5 Ways to Customize Altium Designer for Better Efficiency
Learn how to enhance your experience with Altium Designer by customizing your design environment to fit your exact PCB design needs.
Menu items, shortcut keys, and toolbar icons are the three ways of accessing features within the Altium Designerenvironment. All of these are customizable and may enhance the user experience with Altium Designer. Any features that you feel are lacking in Altium Designer can be written with custom scripts and assigned to newly created menu items, shortcut keys, and toolbar icons. The entire Altium Designer API is accessible through scripting and new features can be added to the editors.
Once you have been using Altium Designer for a while for your PCB design and PCB layout work, you’ll find the toolbar menu structure to be very intuitive, however, it’s possible to personalize or customize Altium Designer for better efficiency. Customization is centric to each editor whether it’s the PCB editor, schematic capture or any other editor within the Altium Designer environment. Whichever editor you are working in, the same approach may be taken in any of the other platform editors. It’s a LOT easier that you might think. In this paper, we will focus on customization of the PCB editor, however, the customization features discussed can be extended to all other editors within the Altium Designer environment.
If you want to customize Altium Designer PCB design software for better efficiency, modifying the editors is a great place to start. Go to the Customizing Editor, which is specific to each of the editor domains. The specific editor to be customized must be the active open editor. The Customizing Editor is accessed from the top toolbar DXP >> Customize. Alternatively, you can double-click in the open area of the toolbars. See Figure 1.
Figure 1: Access the Customizing Editor via the dropdown or double-clicking in the open area of the toolbars.
The Customizing Editor dialog for each editor is specific to that editor and the title bar reflects which editor is being customized, in this case in Figure 2, the PCB editor. A new blank PCB document was first opened in order to bring focus to the PCB editor and then the Customizing Editor opened.
Figure 2: The Customizing Editor has choices specific to the editor being customized.
Mapping the shortcut keys of the PCB design software package to features which may be more intuitive to the individual. This can also be useful when transitioning from a previous PCB design program or another EDA tool to Altium Designer. The shortcut keys may be mapped to coincide with the familiar features of a former tool. Once the Customizing PCB Editor dialog is open a new toolbar icon appears titled PCB Shortcuts with a dropdown menu structure, as seen in Figure 3.
Figure 3: From the Customizing PCB Editor, click PCB Shortcuts.
Each feature of the printed circuit board PCB editor which can be assigned to a shortcut key is available on this drop-down menu. To remap a specific shortcut key (or a combination of keys) to that feature, simply choose the feature of interest from the drop-down list by double clicking on the future name from the list. The Edit Command dialog will appear presenting all of the details of that editor command. The lower portion is where the shortcut key or keys are assigned, as shown in Figures 4 and 5.
If the chosen shortcut key is currently assigned to another command in the Altium Designer PCB design software, that command will appear in the Currently in use by portion of the dialog and another shortcut key must be chosen or the previously mapped command must be remapped. Closing the Customizing printed circuit board PCB Editor dialog saves these changes.
Figure 4: Assign shortcut keys using the dropdowns at the bottom of the dialog.
Figure 5: Once defined, click OK.
MENU BAR ITEMS
The menu bar items may also be customized in the Altium Designer environment to expedite your PCB design and PCB layout process. Opening the Customizing PCB Editor allows dragging and dropping menu bar items from one menu to another or removing them altogether.
Figure 6: Items can be deleted by dragging oﬀ into space.
To move a toolbar menu item from one location to another simply browse to that menu item to be moved, left click on the toolbar item and drag it to another toolbar.
To move a copy of the toolbar menu item, hold the Ctrl key while dragging the source menu item and to delete a menu item simply drag it oﬀ the menu into free space.
Figure 7: Any dropdown item can be clicked and dragged to a diﬀerent dropdown menu.
NOTE: If menu items are lost and recovery is needed, go to the Customizing PCB Editor and select the toolbar to be restored and click the Restore button, shown in Figure 8, when it becomes active. This is the process to restore any of the toolbars or shortcut keys to factory defaults.
Figure 8: The Restore button reinstates factory settings.
The toolbar icons in the Altium Designer environment are a quick way of accessing commonly used features of the tool in your PCB design process and may also be customized. The toolbar graphic, as well as the function evoked through the icon, is available for editing. In this section, we will create a new toolbar icon and use it to run a script to add previously unavailable functionality to the PCB editor.
Figure 9: Toolbar icons and graphics can be customized
Figure 10: Examples of logos created for customizing the toolbar.
The graphics for the toolbar icons are located in the Altium Designer system directory under the subfolder Buttons, for example, C:\Program Files (x86)\Altium\AD16\ System\Buttons. Each toolbar icon is represented by a 16 x 16 pixel *.png graphics file. The easiest way to create a new icon graphic is to pick one of the small icons from the Buttons directory, edit it in a graphics editor and save it with a new and meaningful name.
NOTE: If the graphic is larger than 16 x 16 pixels, the icon will not show up on the toolbar.
We will use a script used to create a solidwords PCB logo from a monochrome bitmap to demonstrate this capability. First, we must create a new icon from one of the existing available icons. In this case, the Track.png file was opened in a graphics editor and the graphics replaced with a captor letter L for Logo Creator and saved in the Buttons directory with the new name Logo.png.
The target script is loaded into the Altium Designer preferences under DXP >> Preferences >> Scripting System >> Global Projects. In this case, the referenced project script is the Printed Circuit Board Logo Creator.
Click the Install button (Figure11) and browse to the script of choice. Once the icon has been created and the script loaded into the Altium Designer platform we can now create a new toolbar command by opening the Customizing Editor from DXP >> Customize….
Figure 11: The Install button lets you browse for the script you wish.
Locate [Scripts] under categories and drag the RunConverterScript option up to the top toolbar (Figure 12). This is just one of the script processes contained in the project we loaded, so these may be diﬀerent in your loaded script project.
Figure 12: Grab the RunConverterScript.
As soon as you drop the command on the toolbar the Edit Command dialog will pop-up. The Action area of the dialog will automatically populate with the proper command process and parameters. Click the browse button next to the Image >> Bitmap File portion of the dialog and browse to the proper *.png file, in this case, Logo.png. At this point, a shortcut key may also be assigned to this command if desired.
Figure 13: Find the image file you want and click OK.
Now when you click the new icon the PCB Logo Creator script will run.
Figure 14: Run the script.
Custom drop-down menus can also be added to the Altium Designer Environment for faster PCB design work. This is done by opening the Customizing Editor and right-mouse clicking on an existing toolbar and selecting Insert Dropdown.
Figure 15: Dropdown menus can be customized as well.
Figure 16: Right click on an open area of the menu bar to open the Customizing PCB Editor.
The Edit Dropdown Menu will appear with Caption, Popup Key, and Bitmap fields. Menu bar items can be dragged and dropped onto this new drop down menu, remember to hold the
Figure 17: Assign a shortcut.
Other items may be dragged onto this new drop down menu such as components from the Libraries Panel and other toolbar menu items.
Figure 18: New command now on the menu.
By clicking on the Toolbars tab of the Customizing Editor, access may be gained to the various toolbars associated with the specific editor. As earlier mentioned this is where the Restore button may be used to set any of the standard toolbars back to their default settings.
Figure 19: Click the Toolbars tab to edit or create toolbars.
Click the New button to create a new toolbar, given a default name, “NewToolBar”. This name can be changed by double clicking on the name “New ToolBar” and editing it to give it a meaningful name. The toolbars in Altium Designer are groupings of iconic command buttons and drop down menus. These may be rearranged by dragging them around the workspace, docking them on any margin, or in free space which does not require the Customizing Editor to be open.
Figure 20: Populate your new toolbar by dragging items and dropping.
Once a new blank toolbar has been created, drop-down menus, icon menu commands, and other objects may be added to this custom toolbar simply by dragging items to the blank toolbar.
Customization of the Altium Designer environment is very simple and adds valuable optimization to the PCB design user experience. If ever the toolbars become disorganized or menu items are lost the Restore button is always available to reset the Altium Designer toolbars back to their factory default.
To see some of these features in action there is a short video available on the Altium website located at: https://altiumvideos.live.altium.com/#Detail/1213