How to Become a PCB Designer

How to Become a PCB Designer

PCB design is already a great career path and one we see as becoming even better as PCB technologies continue to become more complex.  A PCB designer’s job is very important when it comes to the creation of a product and the inner workings of it. Of course, getting into this career is not easy because you need to learn about all of the different elements that go into printed circuit board design and much more. To get you started and help to launch your career as a PCB designer, we have put together some tips. 

What Does A PCB Designer Do?

A PCB designer is responsible for taking a 2D schematic and creating the 3D CAD files used to manufacture the PCB.  The first step is to create the component footprints, which show the size, shape, and orientation of each component.  Second, the PCB designer creates a board outline with the dimensions and shape of the board as well as any keepout areas.  Then the components with critical placement requirements are locked down, such as connectors that have to match up with another board.  Once this is complete, the rest of the parts are placed onto the board.  Routing is the process of running traces between components to connect them together.  Critical routing happens first, where traces that must be the exact same length or traces that must be a specific distance away from another trace are routed first.  Then the rest of the board is routed, with traces going up and down through multiple layers of the board.  The final task a PCB designer does is to generate all of the manufacturing files.

You can learn more about what PCB design is by reading our article.

A good PCB is part electrical engineer, part manufacturing expert, and part computer guru with a bit of process engineer thrown in the mix as well. Mostly though, a PCB has to have the ability to see beyond the lines and shapes of components on their computer screen in order to visualize where the design is headed. A good PCB fabrication can create something from nothing while solving many different puzzles along the way.  For example, a rats nest is when the netlist is loaded and all the traces are run from component to component without any regard.

A computer monitor showing a PCB design rats nest


Education Requirements

Many engineers are laying out their own PCBs today.  Depending on the exact role that you are going to be applying for, you might need to have a BS degree in engineering or a related field. The courses that you will complete at university teach you everything from electronic design to drafting and CAD. Traditionally though, PCB designers are those who do the layout of the board only without doing any of the engineering of the board. For those who are doing PCB layout only, there isn’t much out there in the way of a degree specifically in PCB design.  While some particular positions don’t require a degree, having one behind you can be very helpful and can improve your career prospects drastically. You might also find that it is useful to have a certificate in CAD or multi-layer PCB design which you can get your hands on easy enough. Otherwise, you’ll need to have the IPC Certified Interconnect Designer course behind you if you want to land yourself a job in this field. Do some extra research and you should be able to find out exactly what you need to get the job you’ve always wanted.

PCB Design Courses

Most people do not realize that they are surrounded a dozen or more PCBs at any given moment. Despite the fact that so many PCBs are found in everyday life and in most new products, many universities do not include sufficient classes on PCB design in their engineering curricula. Some technically-focused colleges still place greater focus on disciplines like PCB design, embedded systems design and development, additive manufacturing, and other upcoming technologies.

If you're considering pursuing a career in PCB design and you have yet to begin your career, you can give yourself a head start by finding a college that teaches some basic design classes. Even if you've already completed an engineering degree and you still want to learn more about PCB design, you can give yourself a major head start by taking a few classes. You'll get a chance to gain some hands-on experience working with typical design software, which will help you understand how these software tools generally work. You'll also have a chance to learn about the overall product and PCB design workflow.

If you don't have access to PCB design courses through a university, you're not completely out of luck. There are some organizations that provide online PCB design courses. Perhaps the best known is Fedevel Academy. You'll get a hands-on curriculum from an expert designer, and for a much lower price than most college courses.

The Future of PCB Design

The future of PCB designer is truly very bright. There are plenty of indications from the market that show there is clearly a lot of opportunities in PCB Designing field. With competitive growth in consumer electronics and automotive industries, the thrive for making new cool , “smart” and sexy products is increasing. With IOT taking over the market, huge number of small products with smart features are being made. For all these products, designing of circuits on small PCB is becoming a must. The technological and electronic advancements that you ‘ll see in the future is totally miraculous and astounding. When you purchase a new item , think of how incredible the PCB makes it function.  Well my confidence in the PCB designing field is unwavering as until new products are coming into market (almost daily a new idea for a product is made) , the scope of PCB Designing will be there.

A woman standing in front of a transparent screen

Which PCB Design Software is the Best?

This is a difficult question. PCB designs with more complex design requirements would benefit from using tools such as Altium Designer, PADs, or Allegro.  Simple designs can be done using free or lower cost software packages.  Read our article about ten of the more common PCB design software tools available.