Even Simple Schematic Drawing Software is Better than Pencil and Paper

February 19, 2018 Altium Designer

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 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 it by hand only to recreate it electronically later on? 

While it was quite difficult for me to break this habit, fortunately, I found some ways. By updating your process, you can be more productive without having to do the tedious, extra processes that bore you and are essentially just copies of things you’ll have to do differently in the future. 

Napkins are Simple, Schematic Drawing Software Was Less So

I’ve drawn a lot of circuitry over the years and I am very used to sketching it out with a pencil on whatever is handy. I’ve drawn circuits on sticky notes, envelopes, as well as a few table-tops here and there. And yes, I’ve been known to draw circuits on the proverbial 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 something. 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 it gets messy quick.

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, you couldn’t read it? I have. I’ve also sketched parts incorrectly resulting in a circuit that can’t possibly work forcing me to have to completely re-do it again later. Maybe there’s something to be said for neatness 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 circuits by hand is to force yourself to use your schematic drawing software as I did. Yes, drawing by hand may seem simpler, but once you get into the habit of using your CAD tools on a regular basis you will find that you will create more accurate schematics and they will 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 fully comfortable with creating new parts on your own if needed.

Picture of Altium 18’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 can help you to easily create a quality schematic, talk to an expert at Altium.

About the Author

Altium Designer

PCB Design Tools for Electronics Design and DFM. Information for EDA Leaders.

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