The Best Schematic Design Program for PCBs

Zachariah Peterson
|  Created: November 9, 2020

PCB design begins with a schematic, where you turn your design ideas into working circuits. When you use the right schematic design program to create your circuit boards, you can design and simulate your board in a single program. Once you use integrated schematic capture, you can start your circuit board layout and create real circuit boards. Only Altium Designer gives you all these features and many more in a single program.


A schematic design program with schematic capture and PCB layout tools for modern electronics design.

Whether you are stepping into a schematic design program for the first time or translating from another design system, you will see a huge benefit when using Altium Designer. The unified design environment in Altium Designer allows your design tools to communicate with each other, and all without a separate program for schematic capture. You can use the integrated schematic capture to create a new PCB layout and start creating a real circuit board. The easy-to-learn and easy-to-use CAD tools are part of a unified design environment and are accessible alongside the schematic editor. These features and many others make Altium Designer the best schematic design program for PCB design.

The Features You Need in a Schematic Design Program

Your schematic design program needs more than a set of simple CAD tools. The symbols you place on the schematic need to be loaded with data that is used in simulations and rules-checking. These parts also need associated 2D and 3D models that can be used within a PCB layout after you use a schematic capture tool. Creating a schematic is no longer a casual affair and requires a robust set of design tools that can accomplish all of these tasks.

Your schematic editor needs to provide some basic functions to streamline your circuit design process:

  • Accurate component placement with CAD tools
  • Design rule definitions and overrides
  • Linking component data back to your bills of materials
  • Netlist creation and export
  • Schematic symbol creation for PCB components

The best schematic CAD software will provide all these basic functions, plus many more for complex circuit boards.

Electrical Schematic Diagrams for Your Designs

Schematic CAD software will benefit your PCB design with speed, accuracy, and the ability to grow with you as your design needs increase. Your schematic design program needs to access parts data from your component libraries for use in simulations and to create bills of materials. Your design rules will help you qualify electrical functionality before you start your PCB layout. Everything you need should be accessible in a single program to help you stay productive.

Screenshot of the schematic editor in schematic CAD software

Schematic CAD software lets you select and arrange components in a schematic editor.

Advanced Schematic Design Software Features

As your need for larger and more complex schematic designs grow, your schematic design program needs to be able to grow with you. Advanced electronics tend to have more than one complex schematic diagram, where different circuits are placed in multiple sheets. These schematics are linked together using hierarchical schematics, which define the parent-child relationships between different portions of circuit boards.

Your schematic CAD software should also include multi-channel design as this makes design reuse extremely easy. You can define different schematics as objects, just like a regular component model. You can then link each schematic diagram in a hierarchical fashion without copying and pasting circuit diagrams between multiple schematics.

This helps you remain productive, but you can only use this type of schematic editor in a unified design environment. In this environment, the underlying design engine and data model allows your design data to be transferred from a schematic to a new PCB layout. You’ll be able to do much more as you move towards completion of your design.

Generate a Bill of Materials in Your Schematic CAD Software

As you prepare to finish your schematic and create your layout, you’ll need to create a bill of materials that shows your part numbers, quantities, and prices. The symbols you place in the schematic need to be loaded with data from your PCB libraries, which is then imported into your bill of materials for PCB manufacturing. When you can access part vendors for current pricing and availability during schematic design, you can prevent redesigns and move easily to PCB manufacturing.

These parts also need the physical attributes within them to drive the layout in addition to the logical attributes embedded in them for simulators and signal integrity tools. Creating a schematic is no longer a casual affair and requires a robust set of design tools that can accomplish all of these tasks.

Screenshot of hierarchical schematic design in schematic CAD software

Hierarchical schematic design program features help you stay organized when creating large designs

How Altium Designer’s Schematic CAD Software will Help You

Since you need advanced design tools to create more complex schematics, your schematic editor should include hierarchical and multi-channel design features to keep you organized and aid design reuse. Once you’re ready to start your PCB layout, you need to quickly capture your schematics in a blank board. When all this happens in a single program directly from your schematic and component data, you can stay productive and enjoy a streamlined design experience. This is the type of environment you’ll find in Altium Designer.

Altium Designer: The Best Schematic Design Program

As you create your schematics in Altium Designer, you will have access to component data, design examples, and a SPICE-based simulator for pre-layout design evaluation. As your designs grow in complexity, Altium Designer gives you hierarchical and multi-channel schematic functionality to keep you organized and make reuse easy. The rules and constraints in Altium Designer form the core design engine in the schematic editor, and your schematics will be checked against your electrical design rules as you create your board.

The rules-driven design engine allows your component data and design rules to be instantly imported into a new PCB layout. No other design platform provides these features and many more in a single program. The streamlined design experience helps you finish your design quickly and prepare for manufacturing.

No matter what types of circuit boards you’re working on, your PCB design software should include everything you need to transition to a complete PCB layout. Altium Designer has the power you need, the flexibility to advance with you as your designs grow, and rules and constraints to keep your designs error-free. Put down the pen and paper and pick up Altium Designer, the best schematic CAD software for PCB design.

Altium Designer on Altium 365 delivers an unprecedented amount of integration to the electronics industry until now relegated to the world of software development, allowing designers to work from home and reach unprecedented levels of efficiency.

We have only scratched the surface of what is possible to do with Altium Designer on Altium 365. You can check the product page for a more in-depth feature description or one of the On-Demand Webinars.

About Author

About Author

Zachariah Peterson has an extensive technical background in academia and industry. He currently provides research, design, and marketing services to companies in the electronics industry. Prior to working in the PCB industry, he taught at Portland State University and conducted research on random laser theory, materials, and stability. His background in scientific research spans topics in nanoparticle lasers, electronic and optoelectronic semiconductor devices, environmental sensors, and stochastics. His work has been published in over a dozen peer-reviewed journals and conference proceedings, and he has written 1000+ technical blogs on PCB design for a number of companies. He is a member of IEEE Photonics Society, IEEE Electronics Packaging Society, and the American Physical Society, and he currently serves on the INCITS Quantum Computing Technical Advisory Committee.

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