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10 Tips for Designing an Efficient PCB Layout

Electronics engineers are facing a constant challenge, creating usable and small technology. If we jump back to the 1970s, the first computers took up an entire room and did a fraction of what your smartphone can do today.

If you take a moment to think about it, that’s a lot of technology in one tiny device. Yet, more people and companies are demanding smaller devices from electronics engineers.

Engineers use a printed circuit board, or PCB layout to help with the design process. This is what allows them to efficiently create a compact circuit board to reduce the size of most electronics.

But a PCB layout is only one small piece of the design puzzle. The methods you use to design and test a PCB is the bigger part of the puzzle. Check out these 10 design tips to save time and improve your PCB layout.


1. Make DFM a Priority With PCB Layout

The DFM or design for manufacturing, are guidelines focused on the making the production of the end product’s components. The priority of a DFM is to determine the most economical processes and materials needed to manufacture the components.

Besides improving manufacturing, the DFM also prevents several issues such as errors and save you time. This makes the DFM one of the most important steps in your PCB design process.

There are 5 principles to the DFM. They are:

  • Process
  • Design
  • Material
  • Environment
  • Compliance and Testing

Using the DFM and the 5 above principles will help you design the circuit board with more efficiency.

Include stakeholders, designers, engineers, and manufacturers to look at the PCB layout design from all angles to create the best possible design. There are also many special offers on parts and components.

2. Know the PCB Size and Shape

With the DFM in mind, the next step is determining the size and shape of the PCB. You can find PCBs shaped as triangles, circles, squares, or other unique shapes depending on their use.

In most cases, the size of the piece of technology, or the enclosure, will determine the size and shape of the PCB. You will need the measurements of the enclosure to ensure your PCB will fit.

Also, consider the components you will be using. Components that attach to the surface of the PCB are flatter and smaller. Through-hole components are other options that are easier to find and use, but tend to be a larger size.

3. Begin With a Schematic Design

Now you’re ready to draft a schematic design of the PCB layout. This design will serve as a reference or blueprint throughout the entire design process.

Your schematic design shows you what components you’re using in your PCB design and how those components connect together. The schematic also shows how different groups of components relate to other groups.

Using a schematic will make identifying, building, and editing your design faster and easier. It will make complex PCB layouts easier to understand and organize as well.

4. Build a Blank PCB Layout

When you start building, begin with a blank PCB layout. To make this step quick and easy, you will need a PCB design software tool. This software lets you see how the electrical circuits will work and how to lay them out.

But before you start adding circuits and components, crate a blank PCB document. You can set the dimensions, layers, and compile the PCB document with the schematics document.

5. Divide Your Circuit Board for Space Optimization

Organization is key to a successful PCB layout that takes up as little space as possible. Break up your circuit board into different sections based on function. Have one section for power, another for memory, and so on.

Grouping components in each section together closely will keep the traces shorter preventing them from picking up noise or interference.

6. Designing the Stackup

When you’re working with larger circuits, there’s a good chance you’ll need more than a single PCB layer. To optimize space and prevent traces from crossing, you can design a multi layer PCB.

A popular design strategy is to place one copper layer on a solder mask, layer it with a substrate, and then place the second copper layer on top. You then would top the entire circuit with another solder mask. You can connect layers with vias.

7. Placing Components

As you organize the circuit board, PCB software can help you decide where to place the components. You can place them manually or automatically. Or, use both options to help with speed while also following component placement guidelines.

As you place the components, make sure to follow your schematic. You’ll also want to place them in a way that keeps electrical paths and traces as straight and short as possible.

8. Placing Drill Holes

For some, it’s tempting to start routing traces as you attach your mountings and vias. You can, however, save time and minimize error by placing drill holes and mountings first. This ensures everything will fit properly, and if a component doesn’t fit right, you can fix it.

This is particularly important for those working on complicated PCB layouts. Your PCB software will also check design rules and help guide you through this process.

9. Routing Traces

With your components and vias in place, you can start laying traces. You want your traces to stay as straight as possible. If you they need to change direction, stick to 45° angles.

Take advantage of your PCB software as it can help make this step more productive and easier when working on complicated circuit boards.

10. Label and File

With your PCB layout complete, you can start adding labels and identifiers to the circuit board. This also includes adding images and logos. You may want to consult a designer or PCB manufacturer to pick fonts that are readable.

Once you finish labeling, you can run a DRC or design rule check. The DRC checks the circuit board for any potential issues that affect its functionality. If the PCB layout passes, you can pass it to the manufacturer.

Improve Your PCB Design

Designing an effective PCB layout doesn’t have to be a complicated process. With these 10 helpful tips, you’ll improve your PCB designs, save time, and ensure manufacturability.

Want to learn more helpful tips and technology trends? Check out our latest Tech and Software articles to learn more.

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