I recently had an inquiry about using 'MS Paint' for drawing PC board
layouts. Although there are several freeware programs available for designing
and drawing PC layouts, the ones I have tried had onerous learning curves. I also
found that unless I was designing boards fairly regularly, I would have to go back and
re-learn many of the functions each time I used the program. If you are
regularly making a lot of boards, then these programs are certainly the way to
go as they are packed with every feature you might need.
On the other
hand, MS Paint meets all of my requirements and is simple to use ... I like
simple. Although some might turn up their noses at MS Paint, I have found it to
be a powerful and underestimated software tool. Here are some of the things
that you might want to remember if drawing a PC layout with 'Paint'.
Take the time to read the built-in HELP
files. It doesn't
take long to learn all of the functions along with some of the shortcuts.
2. Always draw with the IMAGE ... DRAW OPAQUE
function turned off (unchecked). Do
this first. This way, lines can go as close as you want without any
blocking or overlapping. Try it the other way and you can see what
3. If you are working with IC's, take the time to make a
'master' pattern that can be saved and copied anytime that you need it. A 16-pin
layout can by used for 14 and 8 pin IC's by copying and pasting it and then
erasing the unwanted pins.
4. Similarly, once you have established the
correct pad spacing for certain capacitors or resistor sizes, copy and save them for
future use. Finding the correct spacing will require a few trial printouts so
you can measure the exact gap. This works great for SMD components as well.
5. For detailed work, use the VIEW ... ZOOM...CUSTOM
function to magnify the layout. This also allows you to use a grid if you find this helpful.
6. Never SAVE
your layout while in ZOOM
mode as you can't go back to the original size when you re-load your plan. I learned
this the hard way.
7. For drawing perfectly straight lines, squares or
round circles, hold the SHIFT
key down when drawing the element.
8. For large areas of copper (groundplanes), outline the area
then choose the FILL
symbol to create the area.
9. With a little planning,
you can almost always avoid jumpers to make a crossover connection, unless your
circuit is very complex.
10. When you make a mistake, just use the EDIT ...UNDO
command. You can go back several steps with this helpful function.
11. I will often draw a
thin line between to pads to see if they are on the same level ... and then UNDO
the line once I have checked.
12. Always SAVE
your layout as a Monochrome Bitmap
with the FILE ... SAVE AS
function. Using some of the other modes will create less than solid blacks and some random
pixels that can lead to etching problems.
13. If using the 'toner
iron-on' method of etching, set your printer options to the highest resolution
(mine is 1200 dpi) and then choose the darkest 'print' option. You want as much
toner thickness as possible. Note that this method works only with laser / toner printers and not the ink-jet / bubble types.
14. For the iron-on transfer paper, I have
had good success with the shiny yellow transfer paper
widely available on E-Bay,
usually with free shipping. I get the best results when pre-heating the PCB in the toaster oven before ironing-on the pattern ... not too hot to touch however.
If you just build the occasional PC board, you might find using MS Paint worthy of a try. It has been meeting my needs for many many years and once you have done a few, unlike some PC software, it doesn't take long to build a new board without having to learn how to use it all over again.