Free Schematic Drawing Software and PCB Layout Tools in Altium Designer

Zachariah Peterson
|  Created: November 9, 2020

Every circuit board starts with circuit diagrams and schematic sheets. Your schematic capture software takes your component and footprint data and creates an initial layout, which you then route to create a complete circuit board. If you’re just getting started with PCB design, you need a schematic diagram maker that helps you quickly move component data into a new layout. You shouldn’t need to use multiple programs to move from schematic drawing software to layout and bill of materials.

Altium Designer provides the answer to separated schematic drawing software, schematic capture features, and PCB layout tools. Instead of risking incompatibility between free schematic drawing software and PCB layout tools, you need a complete set of design features in one program. When you use Altium Designer, you won’t be blocked by the paywalls you find in free schematic drawing software, and you can prepare your designs for manufacturing.


A PCB design package that helps you build and capture your schematics. You’ll have every tool you need for PCB design and manufacturing.

Your electrical circuit diagrams are like the foundation of a new house. Everything in your PCB is built on top of these diagrams and your schematic sheets. These documents need to detail which components appear in your device, how they must connect to each other, and how your device accesses power and ground. With this document playing such an important role in your printed circuit board, you need the best software that can take your PCB schematic and generate your initial layout.

Your PCB design software should include tools that quickly and easily capture your schematic as an initial layout, with all your connections mapped and your component footprints accurately displayed in a CAD document. Free schematic capture software is hit-or-miss. Some free schematic capture tools interface directly with a layout tool, but this is not always the case. To ensure your design data is synchronized without errors, you need integrated printed circuit board design tool options. With the schematic drawing tools and schematic capture features in Altium Designer, you’ll have everything you need to complete your printed circuit board.

Creating Your Schematics Should Be Easy

Starting from electrical circuit diagrams, you’ll need design tools that help you recreate your circuit diagrams as schematic sheets with verified component symbols and models. A schematic diagram maker in your PCB design software should make it easy to access the components you need without relying on a third-party service. Once you’ve created your schematics with verified components, you need to capture your schematic before creating a printed circuit board layout.

Your schematic tools also need to access data directly from your component libraries and check your device against standard design rules. Free PCB design software oftentimes will leave you without a schematic entry or layout editor for your printed circuit design tool. When all of these features work together, you’ll have the power to design advanced PCBs within a single design environment.

Keep Your Productivity High with Integrated Design Features

Using a schematic capture software tool that interfaces directly with your layout tools ensures your device will comply with basic design rules. Nobody has time to memorize every design rule or constantly rebuild schematics when moving between schematic and layout. A capture tool that interfaces directly with your CAD features automatically places your components where you need them, and you won’t have to build your device twice.

Drawing schematics in a PCB layout program

Schematic creation in Altium Designer

From Schematic Capture to PCB Layout

When you’ve finished creating your electrical circuit diagrams and schematic sheets, you need to capture your design as a blank PCB layout to start arranging components. If you make changes in one document, your changes need to appear in the other document; your layout and schematic need to stay in sync. Use a circuit board design tool with an integrated interface and features if you want to stay productive and keep your design data error-free.

While free schematic capture software and online schematic diagram maker software offer limited feature sets, Altium Designer provides everything needed to create high-quality layouts without an external design tool. This all happens with a schematic capture feature integrated alongside your schematic editor and PCB layout editor. Everything from electrical circuit diagrams to your PCB layout stays synchronized with Altium Designer.

Keeping Your Schematic and Layout Synchronized

Free schematic capture software that works as a standalone tool can’t keep your design data in sync. Free schematic drawing software also can’t provide you with verified components, and you’ll need to import component data from a third party. The best PCB design software doesn’t just synchronize your schematic and layout, it enforces all harmony across all of your design data.

With so many components available on the market, you need a schematic drawing system that makes it easy to add components to your printed circuit board schematic and layout. With Altium Designer, you can easily find existing components and add new component data to your libraries. Free schematic drawing software doesn’t give you these features and can’t provide you with verified components directly from manufacturers.

Screenshot of the design environment in Altium Designer

A schematic diagram and layout in Altium Designer.

Unified Schematic, Layout, and Manufacturing in Altium Designer

An integrated platform is the key to design efficiency. Altium Designer is more than just schematic design software, it gives you the schematic capture and layout features you need to finish your design and prepare it for production.

You’ll need more than just a great CAD interface to build a great PCB, you need tools that integrate every aspect of the PCB design process and manufacturing preparation into a single program. A fully integrated design package links your schematic, layout, analysis, and deliverable generation tools into a single software package. Altium Designer creates the easiest process for creating revolutionary electronics.

Altium Designer can help you easily capture your schematic diagrams as an initial PCB layout and move through the rest of the design process. The powerful layout tools are built on the same rules-driven design engine as the rest of your tools, ensuring that your device will operate as intended. Only Altium Designer incorporates all your design tools in a single interface and enforces a consistent workflow. Instead of looking for free schematic tools and risking being stuck behind a paywall, try using the only unified design platform: try Altium Designer.

Let Altium Designer Unify Your Design Workflow

Only Altium Designer unifies your schematic, layout, analysis, and a host of other tools into a single software program. You need the most powerful design, verification, documentation, and management tools all in one place. You’ll be able to move through the entire circuit board design process and into production when all your tools are placed in a single design environment. Altium Designer helps you ensure consistent communication between design teams, your manufacturer, and your design tools. Keep your schematics, layout data, and production documents consistent with Altium Designer.

Screenshot of a finished circuit board in Altium Designer

A finished circuit board viewed in Altium Designer’s native 3D MCAD tools.

Altium Designer takes all the best features in schematic drawing software and integrates them with circuit board layout, data management, and analysis in a single application. You won’t have to rely on a “free” schematic capture program to start laying out your new circuit board. Instead, you can rest assured your schematic and layout data remain synchronized when you use 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.

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 2500+ 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.

Related Resources

Related Technical Documentation

Back to Home
Thank you, you are now subscribed to updates.