1.1 What Is It?
ExpressPCB is a CAD software which is used to create the layouts for printed circuit boards (PCB). The CAD is divided into the more useful category:
• ExpressSCH is used to design the schematics the same schematic design software (ExpressSCH) is included with both Classic and Plus downloads. You don’t want to download extra things, and the essential thing is you also don’t need to worry about to learn it
• ExpressPCB to create a PCB-design. It is linked to the schematic. The output-file is proprietary to Expresspcb.com. For a fee, they will provide the Gerber-files.
• ExpressPCB classic is the original layer software which you have already familiar. This software is beneficial and helpful when you are making the 2 or 4 layer PCB. Schematic linking allows easy verification of your layout design. Classic designs can be easily changed into the plus.
• ExpressPCB plus Our new layout software with a modern look, offering additional features and capabilities for your 2 and four layer PCB designs. The critical thing to note is, this does not have schematic linking to layout at this time.
It is straightforward and useful software. It provides many facilities to the user, but it has the limited libraries. These limited libraries may not affect its efficiency. This limited version has all of its features which is required for the basic as well as the advanced features.
Also in this limited libraries, it offers you that you can build your customized library and components.
ExpressPCB is used to assemble the components of basic design, and then you can quickly change the design into the schematics drawing and then change into the PCB design layout. ExpressPCB is very flexible software that can efficiently fulfill your desired projects.
1.2 Charge Or Free?
As you that, it is straightforward software for the beginners so you can easily download the free version of that software. The latest version 7.6.0 is available. The CAD files are propriety format, but ExpressPCB can supply you the Gerber formats also if you want.
The charges of Gerber files (so far) $60. You can order it through the mail and get that facility. The charges are added to the same credit card you placed the board order on.
2.1 ExpressPCB Free Download
As far as the download procedure you can easily download the latest version from expresspcb.com directly. In this website the latest versions are present. You have to download the version of your desire.
2.2 ExpressPCB Tutorial
As you know that this software is straightforward to use and learn for the beginners, so this tutorial will help you out for more details, and at the end of this tutorial, you can easily design your PCB. In ExpressPCB there are two stages of designing
You have to follow the steps that are listed below to create a PCB from hand drawing to the PCB layout:
• Select the circuit diagram which is already tested into the breadboard.
• Open the ExpressSCH for the fresh design. When you start the system a dialog box is also open with it, this will help you for the general overview of the tools. Once you began to, close the dialog box and view the new schematics.
• After that place the desired components by clicking the op-Amp like symbol in the left-hand side toolbar, suppose I have to place the resistors and diode in the schematic, you can place these components by searching the component names in the text box.
• When you place the desired components, then you have to give them a unique identification. Right click on each of the components and choose the component properties, first you have to select the auto assign part ID this will assign the name according to the placing order then you have to set the value of each component by selecting the part name and hit ok.
In my case, I placed the four resistors and named them as shown.
• You can quickly rotate the components, only right click on it and select the rotate component and rotate the component as you want.
• Sometimes it happened that some of the components are not available into the directory, for example, I have to use photo-resistor in my circuit diagram, but it is not available. What I have to do is place the passive resistors from the previous method. Go to the selection tool (the arrow), choose the resistor and go to the component menu at the top and select the ungroup component.
• Draw a circle around the resistor by selecting the circle option in the tool menu.
• Select the whole object (using the arrow tool), and choose Component -> Group to make the component.
• After building your component, you can also save this by selecting the component and choose to save custom component then a dialog box appears for the unique name suppose you build a photo-resistor so keep this as a name. Then similarly give it a unique ID and value from the old procedure.
• Now we need to add the power and the ground. Let’s start with the ground command. Go to the symbol/signal label from the toolbar and open the text bar and choose the power-ground option. Moreover, place the as many rounds as you want.
• Now for the power supply do it again but this time the name power-voltage which is equal to the 5V power supply.
• The last stage of the circuit is to connect it with the battery, you have to write the misc-battery in the text box and place it and then give it a unique name and unique ID.
After that wire your circuit by choosing the option wire from the toolbar, left click will start the wiring and right click will end the wiring, and in this manner, your circuit will be completed like this way. In my case the final schematic looked like this:
• The next step is to save your file using save as with a unique name and path.
• Now check your file for netlist error using file and go to the check error for netlist error.
• Suppose you are using BJTs in your circuit diagram and you did not specify the pins of the BJT then probably you will get an error message.
• So you have to do is hit the cancel on that message and as the message suggested that select that part of the component, then go to the component and choose the ungroup component after that double click the emitter, base and collector one by one and set their name 1,2,3 respectively.
• Afterward select the whole component again and then go to the menu and select component and choose group the component and then set their part name and ID part.
• Now again check your file via netlist error, now this time you will not get any error.
• One more error may be you will face that is if not skip#28 this error probably will be occurred when any wire is not connected or snap to grid function. Hit continue and then remove this error to off the snap to grid option. Select the errant lines and move them into the correct position do it until you get an error free message.
• When the netlist error shows that the schematics are clear, then you will run the program and save the file as well as you can print your schematic diagram.
• The above all discussion is related to the schematic diagram in the ExpressSCH now we will discuss the ExpressPCB.
2.3 Creating The Layout In ExpressPCB
• Open the ExpressPCB. When you start the file a dialog box appears, it contains two links if you have time read them they are very instructive otherwise hit ok and start the file.
• The next step goes the file and selects the new file, now again a dialog box is open where you have to set the dimensions of the board by default it is 0.056 round via with 0.029 holes. That is the maximum default size, but you can change the size as per your requirement.
• Now you have to place the components in the plane. Select the IC like icon from the toolbar and the pull-down menu to choose the components. Double click the components to select the properties of each component.
• If you need to place a transistor select the same icon and place the Dip-8 pin and for capacitor write their cap and then assign the name and part IDs.
• The same procedure is followed if any of the components are not present in the layout you can draw this on your own.
• Place the similar component as you did before going to the component and choose the ungroup PCB component
• Now draw the circle in my case because I am drawing a photo-resistor and set the radius of the circle and the line width.
• Then again select the whole part and go to the component and select group to make PCB component.
• Now the turn is to assign the unique name and ID, so you have to double click on the component and set these parameters.
• To use this component again save this as a custom component.
• Repeat this for different components as you want to make parts.
• For placing the grounds and power into the circuit, we have to choose the FILLED PLANES option from the toolbar and then select then click on it to select the layer.
• Then draw a horizontal line and drag it squarely.
• Then select the place traces
• You will see that when you draw the traces, an isolated path is created. It separates the ground from power.
• Continue down to the bottom right corner and then to the bottom left corner. Then right click to end the box. Your display should now look like this:
• When the filled plane is added to the circuit, you can change the shape of the plane.
• You can connect the pads using thermal or solid shape.
• Connect the plane to the pad by right-clicking on the pad.
• When you connected the plane with the pad, then you have to select the plane type, and pad type with it is a solid/thermal plane and solid/thermal pad.
• There may be an area where you do not want a filled plane then you have to do is/select this icon and then choose the area that keeps out of the plane from the top toolbar. From this, you can keep that area out of the filled plane.
• With the similar manner draw a square at that area where you do not want a filled plane, and this time the area will show with the dotted lines.
• Repeat this for all of the pads; now your layout should look like this:
• By using ExpressPCB, you can also create the multiple layers.
• First, you have to set the numbers of copper layers. You can quickly select the layers from the layout menu. If you are choosing the four layers, then this will add two inner layers the first one is the ground plane, and the other one is the power plane. These layers are filled with the copper plane that will improve the noise immunity of the circuit.
• After you complete your layout, the ExpressPCB program tells you exactly how much it costs to have the boards made
• Now you can take the print out of your PCB layout.
• These are some precautions which we have to cater while making the tracks (making connections between the components):
► Make sure tracks does not have bends less than 100 degrees.
► The track does not touch each other. It may fail devices.
• Some of the short keys are given below:
• After making the layouts, you can delete, move, copy and rotate the component.
ExpressPCB To Gerber
Yes, ExpressPCB files can be converted into the Gerber files easily and quickly. You have to do is place your order of Gerber files on the online store and enter your ExpressPCB order number.
You can easily generate the Gerber files using the original PCB design file which is associated with your order number. Also, then email the Gerber files back to you as an attachment.
You will receive these files:
• Silkscreen layer
• Solder paste and mask layer
• Top and bottom copper layer
• Drill files
• Four layers design also includes two inner layers
The other way is first you convert the ExpressPCB file to PDF, and the PDF will be converted into the Gerber file. First, we will discuss that how you will change the ExpressPCB file to PDF. The steps are given below:
• Open the PDF file and select the PCB layout.
• Go to the file option and select the print option. A dialog box will be open. As you know that PCB layout contains two layers, i.e., the copper layer and silk layer. First, we will convert the copper layer.
• When the dialog box is open you have to set these parameters: like PRINTER: CutePDF writer and LAYERS TO PRINT: check the top copper layer and uncheck the last option print in color and hit OK.
• After that save the file and the first layer is converted to PDF.
• Silk layer is also converted into the PDF file similarly by only changing some settings, i.e., layers TO PRINT: check the silkscreen pads and text on the top layer. So hit ok and again save you file.
Now we have to convert these PDF files to the Gerber files the steps are straightforward:
• First, open the Gerber software
• Go to the file and select the option import and then choose from there postscript/PDF
• A dialog box is open when you select it
• Select PCB_sample there and hit OK
• Another dialog box is free from that dialog box change these parameters: MAP LAYER: a separate color per layer and press next.
• When the downloading is completing your PDF is converted to the PDF file.
• You can now change the things as you want.
Comments On ExpressPCB
As you ask about the ExpressPCB from the user, they mostly say that the software is easy to use, very friendly and files are high quality, but they have insufficient mechanical supports. The most significant advantage of this software is the format is propriety, and ExpressPCB can accept only this.
Other than that the price is acceptable and easy to achieve. They offer very easy shipment and also the payment is straightforward by click just a few buttons you can pay your price and the ship will on the way. It is obvious that a thing which has a plus point where negative points also exist.
So this software has also some negative aspects. They have cut themselves off from the rest of the ecosystem, in that you can’t use their software with another fab or vice-versa, and they are paranoid about people using their files for other stuff.
So you can’t version control or do your DRC on their format easily, although there are third-party tools available that show that someone must have reverse-engineered the file format. Also, some of the quick turn boards are not RoHS.
Also, you cannot change the hole size by the default settings. However, after all of that negative points, this software is hard to beat.
At the end of this discussion, you are now well aware of the PCB software ExpressPCB and usage of this software. So from now on, you can select the best PCB software for your project which provides you with the best quality results and also long-lasting effects.
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