PCB Design Software and File Types

Table of Contents

Designing a PCB, and communicating those design decisions depends on a series of files such as circuit schematic designs, Bill-of-Materials, PCB layouts and stackup design information.

In order to allow for interoperability between the large number of Electronics Design software such as Allegro, Altium Designer, KiCAD and Eagle, a collection of files called Gerbers were developed. Gerber files allow for understanding PCB designs without being locked into a certain design software.

File Types

When generating your first PCB design, there are 2 key files you should prepare:

CAD Aperture files

In the format of RS-274X (Gerber x1), Gerber x2, IPC-2581, ODB++

BOM (Bill of Materials)

In the format of TXT, PDF, CSV, XLSV, etc.

When generating your BOM files, there are few important components to be included:

  • Component name

  • MPN (Manufacturer Part Number)

  • Tag number, the component number in your design files

  • Quantity

  • Description

  • Manufacturer

  • MPN of the component's alternative

  • Other remarks

Download our BOM Template here

In addition to the two above, two other file types could also be prepared to provide further information about your PCB:

Mechanical Files

These contain the PCB's dimensions and structure

In the format of DXF, STEP, or DWG

These Mechanical files should contain information about:

  • The precise PCB outline.

  • The exact position and size of some internal grooves or cuts.

  • Specific tolerance requirements.

  • It can also include some customized panel information, such as drilling patterns, hole position information, layer stacking, positioning holes, special production requirements, etc.

Schematic Diagram Files

File TypeFormatDescription
DXF/DWG.dxf .dwgDXF: CAD drawing exchange format (vector) (ASCII or binary); DWG: CAD drawing file, binary AutoCAD supports both files.
Netlist Schematic.NETIt is a netlist, you can choose a document or a project, and choose the type of netlist
Orcad SDT Schematic.schSDT3/4 binary schematic file, AD cannot be opened
Orcad v7 Capture Design.dsnCapture design files will be automatically converted, prone to errors and failures
P-CAD V16 Schematic Design.schASCII file

PCB Design files

Which are compiled or generated by Allegro, Altium Designer, Mentor series, EAGLE, ZUKEN, KiCAD, etc., if you want to give your manufacturer the ability to easily alter designs, as Gerber files themselves aren't editable.

In NexPCB, we accept all the file formats mentioned above. However, we would highly recommend using Allegro and Altium Designer for the choice of EDA.

File TypeFormatDescription
Ansoft Neutral
Ansoft US electromagnetic technology simulation EDA software, acquired by ansis
Altium’s PCB layout tool
Altium’s PCB drawing software, AD simplification, device selection
.dxf .dwg
AutoCAD drawing vector format file, DataExchangeFile
Mentor's electronic design system-level simulation platform
IDF Board
.brd .bdf .idb .emn .idf
Intermediate Date Format circuit board file. Each IDF contains a combination of board files and library files, such as: EMN/EMP BRD/LIB BDF/LDF IDB/IDL
3D geometric modeling intermediate data format
Altium’s PCB layout modeling tool
Altium Protel NXP’s PCB file format
Protel Netlist
Altium Protel Netlist
Portel PCB 2.8 ASCII
Altium Protel 2.8 PCB file
SiSoft Quantum-SI simulation software
Specctra Design
Cadence's PCB tool
.step .stp
ISO standard for the exchange of 3D models.
Virtual Reality Modeling Language
PDF document with 3D properties