Realistic color mode


has KiCad the possibility to show the layout in realistic colors? Very often I just use the 3D viewer for that purpose, but most of the time, I don’t need the 3D view, 2D would be perfectly fine (and much faster).

Greets, Karl

You can’t really do this directly in pcbnew; for a start the mask layer is a negative so will not show you in a what the solder mask will look on the finished board. You say that 2d would be much faster - the 3d render is very quick on my pretty low-spec machine. If you are finding it slow, just check what render settings you have chosen. OpenGL is very quick (2 - 3seconds for a half eurocard size board) but the raytracing option is a lot slower.

There is also this project which maybe more what you are after but this is an external python script so isn’t quite as quick & dirty as a 3d preview.

Whilst a 2d/3d view is helpful in planning and identifying potential options/problems I wouldn’t rely too much on any render for final board checking though. You really need to inspect the Gerbers to ensure there isn’t a nasty surprise lurking… (DAMHIK)


Thank you very much for your comprehensive answer. I like this pcb-draw tool, but it is not a solution to my “problem”.

With slow I meant 3 things:

  1. switching into another window, with a different field of view --> zoom and pan is necessarey
  2. loading time (2-3 seconds feels very long, if you just want to see a small detail, which has been updated). The other is the framerate.
  3. In 2D I think I have something about 25fps and in 3D about 3-5fps (no measured values). And that’s also a big difference.

I thought the realistic 2D rendering could be done just with a proper colour setup. The solder mask would be a bit tricky, but a gerber viewer (gerbv) can do it easily:

My gut feeling is, that you approach some kind of workflow different to what everybody else is doing.

I never had the desire to look at a realistic pcb in 2D to be honest.
What would the use be?

I switch layers on/off and would be confused if front/back would have the same colors for the same elements.
To me it just doesn’t make sense.
You’d loose the ability to ‘see’ 3D in the 2D plane…
What do you gain?

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I don’t think, I have a very different approach, than other users. At least Dave Jones uses the same approach (

In a realistic view, of course, you don’t want to see the bottom and top side at the same time. You either render the top side, or the bottom side (KiCad 5 can flip the view in 2D - that’s is very handy of course for my aims).

But what you can see there, is the exact design with solder mask, clearance, solder paste and silk screen. That’s something which is difficult to see in the default colours in PCBnew.

I have to admit, that I was wrong. An ordinary Gerber viewer cannot render it correctly, due to the inverted logic for the solder mask - as you said. In my 2D render above, the golden pad are too large (size of solder mask).

In comparison to the render from the 3D viewer:

But I think it would be doable easily within PCBnew.

And here, how it looks in KiCad’s PCBnew:

I think you can see clearly the huge difference. The solder paste isn’t visible at all - but this is critical for a proper production! Some details are visible, which are great for routing, but not for final checking of the layout: pad number, signal names, virtual edges of copper zones, …

I do the final check in a gerber viewer?!

Me too, but that is a very final step and cumbersome.

I would just love to have this “what you see is what you get” integrated into PCBnew.

I still don’t see the point in checking this in a WYSIWYG fashion really.
But if the out-of-the-box-colors are too hard to distinguish - no one is stopping you from changing them :wink:

Anyhow… in the past there was ‘talk’ about having the ability to create layer-state-sets, so one could have single options to have the layers set for certain tasks, which demand different layers visible and colored.
This might be down your alley.
I think I even saw some mockup or similar for it… but it’s been a while.
So far it didn’t turn up in the nightlies.

At the moment (nightlies) it’s possible to change the color or the layers for the whole RGB space, not just a handful of presets.

PS: I had a somewhat related problem and worked around this, by creating a different PCBnew settings file for the layer-color-set I wanted. But I only needed this for printing on a B&W laser, so this was done after the gerbers had been done.
Don’t think you want to do this just for seeing the pcb in realistic colors in pcbnew and then restarting it again with the other settings…

PPS: solderpaste is checked at gerbers, no one cares beforehand, unless you got a new footprint, but then you check that in the footprint editor.

There is a python plugin developed by @HiGreg that provides this functionality.


Ha, completely forgot about this being a plugin by @HiGreg … shame on me.
Thanks for digging it up again @Rene_Poschl.

Just tried it, but it failed on starting:

That’s my best attempt, for visualizing paste and clearance (paste selected).

For inspecting silkscreen you have to select that layer.

The images are from a work in progress :slight_smile:

EDIT: please note, that there are errors in the details. E.g. a pad in a filled area would be golden in the size of the solder mask. Also attached traces would be affected similarly.

Here are the details from KiCad 5’s 3D viewer:

I uploaded a new version to fix a problem with the nightly, but it doesn’t seem related to the error you reported. I put more information in the comment to your issue on github. Let me know if you make any progress with the new

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Just tested in the latest nightly (windows) and this seems to work again (had same error as Karl).

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I was playing around with LayerViewSet and reproduced the error when initiating from the External Tools menu. I fixed the error in the latest update.


Remember that during export you can manipulate some design features like pads on silkscreen and via tenting. So I would do my last checks in a gerber viewer. I also like to set up the color view in “realistic mode”.

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