Best Practices: Efficient Use of Snapping in Altium Designer

David Haboud
|  Created: September 22, 2020  |  Updated: April 12, 2021

Getting your PCB layout design done takes patience and precision. Complex footprint geometries, board shape, and dense component placement require accurate primitive positioning. Each stage of PCB design needs a different snapping configuration. Often your settings can be excellent fit for one stage and be unfavorable for another. For example, good snapping settings for your board outline can make routing almost impossible. Learn more about different snapping usage patterns and best practices of efficient snappings.

As part of the webinar, you’ll learn about efficiently creating and applying snapping settings:

A general overview of how you work with snapping

Installation of the snapping range and distance of the guide axis

Create and link to a circular grid ("Polar Grid")

Create additional grid lines and snap points

Create additional snap points using a 3D model (3D Body Snap Points)

Best practice of snapping usage for different use cases (footprint creation, routing, placement, etc.


Nathaniel Pierce:

It looks like all the attendees have joined and welcome again. I'm Nathaniel "Chip" Pierce to efficient use of snapping in Altium Designer. I'll be conducting this webinar for about the next 20, 25 minutes or so, and then answer some questions. But please use the question and answer panel to present any questions you may have and not the chat window and this way our R and D team can examine all those Q&A questions that you may present. And please wait until the end of the demo until you present any questions, because, well, I may answer those questions within the time of the demo. And in fact, I'm going to be asking you guys some questions. I'll be presenting three poll questions throughout the webinar, just to get your feedback for our R and D and marketing teams. All right. Well, let's take a look here and just see, Hey, what is a snap point?

All right. A snap point is actually just a point on the PCB with a radius around it that your cursor is going to snap to. All right, when you're within that certain radius. And here's a little bit more detailed, comprehensive explanation about this. Now, in fact, you'll see that there are several different snap levels that we're going to examine here in our webinar coming up here, in fact, and just at a high level, let's take a look at them. Okay. So you'll see, we're going to be focusing on snapping in the PCB editor. Snapping in the schematic editor is a snap. No pun in comparison to the PCB editor. And we have a few different snap levels, right. And of course, snapping is defined in the properties panel. And it only occurs during a move action.

So you'll see that we have snap to grids and we have polar and regular Cartesian grids. Then we have snap to guides. Guides are a line or a snap point that you can add in the workspace. And you'll also see that we have a snap to object hot spots. As well as axis, we can snap to axis. And that works with the objects for snapping list there. So this is going to lead me into our demo, and this is a good time to ask our poll question number one. And that is how often will you be using custom snapping? So if you could answer those questions and I'll bring open my demo.

So it looks like we've got lots of answers for those snapping customizations. Some folks answering that. I appreciate that. So let's take a look here first. Let's take a look at what we have here for snap to grids. You'll see in the properties panel here, over here in the properties panel, in the snap options, all I've got is snap to grids. You'll see that. And everything else is off. You see these shift E options is the shortcut key from the main editing area. These snap options here, all layers, current layer, off. You'll see that right. Off, when I put it off, it doesn't mean all the snap is off. Snap to grids is independent of those snapping objects. So let's take a look in this PCB, check it out. I've got a polar grid and a Cartesian grid. So snapping the grids is related to the grid manager down here. So I've got a custom Cartesian grid made out of lines in the rectangular portion of my board and a polar grid as well on the semicircular area of my board.

So let's take a look and why we make that polar grid is so that we can get the part out to the edge of the board. So watch in the main editing area, I'm just going to issue the move command. So, boom. When I click to move this, it's going to hold it by its component center, and I'm going to rotate this and zoom in so that you can see it a little bit more effectively. So I can press shift and space bar or space bar to rotate it. I'm just stepping on one degree here. And as I move it, you see it's snapping to the polar grid. Now, a very important consideration here, folks. All right. Is the snap distance. See that snap to distance eight mil. So that is the threshold of when I'm moving this part that it's snapping and rotating right on that grid radiant.

See that. So I'd get it up here into a place that was situated properly towards the edge of the board and now check this out. I can uncheck snap to grids up here and it's off here. You'll see that this off snapping only affects the object set so that if I want to grab the designator now and bring it on the board, if I move the part, say exactly and swing it over here, it's moving along with it. But now you'll see, now I can move this designator completely independently.

See that and that will work on any one of these designators over here. For example, if I move this part and I rotate it out to the edge of the board. Now at this point, I'd want to snap to the grid on here and then I could turn it off and bring the designator on the board and rotate it exactly the way that I want. So that's where snap grids, you can turn it on and off. And here are a few other options in the grid manager, if you uncheck this comp box, when you go to move that part, that grid is gone.

Similarly, if I just check this box non component, the grid is gone. So that's one way to turn on and off the grid right there. So that's how snap to grids can help you as you're moving parts on a polar grid, or I'm just going to issue the move, move, command, and grab this part. It instantly grabs it by its component reference point. Or I could just place it here on the Cartesian grid, but again, you got to make sure grids is selected in there or else you're not going to be able to move it on there. So I grabbed this part again and now it's just snapping to the grid, as you can see all around there. And if I wanted to move the silk screen here, this text. I could uncheck grids and then move it wherever I want here.

And there you have it. So that's moving parts using the grids, and it's got to be enabled. Now, if you have it off, down here, remember you turn grids on it'll snap to grids. You see it shows off, but you move that part. It's definitely snapping the grid. See that. Let's see a couple of other practical applications of snapping the grid. I'm just going to close this PCB and not save any of the changes I may have inadvertently made there. And check out this PCB library. Watch what I'm going to do here. I have to have pad centers selected here. So that I can snap to the pad centers and measure the distance. Now, if you're ever making a footprint from scratch, you're going to look at a data sheet and observe the land pattern and check out the distance center to center between the pads.

Then what you can do watch this is set your snap grid, break this chain between step X and Y, and set it equal to the center to center pad distance from your land pattern on your data sheet. So that now, if I make a new blank component, new blank footprint, that's the separation between the pads right there. I'm going to right click, clear filter, place pad and you'll see, I'm going to hit the tab key to pause the placement processor and set the designator to one.

And now you just place the pads on grid and there you have it. And now I know my pad center to center distance is exactly correct. So that's one way to really help yourself out setting the global board snap grid equal to the center to center distance between your pads. So there's a great practical application there for snap to grid just when you're placing pads. So hopefully that helps you out there at that point. And now it's a good time here to launch poll question number two, because I'm going to show you coming up now on how to snap to guides.

So let's take a look at poll question number two here. Is it convenient to use snapping? So I'm going to go back to the semicircular PCB here and show you now how to snap guides. Now this is going to work with the guide manager down here, where I've added a bunch of colorful guides in here. And in fact, what I'm going to do here is turn off the grids here for a moment so that you'll be able to see this more effectively, those boxes right there, and you see these colorful lines are the guides and I can enable them and disable them here, right in properties.

And again, it's the snap distance back up here, right? Turning off on collapsing the grids, now look at the snap distance. I'm going to jump this up to 50 mil. And now you'll see, look, snap to off is here, but that relates to objects for snapping these objects in here. Now I'm going to snap to guides, not grids. So now when I get within 50 mil snap distance of moving this part, and I'm just going to issue the move command, bang. You see how it snaps to that grid. And of course I can use shift and space bar and space bar to rotate bang without I get 50 mils. It's just going to be right on that grid.

Boom. There it is. See that it's within 50 mil. Boom. It just snaps over to that grid. Okay. So I could just click to place that down if I wanted to now. Also, look at this, sometimes you'll have a snap point. I'm going to quickly jump to that location JL 1000 tab 1000. And because I made a snap point there. If I zoom in, I'll see this fuchsia colored. I believe that's fuchsia snap point. And again, now I'm going to increase my snap distance even more to a hundred mils and move one of these components here and get it close to the snap point and let me zoom in and you'll see that once I get within a zoom threshold here, let me pop back out. You see bang, it's going to go right into that snap point. Let me get my auto panning and zoom right into the center.

You see C5? Bang. It's just going to grab right to that snap point because sometimes, you might have a very specific location that you have to place a part on. So let's take a look at another practical application of that. I'm just going to close this PCB again and not change anything that I might have set up there and go back over to this PCB. Check this out. You see this connector typically would have to be placed at a very specific XY location. So in 2D for example, I could set a snap point once again, using the guide manager, add snap point, specify it's location.

XY location, right? Hit enter. And now if I zoom in closely, I can see the snap point right in here. And then there's a snap distance, right? I've got to change that snap distance. I'm going to put it way up for display purposes to a hundred mil that now when I grab this footprint, boom, it is going to grab right to that guide right in there. But I've got to enable guides, it didn't do it. All right, watch this. You see now it'll do it. Boom. When I get right within that snap point, that's fine. And now in 3D, I see that it's exactly where it should be. I can rotate this and take a quick look at it here. You see how that looks there now. Beautiful. The snap points can help you right in 3D and zero rotation.

So placing footprints on the board right there can help you because a lot of times footprints will have to be placed at very specific XY locations and rotations. So let's see if we've got another poll question here as well. Thank you guys for answering those poll questions. Let's take another look at some practical application of snapping to guides. As we saw in the circular PCB or snapping footprints in the PCB, or look at this in a PCB library. Look at this. They've got some custom snap points in here. For this particular footprint that's been placed. They've got a snap point here and they've also got another custom snap point here. Let me show you how to make custom snap points here, because look on this particular footprint, what they've done here, they've got a lead that goes up. They've got three leads.

One goes up the side and look at this, two of the leads, just go right up against the bottom of this connector. I'm just going to go to zero rotation and grab that footprint and delete it. And let me show you how to place it in the main editing area here, place 3D body. I'm going to grab this power jack and click open. Now typically what I would do here is I would hit tab, pause the placement process and set the rotation X, Y, and Z. So that the footprint step model is flush to the 2D footprint here. So I'm just going to drop it down there and let's take a look here. I'm going to select this footprint, give it an override color and an opacity of 50% so that we can see through it a little bit and watch what I'm going to do here.

You see if I can make a custom snap point, the midpoint between where this lead goes up against the center is up against the QD footprint pad. Then I'd be able to orient that properly. So watch this tools, 3D body placement, add snap points from vertices. See, you can do it in 3D right here. So watch this along the status bar at the bottom, it says, pick the step model to add snap points too. So I click anywhere on that step model. And now it says pick the vertex where it will be attached, but watch this. If I hit the Tilda key, that brings up shortcuts that I can use. Look at this, switch between single vertex and midpoint mode. Because I want to grab this right in the midpoint. I want to snap point right there and I've got it, but you've got to have snap points enabled for visibility in view configuration, you see this 3D custom snap points.

I've got it visible. Now in the main editing area here, I'm going to back up hit zero to get zero rotation. And again watch this, back in properties, the snap distance, I've got it set to 50 mil so that when I grab this part, it's grabbing it by the snap point. And it's going to snap to the pad center, boom, within 50 mil because I've got pad center also enabled in here and 3D body snap points, both using 50 mil snap distance. And now that I've got that footprint placed, well, let's take a look at it in orthogonal rotation. There it is.

I can rotate it here at the bottom and take a look here and I see those leads are going right where they should. That is perfect right in there. I can rotate that through, take a look at it. All right. And zero rotation at the end, flip the footprint and view fit all objects. So that's how you can add a custom footprint to a step model that you import into a footprint. And you'll just see it in 2D that it's snapping right there to that reference point. Get on target. So those are some good applications there. So I'm just going to close all documents and save none and open up that circular PCB. There's a really helpful thing here. I'm going to show you again in here. Now the snap to axis works with these objects for snapping down here.

And we saw the slide, how you can use those axis as a placement guide, but it's not really quite as helpful as these options here, snap to grids here and guides that works completely independently of these objects for snapping. And again, so I'm going to go to current layer and this time I'm going to turn everything off, except now I'm going to show you some objects snapping here. All of these options here are off and watch this. I'm just going to go to tracks, arcs, lines and turn off vertices.

This is the only thing I've got open now. I'm going to zoom in and in fact, it might be helpful to turn off the grids here. So as I move the component, they'll turn off, watch this. M-m, move move. And I just grab C6. I'm going to place that down there and set my snap distance up again to 50 mils so that you'll see a more dramatic result here. See what I'm going to do here. Here's a track, right? That's making up the outline of the PCB and here's an arc that semicircular part of the PCB. So now when I've got my snap options set, just to tracks, arcs, and lines in here under objects for snapping.

You'll see right in here. Objects for snapping. Now, when I move this part, m-m move command. Watch when I get within 50 mil bang, but it's only saying current layer, see I'm on the top layer. So it's not snapping there. I'm going to hit control shift mouse wheel to scroll down to the M1 PCB outline layer. Now you see it when it gets within 50 mil, in fact, let's make it a hundred. So you may see it even better. So watch I go to move this part, bang it's snap into the arc or the track down here. You see that. And again, I could use space bar or shift and space bar to get the rotation set wherever I want on there. I've got my rotation step that one degree and look at this auto panning kicks in and you see right now, there's my snap to the arc all the way down to the line where it joins.

Now here's another object for snapping option. Look at this, snap to track arcs vertices, watch this. So now it's not going to snap to the line, but the joint area where the intersection of this arc and this track, you see that intersection right there. When I get within a hundred mils now or moving this thing, boom. There it is and that's it. So sometimes that particular snap option can be really helpful. And again, as you're moving apart, of course I could hit shift and space bar as I wanted to rotate that anyway, that I wanted to. So there you have it. So there's moving these parts around with those different snap options. A question came in, what are the default snap options and default grid options. Okay, very good. Let's create a new PCB, file, new, PCB, blank new PCB.

All right. I'm going to just fit the whole. There's you know, no template or anything. So let's just take a look in the properties panel and see what we've got. The default snap options for a brand new PCB without any template configured, our grids, current layer and these are the snap objects, intersections, pad centers, regions, track arcs, and vertices via centers, and importantly, snap distance, eight mil access snap range, 200 mil. Let's take a look here. Some other questions that are coming in, why would you use snap to guide over snap to grid? Because snap to guide sometimes look, you might create a guide just like I've done here. Like for example, if you've got a row of LEDs that have to be placed at a very specific XY location, right. Because they might have to shine through an opening in your product enclosure.

So that's why you can add a guide right there. And it pops out a little bit more than a standard grid. Another question came in, talking about creating an angle, not 90 degree row kick rotation. What I was doing just to set the rotation step, just going into preferences on the general page. The default there is 90, but on a polar grid, sometimes I like to set it up for one degree so that I have more control over that rotation. Another question came in. Why can't I select or snap to any objects in my schematic template? Well, this webinar is focusing primarily on PCB snapping, but I'll show you that real quick. File, new schematic. It's going to make a copy of my template schematic here. I've just replaced the Altium logo with my own company logo and replaced the Altium company name with my own company name, address, and email.

But yes, you'll see that. For example, in the properties panel, in the schematic editor, my default is visible grid 100, snap grid 100, but I'm moving my cursor freely until I move an object. You see you're right. I can't select anything in the template. No question about it. You're not supposed to be able to, I'd have to open the source template file to select. And again, in the schematic editor, snap only affects when you're moving an object. So for example, if I go to place wire. Now my cursor is snapping to my snap grid and you'll see on the status bar in the lower left grid is 100 and that's my actual snap grid. But you'll see, it's not snapping to anything in the actual title block. You're right it's not, it's just snapping to the grid.

And you'll see in the grid manager, you'll see that there's just a visible grid. There's no actual grid manager in the schematic editor. All right, guys. Well, let's take a look here. I think that's all I've got here for you for demonstration. And once again, I'd like to thank everybody for your questions. Our question came in here is a shortcut key to turn snapping off? Yes, Shift E. But that just turns off the objects for snapping. If you want to turn off snap to grids, guides or axes, you got to click the button in properties. So there's my demo and webinar for you. I hope you enjoyed it. We'll answer any other questions that come in into the question and answer panel directly. With either text or we'll follow up for you again, thank you very much for your attention and any final questions you might have feel free to put them into the chat window. I see a bunch of them.


About Author

About Author

David Haboud joined Altium as a Product Marketing Engineer in 2015. He studied electrical engineering, emphasizing computer architecture and hardware/software design at the University of Southern California. As an embedded software engineer in the aerospace industry, his focus on firmware development and data acquisition for auxiliary power units highlighted the importance of cross-functional collaboration. Through his engineering experiences, he discovered his passion for enabling cross-discipline engineers to communicate effectively. In his spare time, he hosts and performs in improvisational and stand-up comedy nights in San Diego, California.

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