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KiCad is a free and open-source software used to design electronic schematic diagrams and PCBs. It comprises a stylish assembly of eight software tools: the KiCad project manager, Eeschema component editor, Pcbnew, Gerbview, Bitmap2Component, PCB Calculator, PCB Footprint Editor, and PI Editor.

KiCad is a reliable and advanced tool for the creation and maintenance of electronic boards. It does not come with board-size restrictions, and it can house 32 copper layers, 14 technical layers, and four secondary layers. The software can generate all files required to create PCBs, Gerber files needed in photo-plotting, drilling, and component location files. Since KiCad is open-source software, it is suitable for projects dealing with the design of electronic products with an open-source taste. The Quicklib tool enables users to build KiCad components through a web interface swiftly.

While KiCad resembles other PCB design tools, it has a unique workflow where schematic parts and footprints are distinct. You will designate footprints to the elements after making schematic diagrams. The workflow comprises two primary activities: sketching the schematic and aligning the board. You need a tool library and a printed circuit footprint to carry out these tasks. Luckily, KiCad has several ready tools and footprints, and you can still create new ones easily.

How to use KiCad?

KiCad uses two sets of shortcut keys to accelerate work by switching from a mouse to a keyboard to enter commands. The first ones are the accelerator keys, which create a similar effect as tabbing a menu. After entering the command, click the left mouse to stimulate an action. Use these keys when you want to input an order with a delayed response.

The second type is the hotkeys, which have the same effect as the accelerator key + a left mouse tab. When you use a hotkey, you ignite a command at the cursor position instantly. You should use this key to enter commands without interfering with your workflow quickly.

Before we dive into setting up a project on KiCad, let us learn how to download, install, and configure a KiCad software.

KiCad Download

On your internet browser, navigate to the KiCad official website. Hit the Download tab on the KiCad website. You will see a wide variety of operating systems (OS) on a new page, such as Ubuntu, macOS, Windows, Debian, Arch Linux, Fedora, OpenSUSE, Linux Mint, Flatpak, Gentoo, Sabayon, FreeBSD, and Source Code. For our illustration, we will use the windows version.

You can now download either the 64 or 32-bit version from the CERN – Switzerland button based on your device’s computation power. Save your download in your preferred location. The download speed depends on your internet stability, but it should take you a few minutes to download.

Download Verification

Each KiCad installer binary contains a code-signed mark. If you are using a Windows operating system (OS), you will get an automatic code verification. But, you can check this guide if you want to verify the signature manually.

These are the details of a legitimate download from KiCad: The signer’s name should be Simon Richter. The issuer should be DigiCert SHA2 Assured ID Code Signing CA.

Install KiCad

You must install the downloaded file for KiCad to run. Navigate to the folder where you saved your download and double-click the KiCad file to start the installation process. A dialog box will pop up asking whether you wish to permit the program to introduce your device changes. Tab the Yes button.

After that, click Next in the next pop up. The “Choose Components” pop up picks all options automatically. Therefore, you can spare all the chosen options by clicking Next. Still, you can delete all unwanted options by unchecking the boxes adjacent to the languages.

The next dialog box will allow you to change the folder where you will install the software. However, we recommend not to alter the initial file location by simply clicking the Install tab. Your KiCad software will start installing, and the installation speed will depend on your machine’s processing capacity.

When the installation process ends, you will see another dialog box requesting you to install or reject Wings 3D. Since you need it to create and edit 3D images, click the Install button. In the last pop up, tab the Wings 3D button to verify it before clicking the Finish section. We hope you have not encountered any difficulty installing KiCad in Windows so far. Ensure that your internet is stable for a faster and successful installation.

Configure KiCad

The default configuration file labeled kicad.pro is available in KiCad. You will use it as a template for new projects and align library files created by Eeschema. Besides, it contains other features for Pcbnew, like text size and line thickness. You may also come across a second default configuration file known as fp-lib-table. You should make it a footprint library.

How to Modify the Default Settings?

It is good to note that you can change the initial kicad.pro settings if you want. First, turn on your write access on kicad.pro. Then run KiCad, and do not forget to load the ou should kicad.pro project. Thirdly, run Eeschema through the KiCad Manager, and change the Eeschema settings to fix the libraries you plan to use in creating new projects. After that, you should run Pcbnew through the KiCad Manager. Change the Pcbnew settings, and Pcbnew will automatically come up with a library table.

Path Configuration

In KiCad, you express paths through environment variables. This is crucial where some routes are unknown, such as when you move a project to another device, and when several related items utilize a single base path.

Setting up a Project

To successfully handle a KiCad project, you need to set up your project as described below: Build a working directory for your project. Employ KiCad to make a file for your project.

KiCad generates a file ending with .pro; for instance, welcome.pro and the extension retains various factors for project handling. You will obtain original labels of the primary schematic and PCB files from the project name. For instance, if you build a project labeled welcome.pro within a directory known as welcome, the first templates will be created, as shown in the table below.

Setting up Schematic Component Libraries

Before you start building components, you need to set up a schematic library to keep them. Create it independently to reference models in distinct templates. Alternatively, you can assemble the schematic library and referenced copies in a mutual library package. However, you must make the package before you set up the library. Typically, library packages end with LibPkg, and they are the basis of integrated libraries- they hold all the mutual library templates’ components.

Follow the following steps to build a mutual library package and a schematic library.

Go to the File section, scrawl down to New, choose the library, and click the Integrated Library. You will find a library package labeled Integrated_Library1.LibPkg in your project section.

After that, you should right-click on your library package tag before clicking the Save Project As Then navigate to your preferred folder, enter you’re a suitable filename and press the Save button. KiCad will add the extension automatically when you do not do so.

Now you need to create a blank schematic library. Again, go to the File section, scrawl to New, select Library, and click the Schematic Library tab to add a new library (Schlib1.SchLib).

Go to the File section and press the Save As button to save your schematic library.

Now that you have finished creating a library package, you can set up your schematic component. To set up a schematic part within your library, go to the Tools section, and choose New Component. But, because new libraries come with blank component sheets, you should rename Component_1 to begin setting up your initial component- the NPN transistor.

Choose Component

From the Design Item ID located within the SCH Library section and press the Edit. Alternatively, you can double-click Component_1 to view the Properties section. Enter a new component tag in the Design Item ID panel before clicking Enter.

You can move the sheet to the middle of your design window by going to the Edit panel, choose the Jump option, and click Origin. Navigate to the Status section, located at the bottom-left side, to position your cursor at the right place. You will create all your components at this point. When you set up the schematic features, the pin end adjacent to the Origin should hold them.

You can design the units and grids within the Properties. If necessary, switch on the Designatorto show the strings of your component. Instead of visiting the Properties section every time you want to modify the grid, click letter G on your keyboard to switch the Snap Grid to one, five, or ten units.

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