Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Stripboard design using a paint program

A couple of weeks ago I evaluated some programs to help design circuit layouts on stripboard or Veroboard and I wasn't particularly impressed by any of them. Quite apart from any other problems or limitations the programs had, they all suffered from the fact that layouts had to use components that were included in the program's library. If you wanted to use something that wasn't there - and most ham projects use things like trimmer capacitors and coils - adding it ranged from difficult to impossible.

I briefly attempted to design a layout using pencil and paper on a Veroboard template that I printed out. But that got frustrating when I needed to reposition components. It soon got illegible with all the erasing and when I started resorting to scissors and paste to move things around I felt there had to be a better way.

So I thought I would try designing the layout using a paint program. I created a bitmap image of the Veroboard and another image containing some component layouts. I used an ancient copy of Paint Shop Pro for the task, but you could use pretty much anything. To add a component to the board I just select it with the mouse, copy, then switch to the Vero image, paste and drag it into position. If I want to remove a component or move a block of them I can just select and then cut or drag. I can fill in any gaps I created by pasting in sections of blank board, and touch up the layout with the pen tool. It might sound complicated but it's easier than using pencil and paper and the knowledge that mistakes can easily be corrected means you work faster because you aren't afraid of committing to paper something that will be hard to remove.

Drawing the components is fairly easy. They don't have to look lifelike but I got diverted into trying to use photo images to add a bit of realism to the layout. Finding views of components from directly above isn't easy. I found it quicker to photograph them myself than try to find them on the net using Google. Once you have got the image in the paint program you cut away everything except the component body and then shrink it to the correct scale to match the Veroboard template. I mark the connection points with little crosses to help show how it all links up.

With this method it's easy to have resistors and diodes mounted vertically to save space, which some of the programs I tried wouldn't let me do. Wanting to use a component that isn't in the library is no longer an obstacle, you can just draw it or add a photo. The only disadvantage is that the computer can't validate that your layout is correct. But few of the software programs could do that anyway.

If anyone is interested in this method I could make available the Veroboard and component images I created - on condition that you share with me and other users any new component outlines you add.
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