DesignSpark Reviews

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DesignSpark PCB SKU UPC Model

Very capable EDA software

Jun 20, 2016 by David Taylor

Prior to using DesignSpark I had not seen much in the way of useful information on the web. Reading what was out there suggested it may not have been worth the effort to kick the tires. A complete shame since it is actually very well designed and quite capable once you learn your way around the application. I managed to design a rather dense 4-layer PCB with 0.5 mm pitch QFNs and 6 mil trace/spacing without encountering any serious issues.

DesignSpark is actually in quite good company since it is a custom version of Number One Systems' Easy-PC PCB sponsored by RS Components. Similarly, Advanced Circuits in Phoenix Arizona has PCB Artist which is based on an earlier version of Easy-PC PCB as best I can tell. All very capable, but largely non-interoperable by design 🙁

Having used Eagle for previous designs, the first thing that becomes apparent is that DS is a relatively modern application without too many unexpected surprises. Definitely not a shiny MS Ribbon UI application, but at least a respectable mid 2000's toolbar based UI design. Navigation is very logical as is round trips back and forth between schematics and PCB layout.

There are some areas that need improvement and were a major hurdle in the beginning. First and foremost is the component designer. Understanding the component model and "design technology" approach takes a bit to wrap your head around since it is not well documented IMHO. The measuring tool is also very limited and frustrating in general. Positioning pads and shapes is near impossible until you discover the wonderful "=" key and " +" sequences that let you enter absolute or relative coordinates. A little bit of practice and the component design process is not too bad compared to other tools. Even Altium is less than stellar in this area and it costs $10K per seat!

After a couple of months of using DesignSpark I know most of its quirks and how to work around them with ease. The only real limitation without a clean workaround is creating custom land patterns which have special solder paste requirements (e.g. windowing or home base pattern). Fine pitch components can also be a challenging since DesignSpark lacks the knobs for controlling solder mask on a per component basis. Still workable, just a some tradeoffs I would prefer not to have to make.

One final bright spot is that DesignSpark is actually being maintained and improved! RS Components is continuing to invest in DesignSpark and is releasing new major versions and bug fix releases. Support has even been very receptive to my bug reports and is sending them to the product manager! Try to get that level of service with Altium 😉

I hope someone finds this review helpful and gives DesignSpark a try. I rarely write reviews, but feel that DesignSpark deserves more positive attention than it has been receiving.

4.0 4.0 1 1 Prior to using DesignSpark I had not seen much in the way of useful information on the web. Reading what was out there suggested it may not have been worth the effort to kick the t DesignSpark PCB