corp."
Linking with RSOpen Source Software
Official Web Site» Official Web Site» Official Web Site» Official Web Site» Official Web Site» Official Web Site» Official Web Site» Official Web Site» Official Web Site

*1: "Quadcept Community" is limited to non-commercial, 4 layers, 1000 pads.

Circuit Design CAD/PCB Design CAD Ranking

Here is a ranking of circuit design CAD and PCB design CAD.


Quadcept Professional
  • Circuit Design CAD: Quadcept Circuit Designer
  • PCB Design CAD: Quadcept PCB Designer
  • The world's cloud-based electronic CAD system that can be used anywhere
  • Simple and inexpensive subscriptions from $39/month
  • Short learning time for CAD with careful support system
  • About 250,000 free parts data to reduce design time
  • Data conversion makes it easy to switch from another company's CAD
  • Software installation required
  • Training is charged(Free online manuals and free online seminars available)

is the world's first cloud-based circuit/board design CAD system, so you can use it at work, at home, on business trips overseas, or anywhere else you have an Internet connection.

It offers a subscription service with no initial or maintenance fees. Circuit design CAD is available for \$39 and up, and PCB design CAD for \$99 and up.

In addition, there are many other attractive points for users, such as the short learning time of CAD through the support system and the reduction of design time through the 250,000 parts data.

However, Quadcept is just a software that is installed on a local PC, with the infrastructure of "license activation", "parts library", and "parts inventory and price database" in the cloud for business efficiency.

Therefore, you need to make sure that the PC you will use Quadcept on meets the system requirements, including the supported OS, in advance.

Free online manuals and free online seminars are available, but there is cost for training. If you need customized training for your company, you may want to consider it.

\ Over 72,000 users! Also used by TOYOTA! /

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No2 Altium Designer

Altium Circuit Design CAD PCB Design CAD
Altium Designer
  • Circuit Design CAD: Altium Designer/Altium Designer SE
  • PCB Design CAD: Altium Designer
  • High-end class CAD
  • Used all over the world, especially in the United States and Europe.
  • High cost of using CAD
  • Training is charged

Altium Designer is a high-end circuit design CAD/PCB design CAD that is used all over the world, especially in the US and Europe.

It is relatively expensive at $325/month, but the fee structure is easy to understand, mainly based on subscription services.

Perpetual license ($3,850/year) is also available, which is more economical if you plan to use it for more than 3 years.

There is also a circuit design CAD-only edition, "Altium Designer SE", and a 15-day free evaluation edition.

However, there is a cost for changing the license activation, and it is not possible to purchase PCB design CAD alone, which is not user-friendly.

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No3 KiCad

KiCad Circuit Design CAD PCB Design CAD
  • Circuit Design CAD: KiCad Schematic Editor
  • PCB Design CAD: KiCad PCB Editor
  • Free to use
  • Professional level of CAD functionality
  • No support for open source software
  • Not linked to analysis software such as SI/PI analysis and EMC

KiCad is a circuit design/PCB design CAD of open source software, so anyone can use it for free.

What's more, since CERN started supporting its development in 2013, it has come closer to professional-level CAD.

However, since it is only an open source software CAD, there is no support, so it may take some time to solve the problem.

In addition, these simulations cannot be performed prior to PCB manufacturing because they are not linked to analysis software such as SI/PI analysis and EMC.

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Other Circuit Design CAD/PCB Design CAD

For your reference, here are some circuit design CADs and PCB design CADs that are not ranked.

EAGL Premium(Fusion 360)

EAGLE Circuit Design CAD PCB Design CAD
  • Circuit Design CAD: EAGLE Premium(Fusion 360)
  • PCB Design CAD: EAGLE Premium(Fusion 360)
  • Easy to obtain parts libraries
  • Good at linking with mechanical design CAD
  • Eagle Standard plan is gone
  • Only option is Fusion360 subscription version

EAGLE Premium is a circuit design CAD/PCB design CAD that is included as a feature of Fusion360.

Autodesk, the developer and distributor of Fusion360, also offers AutoCAD and Inverntor as its main products, and EAGLE Premium has extensive functionality for integration with these mechanical design CAD (3D CAD).

Originally, EAGLE was often used as a hobby because a non-commercial free version (2 schematic sheets/2 layers/board size up to 80 cm2) was available and component libraries were relatively easy to obtain.

Also, there was an EAGLE Standard (4 layers/board size up to 160cm2) plan for commercial use.

But since EAGLE itself has been incorporated and integrated into Fusion360, the only option is now a Fusion360 subscription version (e.g. \$495/year).

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OrCAD Circuit Design CAD PCB Design CAD
  • Circuit Design CAD: OrCAD Capture
  • PCB Design CAD: OrCAD PCB Designer
  • Used in over 85 countries
  • Various options such as PSpice
  • High initial, maintenance, and option costs
  • Training is charged

OrCAD is a mid-range circuit design CAD/PCB design CAD that has been used in over 85 countries around the world.

A variety of options are available, including PSpice for circuit analysis, parts library creation service, and board analysis.

However, although it is affordable compared to high-end class CAD, the cost is high when you include the initial cost, maintenance cost, and option cost.

It is especially painful that auto routing tool and circuit simulator are treated as options.

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ZUKEN Circuit Design CAD PCB Design CAD
  • Circuit Design CAD: CR-8000 Design Gateway
  • PCB Design CAD: CR-8000 Design Force
  • High-end class CAD
  • Used in over 85 countries
  • High initial, maintenance, and option costs
  • No free trial edition
  • Training is charged

The CR-8000 series is a high-end class EDA tool developed and sold by ZUKEN Inc, the largest company in Japan.

The circuit design CAD is "Design Gateway" and the PCB design CAD is "Design Force". Compared to other companies' products, the CR-8000 series offers higher performance and reduces design time.

However, it is only a high-end class CAD, and the list price of the professional edition of "Design Force" is 9.8 million yen.

Therefore, the number of companies that can install CR-8000 will be limited because of the considerable amount of money involved.

In addition, "Board Viewer" that display PCB data designed with Design Force can be downloaded free of charge, but the free trial edition of Design Gateway/Design Force does not seem to exist on the official ZUKEN WEB site.

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PADS Standard

PADS Circuit Design CAD PCB Design CAD
PADS Standard
  • Circuit Design CAD: PADS Standard
  • PCB Design CAD: PADS Standard
  • Choose from Standaard, Standaard Plus, and Professional
  • Used all over the world, especially in the United States
  • License activation is inconvenient
  • Training is charged

PADS is a circuit design CAD/board design CAD originally developed and sold by Mentor Graphics. There are Standaard, Standaard Plus, and Professional by function.
(Currently, it has been acquired by Siemens and operates as Siemens EDA.)

The price of the CADs are not listed and you cannot download the free trial editon from the official website. If you want to know more details, you need to contact Siemens EDA.

Also, compared to network authentication via the Internet, setting up PADS license authentication is more complicated.

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DesignSpark Circuit Design CAD PCB Design CAD
  • Circuit Design CAD: DesignSpark PCB Pro
  • PCB Design CAD: DesignSpark PCB Pro
  • Commercial use is possible even in the free edition
  • Easy to obtain parts libraries
  • UI is not excellent
  • Not good support

Designspark PCB Pro is a circuit design CAD/PCB design CAD provided by "DesignSpark". it is a community platform for developers operated by RS Components.

The price is a reasonable \$449/year, and there is also a free version, DesignSpark PCB, which has no restrictions and can be used for commercial purposes.

However, because of the low cost, including the PRO edition, the UI and support are not so excellent.

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Fritzing Circuit Design CAD PCB Design CAD
  • Circuit Design CAD: Fritzing
  • PCB Design CAD: Fritzing
  • Physical wiring diagrams, schematics, and board layouts are linked
  • Especially easy to use for Arduino circuits
  • A minimum donation of 8 euros is required
  • Not suitable for commercial use

Fritzing is a unique circuit design CAD/PCB design CAD that links physical wiring diagrams of breadboard, schematics, and board layouts.

Of course, the wiring and layout drawn in conjunction is difficult to see and needs to be corrected. However, since you can select Arduino boards as components, it is easy to use for Arduino circuits.

On the other hand, due to these characteristics, it is not suitable for commercial and complex circuit/PCB design. It is better to think of it as a hobby for electronic engineering.

Please note that since version 0.9.4 of Fritzing, a minimum donation of 8 euros is now required.

Although it is not recommended, Fritzing is open source software, so you can legally download the installer from GitHub for free.

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