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My first DipTrace board

This is not as much a tip or walkthrough. It is more my experience of learning to use DipTrace and how to get boards manufactured.

The first PCB layout program I tried was the free one from ExpressPCB. I must admit that it’s extremely easy to understand and to make simple designs. What I don’t like about ExpressPCB is the price and the fact that you are locked into their production line with their closed file format.

DipTrace on the other hand can export the layout as proper Gerber files and you are free to choose whatever PCB manufacturer you like. And when I found this site that offers 10 each 50x50mm two sided boards for $ 9.90 I figured I would try it out as it’s no great loss.

What I set out to build was something like this serial motor controller http://www.pololu.com/catalog/product/1110 I have used it in other projects and it works great. But it’s a bit pricy and I don’t need it to be that small. So I settled on using a PICAXE 18M2 and a SN75441ONE.

It seems to me that many DipTrace users don’t bother with the schematics and go straight to the PCB layout. It takes some time to figure out the schematics module and it’s relation to the PCB but its well worth the effort because;

  • You can verify that the schematic matches the PCB at any stage of design or redesign
  • You can verify the schematic for possible shorts and pins not assigned
  • You get a fast impression of a potential PCB with the auto placement and auto route
  • Any change to the schematic can be synchronized back to the PCB for further routing
  • You can make hierarchal blocks to simplify your design.
    For example my brother and me used this for a design where we needed 96 LED controlled by 6 LED-controllers. Then we just made one hierarchical block for 16 LED and controller and used this block 6 times in the schematic. All components are transferred to the PCB and routed correctly.

All this comes at a cost. It takes time and dedication to learn DipTrace. Their manual is good but the tutorials from nmcclana https://www.robotshop.com/letsmakerobots/user/5912  helped me out tremendously with his series on DipTrace https://www.robotshop.com/letsmakerobots/node/19902

But back to my serial motor controller SMC 1.0
I started out with the schematic and only the PICAXE and H-bridge chip, and some resistors for the programming interface. When laying out the board I figured, why not expose the rest of the PICAXE pins to a header. Updated the schematic and got the PCB synchronized. All the time I’m only using auto route and don’t lose any work while redesigning. Hum.. still room on the 50x50mm board for some servo headers and a voltage regulator for the servo power supply. A quick update of the schematic and it’s in the PCB.

I know many feel that auto routing is a bad thing and the board don’t come out as ‘pretty’ as if it was routed manually but by God it’s fast and you know that it’s probably more accurate than if it was done manually. You can always do the final touchups manually before shipping the boards to the manufacturer.

So I emailed the Gerber files to the PCB manufacturer on 18.12.2011 and on the 30.12.2011 the boards arrived! The quality was great my design actually worked!!

I’m very happy with DipTrace and would recommend it to anyone that is planning to get boards manufactured. But take the time to learn how to build from schematics and you will produce professional looking boards in no time.

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It's cool to design your own board and. Thanks for sharing your experience Mr. Andersen.

Hi Geir,

Thanks for sharing your experience.  I want to second your endorsement of dipTrace.  I have found it to be a great program.  Further, there's very active development so new features are constantly being added.  I have found it to be very easy to use but with a lot of depth.

I've used dipTrace gerbers with GoldPheonix.  They offer a 155sq.in. for about $100US I think (free shipping to Canada).  Perhaps too many boards for some projects but a great value.  Their boards are very well made.

Dr Iguana