Altium Designer: The Best Circuit Design Software

Zachariah Peterson
|  Created: June 4, 2022  |  Updated: September 28, 2023
Best Circuit Design Software

Whether you're a student, hobbyist, young profession, or experienced expert, you know how any new electronic design starts: with a circuit diagram. These fundamental drawings define all the important functionality in a device, and they are generally built with the intent of performing simulations to verify design functionality. What you need is software that gives you access to all the features required to build and qualify circuits, not just a simple drawing program and a separate simulation program.

Once a design is created and evaluated, what should you do with it? What's needed to turn that device into a real product? PCB design tools are needed to complete a design and create a physical product from a circuit diagram. What you need is a professional circuit design software that is included in an advanced PCB layout application. This is exactly what you get when you use Altium Designer.


The best PCB design software for professional PCB designers.

When you have a great idea for a new product, or you just want to create an interesting circuit, it all starts with a circuit diagram within an electronics schematic. Creating circuit diagrams and circuit simulations are the first steps to evaluating a design and proving it will work as intended, and the insights gained from this process can help you improve the reliability of the design. The best circuit design software contains a specific set of features that enables efficient circuit diagram creation as well as simulation and analysis.

It All Starts with Parts in Your Circuit Editor

Circuit diagrams are normally created with generic components that include a simulation model for use in SPICE simulations. Circuit editors should inlcude a complete library with basic components (passives, transistors, simple semiconductors, etc.) that allows users to build up circuitry to any level of complexity.

Once you’ve selected your components and created your circuit diagrams, you still can't turn the device into a real product unless you select real parts that are available from distributors. You'll also want those parts to include PCB footprints so that you can place the components on a PCB. Your circuit diagrams are part of the front-end of the design, but you can incorporate them throughout the PCB design process when your circuit design tools are in the same application as your schematic capture features and a PCB editor.

From Schematic Capture to Intricate PCB Layouts

Altium Designer is best known as an industry-leading PCB design software application, but some may not realize it also doubles as circuit design software. Users can create and simulate their circuit designs with a set of generic components that have simulation models attached. The circuit diagrams you build in Altium Designer are unique in that you have instant access to real components through a search feature and an integrated SPICE simulator.

Best circuit design software

Circuit diagrams created in Altium Designer can be easily used as electronics schematics that will eventually be used to build a PCB.

Use Your Circuits With Real Electronic Components and Systems

Analog systems and mixed-signal systems rely on custom circuits, but these are not the only components you'll find in real electronic products. Circuit designs that will appear on a PCB are used with other components that provide additional functionality that is not easily described in mixed-signal circuit simulation packages. During schematic capture, custom circuit designs are used with a host of integrated circuits, connectors, proprietary components, and much more. These additional elements are not often represented in a circuit diagram or simulation, but they are an important part of real systems that must be included during schematic capture.

Altium Designer gives users access to a huge range of components from distributors, complete with CAD data that can be imported into a schematic sheet and PCB layout. In addition to CAD data, the components you'll find in Altium Designer include distributor information so that parts can be procured during manufacturing. These real components are easily accessible inside Altium Designer, no third-party applications or PCB librarian services are needed to find component data and add it to a project.

The Best Schematic Editor Scales to Any Complexity

Altium Designer includes industry-standard hierarchical design features in the Schematic Editor, allowing users to easily reuse circuits and build up to any level of complexity. The schematic capture process in Altium Designer proceeds in the same way as building circuit diagrams and in the same interface, allowing a seamless transition between circuit design and simulation, schematic capture, and eventually to PCB layout.

Screenshot of schematic editor in the best electronic circuit design software

The Schematic Editor in Altium Designer does more than help you build circuits, you can place your circuit designs alongside real components as you work to build your new system.

Finished With Your Circuit? Instantly Move to Your PCB Layout

Building circuit diagrams and running simulations are exaclty what you would expect to find in the best circuit design software, but your design won't ever become real until you create a high-quality PCB layout from your circuits. Your next design can be quickly brought into a PCB layout when your circuit design tools and circuit simulation package are built into the same prorgam as your PCB layout features.

Altium Designer does more than help you build high-quality circuit diagrams complete with simulation models. You can locate real parts from major distributors, import everything into a new PCB layout, place components around your board, and start routing traces to complete the PCB layout. Placing everything in the same program keeps your design synchronized by enabling cross-probing between schematics and the PCB layout.

Easy-to-Use Design Features Are Unified in Altium Designer

The PCB layout tools in Altium Designer do much more than enable placement, they help you create a high-quality fully-manufacturable PCB that matches the design intent in your circuits. Altium Designer includes all of these powerful PCB design and layout features:

  • 2D and 3D CAD tools for placing components, routing traces, and defining all other features in your PCB
  • An online DRC engine that checks your PCB layout against industry-standard design and manufacturing requirements
  • Semi-automated and fully automated routing utilities to help you comply with design rules and work quickly
  • Signal integrity simulation tools that link back to model definitions applied in the Schematic Editor
  • PCB manufacturing tools that generate deliverables for fabrication and assembly
  • Drafting tools that streamline creation of high-quality fabrication and assembly drawings
  • Sharing and collaboration through the Altium 365 platform
  • Seamless integration with 3rd-party design applications for design, MCAD, simulation, reliability analysis, and much more

Everything you need to create circuits, place and route components in your PCB, and much more is included in Altium Designer, the best design platform demanded by industry experts.

PCB layout in 3D

This 3D PCB layout was created from a circuit design in Altium Designer. Once the circuits were designed and imported into a blank PCB, the PCB layout features in Altium Designer were used to finish the PCB layout.

Meet the Unified Design Environment in Altium Designer

The best circuit design software won’t force you to use multiple programs to complete a new design and prepare it for manufacturing. You’ll have all the tools you need to create an accurate circuit board layout with the world-class PCB design features in Altium Designer. No other professional circuit design software package gives you this level of flexibility for intricate circuit design, mixed-signal simulation, PCB layout, and manufacturing.

Centralize your design and layout assets in Altium Designer

Walk through the entire design and manufacturing process in Altium Designer.

When you’re looking for the best PCB design software, Altium Designer is the ideal choice to turn your electronics ideas into real products. You’ll have access to the resources and PCB layout tools you need to keep up with the latest technological advances. Don’t settle for other design platforms that fragment important design features, use the best circuit design software on the market and make the switch to Altium Designer.

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. No other program in an electronic design software comparison can claim to reach Altium Designer's level of functionality.

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 2000+ technical articles on PCB design for a number of companies. He is a member of IEEE Photonics Society, IEEE Electronics Packaging Society, American Physical Society, and the Printed Circuit Engineering Association (PCEA). He previously served as a voting member on the INCITS Quantum Computing Technical Advisory Committee working on technical standards for quantum electronics, and he currently serves on the IEEE P3186 Working Group focused on Port Interface Representing Photonic Signals Using SPICE-class Circuit Simulators.

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