Custom circuit board creation software/service


My FTC team is planning on using a series of switches in order to select between the multiple autonomous options this year. They are thinking of having a 2-toggle switch box that plugs into the JST connectors on the REV control/expansion hub, one to select between red and blue alliance, and one to select between warehouse-side and turntable-side start.


Our students are already fairly experienced with soldering, so rather than wire that small mess up and package it into our already tight robot I wanted to expose them to circuit board design a bit. Sure, we could use regular perf board and just run small wires together, but I thought this might be a better learning experience. The idea is we could use a standard JST PH 4-pin male-male wires to a circuit board/box that has two switches wired to it.

What is everyone’s circuit board designer of choice? Preferably free, easy to use, and generates the other parts we will need too (switches, female JST PH connector, etc.). Ideally short lead times too.

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KiCad is free (as in speech and beer) and very powerful. Also relatively easy to pick up and get started with- lots of tutorials geared towards hobbyists, and includes pretty much all the parts you’ll need in the standard library.
EAGLE is also an option, it’s free for students from autodesk, but most of the hobbyist EEs I know prefer KiCad to it. Much less of a standard library than kicad.
Either one will get your students used to the mechanics of ECAD and are pretty much transferable (I learned on EAGLE but have used KiCad, Cadence/Orcad, and Altium without much trouble.)

When you’re ready to buy boards, oshpark or jlcpcb will probably be your best options. They’ll likely have comparable lead times and price for small boards (including shipping), but you can get 10 from JLC and 3 from oshpark.


My time is definitely spent on KiCAD, seconding Julia’s suggestion, and Oshpark produces nice boards but JLC will produce cheap and “good enough” boards for most projects. I will point out that with KiCAD you will need footprints / symbols, but you can also find many of those freely available either in the default library, or on DigiKey with an equivalent part, or make it pretty quickly.


Thank you both! I will give KiCAD a shot.

Yet another vote - KiCad and OshPark. Hard to beat em.

Eagle is what I used to use. Not bad either back in the day, but I didn’t like the autodesk integration personally, and opted to move on.


I use OSH Park for prototypes and low volume stuff often and they do a great job of providing a quality product quickly. I’ve been using Eagle for the layout portion of the design but I use an old Cadsoft version to avoid the Autodesk bloated mess. It may be time to try KiCAD.

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I use kicad, but for a really basic project or an easier start, I hear easyeda (from jlcpcb i think) is kinda like the onshape equivalent: online, simplified, but good enough. and has integration with LCSC’s big library of parts

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Last month, I used the open-source and free FreePCB-2 to design and layout a series of cable adapter boards for test cables at work because the learning curve is about the shortest I have ever seen among all the many different PCB layout softwares I have used. I had initially started the board designs in Altium, our default PCB layout program, but had difficulty setting up all the libraries. My coworkers and I, used an earlier version of FreePCB at a previous job to do the “floor-planning” of some complex processor boards (400-500 components) as well as mixed-signal boards (analog + digital) because we were not allowed access to the actual layout software the company used.

The design software available online from the bare PCB manufacturers such as JLCPCB are often a version of Eagle that is modified so that your design is “captive” in their system so you cannot export the design files or Gerber files.

If you wish, you can also use a separate, Gerber viewer such as the free version of ViewMate to ensure that the Gerber files generated are what you really want. In the past, I have encountered “bugs” in the generated Gerber files that were not in CAD data. We suspect the Gerber generation software glitched.

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KiCAD is a great open-source EDA software. Having the students use this would allow them to use basically a full-fledge EDA software and start learning the ropes of how to make boards and parts and do the schematic layouts. This would also lead nicely into more premium or Pro software like Altium, PADs, Orcad.

With that being said there is no shame in using the much easier tools like EasyEDA. If I want to use JLC PCB Assembly service it is super easy and quick to use. Also other less pro EDA software like FreePCB, Scheme-it (digikey). There are also some interesting options like the EDA software in Fusion 360 and Solidworks that have some great hardware packaging workflow advantages (but you don’t really need to worry about these).

Also having a separate Gerber viewer is a must before you send boards out. I also really like ViewMate. So I would use that to review the boards before hitting send.

If you continue to have your students make boards and want them to get more into the design side of PCB then moving to a part library manager is a must. Once they are at a point that dealing with part importing and checking footprints becomes an obstacle to good design then that is when you need a parts library manager. Most of the programs talked about here already have some form of a parts library in them.

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