Copy a old board layout into KiCAD

Did some checking into version 5.99, and it only seems to be available as the nightly. So that prompts the follwoing questions:

  1. Is my understanding correct that I would only need to download parts or components, and that they would work together with the existing 32 bit version 5.1.9 that is already installed? (upgrade the existing install, so to speak) Or would I have to download all of the parts or components to have the complete version 5.99?
  2. In addition to the libraries, exactly what additional parts or components would be necessary?
  3. Is my understanding correct that nothing updates (or downloads) automatically with the nightly?

Correct, and as a nightly, it may cause a KiCad design file to become broken. This is unlikely at this point in time, but it’s software at a critical point in time in development. Your design requirements lead me to suggest that you moving your design to V5.99 is not likely to be a problem for you (at this point in time).

NOTE TO KiCad USERS: Moving to using a nightly build of KiCad has always had some danger of BREAKING a project. However, some prior nightlies have had a more feature set to bug ratio. My recommendation to Golden Age is on based upon a single use case. I do NOT currently recommend V5.99 nightly for the majority of users.

The use of 32 bit versions of KiCad have in the past caused issues for some users with some hardware. How long has it been since 64 Bit processors were a “new thing”?

You have stated that you are not planning on using ANY of these items… So, why the question?

KiCad does not update anything automatically on 32 bit Windoze machines.

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Previously the KiCad Windows installer was available only as one big collection of software and component libraries. The libraries were always bundled in the installer package file. The size of the bundled installer is over 1GB. Most of the size comes from the 3D model library.

Then Qu1ck made an alternative “lite” installer. I doesn’t have the libraries bundled in it, only the software itself. The size of the installer package file is greatly reduced. That lite installer has an option to download the libraries while you are running the installer. If you check the library options – footprints, symbols and 3D models can be ticked on/off – the installer downloads the selected libraries and installs them. If you leave them unchecked they won’t be downloaded.

So, the “lite” installer is almost always enough if the user has an internet connection available at all times. It can also be used later to download the missing libraries if there’s need, although it then re-installs KiCad, too.

KiCad 5.99 doesn’t try to download anything automatically.

If you don’t need the official KiCad libraries you don’t have to download and/or install them. KiCad works perfectly without them, but then you have to either use your own libraries or limit your use of KiCad severely. In you case, if you really want to not use schematics and footprints, you don’t need libraries.

Is everything clear now? Just download the lite installer, either 32- or 64-bit version depending on your platform, and install without choosing the libraries after you have started the installer.

Almost! Your explanation is extremely helpful, but I just want to make sure that I understand everything correctly before I actually do it.

  1. The lite installer will reinstall KiCAD anyways, and the file size is the same, so there is no reason to choose 32 bit
  2. Check all the boxes in the installer except for libraries (since they are the bulk of the file size), and the libraries can be downloaded at a later time by running the installer but only downloading the libraries. This will result in a re-install of KiCAD, but it is still not necessary to download anything else except for the libraries
  3. The version 5.99 lite 64 bit will still run on windoze 7 (64 bit)

Am I correctly understanding everything here? Or am I still overlooking something important?

I only chose 32 bit because of the smaller file size, all my computers are 64 bit processors.

Not at the present time, for the 3 boards that I initially need to make. But of course I will want to experiment with it in the future and learn how to use those features, even if my use of them would be rare (if at all). I also find the 3D modelling features intriguing: my local library has 3D printers available for public use, and this would appear to open up the possibility of producing custom plastic parts (which could potentially be extremely useful in some projects).

And some added stupidity because “a post can’t be empty”.

That’s not a basis for the choice. Basically it’s better to choose 64 bit if it works on your platform. or some similar result for 32 bit vs. 64 bit search.

Leave them as they are by default, just check out that the libraries are unchecked.

At the moment, yes, but v6 won’t work on Windows 7 because W7 is unsupported by MS, and for certain practical reasons. If you find a working solution for you, keep the installer package file safe. You may not be able to update to a later version.

So I got the version 5.99, and downloaded everything but the 3D libraries (I’ll have to come back for those after my data cap resets). Opened the pcb file, and went through convert to polygon for all the copper areas on F.Cu. Excellent to see the addition of rotate and mirror features as well! Saved the file, and attempted to view it on the 3D viewer of version 5.1.9. That didn’t work, I got an error saying that it couldn’t open the file from a later version of the program. So then I attempted to check it by exporting as gerber files, and viewing them with Gerbv. Here is what I’m seeing for F.Cu in Gerbv:


(I will continue in the next posting, with a screenshot of the B.Cu layer in Gerbv)

And here is how the B.Cu layer appears in Grebv:

The copper areas on F.Cu were generated by the convert to polygon method. The copper area on B.Cu was generated as a filled zone. There are two things that appear to be wrong.

  1. The vias appear differently for converted polygons and zones. This implies that one is correct, and the other is not. Should the outlines of the copper areas be converted to polygons, or to zones?
  2. It has been stated that if the annular ring of a via is enclosed within a larger area of copper (a via is placed within an area of copper that is larger than the annular ring), that the annular ring becomes irrelevant. Yet this does not appear to be the case, the annular ring seems to appear as an area without copper. Is this just how it appears, or is there something wrong here as well?

Thanks for making me aware of that thread, I will be sure to add my comments on it when I have more time to write at length! Definately an interesting read.

Ok, here is an example of one of the challenges of not using a schematic. KiCad will only connect a zone to THT holes (pins and vias), SMT pads, and traces if they are all part of the same net. Because you aren’t using a schematic, you don’t have any nets, so KiCad doesn’t know to connect the copper pour to the annular rings of your vias.

You aren’t seeing the drill hits so you can’t see that the holes will be smaller than the purple circles. The black rings aren’t annular rings, rather they are etched away copper around the annular rings isolating the copper pour of your zone from your vias. I think there might be tools in 5.99 for creating new nets and assigning said nets to features, but I haven’t used 5.99 yet to know the process.

What you would want to see from your descriptions of the bottom side would be a solid purple rectangle.

EDIT: In retrospect, maybe instead of using a zone on the bottom, draw a rectangle around the board just inside your board edge and convert that to a polygon as well. (Or just straight-up draw a filled polygon.)

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It’s a rectangle and 5.99 is used anway, so it can be a filled Rectangle which is a bit easier to draw than a polygon. But zone can’t work as SembazuruCDE explained. Because there’s just copper without nets in the other side it would short-circuits nets anyway, so everything must be just copper.

Why not use the 3D viewer and Gerbview of V5.99 if you have that installed ???

Gerbv, are you certain of that?
Gerbv is a gerber viewer and part of the GEDA project, which is completely unrelated to KiCad.

KiCad’s gerber viewer is Gerbview.

It can be useful to use different gerber viewers to check for (possible) differences / bugs. If this is the reason for using gerbv, then also have a look at online viewers such from Ucamco:

So now the question becomes, how are two or more areas of copper designated to be a “net”?

  1. Create a schematic.
  2. Assign footprints.
  3. Eeschema / Tools / Update PCB from Schematic

“Copper area’s” are called “Zones” in KiCad speak.
Once you have a netlist, you can edit the properties of a zone and set it to any of the existing nets.

This only works for a Zone. not for a polygon, which is just a simple graphical item, and has no clearance and also can not calculate internal geometries to keep the clearance from other objects. For all those functions a proper netlist is mandatory.

Yeah, that is going to be extremely labor intensive and exceptionally time consuming to do for 2"x1" board. :thinking:

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Tracks, pads and zones can have a net. Normally the netlist is created in the schematic and propagated to the layout from there with Tools -> Update PCB from Schematic. In 5.99 it’s also possible to create nets directly in the layout but it’s not the recommended workflow.

Again, the way you are using KiCad now is against the normal workflow and doesn’t help you to learn KiCad with all its basic capabilities.

IMO it’s OK if you ever need to create these few boards and won’t learn KiCad further. Otherwise the time would have spent better learning the normal symbols and schematic -> footprints and layout workflow.


I think I might have figured out how to do it, but will have to experiment with it more to be sure. I was able to assign a via and the copper area on B.Cu (which was created as a zone) to a net, using properties (if I’m remembering correctly). But I was not able to do the same thing on F.Cu, apparently because it is a filled polygon. Converting to tracks didn’t work (didn’t allow me to assign to a net), and neither did converting to lines and then converting to a zone. More later, as I experiment with it some more tomorrow.

Personally, I much prefer to have full manual control over the layout, not everything is a one size fits all scenario. It’ll go much more quickly once the right steps are determined, looks like it’s almost to that point. Creating these few boards is the beginning, the immediate goal for now, but of course I will want to eventually learn the “full automatic” workflow as well.

Now we can see you are trying to do what was instructed earlier: replace bare copper areas with proper tracks, zones etc., using the original layout as a guide. But this can’t succeed unless you use real footprints with pads, too. And we are back where we started.

Hilariously stubborn.

I think I was able to successfully get all the copper areas correct. Going to upload the pcb file again with the latest revisions. Here’s what I did:

Copper areas that do not have vias were left as filled polygons, as per above. For copper areas that contain vias:

  1. click on a via to select it. Then right click on it, and select properties. At the top of the box that pops up, uncheck the box for automatically update nets. Then select the net dropdown, click on the blank area, type in a name for a net, and click create net. This can be done for more than one via at a time by holding the shift key and selecting multiple vias. Once the net is named and created, vias can then be assigned to it by unchecking the automatic update net box and selecting it in the dropdown (in the properties popup box). For some odd reason, a net can only be created in via properties (this does not work with zones), so at least one via must be done before the zones.
  2. for the copper area containing a via, select all the lines in the outline by dragging a rectangle to enclose the shape, or clicking on the line segments while holding the shift key down. Right click and select convert to zone. Click on an empty area to clear the selection, then click on the outline line segments (holding shift key down) to select only the outline, then delete the outline. Click on the zone again to select it, then right click to select properties. In the box that pops up, check the box for show all nets, then select the net name. For fill type, select solid. For remove islands, select never (not sure if this is necessary or not, but it was part of what I did that seemed to make everything work correctly). Click ok, and close the properties box.
  3. Click on the zone to select it. Right click, select zones, and then fill. If the zone does not appear to fill properly, select the zone again, right click and open the properties box, then close the properties box, and the zone will show it’s proper fill and size.
  4. For all zones and vias that this is done for, double check by selecting each in turn, and confirm that the net name, fill mode, and fill area are properly displayed at the bottom of the screen.

So now after doing the above and creating a set of gerber files, the F.Cu and B.Cu layers seem to be appearing properly in both GerbView and Gerbv. However, the vias do not appear (the copper areas show as being solid shapes), and I am assuming that this is because I did not create drill files and attempt to add them to the viewers. I was not able to check the results in the 3D viewer yet because I won’t have it downloaded until my data cap resets again in a few more weeks. Could someone please confirm that it displays properly in the 3D viewer?

The next step appears to be generating the drill files and making sure that everything properly confirms to the standards for gerber files. All copper areas have been double checked, and have .01" or .015" clearance from the board edge. What else needs to be checked, to make sure that the gerber files will be correct and nothing is “sloppy”? There appear to be multiple options for the drill files, how do I set the drill files up properly?

Latest revisions:
board 1 zones test 2.kicad_pcb (23.5 KB)

Again, many thanks to those that have been helpful!

For these initial boards, I can get away with it due to the nature of the layout and components used. For a larger and more complicated board with not much more than standard components, it would obviously make more sense to use “stock” footprints than create everything manually from scratch. But even in that scenario, situations will always arise when you want to customize something. That is why I feel it is important to understand a manual workflow as well as being able to use the standard automatic modes. I find it very odd how this seems to have been overlooked, and how otherwise apparently intelligent people are attempting to discourage this. Hopefully documenting how to implement a manual workflow here will be something that others can learn from and benefit from in the future.

I’m sorry GoldenAge, but I think you are missing the whole point of Kicad.
It exists to help people design functioning PC boards to their specifications, hopefully, without too many unnecessary traumas, dramas and heartaches.

It is a manual method with a manual workflow. About the only thing “automatic” is the generation of manufacturing files after the board is completed.

Using the Kicad suggested workflow minimises unnecessary traumas, dramas and heartaches. eg. spending countless hours trying to convert files.

Sometimes “stock” footprints will work and maybe save a little time and effort, otherwise, “manually from scratch” or “manually modify stock footprint to suit” will be needed.

Kicad has a whole programme dedicated to manually making or customising footprints to suit ones needs.
Kicad also allows just about anything else you wish to stick on a board to be customised or modified.

It hasn’t been overlooked. This is what the programme is all about!
Understanding a manual workflow has not been overlooked. This is what the programme is all about!

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