Sunday, 9 May 2010

Fritzing is fun!

An Electronic CAD program I can live with

and it's free!

Readers will know that I'm sceptical about Electronics CAD software. Most of what I've tried seems counter-intuitive, and the open source pacakges have either been buggy or hard to install.

A couple of days ago I discovered Fritzing, and I'm really enthusiastic. Fritzing is alpha software, but it's very usable - indeed, Adafruit (one of the best-known names in the Open Source Hardware space) have been using it for months.

Here are the features I like the most:

You start by creating a virtual breadboard of your project.

Here's a sample of the breadboard view for an Arduino-based hardware 'Hello World' ( a flashing led circuit).

You create it by dragging components from a bin and placing them on your work surface.

When you drop a component on the breadboard it's automatically plugged in.

You can select wires and drag them to the things they connect to.

I find the interface is very natural.

Here's a photo of the real-life version for comparison.

The virtual breadboard is realistic enough that just about anyone could set up the real breaboard by using it - pretty valuable if you are creating a course!

It's easy to draw schematics.

Once you've got your breadboard laid out, just switch to schematic view. Tidy up and export.

Most popular formats are available, including pdf, jpg, png and svg.

It's easy to create pcb layouts.

Just switch to the PCB view, autoroute, and export.

You can export images (like this one) or you can create gerber files ready to send off to a PCB Fab shop.


It's (fairly) easy to add new components.

Components are defined by an xml file. This file references three svg files which define the Breadboard view, the Schematic view and the PCB view. You can create the svg with tools like Inkscape or Illustrator. I'll be using my Python library to do most of the work and use Inkscape for last-minute edits.

You can upload new components to the Fritzing website so that others can use them.

As you'd expect from alpha software, Fritzing has some limitations. In particular it will only lay out single sided boards at present, but that will be sufficient for many hobbyist users.

It feels robust, it's ituitive, it has a lively and helpful user community and the price is right!