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View Full Version : Learning Eagle, wondering if it's the right choice.



potatohead
02-11-2012, 07:42 AM
I saw the Eagle --> Diptrace thread and just thought this and wanted to ask everyone here.

I am new to this form of CAD. Professionally, I have done mechanical CAD, surfacing, large assembly, 3D detailing, 2D detailing in tandem with managed data environments for a LONG TIME. If it's possible in that realm, I've done it.

So far, I managed to get my own parts done and build a few layouts and understand what I did. Not sure they make sense electrically though. Soon, I'll post up some ideas for critique and officially kick off the school of hard knocks.

But... should I do this with Eagle?

The limitations of the free package are just beneath what I want to do. That is make a few custom boards for projects. Eagle can do that. I also want to make an Apple 8 bit expansion card with a Propeller and some other stuff on it. Free Eagle cannot do that from what I can tell.

Are there free options better aligned with what I want to do? Secondly, free or not, is there a better starter / learning package to go with? I believe this is very similar to mechanical CAD, in that it's like religion. That said, please do consider this an advocacy thread! I want to hear that pro / con advocacy to learn from and make some basic judgements now, before I solidify around Eagle making it harder later.

Mix it up, please! It is OK, within the limits of good conduct put here for us. Everything else, in bounds and appreciated.

Share your experiences so I can learn a little now, before I have to do it the hard way later, or tell me I'm good, keep going!

Thanks!

idbruce
02-11-2012, 10:29 AM
potatohead

I hope all is well with you.

Anyhow, when I started on the same journey several years ago, I sampled several pieces of software. I basically settled into Eagle because of it's full functionality for board sizes 3 X 4 or less. Many of the free or trial versions available have severe limitations programmed into them, but Eagle does not, and it is fully functional professional software. However the 3 X 4 limitation may not provide the layout area that you need, and the commercial version of Eagle is quite expensive.

On the up side, if you decide to settle into Eagle, most of my existing or future PCB equipment, is either based upon or will be based upon this 3 X 4 limitation. So if you get into Eagle, I will eventually have all the equipment available to make 3 X 4 boards rather quickly.

Bruce

Leon
02-11-2012, 10:44 AM
DesignSpark from RS is pretty good, free, and is much easier to use than Eagle:

http://uk.rs-online.com/web/generalDisplay.html?id=DesignSpark-Jan11

RS had it developed in response to Farnell purchasing CADsoft (Eagle).

It's based on Easy-PC (with some features removed) which I used for many years until Pulsonix was produced by the same company.

It can import Eagle designs and libraries.

tonyp12
02-11-2012, 03:27 PM
I use Diptrace, after learning on ExpressPCB first.
So I recommend Diptrace.

Clock Loop
02-11-2012, 04:21 PM
I have used eagle for a while now, and I find that there are bugs in ANNOTATION, which are very hard to fix once they start.

The library system used by most pcb/schematic programs is a pain, and eagle is no different.

Eagle lets you output GERBER files, which make fab possible without being locked to one pcb maker.

I use and like advanced circuits pcb artist, they have improved on the program alot over the past year.
The bugs I found are gone from one year ago.

PCB artist is free 100% for any pcb size, but you are limited to the fact that you must order your pcbs from advanced circuits for the first order. Then they will give you the gerber files from your order.
http://4pcb.com/free-pcb-layout-software/

If you like pcb artist it can be purchased from the maker for a fee, but removes the gerber locked to manufacturer. http://www.pulsonix.com

I use pcb artist to make my schematics, and pcbs, I then order their special 4 for 33$ with a 5th pcb free deal. Its called "33each"

So each new prototype will cost you $26.40 per prototype pcb. Costs obviously come down significantly with volume orders (20-50-100 etc.)

The limitations to 33each deal are this:

$33 EACH SPECIFICATIONS


Min. qty. 4, Get 1 EXTRA PCB FREE!
White Legend (1 or 2 sides)


Lead Time 5 Days
1 Part Number Per Order (extra $50 charge for multiple parts or step & repeat)


2-Layers, FR-4, 0.062", 1 oz. cu. plate
Max. size 60 sq. inches


Lead FREE Solder Finish
No slots (or overlapping drill hits)


Min. 0.006" line/space
No Internal routing (cutouts)


Min. 0.015" hole size
No scoring, tab rout or drilled hole board separations


All Holes Plated
Routed to overall dimensions


Gren LPI Mask
Maximum 35 drilled holes Per Sq. Inch



Credit Card orders only please.

http://4pcb.com/index.php?load=content&page_id=130

1 week turn for this deal. (ship date will be 1 week from order date)

Leon
02-11-2012, 04:42 PM
PCB Artist is basically the same as DesignSpark. Both were produced by Number One Systems and based on Easy-PC. The files aren't compatible, though.

Ttailspin
02-11-2012, 04:51 PM
What is the catch with DesignSpark? ... I am looking for something to be wrong with it,
and so far, all I can complain about is not having a tape measure that I can just click and drag.
I found how to measure between pads and such, but I am wanting "free wheeling" tape measurements.
I am sure it's in there, but maybe ten minutes of play time is not enough to find it...

Holy smokes, that is one easy way to arc your traces, DipTrace will arc traces, but not as easy as DesignSpark.
I will fiddle around and see if custom component creation is just as easy, the tutorial makes it look easy...

Just messing around, I Placed 1000+ pins onto a twelve inch circle, and got no warning about having too much fun...

Come on Leon, Whats the catch?? :blank:


-Tommy (potential former user of DipTrace)

Leon
02-11-2012, 05:05 PM
It's missing lots of stuff I use all the time in Pulsonix, but I can't be bothered to work out what they are. Compare it with Easy-PC, which isn't free, and see for yourself.

Phil Pilgrim (PhiPi)
02-11-2012, 05:16 PM
Eagle has a horrible user interface. It's unfortunate that the free version sucks in so many unwary users. If you want to be productive in your PCB layout work, I recommend CADINT:


http://www.cadint.com (U.S.)
http://www.cadint.se (Europe)

-Phil

Leon
02-11-2012, 05:21 PM
Are there many users? There is hardly any activity on the forum.

Phil Pilgrim (PhiPi)
02-11-2012, 05:35 PM
I don't know what their user base is. I've hardly ever had to ask for tech support, though, so maybe the forum inactivity is an indicator that users seldom need help. The software is actively and frequently updated, which most likely indicates a healthy company.

-Phil

Ttailspin
02-11-2012, 05:46 PM
I wonder if a Hobbyist would be bothered by the missing DesignSpark features?
Hard for me to say, as I am not a profesional, and I only loaded the program this morning... :)

Ok Phil, the spirals have captured my attention... http://cadint.com/pdfs/pcb3.pdf
Have you done this?


-Tommy

Phil Pilgrim (PhiPi)
02-11-2012, 05:59 PM
No, I haven't tried that one. 'Pretty impressive, though.

-Phil

Leon
02-11-2012, 06:02 PM
Pulsonix does spirals like that, as well.

potatohead
02-11-2012, 07:25 PM
I'll give that one a look Phil.

I'm not so concerned about user community being active, if the program itself is solid. Looks to me like that's done at a premium. No worries on that. I'm a strong supporter of software licenses, so long as there is good value.

In this case, I really am not in a place where I want to spend for what are basically learning projects. I suspect many who are building skills, or who are essentially doing personal projects, are going to think along the same lines.

Re: Eagle UI not good.

Yes. It's somewhat crappy. Dated really. But, it does have hot key options, and using those renders it quick. I've not really had an issue yet. The work I've done deffo highlights the overall efficiency / speed issue.

potatohead
02-11-2012, 07:30 PM
I'm going to look this over too. Seems to me, allowing use of software to fund making PCBS is attractive to people building skills / personal projects. :)


I have used eagle for a while now, and I find that there are bugs in ANNOTATION, which are very hard to fix once they start.

The library system used by most pcb/schematic programs is a pain, and eagle is no different.

Eagle lets you output GERBER files, which make fab possible without being locked to one pcb maker.

I use and like advanced circuits pcb artist, they have improved on the program alot over the past year.
The bugs I found are gone from one year ago.

PCB artist is free 100% for any pcb size, but you are limited to the fact that you must order your pcbs from advanced circuits for the first order. Then they will give you the gerber files from your order.
http://4pcb.com/free-pcb-layout-software/

If you like pcb artist it can be purchased from the maker for a fee, but removes the gerber locked to manufacturer. http://www.pulsonix.com

I use pcb artist to make my schematics, and pcbs, I then order their special 4 for 33$ with a 5th pcb free deal. Its called "33each"

So each new prototype will cost you $26.40 per prototype pcb. Costs obviously come down significantly with volume orders (20-50-100 etc.)

The limitations to 33each deal are this:

$33 EACH SPECIFICATIONS



Min. qty. 4, Get 1 EXTRA PCB FREE!
White Legend (1 or 2 sides)


Lead Time 5 Days
1 Part Number Per Order (extra $50 charge for multiple parts or step & repeat)


2-Layers, FR-4, 0.062", 1 oz. cu. plate
Max. size 60 sq. inches


Lead FREE Solder Finish
No slots (or overlapping drill hits)


Min. 0.006" line/space
No Internal routing (cutouts)


Min. 0.015" hole size
No scoring, tab rout or drilled hole board separations


All Holes Plated
Routed to overall dimensions


Gren LPI Mask
Maximum 35 drilled holes Per Sq. Inch




Credit Card orders only please.

http://4pcb.com/index.php?load=content&page_id=130

1 week turn for this deal. (ship date will be 1 week from order date)

tonyp12
02-11-2012, 10:38 PM
I have used Imagineering, Inc a few times now, and quility is great.
10 small boards for $10/each (shipping included)
http://www.pcbnet.com/a1ad22.asp

If you willing to wait 3weeks, itead.com for less than $2/each

idbruce
02-12-2012, 12:07 AM
potatohead

I just found an open source editor here: http://www.freepcb.com/

T Chap
02-12-2012, 01:42 AM
I have only used Eagle so I can't compare it to anything. I have the pro version which is pricey compared to a lot of other softwares. Personally, after years of using it I don't give the quirkiness a thought, and enjoy the ability to work on the Mac which has a value. The forum is always helpful and provides quick responses. The phone tech guy was always very friendly and helpful. I will be honest that I never read the manual or did any of the tutorials, so I did it the hard way by just poking at it to see what happened. After learning how to make library parts, it is a breeze to create something from scratch. I use Sunstone for PCB,s and they accept the single Eagle .brd file to make boards from, so there is no bothering with gerber exports. BTW with Sunstone, upload boards by noon and have your boards 2 days later.

Dr_Acula
02-12-2012, 06:28 AM
I use Eagle and even though it has lots of little quirks there are many workarounds.

I paid $125 a few years back and got a "student" version which is twice the size of the free boards and that has been very good value over the years.

There are many tutorials on the internet. I've worked out some settings that optimise the autorouter - eg the grid, the track widths and the pad to via spacings and so boards can autoroute in a couple of minutes. I can usually design a board in an evening, which includes about 10 autoroutes and creating the gerbers.

I've designed a few library parts over the years. I believe sparkfun have a library part for pretty much all the products they sell, and that library is very useful.

So I guess I'm a bit of a fanboi when it comes to Eagle!

potatohead
02-12-2012, 09:50 AM
Hi Dr_A, is your dracblade V5 posted on line done with that version of Eagle?

I picked up on the Sparkfun library, and also found one by Ada Fruit. Given the limitations of the free package, I've actually built a component or two with restricted physical layout dimensions so it can be placed at the edge of the allowed board area. On the Drac you've got, connectors stick out... Is that limitation only in the freebie, or do I have something wrong? (maybe both!)

Library part creation is tedious, but not something I found too difficult software wise. The UI is sufficient. The real problem is understanding the characteristics of the component and or some planning.

One other question: If I get an Eagle file from somebody, can I extract things from it into a library for use elsewhere? How that might be done was not obvious to me.

Re: Autoroute

Well, as a newbie, I find it useful. I'll run it, then examine what it did. So far, I've seen it generate some things I really disliked, but then again, it's "found" options I had not yet realized made sense too. Great for evaluating what might be possible and or practical, IMHO. Would hate to not have it. I can see where much better skill would be inhibited by this feature however. Phil favors efficient layout tools, no autorouter, but then again, he knows this stuff cold too. Very interesting dynamic so far everyone. Thanks a bunch.

Loopy Byteloose
02-12-2012, 10:46 AM
Eagle works fine for me in the limited two-sided free edition. It is a bit of a challenge to work one's way through the user interface at first, but once mastered it is pretty good.

Much of the problem with asking about software is that users actually prefer what they are using to what they don't know. Claims are often very biased and dubious.

max72
02-12-2012, 02:01 PM
I'm now a Diptrace user, and I recently purchased a license too.
I worked a little bit with Eagle, Kicad, and Tinycad+Freepcb.
I tried also Geda.
Accordingly with your first post I'll try to explain my personal feelings about this world and tell you the path I followed.

The free software that tie to a manufacturer is not an option for me.

Designspark is relatively recent, but I decided to stick to Diptrace at this point. I read somewhere on the web that the license is granted on line, so RS *could* freeze everything. Have to check if it is true (internet is not a reliable source of information by definition), but a similar thing happened with PTC's free 3D modeler 10 year ago.

I used a little bit Eagle, but in never clicked for me. I made some schematics and layouts, but I never enjoyed working with Eagle.

Kicad is a nice free option, but also in this case the interface is not really suiting me. Anyway worth a try for sure.

The other free unlimited option for windows is tinycad+freePCB. They are two independent programs, but they work together rather well.
I like both, they are intuitive and easy to use. Only drawback both are single man efforts, so if the developer is loosing interest you might stick with bugs unless you are able to dig the sources. It already happened in the past.

Geda last time I tested it was Linux only. Now the mythical DJ Delorie is compiling a win version, that I haven't tested.
Geda is a suite of independent components, and last time I tested it was heavily depending on the command line. Anyway the schematic editor was great. The remainder wasn't at the same level.

I tested Diptrace later, and found it quite good. It is easy to create new parts and patterns, and all the components work well together.
The rule checking is quite easy to use too. You have 2 autoroute options, and a lot of library stuff around this forum and GadgetGangster's.
Another thing I like is I can "panelize" different boards without having to face the pin limit (and it is clearly described in the help).

Only suggestion:
If you have some time try as many as you can.

Massimo

potatohead
02-12-2012, 08:58 PM
Thanks, and your post is perfect. Really appreciated. I am going to try some of these out. What I think I'll do is get a basic board done in Eagle as a benchmark. It won't really be one I would have produced at this stage, just one that I understand. Do the same on a few software packages and see where it leads.

Phil Pilgrim (PhiPi)
02-12-2012, 09:31 PM
potatohead,

Just remember: if any of the programs you try offer keyboard shortcuts, you won't be able to judge their productivity potential until you're familiar with using those shortcuts. Often, the alternative mouse commands are awkward by comparison.

-Phil

potatohead
02-12-2012, 09:46 PM
Totally. +1 on that Phil. (digression)

CAD is a two handed affair. I don't care which CAD, it just is. Funny too, modern MCAD software has gone to extremes to improve mouse throughput, often reducing overall efficiency, and in some cases, technical capability. Never did understand that, and probably never will.

One product I was involved with in the late 80's through mid-90's was a keyboard macro system using touch pad button arrays. In DOS land, this was fairly easy to do and useful. Complex sets of keyboard input were combined into various functions on the pad. For some tasks, like 2D detailing and annotation, the improvement was very significant, and simply not possible to match with mouse / icon / gesture systems alone. Current gesture systems are OK, actually useful, but still operate best with keyboard interaction.

As far as I'm concerned, the real benchmark comes from gaming. Pit a user with a game pad, or dual analog, whatever kind of controller against another one using keyboard mouse for first person contests, and it's clear where the user interaction is at it's best. (keyboard mouse rules)

SGI produced some buttons and dials type controls useful in a similar way too. One would use the mouse for detail selection, the button pad for command entry, dials for various "analog" inputs. Add a 3D "Spaceball" type controller, and it all rocks very hard. Took a lot of desk space, but was very productive. People could make great use of a third hand, and I personally moved a button or two for use with my feet! (another thing I think could take off actually, as it was dead simple and a total win on user interaction capability, just unorthodox)

So far, ECAD appears to align well with 2D MCAD, with similar UI demands and repetition. The other thing I've seen is the library systems need serious management investments. What a mess!! (this coming from somebody who works in managed data environments combined with CAD regularly) I've not gone looking too hard yet, because this isn't a priority given my goals at the moment, but one would think a managed library system online would make perfect sense. It would need some name-space rules and basic version / revision control, and attributes + search queries worked out, but once that's sorted, I would think this would be an extremely high value thing. Allow direct use, or the user can cache it, and synchronize / update from library as needed offline. Mix in some ability to publish components, and a whole slug of things goes away.

**I am finding the multi-touch finger pad to be increasingly potent, depending on who is doing the software. My Mac Book Pro has the very best software I've ever experienced. Errors are few, intuitive interaction is high, as are the number of possible interactions. I suspect some additional engineering / research on this input device may actually challenge the keyboard, particularly if there were two of them, one for each hand. (maybe we will see somebody get after doing that) The great thing about touch pads is they can offer a pretty wide range of interaction possibilities without having to be modal. Sadly, a lot of software is modal, complicating things.

(end digression)

Dr_Acula
02-12-2012, 10:36 PM
Hi Dr_A, is your dracblade V5 posted on line done with that version of Eagle?

Yes


I picked up on the Sparkfun library, and also found one by Ada Fruit. Given the limitations of the free package, I've actually built a component or two with restricted physical layout dimensions so it can be placed at the edge of the allowed board area. On the Drac you've got, connectors stick out... Is that limitation only in the freebie, or do I have something wrong? (maybe both!)

Yes on that version they stick out. The chinese fab house used the board boundary as the size of the board. However when I get boards made with batchpcb, they use the outside edge of the components as the boundary. So I've had to redesign a whole lot of library parts so they are shorter. I can send you any library parts you might need.

Also - a trick with Eagle and the board size. You can go outside the area they limit you to with i) holes and ii) tracks. So you can make the board bigger, put the holes in the corners, put all the chips in the center and then let the autorouter use the space round the outside.