Double Sided PCB Design in Altium Designer

Zachariah Peterson
|  Created: May 20, 2020
Double Sided PCB Design in Altium Designer

Most newer Printed Circuit Boards are complex multilayer beasts that require unique design methods and difficult routing strategies. However, many pieces of hardware that form the cornerstone of modern electronic devices are still designed on two-layer boards. These boards still require a number of critical design tools that most platforms place in separate programs. If you’re looking for a design platform that makes double-sided PCB design easy, look no further than Altium Designer.


An integrated PCB design package with the best Printed Circuit Board design features for both single-sided PCB and double-sided PCB design.

If you’re building a circuit board for a rugged power system, low-frequency analog device, or low-speed digital device, there’s no need to build a complex multilayer board. So long as you’re not creating a flexible PCB, multilayer PCB, or flex PCB, you can save time on design and production costs if you design your board as a two-layer Printed Circuit Board. Compared to a single-layer PCB, you’ll have more flexibility with routing and component placement without significantly increasing your fabrication costs.

Many of the design tools used to build more complex circuit boards are used to create single-layer and two-layer PCB boards. Double-sided PCB design takes the same high-quality schematic design, layout, and production planning tools that you would use for a highly complex board. With these simpler boards, you can use easier routing strategies that greatly simplify your layout.

Double-Sided PCB Design

Many elements of double-sided Printed Circuit Board designs are similar to single-sided PCB or multilayer PCB designs. To get started creating a double-sided PCB, you’ll need to create an electronics schematic for your board using a high-quality schematic editor. This shows designers exactly how elements in your circuits link together into a full device. You’ll need to specify ground plane and power connections directly on your board rather than incorporating power and ground planes that would appear in multilayer boards.

Getting started with your actual Printed Circuit Board requires capturing your schematic as a layout. You’ll need to start arranging your components in a way that satisfies your design rules, routing constraints, and mechanical constraints imposed by your packaging.

Using PCB Design Software for Double-Sided PCB Board Design

Working with a double-sided PCB gives you more flexible circuit placement, routing, and overall layout compared to a single-layer PCB. Conductive traces on a single layer PCB cannot cross each other, making layout and routing in single layer PCBs more difficult or impossible in some cases. Using a double-sided PCB helps you overcome these difficulties as you can route traces and place components in two different layers.

Much like the more complicated flexible PCB and flex PCB designs, double-sided PCB design is much easier when you use the right design software. You’ll need to use layout tools that allow you to quickly switch views between different layers and define via connections between layers. You’ll need accurate layout tools and component management tools that feed data directly to your production planning tools. Your design workflow will be greatly streamlined if these features are available in a single program.

Screenshot of a trace layout configuration in Altium Designer

Defining traces and signal nets in a PCB layout

Manufacturing Two-Layer PCBs

Two-layer PCBs are manufactured on a solid substrate with laminated copper on both sides of the board. The copper layers are etched to form conductive pads and traces, and vias and mounting holes are typically drilled between layers. These boards won’t make use of complex routing methodologies like differential pairs or HDI routing. After etching conductive traces, a solder mask is placed over the conductors.

Preparing Double Sided Printed Circuit Boards for Production

Preparing a two-sided PCB for manufacturing requires many of the same tools that are required for the most complex circuit boards. No matter the number of layers in the Printed Circuit Board, you’ll still need to clearly define your stackup, drill sizes, materials used to build the board, and generate Gerber files for your layers. You’ll also need to prepare a bill of materials that details the sourcing information for components in your board.

Preparing a double-sided Printed Circuit Board for manufacturing takes tools that can generate your deliverables in standard file formats. Any manufacturer that can accommodate multilayer boards can fabricate a two-layer circuit board and will be able to deliver with fewer manufacturing steps. Your circuit board design software plays an important role in streamlining the production process.

Screenshot of the ActiveBOM tool in Altium Designer

Compiling a bill of materials in Altium Designer

The Role of Adaptable PCB Design Software

It shouldn’t matter if you’re building a board with two layers or a dozen layers. Your PCB design software should offer consistent functionality when designing for any application. Working in the right PCB design software will ensure that your boards function as you intended and can help you avoid common problems involved in double-sided PCB design.

You can watch your productivity skyrocket and easily identify errors in your Printed Circuit Board when your tools are built on a single rules-driven design engine. Only Altium Designer® weaves this underlying design engine into the schematic design, layout, and verification tools. The layer stackup manager, via design, and copper pour tools in Altium Designer are critical for double-sided PCB design. Only Altium Designer includes all these tools within a single platform that enforces a consistent workflow and intuitive design interface.

Altium Designer is Adaptable to Any Printed Circuit Board Application

Other design platforms place specialized tools in separate programs and force you to adopt an ad hoc workflow to complete your designs. Your circuit board design software should include everything you need to create your next product within a single design program. The design tools in Altium Designer are perfect for double-sided PCB design or for designing the most complex electronic systems. You’ll have access to all the advanced tools you need within a single program.

Altium Designer has something for everybody. Whether you’re a hobbyist or a professional designer, the design, PCB layout, and production tools in Altium Designer make circuit board design with any number of layers much easier. These features are integrated into a single-sided design environment with consistent workflow and an intuitive interface.

Whether you need tools for double-sided PCB design or for building the next smartphone, Altium offers you plenty of resources to help you get through the design process. You’ll have access to a comprehensive knowledge base, feature tutorials, podcasts and webinars from industry experts, and the AltiumLive forum. No other circuit board design platform gives you this much support.

Your PCB design software should be adaptable to any application and give you the tools you need within a single-sided program. Only Altium Designer integrates your important design tools in a single program and provides you with the adaptability you need for any Printed Circuit Board application. Instead of cobbling together multiple tools to design, layout, and produce your next double-sided PCB, take advantage of the best integrated design software on the market: try Altium Designer.

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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