Best Circuit Design CAD/PCB Design CAD

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

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 briefly explain the main features and then introduce the recommended circuit design CAD/PCB design CAD in a ranking format so that even beginners will not get lost.

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



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What is Electrical CAD?

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

etc.

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 AuthenticationLicense SharingOut-of-company UseInternet ConnectionLicense Server
USB DongleGOODGOODUNNECESSARYUNNECESSARY
StandaloneGOODEXCELLENTUNNECESSARYUNNECESSARY
NetworkEXCELLENTEXCELLENTNECESSARYUNNECESSARY
Private ServerEXCELLENTPOORUNNECESSARYNECESSARY

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

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

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
  • ERC/DRC
  • Linking with Circuit Simulator
  • BOM (Bill of Materials) and Netlist Output

etc.

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
  • DRC/MRC
  • 3D Functions
  • Gerber Data Output
  • Linking with Analysis Software

etc.

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/MRC

PCB Design CAD DRC
PCB Design CAD MRC

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.

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.

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RankingNo1No2No3Out of RankingOut of RankingOut of RankingOut of RankingOut of RankingOut of Ranking
Circuit Design CADQuadcept Circuit DesignerAltium DesignerKiCad EeschemaEAGLE
(Free Trial Edition)
OrCAD CaptureCR-8000 Design GatewayPADS StandardDesignspark PCBFritzing
PCB Design CADQuadcept PCB Designer KiCad PcbnewOrCAD PCB DesignerCR-8000 Design Force
Price of
Circuit Design CAD
\$39/month
($429/year)
\$325/month
(\$3,850/year)
+License Type Cost
FreeFreePerpetual License Cost
+Maintenance Cost/year
UNCLEARPerpetual License Cost
+Maintenance Cost/year
Free€ 8~
*Donation
Price of
PCB Design CAD
\$99/month
($1,089/year)
FreeFreePerpetual License Cost
+Maintenance Cost/year
9.8 million yen
+Maintenance Cost/year
Perpetual License Cost
+Maintenance Cost/year
Free
Other Purchase
and Discount
Volume Discount
Continuity Discount
Altium Designer SE
Perpetual License
N/APaid License1 Year LicenseN/AStandard Plus
Professional
Paid LicenseN/A
Free Trial EditionAVAILABLEAVAILABLEN/AN/AAVAILABLEN/AAVAILABLEN/AN/A
Commercial UseAVAILABLEAVAILABLEAVAILABLEN/AAVAILABLEAVAILABLEAVAILABLEAVAILABLEUNCLEAR
English SupportEXCELLENTEXCELLENTPOORPOORGOODGOODGOODGOODPOOR
OSWindows 8.1
Windows 10
Windows 11
Windows 8.1
Windows 10
etc.
Windows 8.1
Windows 10
Windows 11
etc.
Windows 8.1
Windows 10
etc.
Windows 8.1
Windows 10
Windows 11
etc.
Windows 8.1
Windows 10
etc.
UNCLEARWindows 10Windows 8.1
Windows 10
Windows 11
etc.
License
Authentication
Method
Network
Standalone
On-Demand
Private Server
Standalone
N/AN/AUSB Dongle
Network Address
UNCLEARMobile Compute
Node-Locked
Float
N/AN/A
License SharingEXCELLENTEXCELLENTN/AN/AGOODUNCLEARUNCLEARN/AN/A
Parts LibraryEXCELLENTEXCELLENTPOORGOODPOOREXCELLENTEXCELLENTEXCELLENTGOOD
Circuit SimulatorEXCELLENTEXCELLENTEXCELLENTEXCELLENTPOOREXCELLENTGOODEXCELLENTPOOR
Auto RoutingEXCELLENTEXCELLENTEXCELLENTEXCELLENTPOOREXCELLENTEXCELLENTEXCELLENTPOOR
3D FunctionsEXCELLENTEXCELLENTEXCELLENTEXCELLENTEXCELLENTEXCELLENTEXCELLENTEXCELLENTGOOD
Data ConversionEXCELLENTEXCELLENTGOODPOORPOORPOOREXCELLENTPOORPOOR
SI/PI AnalysisGOODGOODPOORPOORPOOREXCELLENTGOODPOORPOOR
EMCGOODGOODPOORPOORPOOREXCELLENTGOODPOORPOOR
VendorQuadcept Inc.Altium Ltd.CERN
*Development Support
Autodesk, Inc.Cadence Design Systems, Inc.ZUKEN Inc.Siemens EDARS ComponentsInteraction Design Lab Potsdam
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

Circuit Design CAD/PCB Design CAD Ranking

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

No1

Quadcept Professional
  • Circuit Design CAD: Quadcept Circuit Designer
  • PCB Design CAD: Quadcept PCB Designer
ADVANTAGES
  • 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
DISADVANTAGES
  • 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! /

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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
ADVANTAGES
  • High-end class CAD
  • Used all over the world, especially in the United States and Europe.
DISADVANTAGES
  • 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
KiCad
  • Circuit Design CAD: KiCad Eeschema
  • PCB Design CAD: KiCad Pcbnew
ADVANTAGES
  • Free to use
  • Professional level of CAD functionality
DISADVANTAGES
  • 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.

EAGLE

EAGLE Circuit Design CAD PCB Design CAD
EAGLE
  • Circuit Design CAD: EAGLE
  • PCB Design CAD: EAGLE
ADVANTAGES
  • Easy to obtain parts libraries
  • Good at linking with mechanical design CAD
DISADVANTAGES
  • Eagle Standard plan is gone
  • Support is forum only

EAGLE has often been used for hobby electronics work because a non-commercial free edition was available and component libraries were relatively easy to obtain.

In addition, Autodesk Inc. that develops and sells EAGLE, is a leading provider of mechanical design CAD such as Fusion360, AutoCAD, and Inverntor. As a result, EAGLE is fully linked with these mechanical design CADs.

However, now that EAGLE has been integrated into Fusion360, the only commercial edition available is the Fusion360 subscription ($495/year).

As a result, the Eagle Standard (layer 4 / board size up to 160cm2) plan has disappeared, and the free edition is also more restrictive than other companies.

therefore, individual users are starting to use CAD from other companies.

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OrCAD

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

OrCAD is a mid-range circuit and 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 CR-8000

ZUKEN Circuit Design CAD PCB Design CAD
ZUKEN CR-8000
  • Circuit Design CAD: CR-8000 Design Gateway
  • PCB Design CAD: CR-8000 Design Force
ADVANTAGES
  • High-end class CAD
  • Used in over 85 countries
DISADVANTAGES
  • 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
ADVANTAGES
  • Choose from Standaard, Standaard Plus, and Professional
  • Used all over the world, especially in the United States
DISADVANTAGES
  • 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

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

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

Designspark PCB is free, unrestricted, and can be used for commercial purposes, but a more advanced edition, Designspark PCB PRO ($449/year), is also available.

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

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Fritzing

Fritzing Circuit Design CAD PCB Design CAD
Fritzing
  • Circuit Design CAD: Fritzing
  • PCB Design CAD: Fritzing
ADVANTAGES
  • Physical wiring diagrams, schematics, and board layouts are linked
  • Especially easy to use for Arduino circuits
DISADVANTAGES
  • 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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