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Transition from Hobby PCB Manufacturer to Professional Designer with Altium

Zachariah Peterson
|  Created: January 29, 2021
Transition from Hobby PCB Maker to Professional Designer with Altium

Most new designers start off with freeware when they need to create their first PCB designs, but free PCB design software lacks many features required to create real circuit boards. Hobby PCB designers and makers need a range of tools to create high-quality circuit boards and eventually create real devices. Instead of using free PCB layout software and other programs to help get designs into production, hobby PCB makers need professional design tools to build professional hardware.

Altium Designer is an excellent choice for hobby PCB designers who want to get a circuit board up to production grade. The PCB layout, routing, and production preparation tools are ideal for creating professional hardware, and for guiding makers along the path to becoming professional designers. Here’s what new designers and makers can expect from Altium Designer and how its rules-driven engine helps them build the best designs.


The only PCB design package with a complete set of features for hobby PCB designers and experienced professionals.

Your very first PCB design application is probably a freeware platform, but it doesn’t have to stay that way. Hobby PCB designers and makers often start with a small budget and they need an easy-to-use toolset to get started on new designs. Eventually, as designs get more complex, a free PCB design software application won’t do the job, and a more advanced platform is needed.

Altium Designer was made for PCB designers of all experience levels, including industry veterans and brand new designers. The complete set of PCB design tools in Altium Designer can help guide hobbyists and makers through the complicated world of PCB design and into full-scale production with a complete toolset. If you’re an experienced designer or you’re a hobby PCB maker that wants more skills, Altium Designer gives you the features you need in an easy-to-use interface.

Getting Started With Schematic Design

All PCBs start from electronics schematics, and even free PCB design programs need to have some schematic design and viewing capabilities. Some free PCB design programs only do PCB layout and routing, forcing a designer to find a compatible circuit design program. Altium Designer eliminates the need to find multiple compatible programs, instead allowing designers to create a complete set of schematics in the same program they’ll use for their PCB layout.

So what does it take to create professional schematics? Whether you’re a maker or experienced designer, your schematic design tools should include some of the following features:

  • Access to component libraries and automated creation of a BOM
  • Placement of ports, net directives, and parameter sets
  • An integrated SPICE simulator for evaluating circuit functionality
  • CAD tools for creating custom schematic symbols for new components
  • Instant schematic capture into a new PCB layout and integration with manufacturing tools

This is just the beginning of the various tools hobby PCB designers need to keep their designs at the cutting edge.

Advanced Tools for Schematic Design

Today’s advanced designs can get very complex, and they can involve multiple boards, multiple circuit blocks, and a range of capabilities that can’t fit into a single schematic. Altium Designer goes beyond free PCB design software and helps designers create a schematic hierarchy for their new design. Altium Designer is also the best multi-board PCB design system and includes tools specifically for organizing boards into multiple sections. You won’t be able to create these types of advanced designs in free PCB design software applications.

Hierarchical schematics in Altium Designer

Hierarchical schematic design features go beyond hobby PCB design software and help you keep advanced designs organized.

From Schematic Editor to a New PCB Layout

When you’ve finished designing schematics, it’s time to turn them into a new PCB layout. Every new circuit board will begin with schematic capture into a blank PCB layout, and components are subsequently placed around the PCB. A set of CAD tools is needed alongside some simple data management tools to keep schematics, PCB layouts, and component libraries synchronized.

While free hobby PCB design programs still separate these features into different programs, Altium Designer helps you stay more efficient by keeping schematic capture and PCB layout functions in the same program. In addition, PCB layout data and schematic data stay synchronized thanks to the unified data model in Altium Designer’s underlying PCB design engine. Designers won’t need to switch back and forth between different programs; they can start upgrading hobby PCB designs or create advanced layouts with a complete set of PCB layout and routing features.

Hobby PCBs Will Benefit From Advanced Layout and Routing Tools

Every circuit board will get created in a PCB layout, which takes a complete set of CAD tools and routing features. Once you capture your schematics and import them into a new PCB layout, Altium Designer’s routing features are instantly accessible and can be used to implement any routing topology. Forget about using the autorouter in hobby PCB design software, take full control of your PCB layout and routing with advanced interactive tools in Altium Designer.

Schematic editor and hobby PCB layout in Altium Designer

Altium Designer helps you stay organized by linking your schematics and PCB layout into a unified design environment.

Altium Designer Beats Hobby PCB Design Software

Whether you’re working on a hobby PCB project or you need to produce 1 million units of your next design, Altium Designer has the complete set of design features every designer needs. Altium Designer is more than a circuit diagram editor or circuit board layout utility, it’s a unified rules-driven PCB design platform that helps you go from concept to product in a single program.

With organization and data management tools, designers can enforce a design hierarchy and access a complete set of PCB layout utilities in a single program. When you’re ready to send your circuit board out for manufacturing, your design data and your project structure will be copied into your deliverables and checked against your design rules. These features are meant to help every designer become a seasoned professional and create advanced circuit boards.

Altium Designer’s Rules-Driven Engine Helps You Stay at the Cutting Edge

The secret to Altium Designer’s tool integration and powerful design interface is its rules-driven design engine. This underlying design environment links your tools together to ensure every aspect of your board can be checked against important design rules. For hobby PCB projects that need to be put into production, design rules help you spot design errors that prevent manufacturing. Thanks to Altium Designer’s rules engine and a complete toolset, hobby PCB designers can create more advanced designs and get their boards up to production grade.

Hobby PCB layout in Altium Designer

Altium Designer’s complete set of PCB design tools helps any designer build advanced electronics.

Whether you’re a hobby PCB designer or a seasoned professional, Altium Designer has something for everyone. The unified design environment provides everything designers need to create advanced electronics and get them through manufacturing. Stay at the cutting edge and at your most productive with the powerful PCB design tools in Altium Designer.

Altium Designer on Altium 365 delivers unprecedented 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.

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