If you’ve ever tried veroboard circuit design you’ll realise there are some quite significant differences to printed circuit board design. The more I got into it the more it started to resemble doing puzzles. I would constantly move and revise layouts trying to come up with the perfect answer. Obviously there is no perfection. You just need to get something that works and is easy to build. It’s worth noting the ease of building if you intend to build more than one of the circuit.
There are a number of stripboard or veroboard design packages around. Some are paid and some are free. I have tried several of them and come up with the one that I think is the best. If you can’t wait or can’t be bothered to read why click here to see my choice.
The first thing to say is that I found using a design program much better than not. Effectively that means they were better than using the traditional method before computers came along. That of graph paper and a pencil and eraser so they are definitely worth using if you get the right one or at least the one that suits you.
The two main reasons for this in my opinion are the fact that you can move components around to come up with the best way of laying a circuit out. Unless your one of those people who can play chess against twenty people at the same time, you’ll probably realise that something would be far better being in a different place.
Easy to do with a design software but not so with a pencil and graph paper. If like me you made lots of changes your design could end up looking like something a pirate had just dug up.
The second reason is that no matter how many changes you make you can still do a print out to use as a component overlay. This is something that significantly cuts down on building errors. With veroboard it’s so easy to put a component in the wrong hole. After all there are loads and they all look the same. A print out over the board really helps.
It’s possible to use free software to help you layout your circuits. There are some very good bits of software available. I’ve tried quite a few over the years and invested a fair bit of time evaluating them to find the best free one to use.
Looks the part in colour using easy to view components, but unfortunately the software doesn’t install on Windows 10 or 8. It installed on Windows 7 but wouldn’t run so you will need to have a partition on your hard drive with Windows XP installed if you want to use stripboard magic.
If you want to read a more in depth review of Stripboard magic click here.
With stripboard magic you have to input the circuit diagram by using the symbols in the schematic page. This is quite an effort because you can’t route the connections where you want. Once you have done that you click on “auto configure” and the software generates a stripboard layout for you. This is quite impressive, it positions the parts and shows where the track cuts go.
You can then select “compress” to horizontally and vertically squeeze everything together on the board and then minimise to shrink to the smallest board you can use.
That part of stripboard magic is particularly good but in my opinion it’s let down by the schematic part of the software which doesn’t exactly instil me with the confidence that I have properly got everything connected properly. I could only use stripboard magic for very simple circuits.
Veecad is similar to the Stripboard magic layout software mentioned here in that you have to first draw the circuit into a schematic editor which can generate a net list. This net list is then imported into Veecad where it will auto route on stripboard.
I haven’t tried Veecad as it seems to be to time consuming to use a schematic editor to create the circuit first. I just want to get on with the veroboard design. Also my experience of auto routing has put me off this. When I have tried this previously the package I used auto routed but then came up with 4 connections that it couldn’t route. They were practically impossible to do by hand on the circuit that it had created. I would have sooner have done the whole job by hand and finished it myself rather than let the auto route handle it and tell me it could do it all!
Verodes 1.37 is free and is certainly worth a look. Read the full review here. It is very capable of producing simple layouts, the problem for me was as I was starting to get on well with veroboard designs, due mainly to the component overlays that they can produce. Errors were eradicated and my circuit layouts were getting increasingly complex. The more complex they became the more I found the software lacking in some way, leading me onto another piece of software.
Verodes 1.37 is very easy to use once you get used to how to get and position components. Its main advantage in designing is that you can move components around easily without having to use an eraser. Do it as many times as you want then do a print out.
You can easily add links and track breaks to your hearts content. One niggle for me was that track breaks can only be positioned on a hole and I usually put them between holes to save space. It is however free and for a lot of people it may be all you’ll ever need.
The more success I had with the layouts the more complicated I made them and that had me moving to Lochmaster 4.0.
Lochmaster 4.0 was the package I eventually migrated to after realising that no matter how much I had initially liked some of the other packages, they all eventually couldn’t do something that I wanted. It’s only with real use over a matter of time that you really come to appreciate that. Lochmaster 4.0 does everything that I need so even though it’s not free, I consider the cost to be well worth it. If you want to have a look and try it out you can download a demo here.
The quality of Lochmaster 4.0 is apparent once you get into really designing a circuit. It’s all too easy to look at the free veroboard design software and play around with it and to come to the conclusion that’s its really good but once you start to use it for a real layout that’s when you find it’s short comings.
I’ve managed to complete some quite large projects using Lochmaster 4.0, projects that I had started on other stripboard design software but had to stop and move onto something else when I reached the point that the software would not do what I wanted!
By virtue of the fact that the Lochmaster 4.0 software was the one that eventually got the job completed speaks volumes. The free ones got me so far and are adequate for simple jobs but once you go beyond that you may find yourself struggling against what the software can do.
You won’t find that with Lochmaster 4.0 and in my opinion it’s the best tool for the job. It’s not free but I consider it to be reasonably priced for what you get and what you can do with it. With hindsight I could have saved myself a lot of wasted time if I had used this first.