The Difference Between Breadboard Projects and Prototype Layouts

Created: January 23, 2018
Updated: December 15, 2020

Picture of someone wiring a breadboard

I was just making myself some lunch and cutting up some fixin’s for a sandwich when it occurred to me that I was using a breadboard. Although I’ve always thought of it as a cutting board, it is actually what my grandmother would have called a breadboard; a flat piece of wood for slicing bread. For those of us in the electronics world, a “breadboard” is something very different. So, I decided to look it up. I was surprised to learn that in the world of the electronic project, the term “breadboard” comes from many years ago when people first experimented with electronic circuits. They would grab the family breadboard, pound some nails into it, and start wiring up their circuits.

Today we’ve advanced quite a bit in how we wire up circuits, and the breadboards of today are nothing like those early slabs of wood. This is a good thing too as I have no desire to share my platform for building sandwiches with my platform for electronic projects. Not only that but if I were to pound nails into what my wife uses to slice bread with, I would be toast!

Breadboard designs are very different than the circuit boards that PCB designers are used to, and for those of you unfamiliar with breadboard projects we’ll take a quick look at what they are. We’ll also look at the benefits of a breadboard design as well as the benefits of a PCB. So come along with me and let’s see why PCBs and breadboards are the best things since sliced bread.

What are Breadboard Design Projects?

A breadboard is a project platform to test a prototype or temporary circuits on. They are also a great way to test a new part by building a quick and simple circuit to run the new part through its paces. Breadboard designs come in different sizes, but they are all characterized by a dense pattern of holes with which to put thru-hole component leads or jumper wires. Rows of these holes are connected together underneath the breadboard, so putting a lead or a wire into one hole connects it to another lead or wire in a different hole. The holes can be oriented vertically, horizontally, or both depending on the size and complexity of the breadboard. Additionally, breadboard designs will also have rows specifically designated for power and ground to simplify those connections for the user. 

Breadboard prototyping software comes in two different versions; solderless and solderable. The solderless versions are the easiest to work with. Each row of connected holes has a metal clip in the hole to capture the leads or jumper wire connections that you will put into it. A soldered prototype breadboard design, on the other hand, requires that each lead or jumper wire be soldered into the hole. This makes the soldered versions of breadboards more robust as the leads are permanently captured. Of course, they are not as reusable as the solderless versions.

Picture of components in a breadboard
A circuit built on a breadboard for testing

Advantages of Using Breadboard Prototyping Software for Your Project

Breadboard projects are a great way to build a prototype or a temporary circuit. They can be done quickly compared to designing a printed circuit board for the same project, and do not require a CAD system or other similar tools typically used in the design of PCBs. With the relative ease of connecting components together, breadboard designs also lend themselves well to electronics education.

Breadboards will allow you to connect various components of your project together in different combinations allowing you to produce many different circuits. If you are using a solderless breadboard, you can create these circuits without any special tools either. Being able to quickly and easily make component and wiring display changes, as well as any needed repairs to the circuitry, keeps it adaptive. Prototype breadboard designs are also very easy to test as you have unobstructed access to the circuitry for probing, and you can easily break into a circuit to test it.

Close up picture of blue circuit board
There are many benefits to creating your prototypes with a PCB layout

Advantages of Using a Prototype Layout

Although there are many benefits of using breadboard prototype software, there are often more advantages to creating a prototype PCB layout instead (also known as a protoboard). Here is a partial list of those advantages when looking at a protoboard vs breadboard:

  • You can create the size of a circuit board that you need instead of being restricted by the size of the breadboard.
  • You can use any component that you want, such as surface mount, instead of being restricted to thru-hole.
  • It is easier to see and understand the circuits without looping wires going everywhere as they do on a breadboard design.
  • A PCB is more robust than a breadboard, which will bend under the weight of many large devices.
  • The copper of a PCB is more durable than the metal connections and jumper wires of a breadboard design.
  • The components on a PCB are soldered in for a strong connection, and won’t slip out of the clips like they can on a solderless breadboard.
  • A PCB will have a better current carrying capacity than a breadboard because the power traces or metal area fills can be adjusted during the design for the optimum width. A PCB can handle higher voltages than a breadboard design as well.
  • Signals will perform better on a PCB without the higher parasitic inductance and capacitance that is typical in a breadboard design.
  • Replicating a PCB is a much easier task than creating multiple hand-assembled breadboards. This will reduce your manufacturing time and costs considerably.
  • If you are trying to sell your circuit board, you will probably find that a completed breadboard just isn’t attractive to buyers like a completed PCB layout is.

Although breadboard prototype software is a great way to learn electronics or to build a quick test circuit, there are many more benefits to creating your prototype boards with a PCB layout. Fortunately, there are resources available to you to help you create your prototype electronic project layouts quickly and inexpensively.

Make sure that your PCB design software is intuitive to learn, and use, and has the capabilities to create the prototype PCB layouts that your project needs. When you need to access an easy-to-use PCB layout tool that includes everything needed to build high-quality manufacturable circuit boards, look no further than CircuitMaker. In addition to easy-to-use PCB design software, all CircuitMaker users have access to a personal workspace on the Altium 365 platform. You can upload and store your design data in the cloud, and you can easily view your projects via your web browser in a secure platform.

Start using CircuitMaker today and stay tuned for the new CircuitMaker Pro from Altium.

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