“After Dark” now looks great in KiCad

“After Dark” 3D render now looks great in KiCad v5.99 (the nightly development build) thanks to Mario Luzeiro!

Here are the settings for the KiCad 3-D viewer:

  • To view the plated SMD pads and through hole vias, then uncheck the solder paste layers and uncheck the options to render 3D models:
  • Set solder mask color to 0% opacity:
  • Set “Copper/Surface Finish” color to Gold:
  • Set board body color to Black:

“After Dark” now looks great in KiCad

KiCon 2020 to take place October 3rd

An update from the KiCon website:

After a successful first year of KiCon in 2019, we decided to change venues. We were very excited to hold the conference at CERN, a major contributor to the KiCad project. However, Coronavirus / COVID-19 changed a lot of plans, including ours.

We will be hosting a short program on October 3rd. The key focus will be a developer session, where members of the community can hear about the changes to the upcoming version 6 software, and ask questions directly to the developers. Further planning details to follow.

KiCon 2020 to take place October 3rd

New features coming to KiCad

KiCad developer craftyjon recently posted videos about upcoming features.

This is a preview of the new per-type object opacity and visibility controls coming in KiCad 6
This is a preview of the new net and netclass appearance control panel coming in KiCad 6

New features coming to KiCad

Hackspace Mag: PCB design – the open way!

My column from the latest issue of Hackspace Magazine:

PCB design – the open way!

You’ve had an awesome idea for a new project, you’ve managed to get your breadboard prototype working and you’re ready to commit to making your design into a shiny new Printed Circuit Board (PCB). To do that, you’ll need to create a schematic and PCB layout using some kind of Electronic Design Automation (EDA) software. Let’s take a look at some of the options.

Altium is Windows-only proprietary software common in professional settings where the company can afford hefty licencing fees. Autodesk Eagle is also proprietary but runs on Mac, Linux and Windows. Eagle has a restricted free version that is popular with students and hobbyists. The commercial licensing is way less expensive than Altium, making Eagle popular with smaller businesses, including many famous Open Source Hardware (OSHW) organizations like Adafruit, Arduino and Sparkfun.

In recent times a free and Open Source software suite called KiCad has been making waves in the PCB design world. KiCad has been around since 1992, when it was created by Jean-Pierre Charras. Until relatively recently KiCad was a small fish in the EDA software pond, but in 2013 the iconic research organisation CERN started to invest in KiCad as part of their Open Hardware initiative

This commitment from CERN improved KiCad dramatically, in terms of stability, functionality and popularity. They worked on crucial features including a push and shove router which is capable of routing differential pairs and interactively tuning trace lengths. These higher end features allowed KiCad to handle more complex designs, including critical hardware controlling experiments at CERN, a complex 64 bit ARM single board computer by Olimex and the MNT Reform, a fully Open Source laptop by Lukas Hartmann. DigiKey is also investing heavily into KiCad, including developing a parts library and releasing a ten part KiCad video series on YouTube with Shawn Hymel.

A great way to get started with KiCad is “Getting to Blinky”, a video tutorial by Chris Gammell.  There’s also KiCon, a conference dedicated to KiCad where you can learn from other designers. The next KiCon will be held online in September 2020.

Like many Open Source software projects, KiCad gets funding for developer time through donations. Hopefully these donations will allow project leader Wayne Stambaugh and other core developers to dedicate more time to KiCad development. If you want to support of professional-quality PCB design tools without cost, functionality or intellectual property restrictions, you can donate to KiCad through the Linux Foundation.

The PDF is available to download from Hackspace.

Hackspace Mag: PCB design – the open way!

Introducing EDeA: An Open Platform for Easily Reusable Subcircuits

This looks like a promising way to make PCB design more efficient by leveraging the existing open source hardware designs:

Screenshot from 2020-07-30 11-02-22

Introducing EDeA

We’re building an open-source web portal for sharing KiCad subcircuits, which will enable you to create more by doing less.

This is what inspired the EDeA project. Out of a very naïve “how hard can this be?” question, we first built a primitive prototype tool to merge KiCad projects, including their schematics and PCB layout. This still need a lot of work before it can be considered safe, including correct net aliasing, nesting of subschematics, etc. But this solves only one part of the problem, something which should be solved in the upcoming major release of KiCad anyways.

We are now laying the groundwork for EDeA; a community portal to share, find, and assemble subcircuits into KiCad projects. It’s all in rough shape, and we’re still a bit away from the first alpha we will show to the public, but we’re getting there.

What we envisioned is an easy-to-use catalog of various circuit submodules; power supplies, data converters, microcontrollers, processors, and so on. These submodules contain schematics and a PCB layout, among with useful metadata; number of copper layers, component count, surface area, necessary manufacturing capabilities, and so on. Each of the subcircuit category should also have meaningful parameters; for example efficiency for a power supply, bandwidth for a transceiver. You can select any amount of these submodules, click a button, and get a KiCad project which contains all the submodules as hierarchical subsheets. Now you only need to wire these together as you need them, and in pcbnew move the already layouted submodules to fit the exact shape you need. To keep the already complex project manageable, we can’t go into auto-connecting and auto-placing of submodules. At least not yet.

Introducing EDeA: An Open Platform for Easily Reusable Subcircuits

Custom 16×16 matrix display PCB

Erik van Zijst writes about their latest project made with our “After Dark” service:
For a previous project I explored what it would take to create a text marquee on an 8×8 LED matrix display without microcontroller, using only 7400 chips, an old EEPROM and breadboard components. Matrix Displays I was interested in using an LED matrix display and I picked up some cheap 8×8 ones on Amazon. medium.com That worked, but 8×8 is very small to do anything interesting and so I wanted to give it another go, create a larger 16×16 panel, design a custom PCB and ultimately hook it up to a microcontroller this time to write some games for it.

View at Medium.com

Custom 16×16 matrix display PCB

KiCad class starts July 7th

Anool Mahidharia will be teaching an introduction to KiCAD and FreeCAD:

Classes are Tuesdays at 19:00 IST. Classes are recorded and released on the course page within a few weeks so you can learn at your convenience. Office Hours are Fridays at 1630 IST and limited to 30 people per session. A second session in evening PDT will be offered August 2020.

The complete course is 4 classes long. For those who would like to attend each class, please sign up for each class individually.

Overview: We’ll start off with a hand drawn schematic, and progress from schematic capture to creating production files such as Gerbers, BoM, and 3D CAD export. We’ll then switch to FreeCAD and do a simple enclosure design for our project.

Schedule: The course will consist of four sessions total. Each section will contain a video component and an office hour component where the instructor will be available for questions.

Prerequisites: It will help to have a good understanding of electronics and some basic understanding of engineering drawing.

KiCad class starts July 7th

Tidy Laser Cut Packaging For PCBs With KiCAD

A laser cutter is a useful tool to have in any workshop. While many hackers use them for their cutting abilities, it’s important to remember that they can be great as engravers, too. [Wrickert] was well aware of this when he set his to work, producing attractive packaging for his Tindie orders.

[Wrickert] sells a variety of small PCB-based devices on Tindie, and it’s nice to have something to package them up with, rather than just sending a bare board. To do this quickly and effectively, KiCAD is used to help generate the packaging from the original PCB geometry itself. The board outlines are exported as an SVG file, reopened in KiCAD, and then used to create the required cardboard parts. The laser can then also be used to engrave the cardboard too.

It’s a tidy packaging solution that requires no messy inks or printers, and can be designed in the same software as the device itself. We’ve covered this area before, talking about what it takes to go from a home project to a saleable kit. If you’re in the game, you might find [Wrickert]’s hack to be just the ticket!

via Tidy Laser Cut Packaging For PCBs With KiCAD — Hackaday


Custom themes for KiCad

Thanks to the wonderful hardware designer Greg Davill for this suggestion on Twitter:

Several custom themes for KiCad are available from this GitHub repo:

pcbnew (1)


Want to change the color scheme of KiCad? Look here for Inspiration.
Check out the readme to see all the options.  Here are a few:

Screenshot from 2020-05-30 22-11-37Screenshot from 2020-05-30 22-11-20

Custom themes for KiCad

KiCad 5.1.6 released

Screenshot from 2020-05-16 21-51-10

KiCad 5.1.6 has been released:

The KiCad project is proud to announce the latest series 5 stable release. The 5.1.6 stable version contains critical bug fixes and other minor improvements since the 5.1.5 release. It also includes improved footprint, symbol, and 3D model libraries, translations, and documentation.

This is also the first stable point release made since switching to gitlab for main kicad source code hosting.

A list of all of the fixed bugs since the 5.1.5 release can be found on the KiCad 5.1.6 milestone page. This release contains several critical bug fixes so please consider upgrading as soon as possible.

Read more…

KiCad 5.1.6 released