Why is important Open Source Hardware Community to use Open Source CAD tools


Eagle PCB Layout is around for many years and with their freeware 80x100mm licensee attracted lot of Open Source Enthusiasts to use it.

If you check the OSHW projects which people release probably 80% of them are made with Eagle for the same reason. When Eagle was available for free, nothing comparable existed, the open source tools were very immature and not so easy to use, then once you start using one CAD you get used to it and you make your own libraries, scripts, ULPs and you are tight bind to it so you do not want to move to other platform.

CarSoft (Eagle creators) had this wise idea that you can download and use the freeware version to view big projects and to edit and modify small projects with size 100×80 and up to two layers which in most of the cases is enough for the mass Arduino community.

Working with complex boards like OLinuXino is another story – the boards are 2-4-6 and some 8 layers, very complex, some of them big and exceeding the PCB limits for the freeware and for the non-commercial EUR 100 licensee (limited to 160×100 4 layers).

The CAD tools are the major difference between Open Source Software and Open Source Hardware. With FOSS to start contribute you just download your open source compiler and you can reproduce, modify, re-compile, debug the code.

With Open Source Hardware the sources are edited with special CAD tools, which may cost from free to 100 000 EUR.

You would not expect to have many contributors if your CAD cost EUR 100 000 would you?

Even now with Eagle where the full licensee cost EUR 1200 there are mostly companies working on commercial projects which decide to spend these money, and generally releasing OLinuXino using Eagle CAD just help Eagle owners to sell more licensees 🙂

The more Open Source Projects we do the more I think that moving to Open Source CAD would help Open source community in several ways:

  1. increasing the base of the people who could modify the projects as the open source CAD tools are free to obtain
  2. the selected CAD tool will gain more users and community, which will help to fix bugs, add new features, libraries and move forward and improve.

Having taking all this into consideration we have to select open source tool to migrate to.

Out of the list https://www.olimex.com/PCB/DesignTools/ we have check gEDA, PCB, kiCAD and it seems only the later have some improvement with the years.

So we are going to evaluate kiCAD as tool which to use for our future released OSHW boards.

I know this process will be painful and will cost us *lot* of money due to the time spent on re-training of our PCB developers, the decreased productivity of working with new and unknown tool, time spent to transfer the developed many years libraries and scripts/tools from Eagle, but the final result will be more open and community friendly product.

We may fail with the migration, but it worth to try at least

28 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. David
    Dec 09, 2013 @ 21:03:47

    This is great news for the rest of us!!. Personally speaking, it is a pity you do not use gEDA – my learning curve would be none – but learning kiCAD is something I can live with, if you finally succeed in the migration.

    Thank you very much for the effort, and for all the good products you already released.


  2. priyansmurarka
    Dec 09, 2013 @ 21:13:33


    I am a first timer to design and print PCBs. Recently, I developed three PCBs using KiCad. Its fairly easy to use. Though all three of them were double layered and had all through-hole as well as SMD components.

    I used non standard chips and connectors too. I did not find it difficult to draw footprints for new components.

    I plan to make triple layer PCBs using KiCad soon. I will give feedback about it on my blog.


  3. priyansmurarka
    Dec 09, 2013 @ 21:16:40

    Reblogged this on Priyans Murarka.


  4. Mike Sharkey
    Dec 09, 2013 @ 21:29:59

    This is great news. I am a big fan of KiCAD, and use it all the time. The biggest complaint with KiCAD is the lack of an decent auto-router. FreeRouting does a nice job, but it’s slow, it’s not open source, is a resource hog, needs Java, and sometimes bugs take a very long time to get fixed. I started a project a while ago called QAutoRouter that is open source, will work with KiCad, and supports a plugin architecture, however I’ve been stalled on that project for quite some time. Maybe this will be the incentive I need to get some momentum going behind that project again!


    • priyansmurarka
      Dec 09, 2013 @ 22:17:50

      Hi Mike,

      I too observed issues with the “auto routing” feature on KiCad. Funnily however, the issue was there only on Ubuntu version of KiCad. Whereas on windows, the “auto route” feature on the same schematic worked well.


  5. Joshua Boyd
    Dec 09, 2013 @ 21:52:20

    Thank you for pursuing this. I have long believed that using open source CAD software was critical to open hardware.

    I prefer KiCAD as a beginner, but I do know some professionals who use gEDA and PCB. I believe that PCB has been merged into the larger gEDA project. Parts of that project had releases made this year, but overall it does appear to be moving more slowly than it did when I was following it more closely while trying to learn it (before switching to KiCAD).


  6. awjlogan
    Dec 09, 2013 @ 21:55:57

    The big problem I had with KiCAD is the parts library for basic components, particularly SMDs, is not very good. No problem to draw “exotic” packages, but chip resistors etc absolutely must work straight away. Not great discovering this after printing PCBs. The main reason Eagle is popular is due to the libraries, which are extensive and well designed. Other than that, KiCAD is definitely the best of the OS editors. You can also get the Eagle not-for-profit version, which is 160×80 and 6 layers (off the top of my head), for around 120EUR. Look forward to seeing your progress with KiCAD however.


  7. f4grx
    Dec 09, 2013 @ 21:56:56

    This is great news indeed. Good luck with your kicad migration, it’s worth the time. Do you know that the CERN is now contributing to this project and using it for their boards?

    A proud kicad user.


  8. Ajeandet
    Dec 09, 2013 @ 22:46:24

    It’s a very good new! It’s also a good point that you highlight that eagle isn’t opensource! About the CERN contributions, you can get an overview of their road-map here :http://www.ohwr.org/projects/cern-kicad/wiki/WorkPackages the push and shove functionality is very good.



  9. Nikolay Dimitrov
    Dec 09, 2013 @ 23:36:45

    I would like to add some more requirements for OSHW CAD tools – the CAD tool must be “free software” so the community can support it and to compile it for all needed OSes. In addition, the file formats must also be open and well-documented, so the people can avoid a “vendor lock-in” (inability to escape specific CAD vendor when you’ve already invested lots of time/money to use it for previous projects).
    I personally believe that if a CAD tool has good GUI to create components, there’s nothing to stop a small motivated community to create basic standard library with components and to share it with others.
    I also really hope that KiCAD will gain more popularity and acceptance.


  10. faguet
    Dec 10, 2013 @ 00:21:05

    I use kicad sincè two Years and it is a very Good Cad the only weakness is the library. That would be great to start a website with a common open-source library. Your will sée after few hours of use your will not regret eagle.


  11. Chema Peribáñez
    Dec 10, 2013 @ 13:28:25

    Great initiative! Although I’m not an electronic engineer and working with these tools is out of my skills, I’m glad that a company is open hardware and OSS friendly ;-). I prefer to promote OLIMEX over other vendors/products (Raspberry, Cubieboard) because actions as these.

    By the way, a suggestion as a final consumer. While full schematics and CAD files are great for open hardware, please don’t forget the more modest necessities of final consumers. Some products as A20 OlinuXino lacks a detailed revision history understandable for an ordinary user about what is fixed. For example, user manual only say about revisions D and E: Resistor optimizations and Adjusted and optimized PCB names, but apparently there are features that are broken in revision C boards (e.g. power using USB, problems with LIPo batteries).

    Products with old revisions are probably selling still in the ebay shop by the way (when I bought last summer my board, I got a C revision, although by this time other people have had E revision).

    When I do a demonstration in a LUG activity, it’s great to speak about open hardware, but it’s not great to see that something doesn’t work and ignore if it’s a specific problem of an old revision and if people buying a new board will have the same problem or not.

    Thank you for your projects. They are great!


  12. Max
    Dec 10, 2013 @ 14:21:17

    I started using KiCAD a few years ago and never looked back – it’s the only tool I choose to use for PCB design. Admittedly, my PCBs are usually no more than 2 layers and I generally route by hand, but I’m quite satisfied with it. The 3D visualisation of the board is something I particularly like…

    There is an immense advantage of KiCAD that may not be immediately obvious: the fact that is stores everything in human-readable plain text files: small changes over the entire board or an entire library of components can be made in seconds simply using “replace” in a text editor – no commercial, proprietary CAD package can do that!

    Regarding libraries, it’s indeed a matter of collecting the ones you like / creating your own, but I have to say I’ve found Walter Lain’s HUGE collection of consistently drawn and beautiful parts extremely helpful (http://smisioto.no-ip.org/elettronica/kicad/kicad-en.htm)


  13. folknology
    Dec 10, 2013 @ 15:08:53

    Hey that’s great news that you are going to give it a go. I did try converting over to Kicad a couple of years back but hits some road blocks with the paste layer controls when designing (or adapting) part libraries, however it was several years ago and things may have changed since then so please document you experiences as I would be interested to know how you guys get on.

    You will also have to get used to Kicad’s somewhat older school GUI but that does have some upsides once you get used to the quick keys etc..

    P.S.I think their are scripts for converting your eagle libraries to Kicad also, but you will still need to review them as I found some came through with incorrect orientations etc..

    Good luck



  14. Ken Yee (@kenkyee)
    Dec 11, 2013 @ 19:01:04

    Ditto…good choice.
    KiCAD has support from CERN now and they’re adding a push and shove router so that’s a huge step and something that EagleCAD doesn’t have 🙂


  15. osfe
    Dec 11, 2013 @ 21:10:53

    Launchpad libs are pretty good…
    Such a great news you’re moving to Kicad. It takes less than a week to get the grip with it and you’ll never go back to Eagle, that’s for sure.
    Which version are you using ?


  16. Trackback: lucadentella.it – Olimex userĂ  KiCad per le nuove schede OSHW
  17. Morgaine
    Dec 12, 2013 @ 21:00:46

    Reposted in Element14’s Open Source HardWare group —


    Very welcome news! 🙂



  18. Larry
    Dec 12, 2013 @ 22:05:47

    Just thought I’d mention DesignSpark Schematic & PCB CAD software. It’s put out by RS-Components and Allied Electronics for FREE for Commercial and home use:
    As an owner of an Autotrx EDA license, I decided to try DesignSpark and it’s not that bad – just not opensource.


  19. TheDareGuy
    Dec 14, 2013 @ 11:34:40

    KiCad: Excellent chioce!! We are using it, and contributing to its development. It is still evolving and there is a lot to do, but its community and contributors keep growinng. I think it is the right long term choice !! Good luck!!


  20. Legai Lutin
    Dec 17, 2013 @ 21:48:50

    Great move indeed,
    I started my hobby electronic design using Eagle, I liked it a lot but could not fathom the fact that was designing for open source with closed sourced software. I decided to learn Kicad and have been using it since. Though I designed mostly 2 sided boards, I started working on a 4 layers and its been great so far. Designing custom libraries is still and issue in my opinion because it disperses resources that could potentially be shared. That’s why I’ll encourage any initiatives that aims at centralizing part library design with integrated versioning, since parts in Kicad are text based.
    Thanks again for your decision and viva OS HW & OS CAD 🙂


  21. Melroy van den Berg
    Jan 26, 2015 @ 19:06:30

    I really hope Olimex will eventually switch to an open-source design tool like KiCAD. I think it’s very good news for the community and I like to see the libraries..

    Good luck!!


    • g2-6accf209f506dae2be5a68aa27560a2c
      Jul 27, 2015 @ 16:25:09

      I think KiCad needs an extensive, intensive (please do not take months to do it!) and very detailed analysis after the upcoming stable release.

      There needs to be improvements about user interface’s usability (UX), improving website and integrating services (kicad.info becoming official forums and migrating to a saner user interface too, official @kicad-pcb.org email addressed for KiCad Team developers…).

      After that, do some planning to make KiCad a better project and even sustainable (that is, at least some paid full time developers).


  22. Trackback: Our first two small KiCAD OSHW boards are ready! | olimex
  23. g2-6accf209f506dae2be5a68aa27560a2c
    Jul 27, 2015 @ 16:26:40

    I think KiCad needs an extensive, intensive (please do not take months to do it!) and very detailed analysis after the upcoming stable release.

    There needs to be improvements about user interface’s usability (UX), improving website and integrating services (kicad.info becoming official forums and migrating to a saner user interface too, official @kicad-pcb.org email addressed for KiCad Team developers…).

    After that, do some planning to make KiCad a better project and even sustainable (that is, at least some paid full time developers).


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