To a great extent, most PCB engineers would admit that PCB designs draw the lines of new PCB manufacturing competitions. By improving PCB art designing, you can minimize your cost of production, give your electronics cutting-edge looks, and achieve better functionalities. The knowledge of PCB arts is crucial to all PCB engineers.
But, what is “PCB art”? How can you apply it in your projects? Should you do it at the Gerber or during PCB assembly? In this edition will dig a little bit deeper into the topic to unearth the arts that sell.
1、What is PCB Art?
In a nutshell, “PCB Art” is a generic term that defines an attempt to create an artistic impression on a Printed Circuit Board (PCB). Such an image might be drawn during the Gerber designing or cut through during manufacturing.
Let’s take an example of a wristwatch's PCB. I bet we all know of the good old rectangular-shaped watch PCBs with strictly utilitarian squire-shaped drawings linking ICs and other electronic components. Now, compare that simple ancient design with the modern age of complicated boards with intricate and artistically drawn interconnection ofcomponents, and multiple layers.
Assuming that we eventually manufactured the two PCBs (the old PCB without art and the new PCB with art) and deployed them in the watch market; won’t both designs show you the time? Of course, they would. Then why should you spend a fortune to add art on PCBs?Is it worth it?
The design does not matter a lot when you need to attain a practical goal, but it does matter when you need to sell or to impress.As an individual, you might need to examine the designs that would look impressive,the ones that would perform better, and the technology improved.Often, such designconsiderations would influencehighermarket sales among several competitors. PCB art is commonly used to attain these goals of PCB manufacturing.
So, how do you go about the process of creating a PCB art? What do you need to know about PCBs as a work of art? In the next chapter, we will explore the theory of creating PCB artworks and some of the techniques you might consider taking.
2、PCBs as a Work of Art
The skill of PCB art designing originated from within the engineers of technologically advanced electronic manufacturers. In modern days, this skill has found its way into the DIY (Do-It-Yourself) hobbyist manufacturers’ skills pack. It is currently applied in the production of the simplest to the most advanced PCB productions.PCB arts are everywhere. You will meet them hidden in the electric shaver while you take a morning shower, or you will put them on as smart watches when going to work.
In today’s market, electronic companies (especially phones) and creative PCB art designers oftenteam up to design and produce complex small-sized PCBs with functionalities that were initially unimaginable.
Besides the consumer electronics audience, PCB arts havealso extendedinto DIY projects like the production of auxiliary jewelry andgifts. Towards the end of this edition, we will explore several other emerging applications of PCB art in the industry.
But before we get deep into the actual process of designing our PCB artworks, let us first understand the different types of PCB Artworks depending on the types of PCBs.
Think about this: a flexible device cannot have the same PCB material as that of a solid device as a phone. The composition of a board often defines the type of art you can implement on a board.
Because of the broad scope of PCB applications, there exist different types of PCBs boards for the various uses. These variations of PCBs include:
These are the oldest forms of PCBs in the market. They involve a single layer of substrate that is covered by a metal layer. Copper enclosed with a protective solder mask is often the ideal metal cover for the Single-Sided PCBs.
The formation of PCB artson such PCBs is natural andoften cheaper compared to other types of PCB boards. However, such a board cannot be useful when manufacturing multilayered art.
Double-sided PCBs are the most popularly used type of PCBs in the current market. They feature a single substrate with two of its sides layered with metal. When connecting components on different sides of the substrate, holes are made to link elements from one side of the substrate with components on a different side of the substrate.
Creating art on a double-sided PCB is relatively cheaper and more comfortable than producing it on a multilayered PCB.Then again, it is only limited to a single layer of art.
Most modern PCBs utilize the multiple substrates and metal layering PCB production approach. In this approach, various layers of metal with insulating materials (4, 6, 8 or ten layers) get piled upon each other and connections made between the layers when manufacturing a single PCB. We often utilize such types of equipment in producing medical equipment, computers, and other smart devices.
Production of art in a multilayered PCB is often a bit costly and takes more time to produce when compared to single-layered PCBs. However, these boards accommodate multiple layers of art.
We use flexible plastic as a substrate when producing flex PCBs. These PCBs are often applied when manufacturing electrical appliances that demand flexibility in design or usage like on foldable screens. They are often expensive to produce but have more uses that rigid PCBs.
Producing art on flexible PCBs is complex. It involves set rules and guidelines that a designer must comply when producing the artworks. We will examine some of these important guidelines later on within this edition.
Well, Well, let’s now get our hands dirty with some PCB artwork!
3、How to Do A PCB Art in Design
Designing is sometimes a hard task. But you don’t have to begin it in the wrong way; that's why you need some designing tools.
When designing a PCB, you will need a proper software application for creating the Gerber or vector file(s) for your PCB. Thanks to the internet, you will often find hundreds of such tools available for download. And that variety of choice is sometimes a “blessed curse” as you might have a hard time to distinguish the best from the rest. In this section, we will briefly exploresomepopulardesigning tools; especially the “free-to-all” applications to aid you to get started. Let's begin with.
Eagle is a PCB designing software product owned by Autodesk. It is not an open-source application. Then again, it is the most popular software for designing PCBs. Eagle has the following outstanding features:
- A multicolored schematic PCB editor
- Several libraries available for reusing
- Enhanced error detectors
It stands out for its vast supportive community and broad features of the design. Then again, this software is costly to acquire and maintain. Because of its cost, it is commendable for commercial usage.
KiCad EDA is an Open-Source PCB designing software. It has been developed to suit both commercial and learning uses. Some of its outstanding features include:
- It supports up to 32 copper layers
- It gives on-design error prompts that alert you when you while designing
- Has an easy-to-use footprint editor
KiCad uses a 3D viewer for easy viewing of layers and error checking. It is also a free-to-use cross-platform tool. Both beginners and professional users are likely to find it useful.
EasyEDA creates a different paradigm to PCB design by making its tool an online-based PCB designing tool. I (personally) find it intriguing when creating designs that demand collaborative efforts; especially, when designing or working with engineers who are unreachable physically.
It is recommended for its vast support of designs from other designing tools, ease of use, and its open-source nature. Besides, you don’t have to install it; if you can open it on a browser, you will easily get going. EasyEDA is a better tool for DIY projects because it's cheap, demands lesser resources, but performs important tasks.
Just like Eagle, Proteus is a vendor-off-the-shelf PCB designing software application developed and owned by LabCenter Electronics. It is a powerful tool with over 800 microcontroller options to choose from when designing your circuit.
Then again, Proteus is costly to acquire. It is a great tool for professional uses.But if you are working on a tight budget as a hobbyist; feel welcome toskip it.
Now the TinyCAD is the “plain and simple” PCB designing tool. This product of Sourceforge is free-to-use, but its design is highly simplified. I do recommend it highly when drawing schematics.
It is an excellent tool for experimentation and a perfect tool for hobbyist DIY projects. Nevertheless, it lacks the right testing tools for professional usage.
PCB arts demand art ideas. After choosing an ideal tool, you will need to carefully consider the idea behind the art you will develop and whether it will be easy and affordable to produce it. Once you establish your concept, the process of designing it is simple. It often follows the steps below
Before you set out to develop any PCB Art, it is recommendable to layout the circuit schematic of the PCB you intend to produce. A schematic diagram will enable you to establish the number of components you need for a PCB with their connections. The PCB designing tools (described above) can then import all the necessary components, wires and footprints to ease your process of designing.
When drawing schematic diagrams, you need to be keen and import the components independently and modify their parameters (e.g., resistance, capacitance, etc.) selectively. An error made in the schematic is likely to cost the final product of a PCB.
At this point, you should (not necessarily) strive to create your connections and components placement to represent the art you intend to create vividly.
Here is where you will isolate the different interacting modules of your PCB project and how they are interrelated. You will need to prune any unnecessary components, unwarranted interconnection, and any unnecessary cost.
At this phase, you will need to begin aligning your Schematic components into the desired art you intend to produce.
An important PCB design guideline to follow when optimizing and drawing the PCB art at this step is to keep the power source/unit of your PCB as close to your circuit’s modules as you can.
Once you complete the process of creating the schematic. It will be important to eventually carve out the actual shape and design of your PCB. Here you will only need to know the dimensions of your design (from the schematic), then use an image designing software to design shape or a layer for your PCB.
All the real arts on a PCB should be saved on SVG format to enable secure processing on other image processing applications.
Consider using specialized image processing software tools like Photoshop (if you can) and then export them for use into your PCB designing tool.
Drill holes and add copper artistic layering additions to ease and make designs appealing. However, be keen not to affect a design’s physical connections.
Add a solder mask on the added copper artistic effects or copper writings to insulate the connections from the art.
3.3:PCB Art & PCBDesigning Considerations
Ensure to use universally accepted size calibrations like “in” or “mm” when designing the shape.
Peripheral ports like power pins, audio jacks, LED indicators or customization buttons should be carefully thought of while designing to minimize errors of production. To attain a better user experience, you might consider compromising some part of your art to attain a better user experience; especially for consumer electronics.
The thickness of a layer determines the amount of current that can pass through a layer without damaging the layer. Thicker layers have lesser resistivity and can move more current than thinner layers. The standard layer thickness is measured in ounces (oz.)
Edges or bends of connections for most professionally designed PCBs are done at 45 degrees rather than 90 degrees. The main reason for this phenomenon is that at 45 degrees, fewer signals are reflected as opposed to a reflection of signals at 90 degrees.
When you finish designing, you can either implement the routing manually or automatically. In the case of a simple circuit, an automatic routing could do best. However, if the connection is huge and complicated, do consider to align the routing manually.
A “Design Rule Check” is a popular accessory incorporated in most PCB designing tools to aid in design error checking. This tool allows you to set specific requirements (e.g., layer thickness) that should apply to your entire PCB, and the designing software checks design as the whole then highlights the parts that do not conform.
…and are there other better design cases that may differ? Well, yes, there are design cases that may need special designing skills. Let’s consider the case of 4-layer PCB art below.
4、When Designing A PCB Art withA 4-Layer Board
PCB Art Designing becomes more interesting as layers pile up. Such arts are more pleasing to behold because you get a broader perspective of using more layers to throw in more "background" drawings. In this section, we will briefly explore the main Considerations of drawingart on a 4-layered PCB.
Depending on the purpose/intent of your art, you might need to use a white substrate and draw the art using copper masked with an insulating layer. A white translucent substrate enables you to view connections and art hidden within the layers.
Notably, lower-layer graphics will appear pale than upper-layer graphics.
The measurements of the layers should be equal, and the design of graphics should be coherent. To attain better graphics, ensure to use similar units of quantization for length and thickness.
Before we wrap up our edition, we will now offer you a few off-the-shelf ideas that you can add to your PCBs to make them appealing.
5、Top Three Simple But Beautiful PCB Art Ideas
These contact pads that resemble fingers are simple to design but beautiful to behold. You can utilize them when designing any generic PCB.
Christmas is often a season of sending gifts. In modern times, most people consider electronics as gifts for festive seasons like Christmas. So, if you are thinking of producing electronics that can sell as gifts, why can’t you add a Christmas tree art? Not necessarily to make it useful; but just because you can.
When designing consumer electronics, you might consider setting a different design for the microprocessor. A better idea will be to utilize a “brain” art to differentiate the processor from other components. It would look more appealing and would become easier to troubleshoot.
PCB Artworks give an artistic life to a lifeless PCB. With better investment in PCB art designs, you can improve the quality of your PCBs and increase their performance. In return, you will attain higher market sales and retain authenticity among your customer base.
As you might have noted, a good PCB art is an asset; a poorly designed one can become the most significant liability. That's why you need professional guidance in the design and manufacturing of your PCBs. As WellPCB, we have built our reputation on producing quality PCBs with precision in the printing art. Do consider requesting for a quotation of your PCBs (with art) and we will take you through the few steps of actualizing them.