Advanced PCB Graphics With KiCAD 6 And Inkscape

There are many, many video tutorials about designing the functional side of PCBs, giving you tips on schematic construction, and layout tips. What is a little harder to find are tutorials on the graphical aspects, covering the process from creating artworks and how you can drive the tools to get them looking good on a PCB, leveraging the silkscreen, solder and copper layers to maximum effect. [Stuart Patterson] presents his guide for Advanced PCB Graphics in KiCAD 6.0 and Inkscape, (Video, embedded below) to help you on your way to that cool looking PCB build.

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Silkscreen layers in yellow, solder mask opening in red

The first step is to get your bitmap, whether you create it yourself, or download it, and trace it into a set of vectors using the Inkscape ‘trace bitmap’ tool. If you started with an SVG or similar vector shape, then you can skip that stage.

Next simply create a PCB outline shape by deleting all the details that aren’t part of the outline. A little scaling here and there to get the dimensions correct and you’re done with the first part. [Stuart] has an earlier video showing that process.

The usability improvements in KiCAD 6.0 are many, but one greatly demanded feature is the ability to group objects, just like you do in Inkscape and any other vector graphics tool for that matter. That means you can simply import that SVG outline into the Edge.Cuts PCB layer and all the curves will be nicely tied together. Next you select the details you want for the silkscreen layer, solder mask removal layers and any non-circuit copper. In Inkscape it would be wise to use the layers feature to assign the different material types to a uniquely named layer, so they can be hidden for exporting. This allows you to handle silk, mask and copper PNG exports from a single master file, in addition to any vector details for outline, slots and holes.

Once you have PNG bitmap exports for the silk, mask etc. you need to create a footprint inside a board-specific library, using the KiCAD image converter tool. It was interesting to note that you can export a new image footprint from the tool and paste it straight into the footprint editor, and tweak all the visibility details at the same time. That will save some time and effort for sure. Anyway, we hope this little tutorial from [Stuart] helps, and we will be sure to bring you plenty more in the coming months.

Need some more help with KiCAD? Checkout this tutorial, and if you want a bit more power from the tool, you need some action plugins!

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