KiCad as alternative to Altium and other paid software

Having one or several licenses of different CAD packages you usually pay thousands of dollars per year. I think many of us would be interested in a more professional approach. Could there be a model where you pay a couple of hundred or maybe thousand to speed up the process.

I’ve thought about this with other open source packages. Might be something to think about. Creating a minimum ante to speed development pieces that devolopers find tedious or are less motivated to do.

I find that lots of UI falls into this category.

It is very nice the ECAD MCAD collaboration in altium (but also on most pcb brands)

A similar approach can be used with StepUp tools for a push&pull collaboration for the sketcher

and for the 3D model placements

Surely not as smooth as the commercial sw, but really usable IMO.

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It is most certainly usable, but still lacks important features like STEP file exports which include all copper layers. AFAIK, KiCad does not export copper at all and StepUp only imports the top and bottom layers. Thermal and creep distance analysis depend on the copper layers.

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An opportunity for someone to fix the track extractor or sponsor somebody to do it. As far as I can see, the exporter is third party Python

StepUp is intentionally aimed to mechanical integration…
if you need thermal analysis you need to use fcad_pcb tools, as already suggested at this post
Normally a thermal analysis would generate a huge file in terms of file size… this has to be evaluated by the user him/her self.
This path would also need a deeper insight about the way to convert tracks to mcad and which analysis is going to be done…

fcad_pcb is already integrated in StepUp, but I use this library only for mcad purposes… as I said thermal analysis is quite more complex and needs a deeper insight …
@MitjaN may give nice advises in this matter

Please consider that also StepUp has implemented .stpZ step (and .wrz) format compression

Check your settings:

In fact FreeCAD has implemented this before KiCAD followed it;
I implemented in FreeCAD the compressed extension in 2018 and following I included that in StepUp.

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As said stepup’s focus is not on FEM. Although it uses fcad_pcb, it does so only for display/eye candy purposes.

I’ve used it more extensively and I can say it works well enough and developer (realthunder) I quite responsive to issues.

You should not be afraid of copy pasting some lines into FreeCad’s python console. But if you are I admit that the GUI would be nice and is currently nonexistent.

What you can do is:

  1. Get the board copper geometry and export it foru further analysis with some other FEA tool (Ansys, …)
  2. Get the board copper geometry and run FEA within FreeCad. This is doable, but currently FreeCad FEA tools are somewhat rough. Particularly meshing.

Thank you @MitjaN and @maui for your replies. I looked into fcad_pcb and (after lots of trial and error) was able to at least import the copper layers without PCB into FreeCAD. I will have to contact the developer to get it to do exactly what we need.

However, the subject of this topic is “KiCad as alternative to Altium and other paid software” and, IMHO, the ability to export a STEP file with all copper layers brings KiCad closer to parity.

Version 5.99 can export Hyperlynx files. Some old, now almost outdated discussion: Export PCB board to OpenEMS?.

If you have any questions regarding fcad_pcb, I’d rather see if you open a topic here first. I’d like to take some load off the developer.

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that is handy as it will keep my git repository (I snapshot a step for each milestone) small, but the issue I was facing is more NX. it seems importing STEP has been slowly rotting (probably as siemens are pushing their prefered format x_t). It isn’t the general size of the file, its the parsing

@Naib have you tried to export the file as ‘.stpZ’ directly from FreeCAD? Does it give you the same loading time in NX?

yup. I prefer the export from FreeCAD because it is smaller and you can pull in the traces. I can also produce a solid union.
Its any STEP and is a known issue in NX. and their solution is a ridiculously high end GPU… which means they are just throwing MIPS and the problem not solving the problem.

As they say “equipment is not a good substitute for skill, but it is easier to buy equipment”.


Compressed STEP will reduce storage and Internet transfer times, but is likely to slow down processing as the number of elements is the same and the computer has to expand them to process. My desktop has 16 GB ram, so memory use is rarely an issue

Have you done some testing? From my tests, it seems to me that the ‘step’ parsing process is much more affecting the loading time compared to the unzipping one. Then in my tests the full loading time doesn’t get sensibility affected by the zipping process.

No testing and it doesn’t surprise me that the parsing is the bottleneck. The process does not need to be real time. Go away and make a coffee like when compiling a big C ++ program

Hi Bow,

I have been designing PCBs for 20+ years now. Started with Eagle, switched very fast to Altium and stayed with Altium till Q1 of 2019. When I discovered KiCAD, I was intrigued and wanted to learn more.
Learning curve was very flat my first verdict was that Altium, while having an impressive feature set overcomplicated too much many things.
First I tried simple designs and when I successfully completed a 10 layer board with uP & FPGA with less hassle than in Altium, I switched to KiCad. Now I teach PCB Design amongst other subjects at Moscow Technical University, and I use KiCAD. My students, if they need too when they graduate, can learn Altium, OrCAD,… by themselves very fast. KiCAD is an Offline tool , free of charge, and already has an enormous community(and still growing).
Outside of academics, I use 90% KiCad & 10% Altium (mostly when I need to simulate some things, or interact with other projects done in A.)

Of course I miss some things from Altium, but nothing really critical. Also very much looking forward to the KiCAD 6 feature set.

That’s my $0.2 take on KiCAD and Altium, for what it’s worth,

Best regards,


This week I got my 1695 Euro Altium maintenance fee due in March. To keep my footprints organized I use PCB Library Expert. An excellent tool to create and organize your footprints. A big part of the work I think is with the footprints. I see KiCad have a lot of ready made footprints. If you are a serious designer I don’t think its good practice to just use others footprints and assume they are correct. They mostly are not. For example I looked at the KiCad QFN packages and many of them looks weird in my point of view. PCB library expert is coming (or have) with KiCad support and would let me convert my library to KiCad. I am tempted to switch to KiCad and maybe I will try some smaller project. I have looked at the timeline of KiCad. Version 6 looks promising and the few things I have heard about 7 even more. At the moment I don’t think you just through you Professional CAD out of the window. But maybe next year is the time.

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Oh, I definitely have my own collection of verified / self-made footprints. I do verify every footprint from KiCAD I use if I don’t make it myself.

A small story of a PEBCAK with a QFP…: 2 Months ago, for a personal project on vintage hardware (pocket computers) I wasn’t as vigilant as usual and integrated a 82C55A Chip in my design , which was a, according to its short description (yep, I , idiotically, didn’t look into the datasheet for once ), QFP-44 10x10mm 0.8p (mm) as standard as they come.

JLCPCB PCBA didn’t have this chip in stock for the assembly, so I asked them to leave only this chip out, make the PCBs and do the assembly will all the other components. I had plenty of 82C55A at home. When I got the assembled PCBs back and I tried to solder the QFP onto the board I was confronted with a problem that the chip wouldn’t fit! Pitch was perfect , dimensions of the body , perfect too, but the pins were going further out than the footprint!

The right footprint in the KicAD standard lib was a LQFP-44 10x10mm 0.8p, but that didn’t matter. IN the Datasheet I didn’t open, was the distance from left pin to right pin (14mm something instead of 12 something) I should have checked.

Most of the times when I don’t follow my own advice — (in addition to standard verification) to print out on a sheet of paper the PCB and assemble the components to check out the footprints — a mistake will bite my rear.

This event set me back $37 and 20 days. At least I got an example to tell my students :smile:

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