KiCAD vs Eagle...Please help me get off the fence!
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KiCAD vs Eagle...Please help me get off the fence!

by EasternStarGeek on Wed Aug 31, 2011 1:48 pm

Hiya, folks-

I’ve been looking at Eagle and KiCAD, trying to decide which one is worth the investment of my time. Right now, KiCAD is coming out ahead, despite the tremendous popularity of Eagle. I like KiCAD because there is no board size limit, and the footprints aren’t tied to the part numbers (being somewhat anal, I like to design my own, thank you very much!)

So- I’m prolly gonna go for KiCAD. I’m interested in hearing from users out there- pro and con.
Thanks!!

(CAD or not, though, I’ll NEVER give up my quadrille-ruled Lab Notebooks!)

Many thanks, everyone!
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Re: KiCAD vs Eagle...Please help me get off the fence!

by meseta on Wed Aug 31, 2011 5:39 pm

Just to say, my (small electronics design/manufacturing) company uses KiCAD exclusively for all our pcbs.

What I've found is that KiCAD is really really great once you've gotten used to its interface quirks. I find it slightly lacking when it comes to advanced zone features (I have yet to find a feature that will let me turn on/off thermal relief on selected pads, the entire zone has to either have all the pads with thermal relief, or none of the pads with it, I've resorted to drawing massive tracks through pads that won't have thermal relief, which works around the issue), but this is a minor issue.

We also make footprints from scratch for ALL the components that we use (had some bad experiences with using the generic footprints when it turned out that the pin numbering was different on a couple of them).

Overall, highly recommend KiCAD.
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Re: KiCAD vs Eagle...Please help me get off the fence!

by Agent24 on Thu Sep 01, 2011 7:55 am

For me, KiCAD is my favourite.

Free, open source, and no limitations unlike Eagle Light. I don't like limitations on my software so that's probably my #1 reason.


#2 has got to be the realtime DRC when laying tracks manually. By default, KiCAD will not let you lay down tracks\vias if they violate the minimum clearance as specified in your design rules. It also displays the clearance area around pads and tracks being actively routed.

This makes it easier to route tracks and place components because you know exactly where you can and can't put them. It also has a feature that lets you snap tracks parallel to others, right on the minimum clearance, ensuring no board space is wasted.

Of course, you can turn this option OFF as well if you ever need to.

Eagle on the other hand does not have this feature when doing manual routing. The 'Follow Me' track feature does automatically take clearances into account, but it tries to be clever, and loves sticking VIAs everywhere where you may not want them. Some people might like that, I don't.


#3 The fact you can edit pretty much everything on-the-fly: no need to go back to the library and swap out a part just because you wanted a square pad instead of an oval. With KiCAD for example, you can change a pad's layers, size, shape, drill, and move it around to your heart's content in the PCB editor. You can also edit them separately and save as a new footprint if you want to use it again.


#4 Real time 3D board rendering: KiCAD lets you view your board in 3D whenever you like. You can rotate around and look at every angle, and it's all rendered in real time. Great for getting a good idea of what everything is going to look like, and easier to spot some errors, too. You can also export the 3D view at any time to an image.

Eagle's ability to interface with POVRay and make much nicer looking renders is cool, but it's not much good on actual functionality.


However in saying all this, Eagle does have some pretty clever features that KiCAD doesn't. I don't know them all since I am not as familiar with Eagle, but so far I have not desperately needed them.

There's probably more reasons I like KiCAD that I can't think of right now (it's 1AM here currently) but I think I got the main ones. Hope this helps with your decision.

Ps: If you want some real fun, don't forget to check out KiCAD's 3rd party autorouter tool (actually http://www.freerouting.net/)

Interface is a bit weird (Java) but it's a pretty good program....
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Thanks, everyone!

by EasternStarGeek on Thu Sep 01, 2011 8:02 am

Thanks to the respondants- I found your insight and experience very helpful!

So, with some trepidation, I will now dip my great toe into the shallow end of the KiCAD kiddie-pool!

At times like these, it's useful to remember the words of this great engineer:

JaggersLaw.jpg
JaggersLaw.jpg (44.23 KiB) Viewed 14165 times

The above is an old acetate viewgraph (anyone remember those?) that a colleague of mine created for some training classes I was leading back in the '90s.
Last edited by EasternStarGeek on Thu Sep 01, 2011 12:13 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: KiCAD vs Eagle...Please help me get off the fence!

by westfw on Thu Sep 01, 2011 10:30 am

KICAD doesn't work on my Mac :-(

Does KICAD have scripting tools similar to EAGLE's Script and User Language Programs ? I would really miss those...
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Re: KiCAD vs Eagle...Please help me get off the fence!

by Agent24 on Thu Sep 01, 2011 7:47 pm

westfw wrote:KICAD doesn't work on my Mac :-(

Does KICAD have scripting tools similar to EAGLE's Script and User Language Programs ? I would really miss those...


Yes unfortunately Mac support is not as good as that for Windows and Linux. I tried it once on Tiger but it just crashed. It might work better on newer versions of OSX though.

As far as I know, KiCAD has no scripting tools, but then again, that's something I haven't needed to use and so it doesn't worry me.

What kind of things are the scripts used for? KiCAD does have automation of some tasks.
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Re: KiCAD vs Eagle...Please help me get off the fence!

by Purduecer on Thu Sep 01, 2011 8:58 pm

"What kind of things are the scripts used for? KiCAD does have automation of some tasks."

Importing images for use as silkscreen comes to mind. Additionally, certain 3rd-party Eagle features such as Eagle3D and EagleUp come to mind.

I can't speak a great deal for KiCAD, having never used it, but I am very happy with Eagle from personal experience. My understanding is KiCAD is really quite a far cry from what most people would consider "user friendly". Additionally, Eagle has what is seen by this commenter as considerably broader community support, in the form of available tutorials, active users, support forums and channels, and parts libraries.

Regarding the board limit, Eagle (freeware) does certainly have this, but what will you be designing? If the answer is Arduino shields and what almost every other project in the "DIY hobbyist" electronic community creates, the board size limit on Eagle won't affect you. If you're doing incredibly advanced FPGA designs or laying out ATX motherboards, then yes, you will need larger board limits, but in the grand scheme of things, that's also probably one of the least of your problems ;-)
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Re: KiCAD vs Eagle...Please help me get off the fence!

by jersagfast on Thu Sep 01, 2011 9:06 pm

Just my 2 cents here, and I know I'm kind of going against the grain here, but it seems like a LOT of companies have Eagle libraries vs anything else. This is really useful if you are ordering parts to go on the boards you are designing. If you google it, there is a script out there somewhere (sorry, link was dead, and I didn't search much) to convert Eagle libraries to KiCAD, but like I mentioned, I can't find it. Just my 2 cents.. :)
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Re: KiCAD vs Eagle...Please help me get off the fence!

by 48X24X48X on Thu Sep 01, 2011 10:02 pm

The online DRC is a plus point for Kicad. I usually only see this feature on bigger and more expensive CAD like Altium. It definitely saves big amount of routing time. Kicad UI is still unpolished from my point of view and it takes little bit of time to get used to it.
On the scripting capability, if most of the feature is already built-in, you might not be needing it at the first place. We are using Diptrace at the moment, so our opinion might be biased!
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Re: KiCAD vs Eagle...Please help me get off the fence!

by Agent24 on Thu Sep 01, 2011 11:05 pm

Hold on to your glasses (if you've got any!) - this is going to be a long one...

Purduecer wrote:Importing images for use as silkscreen comes to mind. Additionally, certain 3rd-party Eagle features such as Eagle3D and EagleUp come to mind.


You can in fact import images for use in KiCAD using the 'Bitmap2Component' tool. This will let you create all sorts of things, including logos in silkscreen. The tool is not limited to only .BMP files however, as the name suggests.

Edit: Another similar tool: http://www.jave.de/docs/kicad/image2module.html
He's also got a panelization tool: http://www.jave.de/kicad/pcbmultiplyer_1.2.zip


KiCAD already has 3D-rendering built in, while not photo-realistic it is very useful. With accurate 3D models, it could also perform a similar function as EagleUp

Purduecer wrote:I can't speak a great deal for KiCAD, having never used it, but I am very happy with Eagle from personal experience. My understanding is KiCAD is really quite a far cry from what most people would consider "user friendly". Additionally, Eagle has what is seen by this commenter as considerably broader community support, in the form of available tutorials, active users, support forums and channels, and parts libraries.


This part is entirely up to opinion but I do not find KiCAD to be 'user unfriendly' - I think I would describe it more as basic but powerful. Not everything can be done automatically, but almost anything can be done, in one way or another.

KiCAD does in fact come with a pretty good user manual in PDF. Video tutorials (in english) might be scarce but if you've taken the time to 'RTFM', you shouldn't actually need any. I certainly didn't.

jersagfast wrote:Just my 2 cents here, and I know I'm kind of going against the grain here, but it seems like a LOT of companies have Eagle libraries vs anything else. This is really useful if you are ordering parts to go on the boards you are designing. If you google it, there is a script out there somewhere (sorry, link was dead, and I didn't search much) to convert Eagle libraries to KiCAD, but like I mentioned, I can't find it. Just my 2 cents.. :)


I think KiCAD's libraries are a bit misunderstood. Anyone comparing them directly to Eagle's will laugh and how small they seem, but what must be understood first is that they work in a different way.

EDIT: Want to quickly make an IC symbol? You can use this tool here: http://kicad.rohrbacher.net/quicklib.php
Converted Eagle libraries (if you want them) here: http://library.oshec.org/
More very nice KiCAD libraries: http://www.reniemarquet.cjb.net/bibliotecas_en.html



Instead of changing the entire component if you wish to change the footprint, KiCAD has a separation between schematic symbol and footprint.

For example, all resistor symbols in a schematic are in general, the same. This might seem counter-intuituve when you have an 0603 SMD resistor and a 5 watt wirewound resistor on the same board, but it works because after creating your netlist, you then choose which footprint you want for which resistor. If you want it to be 0603, you choose that. If you want something else, you choose it.

I believe this actually simplifies the component selection since the only part you need to worry about is the footprint. When designing your schematic, you don't need to trawl through excessively long libraries trying to find a specific resistor with a specific lead spacing and specific pad size.

(In fact, I recall watching a video once where someone used Eagle, and he basically said: "Don't waste your time trying to find the component you need, just make your own" :P)

Edit: Speaking of such, someone else said it very well:

When you design PCB's YOU decide what to use. YOU have to ensure that the
footprint you use matches the physical switch.

This means that YOU have to get the spec of the device you intend to use,
and look at the physical layout and so on. If you can find a module that
matches, then feel smug :-) If not start drawing.

Seriously, as you design more and more boards, you will find that you
build up a personal library of parts and footprints that you know work
with a particular component type.

For things like switches it only takes a few mins to draw them up anyway
so you might as well do that.

The 3D files are another matter, personally I don't usually bother with
them.

- 'Andy Eskelson' (http://blog.gmane.org/gmane.comp.cad.ki ... h=20110201)



Making\using new components is easy too. If a footprint already exists of the type you require, you use it for all your components using that package. Since all SOIC-16 footprints are the same, you need not recreate this every time you make a new component that uses this layout.


Another good feature I find is that you can edit pads etc 'on-the-fly'.

For example, you may have a design with all of your ceramic capacitors have 5mm lead spacing except for 3 that have 3mm spacing. What to do?

My approach in a case such as that would be to set all my ceramics to the standard 5mm capacitor footprint. Then, once I'm in the PCB editor, take the 3 footprints of the smaller capacitors and just move their pads so they are only 3mm apart. Of course, if you had 100 of each size this would be unviable, but then you can just create a new 3mm footprint first, and apply it to all 100 capacitors of that size. (assuming that such a 3mm footprint didn't already exist)

(Yes, that did sort of repeat what I said in my first post!)


Purduecer wrote:Regarding the board limit, Eagle (freeware) does certainly have this, but what will you be designing? If the answer is Arduino shields and what almost every other project in the "DIY hobbyist" electronic community creates, the board size limit on Eagle won't affect you. If you're doing incredibly advanced FPGA designs or laying out ATX motherboards, then yes, you will need larger board limits, but in the grand scheme of things, that's also probably one of the least of your problems ;-)


Cadsoft's Website states:

  • The useable board area is limited to 100 x 80 mm (4 x 3.2 inches).
  • Only two signal layers can be used (Top and Bottom).
  • The schematic editor can only create one sheet.
And
  • If you earn (or save) money by using the Freeware version of EAGLE Light, you have to register it.
Then
  • You can register your program copy for US$ 49


While a lot of people may have no problem with the size limit, I find only 100x80mm to be quite restrictive, considering I have made multiple boards in KiCAD that exceed that size and expect to create a good deal more!

Also in comparison:

KiCAD supports up to 16 Copper layers, which may be quite useful as most PCB services targed to hobbyists and home users manufacture 2 and 4 layer boards.

The schematic editor can create more than one sheet.

And finally, KiCAD does not charge you for anything, no matter what you design with it or what you do with the designs afterwards. :)
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Re: KiCAD vs Eagle...Please help me get off the fence!

by jersagfast on Thu Sep 01, 2011 11:13 pm

Thanks Agent24, I'll have to check out KiCAD! I have the $50 version of Eagle, and it does lots of cool things, but it is not perfect. The size restriction is in full effect with the light ($50) version, but only for auto routing.
I'll defiantly give KiCAD a look!
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Re: KiCAD vs Eagle...Please help me get off the fence!

by inventorjack on Thu Sep 01, 2011 11:44 pm

Purduecer wrote:Regarding the board limit, Eagle (freeware) does certainly have this, but what will you be designing? If the answer is Arduino shields and what almost every other project in the "DIY hobbyist" electronic community creates, the board size limit on Eagle won't affect you. If you're doing incredibly advanced FPGA designs or laying out ATX motherboards, then yes, you will need larger board limits, but in the grand scheme of things, that's also probably one of the least of your problems ;-)


I'm working on a large (14"x12") design using PCB trace capacitive sensors. There's no way such a thing could be done in Eagle without paying a ton.
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Re: KiCAD vs Eagle...Please help me get off the fence!

by inventorjack on Thu Sep 01, 2011 11:49 pm

westfw wrote:Does KICAD have scripting tools similar to EAGLE's Script and User Language Programs ? I would really miss those...


One big benefit of KiCad is the outputs are text files, and are documented in the help files (file_formats.pdf). It's pretty easy to script external tools in Perl, Python, or a dozen other languages that can process text files for whatever your needs may be.
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Re: KiCAD vs Eagle...Please help me get off the fence!

by Basile on Fri Sep 02, 2011 3:25 am

I personnaly spent 6 years from Eagle 4.1 to 5.11 (Windows and Linux version). I also made the french translation for EAGLE3D ulp script. I see Kicad and EAGLE as two tools made for different and specific tasks.

Eagle is very good for people who begin with PCB designs. If your design fits into the board size (freeware versoin) limitation and the components are already available in a standard library, the're no reason to tell to switch to Kicad. Keep EAGLE and run with it. Tutorials are easy to find. DRC for PCB makers are easy to find. I will encourage people to use it!

But, I see Kicad as a good alternative to EAGLE towards the size limitation, the hierarchy schematic design and the 3D viewer. The 3D viewer is a feature that is essential for us. Eagle3D aims to do the same and EagleUp is closer to do it.
But for my next design, I need Kicad. Because of the non-size limitation, the 3D viewer and the hierarchical schematic creation.

Just two last remark:
* Eagle is free to use but not open source. It happened I try to see what's behind the file format for lib, sch and brd files and I was fustrating. Everything is hidden. I tried to use SVN tags into the schematic just to put the SVN revision into the schematic but without success.
* There's no convertion tool to import an EAGLE design to a KICAD project. That's really annoying for me.
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Re: KiCAD vs Eagle...Please help me get off the fence!

by Agent24 on Fri Sep 02, 2011 4:07 am

While knowledge of how to use more programs is a good thing, I don't see that starting with Eagle and then moving to KiCAD for bigger designs makes much sense.

It seems better to start with KiCAD and use it the whole way through, if you don't want to pay for the software. (Like me)

That way you don't have to learn a completely different software when you want to make bigger designs.

Of course, inevitably you'll run across a design that someone else has made with a software you don't have, so you'll need knowledge of that software anyway.


But I don't understand how you say KiCAD is not open source?
As far as I know it's all here: http://bazaar.launchpad.net/~kicad-test ... ting/files
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