View Full Version : Review: Design Spark PCB software

Robin Hewitt
26-01-2013, 02:28 AM
I've spent the last week or so learning how to drive Design Spark, the freebie PCB software package from RS.

After a few days trying to reprogram it so it worked like my old PCB package the light started to dawn and I am now unprogramming it This is a neat piece of kit, the price is right but I don't think it will put the other PCB design software houses out of business as it stands.

The more I use it, the more I like it, but there was a bit of hair tearing early on because the manual is a bit basic, the tutorial videos avoid all the tricky bits, it has a few interesting quirks and support is limited.

RS have decided that their suppliers have to do the component footprints and schematics. This does mean you can find yourself with a row of SOIC-16's all with different foot prints and legends. Fortunately the component library editor makes it easy to reassign components to a single footprint of your chosing.

The component libraries don't exactly cover the entire RS catalogue although they will let you access it to find stuff. I can't say I have had much luck finding the parts I want. I suppose the idea is that you lay your board with RS parts and then press the Buy It Now button and get the full kit, but they are not there yet. This PCB-Shopping combination has the unfortunate side effect that they want a specific manufacturers part number for each component. The component names are gibberish. When you come to your first 0805 10k resistor expect to search for 10 minutes, mutter a bit, curse their black hearts to a good spell in purgatory then discover the is a generic library which will do exactly what you want after a bit of jiggery pokery.

I couldn't find my microprocessor, even though RS stock it. A quick web search took me to a site called NeatInfo and they did have it.

I gave up looking for the micro SD card holder and had a good rant at the screen as I tried to draw my own. I eventually went to the DS forum to ask what on earth was meant by an "Invalid handle error", nobody knew. Eventually figured ot that it meant I had drawn a pad wider than it was tall. I have to specify it 90 degrees out then rotate it.

Are you getting the idea? The Design Spark package is all singing and dancing, but you can only learn it by trial and error. If you have a week to spare, stock up on Prozac and give it a go. If you can get past the initial frustration you will eventuallly come to like it and start discovering some really neat features.

26-01-2013, 11:43 AM
I spent a few days with it, liked it...but ultimately had to walk away due to it's limitations with respect to exporting component centre XY coords (at the time I had CNC solder dispensing in my sights....if you've ultimately got pick & place in your sights, then the app will be restrictive too). So I've stuck with Eagle which can readily do due to the huge number of user programs out on the net....it's certainly one to watch though.

26-01-2013, 12:01 PM
I've been using DipTrace, and the free version does everything I need it to. I did have a quick look at Design Spark, but it seemed like too much hassle to learn something else.

28-05-2013, 09:44 PM
Try to use Target 3001 or Eagle PCB design tools. They have many online tutorials on the internet. Target 3001 has component server with over 36.000 components online which has given free access for all users. Components have all the information like datasheet, manufacture name, vendor order numbers.


electronic assembly (http://www.7pcbassembly.com/electronic-assembly.php)

29-05-2013, 10:54 PM
I did try it Robin but the lack of tutorials etc made be go for the eagle freebie. Which is ashame as I get most of my parts from RS uk