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step-by-step on introduction to KiCAD

by: Mar 07,2022 763 Views 0 Comments Posted in PCB Design & Layout


Hello everybody, today we are going to have an interesting class on electronic design automation (EDA) software. Our main focus will be on KiCAD as an EDA tool. This is one of the very important tools in the design of electronics especially printed circuit boards. It is, therefore, very important for students and designers to familiarize themselves with such a helpful tool. Although we have so many EDA software such as Proteus, Eagles, Altium, Easydraw, Fritzing, and many others, our focus today will mainly be on KiCAD.

Introduction to KiCAD

KiCAD is an EDA software that was first introduced to the market in 1992 by Jean-Pierre Charras. It has undergone various changes since that time and today it is under the management of the   KiCAD Development Team.

  •  We cannot fail to say that it is open-source software that is used for electrical circuits, schematics generation, PCB layout and routing, and generation of relevant files required during the PCB manufacturing process.

Why the use of KiCAD

Let us discuss why a good designer should learn and use KiCAD.

  •  It is open-source software;

Have you ever of owning your projects? If yes is your answer, then KiCAD takes care of that. Open-source software means the designer is allowed to own the data. KiCAD allows anyone to use and download the data on their computers. This is the best software for developers who want to do heavy and new designs anytime.

  •  Free.

Why spend is money buying software while you can own one for free? KiCAD is freely available for anybody who wants to download and use it.

  •  Features.

This is one EDA software with so many important features such as length matching, interactive routing, and differential routing. Also, the software being open source you can add external software such as autoroute through add-ons.

  • Compatible with your computer.

You can use KiCAD anywhere whether you are using Windows, Linux, or IOS.

  •  Unlimited.

KiCAD has no limited version. It has no medium or professional. KiCAD is just one.

Getting started with KiCAD

When you want to start with KiCAD, the first thing you have to do is download and install it.

  •   To download KiCAD visit www.kicad.org and you click on the latest version of the software to download and follow the procedure given for installation.
  •  After installation opens your software to get the following interface.
  •  The interface has so many user-friendly commands, and they are very important throughout the design process. Let us discuss some of them below.

Commands in KiCAD

Let us start with the navigation bar;

  •  The marked area at the top left corner is the navigation bar. It has five very important navigation windows that are; file, view, tools, browse, preference and help.

1.      File.

This is where the opening of the new or old project is done. It is the first command to use anytime you open KiCAD. Two very important commands for beginners are NEW or OPEN PROJECT.

When you click new, you will be creating a new project for the first time and when you hit on the open project, it means you want to navigate through an existing project saved on your computer.

  • When you decide to create a new project, you will be instructed to save it as shown below.

  • Name your file and hit enter to save it to your desired destination. The following interface will pop in. for me I named my project as ’my first project.’

  • Now let us learn other commands;

-         Browser shows the proceedings of your design. Anything you add to your design is shown on the browser.

-         Schematic layout editor is where you edit or create your schematic.

-         Symbol editor is where you edit the symbol of the components you have placed if need be.

-         Footprint editor is where you edit your footprints. The footprint is a pattern that represents an electronic element that is to be soldered on the PCB board.

-         Page layout editor is where you edit your working area.

-         The working area is where now you do the actual drawing of your schematics.

Common KiCAD hot shortcut Keys.

We cannot discuss KiCAD and fail to list important hot keyboard shortcuts. These shortcuts are significant because they will impact greatly how fast you will be doing your design.

  • Let us have a look at some of them.

Schematic shortcuts.

These are the hotkeys used during the design of the schematic components in KiCAD

PCB Layout shortcuts

the left column. When you filter, you will have the right footprints on the right column. So hoover over-filtered footprints on the right and when you get the right footprint just double left click to add it to your components at the center column.

  • Let me do an example by adding footprints to my power supply simple design. I won’t add footprints to some of the components so that you can learn something during the PCB layout process.

Note that my rectifier and transformer have no footprints.


  • Click apply, save schematic & continue then hit OK to update and exit footprint addition

Generating netlist

This is what describes the connection between electrical components before going to the PCB layout environment.

  •  Click the netlist generation icon.

  • On the pop-out, click generate netlist. Save it and click close to exit netlist generation.

PCB 3D generation

This is another significant step in the use of KiCAD. This is where the actual conversion of the schematic into the PCB takes place. It has several steps and they shall be discussed below.

How to go to the 3D design environment

To go to the 3D design environment, click on the icon labeled Run PCBnew to layout the PCB board. We shall have a window shown below.

Netlist placement

At this PCB layout window, the first thing is to place the netlist that we saved earlier. Now here you get to know why we needed netlist generated.

  • When trying to load netlist, we will find a few errors from the schematic. Do you remember that during the adding of footprints, I ignored adding footprints to two components? Now, this is the cause of the error.

  • For me, I will continue with my design with the errors, since am using them for educational purposes. But for you as a designer, you have to make sure that you load all the footprints before proceeding.
  • Click update then close and place your components in the red demarcated area. That is the PCB routing area.

Component arrangement.

Now let us arrange the components in preparation for routing. You can zoom your design to see the component well.

  • Zoomed components.

  •  Arranged components by use of keyboard shortcuts listed above.

Preparation for manufacturing;

BOM files

GERBER files.

Pick and place files

Drill files.

  • To generate all these files, you go to files, then fabrication outputs, and generate all the files listed there.

And this makes the end of our introduction to KiCAD class. Thank you for following and all the best as you begin your design with KiCAD.

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