Many people who are curious about electronics never actually take the plunge and start working on their own, often because of the perceived complexity. Things like circuits and soldering seem more complicated and specialised than they actually are. Sure, if you’re new to the world of electronics then it’s likely that a lot of this will be new to you. However, modern printed circuit boards (PCBs) are much easier to work with than the circuit boards we used to use.
With the right guidance, working with PCBs really couldn’t be any easier. Anyone with the right know-how can now can produce relatively complex PCBs with ease, provided they have the right software. The following tips are perfect for those who are just getting into the world of PCB design, as well as those that are returning after a prolonged absence.
Don’t Underestimate the Importance of Planning
When you first begin playing around with electronics, you will likely begin by building using kits. These kits will contain all the components you need as well as a checklist and step by step guide to walk you through the actual construction of the kit. There are plenty of projects you can find online, you can even find PCB schematics to download and use, that will include instructions, but sooner or later you will want to initiate projects on your own.
If you do start working on your own projects, you will need to learn to organise yourself properly. Before you begin any project, you should start by formulating a step by step plan. As long as you can then keep yourself organised and proceed methodically, you should find working with PCBs a lot less stressful.
Remember to Bathe Your Boards
It might seem counterintuitive to be submerging your electronics in liquid, but this is what is required in order to clean them. If dirt and grime build up on your PCB, this can interfere with components and connections, eventually preventing them from working. You should clean your PCBs before you populate it with components and after you’ve placed them.
Your cleaning kit should include a fine abrasive brush, like a Scotch Brite, and a selection of cleaning fluids. Isopropyl alcohol is the most important solvent for cleaning PCBs, it will evaporate away completely and leave no residue. Make sure that you clean your boards before and after you initially populate them, as well as ensuring that the board itself remains clear of dirt throughout its life.
Choose Your Software Carefully
There is a wide selection of PCB design software available today, which can make choosing the right one a challenge. The right software for you will depend on your individual circumstances as well as your prior knowledge and experience. You can save yourself a lot of difficulty further down the line by choosing software that is well documented and easy to use.
We recommend Altium Designer, previously known as PROTEL. As well as the detailed documentation, Altium’s website contains a number of excellent tutorials on how to PCB design.
The arrival of printed circuit boards has been game-changing for electronics. Most of the electronic devices in our homes have a printed circuit board inside and they have become the standard for hobbyists who want to make their own electronics.