CADSTAR to Altium Designer

Created: November 18, 2022
Updated: November 26, 2023

Smooth Transition from CADstar 
to Altium Designer

For the purpose of this migration guide we are going to focus on importing CADstar Schematic and PCB Designs, if you require other files migrated please refer to their specific guide.

Legacy Translation

Before You Start to Import

This guide will show you how to import data from your legacy system into Altium Designer. What it will not ask is “why do you want to do it?” Customers frequently ask about data import facilities before we go forward however we need to ask ourselves why.

"We have 20 years of data and I don’t want to leave it behind."

  • Does the data include all necessary information to 
  • create a robust representation within Altium?
  • Is it easier to “draw a line in the sand” and start 
  • new designs in the new system rather than rework the imported data to make it usable?

"Our service bureau doesn’t use Altium but they can import Altium data. Our Altium system can import their data, is this a reliable way to pass designs between our companies?"

  • How do you maintain library integrity?
  • Who has design authority?
  • How do you plan to verify the data?

"We have some ‘golden’ designs that we need to bring into Altium Designer so that we can up-issue them."

  • How do you plan to verify the imported data?
  • How much re-work is going to be allowed after 
  • importing?
  • Do you need to take advantage of additional 
  • features of Altium once imported and how do you 
  • plan to achieve this?

"We have a library of trusted parts which we’d like to bring into Altium."

  • Are there any exotic parts that you may have 
  • trouble representing within Altium?
  • Do you need to add Altium-specific features (like 
  • 3D models) for every part?
  • How much redundancy, duplication and error is 
  • present in your library?

So, after considering these points you should read on if you still wish to import your legacy data into Altium.

Preparing to Migrate Your Legacy Data

Never forget that migration of data follows the «garbage in….more garbage out» principle. So we need to consider four distinct phases of the process, this is best shown in the flow diagram below:

1. Prepare original data

  • Check content
  • Remove redundant or confusing data
  • Verify integrity

2. Export data

  • Save data in a format suitable for import into Altium Designer

3. Import data

  • Save «raw» imported data
  • Integrity check

4. Post import

  • Add Altium-specific objects
  • Tidy up
  • Final integrity check

Step 1: Prepare Original Data - Pre-Translation Tidy Up

It is prudent to clean and tidy your design within your legacy system before trying to export. We’ve put together a check list to help you: 

Schematic considerations

  • Single pin components representing power 
  • objects?
  • Connectors represented as one-gate-per-pin with 
  • over 256 «gates».
  • Ambiguous connectivity.
  • Hidden pins or implicit connections.
  • Local net names.
  • Case sensitivity.
  • Do the schematic symbols call up the correct PCB 
  • footprints?
  • Does the schematic match the PCB?

PCB considerations

  • Large number of graphical objects or drawing 
  • primitives on documentation layers.
  • Star point earths.
  • Deliberate DRC violations.
  • Objects extending beyond the environment.
  • Do the auto-named nets match with schematic?

Library considerations

  • Schematic symbols matching with PCB footprints.
  • Correct supply chain information and BoM.
  • parameters
  • Need to import 3D information?
  • Correct representation of custom pads, copper 
  • shapes, solder mask and resist?

Step 2: Save Data in a Suitable Format

Supported Versions and File Formats

The following table details the versions of all the file types of CADSTAR Designs that can be migrated into Altium Designer. Note that this list is updated all of the time, so please check with us for specific systems and versions before undertaking migration.

The importer supports up to CADSTAR version 17. The importer does not support binary CADSTAR files. The 
binary CADSTAR file must be converted to CADSTAR archive file before importing to Altium Designer. The 
CADSTAR archive file has the extension .cpa or .csa. The importer supports the following CADSTAR file types:

  • PCB design
  • PCB component library
  • Schematic design
  • Part library and schematic symbol library

The following table describes the types of CADSTAR files the importer supports with the description of how to 
convert CADSTAR binary files to CADSTAR archive files and the equivalent Altium Designer output.

Step 3: Import Data into Altium

Using the Import Wizard for CADSTAR Files

The Import Wizard can be launched from the Altium Designer File menu. Choose the CADSTAR Designs and Libraries option as shown in the screenshot below. On the “Importing CADSTAR Design Files” screen, click the Add button to choose the CADSTAR files. Multiple files can be translated at the same time. Step-by-step instructions on using the Import Wizard follow next.

Starting the Import Wizard for CADSTAR Files

Step-by-Step Import Instructions on Importing a CADSTAR Design

The following CADSTAR Design, has been exported from CADSTAR in PCB archive (.cpa) and Schematic archive (.csa) format

  • Start the Import Wizard with File » Import Wizard

  • Select Type of Files to Import—>CADSTAR Designs and Libraries

  • Add the file(s) to be translated. In this case, both the Schematic and PCB files are going to be added, specifically “Reference_Design_CC2541.CSA” and “Reference_Design_CC2541.CPA”. By importing them at the same time, Altium will automatically create a project containing both files.

You can add as many design files at this point. However, if you add files of a different file name, separate projects will be created.In the next step you can add your Schematic or PCB Libraries to import (if available).

Because the library part and decal information is included in the source files, it is not necessary to add libraries for schematic or PCB files to successfully translate. Only add libraries to this screen if you wish to independently translate entire libraries for later use in Altium Designer.

  • Set the options for what level of reporting is done after the translation has completed.