Getting Started with Copper Connection PCB Software

Let's step through a very simple example of creating a new printed circuit board.

When the software starts up, click the New button.

New button

New button

Board Size

We're going to start by setting the size of the board. However, you can adjust it anytime you want. Click the board outline to select it.

Click on the board outline

Click on the board outline

There is a ribbon across the top of the window. The Size and Position section of the ribbon includes text fields for various dimensions. For a rectangular board, type the desired values into the Width and Height fields. For this introductory tutorial, I'm making the board 0.8 inch by 0.5 inch.

Size and position of board outline

Type new board dimensions in the Size and Position ribbon section

Or, instead of typing dimensions, you can drag the corners or the sides or the board outline itself.

Click and drag edge or corner

Click and drag edge or corner

Resizing other shapes works the same way: either enter dimensions or drag the edges. Here's the newly resized board on a 0.1 inch grid.

Resized board

Resized board

Adding Parts

Let's add an LED and resistor to the board. The left side of the window contains the tools. On the Part tool, click on the menu (small arrow on the right side). This menu shows recently used parts. Since you haven't used the software before, the menu does not display any parts. So, click "Choose Part From Library".

Choosing Part for the first time

Choosing Part for the first time

After clicking Choose Part From Library, the Parts Library window appears. Similar to the board gallery (and Windows Explorer), you can choose the size of the thumbnails. By default, the Parts Library shows the thumbnails at the smallest size in order to fit as many parts as possible into the window. Click the thumbnail size that you prefer.

Change tile size

Change thumbnail size

If you can't find the part you're looking for, you can search for it with Find. Type "led" in the Find text box and press enter (or click the Find button).

Find LED

Find LED

When you spot the T1 3/4 LED, double click on it.

Double click LED

Double-click on LED

The cursor includes a small symbol to indicate the active tool. In this case, the arrow cursor has a little part symbol to indicate that clicking on the board will place the chosen part. Click on the middle of the right side of the board to place the LED.

Place LED part

Place LED part

Hmm. I want the holes vertically, not horizontally. Choose Rotate Right in the Arrange menu. Or, if you have a wide enough window, choose Rotate Right in the Arrange section of the ribbon.

Arrange rotate right

Arrange rotate right

(If Rotate Right is disabled, perhaps you clicked somewhere else on the board and the LED is no longer selected. If so, just click on the LED again to highlight it so the Rotate Right becomes enabled.)

The LED should change orientation. You can now drag it so that it aligns nicely on the grid, if desired.

Drag rotated LED into place

Drag rotated LED into place

Now let's add a small resistor. Go to the Part tool menu again. (Notice that the previously chosen LED is displayed in the menu for your convenience.) Choose More Parts in Library.

Remembers your favorite parts

Remembers your favorite parts

The parts library can hide everything but parts in a particular category. For example, to make it easier to find the resistor, click on the Resistor category.

Filtering on Resistor category

Filtering on Resistor category

Now it is easy to spot the 1/8 W resistor. Double-click on it.

Choose one eighth watt resistor

Choose one-eighth watt resistor

Click in the middle of the board to place the resistor. Rotate Right and then drag it into position.

Rotate resistor and move into place

Rotate resistor and move into place

Adding Holes

Now we're going to add two holes to supply power. Choose the "Hole or Pad" tool from the Tool ribbon. Alternatively, the tool tip tells you that you can press 'H' (or 'h') on your keyboard to switch to this tool. (See Keys)

Choose the Hole or Pad Tool

Choose the Hole or Pad Tool

The cursor changes to include a little picture of a hole. Click on the left side of the board to place a hole. Move down a bit and click again to place another hole.

Click to add holes

Click to add holes

The Hole tool will continue to place holes or pads with every click. To stop this, switch to the Select tool or press the 'Esc' key. The Select tool is your default tool. Remember to simply press 'Esc' if you ever feel like you're stuck in a certain mode.

Select tool

Select tool

Connecting Together with Traces

Let's electrically connect the holes and parts together. Choose the Trace tool.

Choose Trace tool

Choose Trace tool

Starting on the upper-left hole, begin adding the trace by clicking in the center of the hole and holding down on the mouse button.

Start trace by clicking and holding down

Start trace by clicking and holding down

Keep holding down and move to the element that you want to connect to. In this case, move to the leftmost resistor hole.

While holding down move to next element

While holding down move to next element

When you reach the hole, notice that it highlights to indicate that's what you'll be connecting to. Highlighting is particularly helpful in guiding you if there are multiple elements in close proximity. Highlighting is present on the other tools, as well. If the element doesn't highlight, it tells you that you can't act on the element with the current tool.

Let go of the mouse button to connect the trace to the resistor hole.

Let go to connect

Let go to connect

The trace is now connected from the hole to the left side of the resistor. But, notice that the trace tool has already started drawing from the left side of the resistor to the current cursor location. Well, traces usually go from element to element or are routed around parts. So, most of the time you want traces to continue to be added.

Right click or esc to stop

Right click or esc to stop

In this example, we don't want the trace to continue. To end the trace, simply right click or hit 'Esc'.

Add additional traces as illustrated below.

Traces connect resistor and LED

Traces connect resistor and LED



Traces vs. Lines

Why are there two tools that both seemingly draw lines?

Trace and line tools

Normally, you'll use the Trace tool to connect parts and holes together on the copper layers, and you'll use the Line tool to draw part outlines, arrows, or separators on the silkscreen layer. But, you don't have to if you don't want to. Both tools work on copper and silkscreen layers. Frankly, you could draw an entire circuit using the Text tool ('o', '+', '-', '|') if you really wanted to (please don't).

The tools differ in behavior to make editing easier for you.

Traces are connected lines. Traces have a relationship to the holes, pads, and other traces that they touch. Traces are designed to be adjusted and rerouted often.

Traces connect to each other

Traces connect to each other

In the above example:

  1. By default, traces always show square points on their ends and intersections to make routing adjustments convenient
  2. When the intersection is moved, all of the traces that touch that point are adjusted
  3. In this example, when the vertical trace is set to the bottom layer, a via is automatically inserted at the intersection so that the vertical trace stays electrically connected to the horizontal traces

In contrast, lines made with the line tool are independent. They are not logically connected to holes, pad, or other lines.

Lines are independent

Lines are independent

In the above example:

  1. Lines don't show their end points (except when you select to edit them). This cuts down on visual noise. So, lines are better than traces for making part outlines because you don't have to look at a bunch of end points that you probably are never going to tweak again.
  2. When the apparent "intersection" is moved down, only the end point of the vertical line changes, because it wasn't attached to the other line
  3. When the vertical line is set to the bottom layer, nothing else moves or changes, because lines are not connected

In summary, both the Trace tool and Line tool make the same shapes, they only differ in whether you want to make logically connected or independent lines. The tools exist for your convenience. It doesn't change the final manufactured board either way.

Adding Text Labels

Let's add text to the example board to label the parts and input holes. Choose the Text tool.

Choose Text tool

Choose Text tool

Click above the LED to make the text box appear. Type "Blue" (for the color of the LED) and click OK.

Adding a text label

Adding a text label

We're going to get slightly fancier for the resistor. Click above it to the make the text box appear. Type "100" and then choose the Ohm symbol from the symbol menu. Click OK.

Adding an Ohm symbol to resistor label

Adding an Ohm symbol to resistor label

Now we're going to get even fancier. Click to the left of the top-left hole to add text. Type "+5V" and then click the second icon of the letter T. Notice the text angle has changed. (Don't click OK yet).

Change text angle

Change text angle

The label fits acceptably in the available space, but let's make the label smaller just in case we want to add more holes later on. Change the font to Tiny. That retains the thickness of other fonts at that size, but crams each character into a smaller area.

Change font

Choose the Tiny font

Lastly, let's put the text on the silkscreen layer, not the copper layer. Choose Top Silkscreen. Click OK.

Change text layer to silkscreen

Change text layer to silkscreen

Repeat this technique for the second hole by adding a ground symbol, Tiny font, and top silkscreen.

Add ground symbol

Add ground symbol



Why are PCB Fonts Different than Normal Computer Fonts?

Mass manufacturing a physical object like a circuit board is more difficult than placing ink or toner dots on a piece of paper. Results vary depending on the strength, age, and contact time of chemicals, and depending on the cleanliness, texture, purity, and evenness of the surfaces. From board to board, the copper can under-etch, over-etch, or even flake off. Unlike smooth glossy paper designed to take ink precisely, the uneven copper patterns are designed for electrical functionality. Thus, silkscreened text and part outlines printed on top of the copper are rough compared to modern printouts.

Manufacturers specify a minimum line thickness that can be reproduced reliably and legibly on either copper or silkscreen. The minimum thickness tends to be around 6 thou (aka 6 mil, 0.006 inch, or 0.15 mm). That's only 166 DPI. Modern printers have 3 to 10 times the resolution! So, the difference in resolution capability is the first reason that PCB fonts are specialized.

Secondly, industrial manufacturing equipment is based on file formats that are standardized, but old and limited. Those file formats do not include font capabilities. Each character needs to be drawn as a series of arcs and line segments.

Lastly, it is unacceptable to have the board change (even slightly) depending on the operating system and software version. It usually doesn't matter if the position or size of text moves slightly on a term paper or a website. But, on a circuit board, it can cause assembly workers to put parts in the wrong holes or can cause electrical shorts for text placed on the copper layer. Therefore, rather than foolishly expecting stability from a third-party font, a PCB program needs to have its own fonts with strict control over the exact placement.

Changing Layers

Hmm. Now that I look at it, I wish the 100Ω and Blue text labels were on the Top Silkscreen layer, rather than the Top Copper layer. With the Select tool, click 100Ω to select it. Then, hold down the Ctrl key and click the "Blue" text label. The Ctrl key changes the Select tool cursor to show a little plus sign, and allows you to select more than one element.

Selecting more than one element by holding Ctrl key

Selecting more than one element by holding Ctrl key

Alternatively, one or more elements can be selected by drag selecting. Click on an empty board location to start. While holding down the mouse button, move the cursor across the elements you want to select. A selection marquee rectangle appears and the elements within it are selected. Let go of the mouse button when you are finished selecting.

Drag select more than one element

Drag select more than one element

In the Shape section of the ribbon (top of window), click on the layer pulldown menu and choose Top Silkscreen. Not only does this change the layer of the selected elements, but also sets the default layer for the next text or shape you add.

Change layer to silkscreen from Shape ribbon

Change layer to silkscreen from Shape ribbon

Alternatively, you can choose a layer by right clicking on the element and choosing from the Layer menu.

Because you'll toggle layers often, there's a shortcut method. Let's move a trace from the top copper layer to the bottom copper layer while trying the shortcut.

Using the Select tool, click on the trace between the ground hole and the LED.

Select trace

Select trace

When an element is selected, the current characteristics are updated in the ribbon. For example, the layer menu in the Shape section of the ribbon changes to Top Copper to indicate the current layer of the selected trace. Next, click the red icon to switch the trace layer to bottom copper.

Toggle layers by clicking on icon

Toggle layers by clicking on icon

While we're at it, let's change the thickness of the trace. In the Shape section, click on the thickness pulldown menu to change the trace from 0.012 in to 0.040. Alternatively, you can type the thickness in the text box rather than using the menu.

Thickness menu

Thickness menu

This is what the board looks like now.

Trace thicker and on bottom copper layer

Trace thicker and on bottom copper layer

Other Holes Sizes

Some jerk just told me that this board requires a 1/8th mounting hole at exactly 0.34 inch, 0.1574 inch coordinates. Click the "Hole or Pad" tool. Then, in the "Hole and Pad" section of the ribbon, click on the pull down menu for hole diameters. Choose More...

More hole diameters are available

More hole diameters are available

Lists of hole diameter values are arranged in various categories. It doesn't matter which list you select from -- they are only there for organizational purposes. Select 1/8 in the Fractional list by clicking on it.

Selecting one eighth hole diameter

Selecting one eighth hole diameter

Matching values (if they exist) are automatically selected in the other lists. In this example, "0.125" is selected in Common. This provides another way of thinking about the diameter value, to help catch errors.

Click OK to set the new hole size and to close the Hole Diameter window. Click in a blank location on the board to place the hole.

A faster way to set the hole diameter or pad diameter is to simply type the value in the text box. For example, you can type "1/8" and press enter.

Typing fractions

Typing fractions

The text box performs math as well. You can type "34/64 - 1/16 - 11/32" to get 0.125.

In any case, now that the hole exists on the board, enter the bizarre coordinates of 0.34 in, 0.1574 into the X and Y text fields in the Size and Position section of the ribbon. This precisely positions the center of the hole.

Mounting hole position

Mounting hole position

Oh no! The hole interferes with one of the traces.

Hole interfering with trace

Hole interfering with trace

Modifying Traces

The trace needs to be routed around the hole. Right click on the trace and choose Add Point.

Adding a point to a trace

Adding a point to a trace

Drag the point down.

Dragging a point

Dragging a point

Add another point and drag it so that the trace no longer touches the mounting hole.

Trace routed around hole

Trace routed around hole

Oh no, again! I just realized the LED has been in backwards this entire time. The flat side is the cathode and should be connected to ground.

Click on the LED to select it. Choose Rotate 180° in the Arrange menu or ribbon section.

Rotate LED 180 degrees

Rotate LED 180 degrees

The traces are still connected to the wrong holes. You need to delete them and connect them to the opposite holes.

You can right click on the trace and choose Delete from the menu.

Deleting an element the hard way

Deleting an element the hard way

However, it is much easier to left-click on the trace to select it, and then press the Delete/Del or Backspace key. You can do this for any element or multiple elements. You can delete trace points the same way -- click to select it and then press delete.

After deleting the crossed traces and adding the correct traces, here is the final board:

Finished board

Finished board

Good job!