Jul 6, 2021|Product Innovations and Design

What Is Altium?

Altium Designer takes PCB manufacturing to the next level. It is a PCB software used to streamline the design process and combine all the tasks needed to make a board in one advanced program.

How Does Altium Work?

Altium is a Windows Program with a complex working station that combines PCB, schematics, 3D views, and editing your board to be perfect.

Altium Designer Step-by-Step PCB Design Tutorial

Download and Install Altium Designer

If you’re interested in the program, how do I start Altium? is an excellent place to start.

You must first sign up for a free account at the Altium website. This account will be how you connect to the Altium community of engineers and access Altium products.

Once you have made an account and successfully logged in, go to the downloads page. Download the program and launch the installer.

Navigate to the Design Functionality tab and click your preferences. Install. Continue the Altium tutorial.

Create Your PCB Design Project.

Launch Altium Designer.To create a new PCB project, you will need to choose the correct template for your needs. To open the new file, navigate:

File » New Project » PCB Project

Different circuit boards will need unique templates, so make sure to double-check you’ve created the file correctly before working. Save as Multivibrator.PRjPcb.

Add a Schematic to the Circuit Board Project

Using schematics is a key part of Altium. How do I use Altium design schematics? The answer: however you need.

Right-click on your project in the sidebar. Choose “add to new project” and then “schematic.” To save the new schematic, save the file as .SchDoc.

After you have added the schematic, the menu buttons will change to fit the new schematic. If you dislike the new layout, you can change it in Altium settings.

Place the Components on the Schematic Diagram

There are two ways to access components and add them to your new schematic: the library window and the explorer window.

From the library window, you have three choices. You can use the place tab by right-clicking, double click on the components
tab, or click and drag components from the library panel.

From the explorer window, you have two choices. You can use the place tab by right-clicking or click and drag components from the Explorer window.

Compile and Validate the Project

When you are ready to compile your project and check for errors, click on the Project section and choose Compile PCB Vibrator.

You’ll use this function often to check the progress of your work for analysis as you work. Once you compile, this version of your schematic will be finished.

Add a PCB to the Project

If you want to add a PCB to your project you must first wire it.
To wire:

  • Left-click to tie up your wire at the cursor
  • Click backspace to delete the previous location
  • Click the spacebar to click the junction bearing
  • Press on shift and spacebar simultaneously to select your wiring junction mode
  • Right-click to leave wire posting mode
  • Press Ctrl and hold shift to find the new components and move them.

Wires that cross with links will form junctions.

Transfer the Schematic to the PCB

When the PCB file is open click
Design » Import Changes » Import Changes From Multivibrator.PRjPcb.

You will then be able to see the footprints for each of the components on your screen, to the right of the PCB.

Place the Components on the PCB

This step has the chance to be fickle and may take a few tries at first.

  • Display the Libraries panel
  • Find your desired transistor on the panel
  • Click your desired transistor, then click Place
  • Before you place the component, click the tab key to open properties—type Q1 into Designator.
  • Press the pause button. Once the transistor is in the correct position, click enter or left-click.
  • The settings will remain open for the next components

Define and Manage the Design Rules

Design rules are a major part of what makes Altium designer so useful, and an Altium Designer tutorial helpful.

To create a new rule:

  • Launch the PCB Rules and Constraints Editor by clicking Design » Rules
  • Click Routing and then Width Rule Type
  • Choose New Rule either by right-clicking or pressing it from the bottom of the Context Menu

Use the Rule Wizard:

  • Find Design Rule Wizard on the PCB editor by clicking Design then Rule Wizard
  • Click on the Rule Type you prefer
  • Type Width_12V in the Name field and 12V Net Route Width in the Description field.
  • Select Routing » Width Constraint.
  •  

Configure the Design Rules Checker

Once you make your new rules, it’ll be critical to check them using the automated tool.

  • Navigate to the check by selecting Tools » Design Rule Check at first
  • Press Rules To Check » Routing
  • Right-click using your mouse in the Rules menu and click Online DRC – All On
  • Right-click in the Rules section and select Batch DRC – All On to finish checking

Route the Board

  • Autorouting is one of the best features of Altium. If you wonder: How Does Altium Work? Then this will help.
  • Unroute the board
  • Click the Autoroute button on the Active Bar
  • Click either Routing Setup Report or Routing Strategies
  • Click Route All

PCB Design Rule Verification

  • Validate the PCB design by selecting Design Rule Check in the tools menu
  • Create an intentional DRC error
  • Run Design Rule Check again
  • If there is a problem, click Design Rule Check report for a summary of rule violations. Any errors will be highlighted.

View the PCB in 3D

Select View, then 3D Layout Mode. From there, you will see your design in 3D and use keyboard controls to analyze it.

Create the PCB Fabrication Output Files

  • Click File, then Fabrication Outputs. Choose Gerber X2 Files.
  • Choose Used On when you see the Plot Layers menu
  • Select Used On from the drills menu
  • Press okay to finish

Conclusion

Altium Designer is a sophisticated program that can become whatever you need.
If you’re wondering: How long does it take to learn Altium? The answer is simple. It takes as long as you want to keep trying new things for your boards. While the basics are easy to grasp, you can always keep learning while you go.

Author Profile

Sunny Patel
Sunny Patel is the Engineering and Sales Manager at Candor Industries. Sunny is trained as a IPC-A-600 trainer, AS9100 Lead auditor, IPC CID and got his Engineering degree at the University of Toronto.