The grass has never been greener for electronics hobbyists. There was a time when anyone who wanted to tinker with electronics would be restricted to playing around with the innards of whatever electronics were available to them. Back then, the idea that anyone who desired would be able to design and build their own circuit boards seemed like a pipe dream.
Now, though, the software and hardware needed to design and manufacture printed circuit boards can be bought and installed in the home for a relatively affordable price. This has opened a whole new world of possibilities up to hardware hackers.
If you are planning on using your own PCBs in your electronics projects, you will need to familiarise yourself with the design process. The following tips will help to ensure that your plans are solid and your production as smooth as possible.
Make Sure Important Nodes are Accessible
Sooner or later, no matter how careful you are with your designs, you are going to need to troubleshoot one of your boards. When something does go wrong, you want to be able to ascertain what has gone wrong and how you can fix it. Making sure that you have easy access to all the most important nodes will make troubleshooting infinitely easier. When you are finalizing your PCB design layout, ensure that you have carefully considered the placement of your most important components.
Leave Adequate Space Between Components
It can be tempting to pack all of the components in your circuit as close together as possible. However, this often results in a design that is unable to accommodate the necessary routing of the wires. You need to ensure that there is enough space between components for wires to spread. The more pins a component has, the more it will spread. Proper spacing will also make soldering the components to the board easier.
Use the Same Orientation for All Components
Most of the components you will work with will follow the standard pin numbering conventions, with pin #1 located in the top left corner. Make sure that all the components you place are oriented the same way, with the #1 pin located in the top left. Orienting everything the same way will help with troubleshooting your PCB and will make it easier to inspect components.
Print Out Your Layout to Ensure Sizes are Correct
Once you have finished laying out the components on your PCB schematic, print out a copy of the final layout. You can then place each component on top of this print out to be completely sure that everything will fit before you start soldering things together.
Change the Direction of the Wiring Between Layers
If you are using vertical traces on one side, you should use horizontal traces on the other. This will make it easier to wire lines that have to cross over one another. If you have multiple layers to your PCB, make sure that each layer alternated the direction of the wiring.
The best way of getting better at producing PCBs is the experience. The more PCBs you design and make, the more you will come to understand the nuances of PCB design. The above tips are a great place to start, but you should also aim to develop your own workflow and best practices.