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Getting Started with Printed Circuit Board (PCB) Design

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This is the first PCB that I have designed and sent off to be manufactured.  Yesterday I received the boards, soldered them up, and they work!


This write-up outlines the process I used in the hope that it will be useful to other hobbyists and builders.  There are links at the end which provide additional detail. 


Selecting a Project

The project consists of a small board with a MSP430G2553 microcontroller and an nRF24L01 radio.  I started with a radio attached with jumpers to a LaunchPad quite some time back and then built one on a proto-board.  The photograph below shows a G2553 with radio powered by a buck-boost converter attached to a super capacitor and solar panel.  I used it for a while with my weather station which never was quite completed.


Although I could have started with that, I actually chose to start with something simpler.  The goal was to focus on the PCB design process and to minimize the issues associated with a new or technically challenging project.  The objectives, strategies, and constraints I decided on included the following:

  • Inexpensive








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Glad your first PCB worked!! :D

(my first few boards never worked without a decent number of bodge wires.)


Nice to see you got dug straight into Kicad. Here's a very useful tip, try switching the canvas to openGL or Cario. (Cario is slower). This will enable the new routing tools, including obstacle avoidance and push-shove routing.



Hopefully you will find this useful :)

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My first PCB had vcc and vss switched. Nothing a couple of bodge wires and cut tracks couldn't fix.


My tips: Add a few test points. If you have distinct sections like a microcontroller and a peripheral, then add traces between them can be probed or cut. If one bit is wrong you can at least isolate it and make sure the rest it is OK before you make version 2.0.

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Great job, my first PCB definitely looked less professional and was much more basic (breakout board with one IC and a few caps).


The thing with the too tight holes for the pin headers happened to me as well. I think that's an error of the standard Kicad libraries. I also find that the pads on some through hole footprints are too skinny for soldering.


On your layout: The only thing I would change with your layout is to remove the GND and VCC fills under the antenna. Another opportunity to learn a new feature: Keep-out areas :)

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Thanks for the positive feedback and the tips. My background is design of systems with piping, rotating equipment, heat exchangers, etc.and I was prepared mentally for something electrical to be amiss but having pins not fit in holes was humbling.  It was a lot of fun and I encourage those who have been using breadboards / protoboards for a while to give it a try.  Also, if you are an experienced designer with thoughts that would help a beginner please continue posting them.


EDIT:  Here is one last photo showing a completed project mounted on the 2xAA battery holder.




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