PCB Software Choices

I have an imminent decision looming, and I’m hoping that spelling it out in a blog post will help frame my thoughts. <lie>It’s a tough one, with serious short- and long-term consequences either way.</lie>

Do I switch to KiCAD for PCB layout, or jump to a paid-for Eagle version?

I know, it’s up there with the biggest of ethical dilemmas, like that one about killing people on train tracks (I forget the details). But have no fear, let’s first state the reason why I need to think about it.

Currently, I use the free version of Eagle, the popular PCB package from Cadsoft (and heavily promoted by Element14). This is fine for me. I don’t need more layers or a larger board size. BUT, I’m hoping to start selling some stuff on Tindie. And the license for the free version of Eagle doesn’t let you use it for commercial purposes. I think that clause is aimed at businesses making hundreds of boards, not hobbyists who will be lucky to sell one. But still, I feel that Cadsoft are doing good by providing a free version of their software, and it would be morally wrong to exploit that good for profit.

KiCAD is an open-source PCB package that’s also very popular. It appears to have come on leaps-and-bounds recently, and (excitingly) CERN have put someone on it full-time. That’s the kind of awesome stuff CERN does. Moving to KiCAD would eliminate the licensing issue.

Here’s all the pros and cons of this momentous decision:

Stick with Eagle Move to KiCAD
Pros
  • No new learning curve
  • Sparkfun/Adafruit etc. libraries available
  • No need to port old PCBs to new software
  • No cost for selling stuff
  • Supporting open-source software
Cons
  • ~£70 cost for the right license, which I might not ever make back
  • Paid version still has limits on layers and board size
  • Closed-source software
  • MASSIVE learning curve
  • If I want to sell an old board, need to port it across to KiCAD
  • Seems to be fewer libraries/standard components than Eagle

Looking at this, all the cons of the “stick with Eagle” option after fairly minor compared to those for KiCAD. Closed-source isn’t really that big of an issue for me, I can afford the £70, and I don’t expect that the board limits will be an issue in the long term. My only concern is that the £70 will be wasted if I don’t sell much on Tindie.

After all this, it looks like I’m sticking with Eagle. £70 is less than ten hours at a UK living wage (reckoned at £7.65 per hour). I’d waste at least that much time learning KiCAD before I’d even start using it. While I don’t really think measuring my free time that way is completely fair or reliable, it’s a useful metric. And in this case, I think it’s a valid one. Either way I’m spending money or time, and I think my time is worth more here.

You have been hearing my brain think.

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One Response to PCB Software Choices

  1. Pingback: Breakin Board for Just Add Sharks | Return Zero

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