Supporting KiCad open source design automation software

Today I am pleased to announce that Raspberry Pi Ltd is helping KiCad with their end-of-year funding drive by matching donations made on KiCad’s website up to $5000.

KiCad is a free, open source suite of CAD tools for schematic capture and Printed Circuit Board (PCB) design. It allows you to draw your electronic circuits in schematic form, using graphically represented components and wires, and then transfer this data into a PCB editor which is used to place the components and draw the copper tracks and vias that connect them. The tools know what is connected to what, and also what design rules must be followed (such as what is the smallest width of copper track you can use), and they therefore help the designer make sure that the design is manufacturable. Once a design is completed, the tool will spit out data that a PCB manufacturer can use to make a physical PCB.

Kicad image by Brian O
KiCad running on a Raspberry Pi 4

I have long been a fan of KiCad, having started using it in 2011 for a hobby project. It had a few rough edges back then but was very usable even for fairly complex designs. Therefore, when I joined Raspberry Pi at the start of 2013 (a long time ago now!), I was already thinking that it would be nice to use it for commercial projects.

Supporting the development of a powerful open source tool

In 2014 we sponsored the work to add differential pair routing support to KiCad, which was something it had been lacking. Differential pairs are traces on the PCB that have a controlled geometry, and therefore impedance, and are used for high-speed signals such as HDMI and USB.

The addition of differential pair support, as well as the many other improvements to the tool since then, have meant we are now able to use it for some of our product designs. Dominic developed the Compute Module 4 IO board using KiCad, and the design database is free for anyone to download and use as a starting point for their own CM4 projects: you can download a zip file of the database here. We have also used KiCad to develop the RP2040 minimal design as well as the Pico VGA demo board as open designs: you can find both of these in the Hardware Design with RP2040 guide.

While it’s likely that we will always need to use high-end non-free CAD tools for certain products, especially those that need very high-speed design and simulation, we are extremely impressed with how far KiCad has come. It’s amazing to have an open source tool that’s this powerful freely available.

KiCad now works well on Raspberry Pi 4

While KiCad has been available on Raspberry Pi OS for some time, the default version in Debian Bullseye (which is what Raspberry Pi OS is built on) was fairly old.

Recently we have made a newer version of KiCad available. Typing apt install kicad on an up-to-date Raspberry Pi OS Bullseye image will install it. Changes made in the newer version 6 KiCad codebase have brought improved OpenGL hardware acceleration, and therefore much better performance on Raspberry Pi computers.

One of our engineers, Richard Jones, recently completed a PCB for an internal test platform and designed it entirely using KiCad running on a Raspberry Pi 4. He has found that the new version works well and is very usable.

Designing a USB test board inside KiCad

Richard has also used it for other projects. When you’ve got a big pile of USB leads it can be frustrating unless you’ve labelled them really carefully; inevitably the lead you’ll reach for will be broken, or it won’t support data transfer. This can mean hours of fruitless debugging, when all you needed was a lead that wasn’t broken. This is where Richard’s design for a test board for USB leads comes in, and you can take a look at it — in KiCad on your Raspberry Pi — if you like, because we’ve made the design available for download under an open license, with no limitations on reuse.

It’s great to see KiCad maturing into such a capable platform, and we are looking forward to seeing what new features will be made available in the upcoming versions. Meanwhile, please support them by heading over to the KiCad website to donate! We will be pleased to match the first $5000 of donations.

22 comments
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Excellent initiative, all the more appreciated as it is about engineering, with no political slant to it. May KiCad go from strength to strength! I eagerly await the day when PCBs may be designed by people who are not electrical engineers, and 3D printed.

Reply to Happy Camper

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Hi Happy Camper,

I echo entirely what you’ve just said, couldn’t agree with you more. This is what it’s all about, engineering accessible to all with the help of this very interesting looking software with no political slant to it. Couldn’t have said it better myself.

This is a brilliant initiative and certainly something to hopefully help everyone explore making their own circuit boards and have fun experimenting. Sadly schools do not seem to be teaching engineering as much as they used to, but hopefully this will ignite some interest. And of course there might be those of us older and not in school who may also be interested in this. Maybe self taught home schooling perhaps ;-)

If possible, it would also be helpful to support things similar to PSpice, to enable the simulation of circuits on the Pi. Maybe it already exists, but that would be an awesome addition for anyone interested in the simulation side of electronics too.

Well done to all of you at Raspberry Pi towers for supporting this great initiative! Keep up the good work!

Reply to Fred

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Actually – there already is functionality to support simulation of circuits – even better!

https://www.kicad.org/discover/spice/

Reply to Fred

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Thanks for the link. Spice on the pi, fantastic.

Reply to Graeme

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gnucap to the rescue

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2022-12-17: KiCad 2022 End-Of-Year Recap and Q&A
https://forum.kicad.info/t/38989

Reply to MagPi Reader

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How much ram is required to run Kicad on Raspberry Pi 4?

Reply to Sylvain Rousseau

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I ran it on a Pi 4B 8GB but didn’t seem any less responsive on a 2GB Pi 4B. I got the feeling that a nice fast SD card was more important than lots of memory.

Reply to Richard Jones

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Perhaps a little typo? I had to sudo apt install kicad.

Reply to Chris Cauwelier

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$5000?? Is that correct? Yes it’s good that you’re supporting open source considering it was open source that enabled the RPi to be the success that it is. But 5k? They are already at 21k. Seem to be banging a drum about, for the RPi LTD, is a small amount to get your logo on their site. Now, if it was 50k, then I would be singing your praises. I guess every little helps. Pay for a couple weeks of development, at best.

Reply to Richard collins

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Ah, hang on. Matching donations up to 5k. You mean you’re matching every donation up to 5k. Ah I see. Maybe make it a little clearer for the hard of understanding like me.
In that case, wow, amazing work. I better shut up now and go donate.

Reply to Richard collins

Ashley Whittaker

Sounds like a plan Richard. And THANK YOU!

Reply to Ashley Whittaker

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No you were absolutely right the first time: “…to match the first $5000 of donations.”
But still better than not doing it ofc.

Reply to Martin Axelsen

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Great to see you supporting them – it’s a awesome piece of software, I used it to create a screen and touchcontrol interface for my Pi0W :)

Reply to Alan

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KiCad looks comprehensive, but for beginners I suggest looking at EasyEDA as a starting point. It’s fully integrated with schematic, simulation, PCB (with 3D), and talks direct to JLCPCB for fabrication and, if you need, assembly. I’ve used it for smaller projects.

Reply to Neil

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I order a lot of PCBs from jlcpcb, but I have no intention of getting tied into their ecosystem.
Kicad is manufacturer agnostic.

Reply to Ewan

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Good news , i’ll start my 1st pcb disign with KICAD.
How to donate KiCad?

Reply to yuandj

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Go to https://www.kicad.org/, click on the menu and select ‘donate’

Reply to Ian

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Why was my comment moderated (well removed)?

Reply to Ian

Liz Upton

It wasn’t. It’s Saturday a week before Christmas, so none of us had taken posts out of the moderation queue for a few hours. Bits of the internet are still cranked by hand, you know!

Reply to Liz Upton

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Sorry. I thougjt I had said something wrong, but I couldn’t work out what. Thanks for getting back to me. Merry Christmas one and all!

Reply to Ian

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