Even Simple Schematic Drawing Programs are Better than Pencil and Paper

Created: February 16, 2018
Updated: September 25, 2020

Clean and easy schematic software like robots cleaning up your work

My mother used to clean all of her dishes in the sink with soap and water, and then put them in the dishwasher to finish the job. Perhaps when she was young those older dishwashers weren’t as good at cleaning dishes as they were later on. Years later when I was married and was cleaning up the kitchen, my wife looked at me as if I had lost my mind. “Why are you doing the same job twice,” she asked? It was the way that I had always done it, of course.

How many times have you been in a similar situation? One of these examples that immediately come to mind is drawing schematics. When I’ve got a new idea in mind for a circuit diagram, I used to sketch it out on paper first. This wasn’t a bad thing if I was away from my computer, but when I was sitting at my desk with the computer right in front of me it was very redundant. Why draw a diagram by hand only to recreate it electronically later on?

While using simple schematic drawing software rather than a pen and paper for outlining my initial circuit diagrams was a difficult habit for me to break, fortunately, I found some ways. By updating your process, you can be more productive without doubling up on tasks you’ll have to do in the future.

Napkins are Simple, Schematic Drawing Software Was Less So

I’ve drawn a circuit diagram by hand many times over the years, and I am used to sketching it out with a pencil when possible. I’ve drawn a diagram on sticky notes, envelopes, scrap paper, and the occasional table-top now and again. And yes, I’ve drawn a circuit diagram or two on a literal napkin from time to time, too.

Let’s face it, reaching for a pencil and paper is fast. I don’t have to open up a CAD program, I can just start drawing a diagram. I also don’t have to be exact in how I draw it. I can be as sloppy as I want. There’s no waiting for a library part nor do I have to deal with an annoying DRC if my drawing isn’t ship-shape and Bristol fashioned. On the other hand, though, sketching by hand may allow you to draw a couple of parts and wires quickly, but the diagram gets messy and breaks down quickly.

The sloppy look isn’t exactly the most helpful thing in circuit design. Have any of you ever sketched something out that is so illegible that later on that you couldn’t read it? I certainly have. I’ve also sketched the parts incorrectly, resulting in a circuit diagram that couldn't possibly work. Which, of course, forced me to have to re-do it again later. Maybe there’s something to be said for neatness in a circuit diagram after all.

Picture of a hand drawn schematic
Relying on a hand drawn schematic can open you up to errors

Schematic Drawing Software Should Break this Habit

The best way of getting out of the habit of sketching a circuit diagram, electrical design, PCB layout, block diagram, or other similar diagram by hand is to force yourself into your schematic drawing software--just as I did. Once you get into the habit of using your CAD tools on a regular basis, your preliminary circuit diagram and schematic diagram design process will be be more accurate and take less time to create and edit. First, though, you need to build this habit, and here are a couple of tips that I have found will help:

  • An accessible workstation: Make sure that your workstation is set up in such a way that it is easy to use. This isn’t just a matter of having a working computer, it is also making sure that it is set up ergonomically to fit you and your work-style so.

  • Be fluent on your CAD tools: Make sure that you know how to use the tools that you have. It is very easy to push the CAD tools aside if you don’t really understand how they work. On the other hand, those who are comfortable with their CAD tools will be more likely to use them on a regular basis.

  • Access to library parts: It is really important that you understand how to access those parts that you will need from external library sources. It is also important that you are comfortable  creating new parts on your own, if needed.
Picture of Altium Designer’s schematic capture application
Using the right tools will help build your schematic capture skills and confidence

The Right PCB Tools Make All the Difference

All of these ideas won’t matter though unless you start with the best schematic drawing software. You should have software that:

  • Is simple to install, license, and maintain.

  • Has direct access to libraries as well as support and documentation.

  • Can easily interface with layout software and other important functions such as manufacturing drawings and bill of materials files all within the same framework.

  • Is quick to learn and intuitive to work with.

These are the keys to what helped me to break the habit of manually drawing my schematic circuits. I know that I’ll always be the kind of engineer that will jot things down on an envelope if inspiration hits me away from my desk. But in the office, I now turn towards my CAD tools first instead of looking for a pencil and some scrap paper.

Altium Designer is the schematic capture software that I have found that works best for me. It is quick to learn and intuitive to use and versatile with its library capabilities. I am able to create circuits much faster and with far better precision than I ever could drawing them by hand. With its accompanying layout software, I am able to easily move the board from schematic through layout.

If you would like to find out more about how Altium Designer can help you to easily create a quality schematic, talk to an expert at Altium Designer.

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