5 (More) Productivity-Boosting Features in Altium Designer You Need to Start Using Now

David Marrakchi
|  Created: February 21, 2017  |  Updated: October 29, 2020

We’re back with another series of productivity-boosting features for you to take advantage of in Altium Designer®. If you missed us last week, check out our first blog post for the other 5 productivity enhancers we’ve covered. I’ve included some great time saving and workflow enhancement features in this article that will help to automate many of those tedious, repetitive tasks that we have to perform in our designs. Read on to learn more!


Cross-Selected Component Placement

Cross-selecting and placing components between schematic and PCB


Why it matters to productivity

Cross-select component placement helps you save time when it comes to finding and placing components on your PCB. Have you ever wasted time trying to hunt down a component on your board layout, only to find that it was in a completely different location in relation to your schematic design? The beauty of cross-select component placement is the ability to select specific components on your schematic in order, and then place those components on your board layout in the order they were selected. This helps to keep your designs organized and easy to edit in the future.


How to use it

While you don’t need to be in any particular view setting to cross-select and move components, it does help to split your workspace horizontally or vertically between your schematic and board layout to match your schematic placement on your PCB. To cross-select components:

1.  Shift and left-click all of the components on your schematic in the order that you want them placed in your board layout.

2. Switch to your PCB document, then select Tools > Component Placement > Reposition Selected Components.

3. Left-click on your PCB layout to begin placing your selected components.

The components you place on your PCB will follow the order as you selected them on your schematic, keeping your designs closely aligned and organized.


Component Cuts Wire

Adding components to an existing wire with Component Cuts Wire


Why it matters to productivity

We all want the fastest method when it comes to making edits on our design. One correction designers make is needing to add a component to an existing net connection. Doing this the long, tedious way, you have to delete the wire, add the component, and then re-add the connection on both sides of the component.

A more efficient and productive method is to enable the Components Cut Wires feature in your DXP™ preferences. This allows you to place a component on an existing wire, and the wire is automatically cut to include the new component without any overlapping. Talk about a huge time saver when you compare it to the first method!


How to use it

This setting is easily enabled in the preferences for Altium, with the following steps:

1. In the top-left corner of Altium, Select > Preferences.

2. On the left-side navigation bar, double-click Schematic to expand the options, then select General.

3. Navigate to the Options section, and select the checkbox for Components Cut Wires (Fig. 1).

4. Select Apply to save your settings.

Components Cut Wires setting in Preferences

Once saved, you can then open any available schematic design and test it out. Add a new component to your design, and place it over an existing net connection. You’ll notice the component gets automatically added, and the wire is cut to fit the new connection.


Work Guides

Easily aligning vias with a +45 degree Work Guide


Why it matters to productivity

Sometimes you need to precisely place objects on your design that don’t align with the existing grid system. Maybe you need a 45 degree angle, or some horizontal/vertical boundary in between grid lines. Whichever method you need, the Work Guides feature provides you the accuracy to precisely place components, vias, and other design objects.


How to use it

A number of Work Guide options are available to use, including vertical, horizontal, and 45 degree angles. In our example, we are going to place a 45 degree work angle to line up a series of vias.

1. Select Place > Work Guides > Place +45 Degree Guide

2. Left-click anywhere on your board layout to place your Work Guide.

Placing a +45 degree Work Guide

Now that your Work Guide is placed, all components, vias, and other design objects that you move towards over the Work Guide will snap to the center of their origin, providing you with precise placement options in your board layouts.


Managing Work Guides

After placing work guides on your board layout, there’s a number of other options to manage them further, including deleting, duplicating, or exporting. To do this, you’ll want to use the work guide manager with the following steps:

1. Select Snap in the bottom-right corner of your workspace.

2. Select Guides to open the Snap Guide Manager.

From here, you can delete work guides by selecting Menu (Fig. 1) and either deleting your selected work guide or all of them.

You can also selectively enable or disable each work guide without deleting it with the Enabled checkbox next to each work guide (Fig. 2).

Managing work guides in the Snap Guide Manager


Net Coloring

Enabling net coloring in the PCB panel


Why it matters to productivity

Organizing and visualizing your nets just got a whole lot easier. Assigning specific colors to nets boosts your productivity by keeping your board layout organized and efficient to navigate. Each net can be assigned a unique color, and can also be enabled/disabled at your choosing to quickly identify specific connects on your layout.


How to use it

All net colors are assigned and disabled in the PCB panel. To add a color to a net:

1. Open your PCB panel.

2. Select Nets in the filtering options at the top (Fig 1).

3. Select All Nets in the Net Classes section (Fig 2).

4. Right-click your chosen net, and select Change Net Color.

5. Choose a color for your next then select OK.

Adding net colors in the PCB panel

You can repeat this process for each net on your design that you want to assign a color to. To enable the coloring for a specific net, select the checkbox next to the net name in the PCB panel (Fig 3).


Keyboard Shortcuts

Adding a keyboard shortcut to automatically open the Via Stitching feature


Why it matters to productivity

For those of you that like to measure your productivity in mouse clicks, we’ve got just what you need. While keyboard shortcuts might sound like an obvious feature in any software, the  extent of customization for shortcuts in Altium is almost limitless. Every command in the Altium environment is configurable, and its up to you to create your own customized workflow for maximum productivity. Lets show you how to get started.


How to use it

I’m going to add a shortcut for Via Stitching since we seem to be using it so often. Right now, the only way to access it is via the Tools menu, and we need something quicker. To begin:

1. Select Tools > Via Stitching/Shielding

2. Hover over Add Stitching to Net and then Ctrl + Left-Click on your keyboard.

You’ll now be on the Edit Command window.  This window is universal for any feature that you ctrl + left-click in the Altium interface, and will allow you to customize the keyboard shortcut for that specific feature. To add a shortcut for our Via Stitching:

1. In the Shortcuts section select the Primary field. (Fig. 1)

2. Enter your desired keyboard shortcut. In our example, we’ll enter Shift + Z.

3. Select OK to confirm your shortcut settings.

Editing keyboard shortcuts

Now, whenever I want to use our Via Stitching feature, shift + z brings it up immediately. Three less mouse clicks you need to do in the future, how’s that for productivity?


There’s Always More

Can’t get enough of all the productivity features in Altium? The list is about to get longer in the coming weeks. Check back in for a preview of some brand new productivity-based features that we’ll be adding in the newest version of Altium!

About Author

About Author

David currently serves as a Sr. Technical Marketing Engineer at Altium and is responsible for managing the development of technical marketing materials for all Altium products. He also works closely with our marketing, sales, and customer support teams to define product strategies including branding, positioning, and messaging. David brings over 15 years of experience in the EDA industry to our team, and he holds an MBA from Colorado State University and a B.S. in Electronics Engineering from Devry Technical Institute.

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