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Old 10-02-2014, 07:48 AM #1
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Default How do you get into designing circuits?

I've heard of Eagle and similar programs that are used to design PCB layouts; I've heard of companies like OSH Park that can fabricate/supply the boards; and I've heard of parts suppliers such as Digi-Key and Mouser. And of course there are lots of resources online about the physical principles that make the circuits work. I'm sort-of looking into this subject because it would be cool to be able to build some simpler laser-related circuits myself. There's a lot to take in though, and I'm not sure of the best place to start.

Clearly we have some knowledgeable people here, and I'd be interested in their advice on the matter. I'm posting it as a thread in the hopes that any suggestions will be useful to other and/or future members besides myself.

I'm not looking for a "how-to" guide on how to build this or that — what I'm saying is, if you're into designing drivers and whatnot, how did you get started? How did you 'graduate' from simpler things like a 555 light blinker to, say, the CC-boost? Are there any books or online resources that you have found to be particularly useful? There are lots of them out there but being inexperienced, I have no basis to tell if they're good or bad. What are some newbie mistakes or pitfalls that one ought to avoid? That's the sort of advice I'm looking for, and which would be useful to anyone interested in this sort of thing.

I have a lot of science background (chemistry and physics) so am not averse to resources that are more technical in nature. I've also built some circuits on the breadboard such as alternating light blinkers based on the 555, as well as my own (probably unsafe) DC power supplies, so I have that much experience. No experience with SMD though, everything was through-hole, last time I worked on this stuff.

Would be interested in your advice/suggestions, and in the meantime I'll keep reading. Thanks for your time.


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Old 10-02-2014, 08:19 AM #2
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Default Re: How do you get into designing circuits?

Tons of books on electronics, reading electronics forums, experimenting with real parts, free and ARRL amateur radio self learning courses, reverse engineering various items and online schematics, YouTube vids from places like EEVBlog or MikesElectricStuff, free NEETS courses, etc!

Mostly it's just a dedication to finding and absorbing material available, with the courage to try things on real components (not sims) and learn from failure.
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Old 10-02-2014, 09:46 AM #3
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Default Re: How do you get into designing circuits?

All my electronics "experience" comes from just experimenting for years and years. Read the occasional book, read lots of forums etc.

One thing Sig didn't mention was datasheets - every component has one, and most IC's will also have a few example circuits in them, how to calculate components to do what you want. It's literally just a case of reading the datasheet for your IC, choosing your components, then connecting them all together.

They can also contain a lot of irrelevant data - but you eventually learn how to sift through and find what you need.

The main thing is ask LOTS of questions. Provided you have at least tried researching your question, people are generally happy to help out. You may find an explanation of something online that just doesn't click in your head, then you could ask someone else and it'd be blindingly obvious.
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Old 10-02-2014, 05:58 PM #4
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Default Re: How do you get into designing circuits?

Yep, I left out datasheets, which truly are a major component (pun intended) to this. The reason being that effectively reading datasheets tends to be an acquired skill for people, and you need to grasp the basics before you can decipher them.
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Old 10-02-2014, 10:28 PM #5
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Default Re: How do you get into designing circuits?

It is a bit of a jump right in approach, but I myself tend to learn a lot better by just doing things instead of reading about doing things. If you can follow a datasheet enough to calculate component values and build one of the example schematics they give, it'll give you a good idea of what part each component plays in the circuit, vs just reading about each individual component.

I could tell you a capacitor acts as basically a small, very quick battery .. which is useful to know, but more useful would be to know that they are mega handy for smoothing out ripple, and that electrolytics are better for lower frequency ripple, while ceramic is better for high frequency etc. Once you build a few circuits you'll notice this trend and it'll kinda stick - for example you won't find electrolytic capacitors used as decoupling caps on a resonator crystal. I could say a resistor resists the flow of electrons by a certain amount .. but it's probably more useful to know that you can use them in a voltage divider configuration to give a constant voltage too instead of just limiting current etc

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Old 10-02-2014, 10:36 PM #6
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Default Re: How do you get into designing circuits?

Pick a simple project. Do that project. Pick a more advanced project. Do that project. That's how it started for me.

Also, watch lots of EEVblog. The videos are long, but teach lots.
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Old 10-03-2014, 12:49 AM #7
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Default Re: How do you get into designing circuits?

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Pick a simple project. Do that project. Pick a more advanced project. Do that project. That's how it started for me.

Also, watch lots of EEVblog. The videos are long, but teach lots.
So so long....

Just pick something you understand, like a 555 circuit, and download the free version of eagle to try and make it.

Once you've got a couple eagle circuits under your belt, it's worth learning how to make a custom part as early as possible, because a lot of cool parts aren't in the eagle libraries. I generally find myself using custom parts for 9 out of 10 components on any given design.
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Old 10-03-2014, 01:19 AM #8
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Default Re: How do you get into designing circuits?

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So so long....

Just pick something you understand, like a 555 circuit, and download the free version of eagle to try and make it.

Once you've got a couple eagle circuits under your belt, it's worth learning how to make a custom part as early as possible, because a lot of cool parts aren't in the eagle libraries. I generally find myself using custom parts for 9 out of 10 components on any given design.
I'm still old fashioned, caught in the analog days. I still use a 5mm^2/cell Engineering Pad and draw up all my circuits by hand. It's only when I need to digitize (for sharing) that I bring out the PC and and use ExpressPCB to draw up schematics. One of these days I need to learn Eagle. Btw, Digikey just released a new schematic program online, saw the newsletter. Haven't tried it yet.
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Old 10-03-2014, 05:02 AM #9
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Default Re: How do you get into designing circuits?

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I'm still old fashioned, caught in the analog days. I still use a 5mm^2/cell Engineering Pad and draw up all my circuits by hand. It's only when I need to digitize (for sharing) that I bring out the PC and and use ExpressPCB to draw up schematics. One of these days I need to learn Eagle. Btw, Digikey just released a new schematic program online, saw the newsletter. Haven't tried it yet.
Random question. Is there any way to make eagle add the those dots to wires automatically without have to switch from the wire tool to the dot tool manually?
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Old 10-03-2014, 05:09 AM #10
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Default Re: How do you get into designing circuits?

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Random question. Is there any way to make eagle add the those dots to wires automatically without have to switch from the wire tool to the dot tool manually?
You mean eagle doesn't do that for you? It does it automatically for me. What version of eagle are you on?
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Old 10-03-2014, 05:11 AM #11
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Default Re: How do you get into designing circuits?

I assume you meant ExpressSCH? No, unfortunately. Gotta add 'em manually. It's a bit annoying, but it is like that because of the linkage between SCH and PCB programs for their shitty layout checker.

If the Digikey program (it's free) is good enough I may abandon ExpressPCB entirely. Though, ideally, the goal is to learn Eagle. I tried once a year or two ago but my gosh that interface is horrid. Couldn't make heads or tails of it That says something when you consider that I've been using PCs since MSDOS and I've been reading schematics for 20 years!
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Old 10-03-2014, 05:18 AM #12
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Default Re: How do you get into designing circuits?

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You mean eagle doesn't do that for you? It does it automatically for me. What version of eagle are you on?
Pretty much the latest I think, save for any updates in the last few months.

It does add dots in some situations, but not at the junction of three wires, which is where they come up most.
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Old 10-03-2014, 05:27 AM #13
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Default Re: How do you get into designing circuits?

That's odd. Mine does it for junctions of three and four wires, and I don't think I changed any settings since install.

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Though, ideally, the goal is to learn Eagle. I tried once a year or two ago but my gosh that interface is horrid. Couldn't make heads or tails of it That says something when you consider that I've been using PCs since MSDOS and I've been reading schematics for 20 years!
Yeah, it's a pretty bad UI, but the licensing is cheap and a LOT of people use it, so there's plenty of community software support. The only thing that keeps me using it is that $9k price tag on Altium scaring me away.
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Old 10-03-2014, 09:30 AM #14
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Default Re: How do you get into designing circuits?

Thought you'd finally gone to Altium ARG
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Old 10-03-2014, 05:58 PM #15
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Default Re: How do you get into designing circuits?

I just learnt from a lot of reading and doing ,

Most of the things I make are always on copper strip board with the holes in or point to point in valve amps , not to keen on making PCBs : P .
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Old 10-04-2014, 01:39 AM #16
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Default Re: How do you get into designing circuits?

I took classes in college first when I was 18 and again several years later but I was already self taught to a large extent because I started doing some simple projects when I was about 10 years old. ARG and Things are right, just start by doing and learn as you go, you will still have to do plenty of reading and I too recommend watching videos. There are plenty of short videos on YouTube that will help you but a few are no good but most are good.

The main purpose of a capacitor is to delay or oppose changes in voltage, that's why they are used in filter circuits to get rid of that ripple.

Alan
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