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How to install KiCad and freeCAD, import symbols, import footprints, import 3D models in KiCad

We will learn how to install kiCAD in this DIY project.

Tag: Project 135 How to install KiCad and freeCAD, import symbols, import footprints, import 3D models in KiCad

Project resources

  • Sketch: None;
  • Libraries: None;
  • Other attachments: None.

Understanding the kiCAD

Instead of creating a new object (library, symbol, or footprint) from scratch it is sometimes easier to start from one already made and modify. And after finishing create the project you can export it as many extensions. All of that KiCad can do easily.

KiCad is an open source software suite for Electronic Design Automation (EDA). The programs handle Schematic Capture, and PCB Layout with Gerber output. The suite runs on Windows, Linux and macOS and is licensed under GNU GPL v3.

The first release date was in 1992 by its original author, Jean-Pierre Charras, but is now currently under development by the KiCad Developers Team. The name of KiCad comes from the first letters of a company of Jean-Pierre Charras’ friend “Ki” being combined with “Cad”. But it now has no meaning other than being the name of the software suite.

KiCad is a free, easy to download software that is used for electronic design automation (EDA) and computer-aided design (CAD). While using this program, PCB design schematics can be realized from their electrical circuits. Within, there are tools that allow the creation of a bill of materials (BOM), artwork, 3D view of the PCB + components and Gerber files. From the workflow of KiCad working process, kiCad offers using of import or export methods to make the process of doing the project easier by adding done and completed projects or components and just modifying on them then export them to the wanted file extension.

Despite its similarities with other PCB design software, KiCad is characterised by a unique workflow in which schematic
components and footprints are separate. Only after creating a schematic are footprints assigned to the components.

The KiCad workflow is comprised of two main tasks: drawing the schematic and laying out the board. Both a
schematic component library and a PCB footprint library are necessary for these two tasks. KiCad includes many
components and footprints, and also has the tools to create new ones. In the picture below, you see a flowchart representing the KiCad workflow. The flowchart explains which steps you need to take, and in which order. When applicable, the icon is added for convenience.

kicad workflow

Beneath its singular surface, KiCad incorporates an elegant ensemble of the following software tools:

kicad
  • KiCad: Project manager
  • Eeschema (Schematic layout editor): Schematic editor and component editor
  • Pcbnew (PCB layout editor): Circuit board layout editor and footprint editor
  • GerbView (Gerber Viewer): Gerber viewer

3 utility tools are also included:

  • Bitmap2Component: Component maker for logos. It creates a schematic component or a footprint from a bitmap picture.
  • PcbCalculator: A calculator that is helpful to calculate components for regulators, track width versus current, transmission lines, etc.
  • Pagelayout Editor: Page layout editor.

These tools can be run as stand-alone tools or run from the project manager when you start kiCad. The launch pane is made of the 8 buttons below that correspond to the following commands (1 to 8, from left to right):

kicad launch pane
1EeschemaSchematic Layout editor.
2Symbol EditorComponent editor and component library manager.
3PcbnewPCB layout editor.
4Footprint EditorFootprint editor and footprint library manager.
5GerbviewGerber viewer. It can view Gerber files and display Drill files.
6Bitmap2componentBitmap to component converter. Tool to build a footprint or a component from a B&W bitmap image to create logos.
7Pcb CalculatorTool to calculate track widths, and many other things.
8Pagelayout EditorPage layout editor, to create/customize frame references.

KiCad does not present any board-size limitation and it can handle up to 32 copper layers, 14 technical layers and 4 auxiliary layers.

KiCad can create all the files necessary for building printed circuit boards, including:

  • Gerber files for photo-plotters
  • drilling files
  • component location files

Being open source (GPL licensed), KiCad represents the ideal tool for projects oriented towards the creation of electronic hardware with an open-source flavour.

KiCad is available for Linux, Windows and Apple macOS. System Requirements (hardware, software and specific) are well described here.

KiCad files and folders

KiCad creates and uses files with the following specific file extensions (and folders) for schematic and board editing.

Project manager file:

*.proSmall file containing a few parameters for the current project, including the component library list.

Schematic editor files:

*.schSchematic files, which do not contain the components themselves.
*.libSchematic component library files, containing the component descriptions: graphic shape, pins, fields.
*.dcmSchematic component library documentation, containing some component descriptions: comments, keywords, reference to data sheets.
*_cache.libSchematic component library cache file, containing a copy of the components used in the schematic project.
sym-lib-tableSymbol library list (symbol library table): list of symbol libraries available in the schematic editor.

Board editor files and folders:

*.kicad_pcbBoard file containing all info but the page layout.
*.prettyFootprint library folders. The folder itself is the library.
*.kicad_modFootprint files, containing one footprint description each.
*.brdBoard file in the legacy format. Can be read, but not written, by the current board editor.
*.modFootprint library in the legacy format. Can be read by the footprint or the board editor, but not written.
fp-lib-tableFootprint library list (footprint library table): list of footprint libraries (various formats) which are loaded by the board or the footprint editor or CvPcb.

Common files:

*.kicad_wksPage layout description files, for people who want a worksheet with a custom look.
*.netNetlist file created by the schematic, and read by the board editor. This file is associated to the .cmp file, for users who prefer a separate file for the component/footprint association.

Special file:

*.cmpAssociation between components used in the schematic and their footprints. It can be created by Pcbnew and imported by Eeschema. Its purpose is to import changes from Pcbnew to Eeschema, for users who change footprints inside Pcbnew (for instance using Exchange Footprints command) and want to import these changes in schematic.

Other files:

They are generated by KiCad for fabrication or documentation.

*.gbrGerber files, for fabrication.
*.drlDrill files (Excellon format), for fabrication.
*.posPosition files (ASCII format), for automatic insertion machines.
*.rptReport files (ASCII format), for documentation.
*.psPlot files (Postscript), for documentation.
*.pdfPlot files (PDF format), for documentation.
*.svgPlot files (SVG format), for documentation.
*.dxfPlot files (DXF format), for documentation.
*.pltPlot files (HPGL format), for documentation.

KiCAD Libraries

The following library files are available:

KiCAD Paths

KiCAD Paths

Step by Step instruction

1. Downloading and installing the KiCad and FreeCad

  1. Go to kicad.org website and click on Download. We will download and use KiCad version 5.1.9 which was released in December 2020. Size is around 1.2 GB.
kicad installation

2. Select your operating system or distribution. We are using Windows 7 Professionals 64bit OS so we choose Windows to download the software version for Windows OS.

kicad installation

3. Choose the 64-bit or 32-bit, depending on your Windows OS and server from where you are going to download the software. We selected 64bit as we are using Windows 7 Professionals 64bit OS.

kicad installation

4. Wait until your download is finished. (It might take a while). When download process completed go to Downloads and look for kicad-5.1.9_1-x86_64.exe file.

5. Double-click on kicad-5.1.9_1-x86_64.exe file. A Window will pop-up asking if you want to allow the program to make changes to your computer. Click on Yes button then wait a moment.

kicad installation

6. Click on Next button.

8. In Choose components popup window tick on the Environment variables checkbox. This is useful when absolute paths are not known or are subject to change (e.g. when you transfer a project to a different computer), and also when one base path is shared by many similar items. Click on Next button.

kicad installation

9. In Choose install location pop-up window choose your destination folder and make sure you have the required space available. Click on Install button.

kicad installation

10. The installation process will take some time, just wait till it’s done.

kicad installation

11. Click on Finish button. Congratulations! Your installation is done.

kicad installation

12. Tick the box to install the FreeCAD which is necessary to edit or create 3D object models. Click on Finish button.

13. The freecadweb.org website will open. Click on Downloads or Download now button.

freecad installation

14. Select your operating system. We are using Windows 7 Professionals 64bit OS so we click on 64-bit installer button. We are going to download and install the 0.19.1 version of FreeCAD. Please note that Windows 7 is the minimum supported version. Size is around 0.5 GB.

freecad installation

15. After download process completed go to Downloads folder and look for FreeCAD-0.19.1.a88db11-WIN-x64-installer-1.exe file.

16. Double-click on FreeCAD-0.19.1.a88db11-WIN-x64-installer-1.exe file. You will see the wizard pop-up window. Click on Next button.

freecad installation

17.Click on Next button.

freecad installation

18.Click on Next button.

freecad installation

19. Select destination folder (make sure that you have enough space) and click on Next button.

freecad installation

20.Choose components and click on Next button.

freecad installation

21.Choose start menu folder and click on Install button. The installation will start.

freecad installation
freecad installation

22. Click on Finish button when installation completed.

freecad installation

2.Importing into the KiCad

From the picture with the kicad workflow, it’s obvious the import method reflects in the condition of adding:

  1. Foreign project
  2. Symbol or component
  3. Footprint

2.1 Importing a foreign project

KiCad is able to import files created using other software packages. Currently only Eagle 6.x or newer (XML format) is supported. To import a foreign project, you need to select either a schematic or a board file in the import file browser dialog. Imported schematic and board files should have the same base file name (e.g. project.sch and project.brd). Once the requested files are selected, you will be asked to select a directory to store the imported files, which are going to be saved as a KiCad project.

Importing a foreign project kiCAD

2.2.Importing footprints

The KiCad footprint libraries are the individual .pretty directories. Each .pretty directory contains multiple .kicad_mod footprint files. The files packaged here are intended for KiCad version 5 or nightly builds that support rounded rectangle and polygon pads. The latest complete set of KiCad footprint libraries can be downloaded from the following link: https://github.com/KiCad/kicad-footprints/archive/master.zip

First you need to download the latest complete set of KiCad footprint libraries here and extract symbol files from the kicad-footprints-master.zip with 7zip program.

Using the *.kicad_mod file:

1.Click on KiCad shortcut on your PC desktop to open the program, then go to File->New->Project…

kicad shortcut
Importing symbols and footprints into KiCad (V4 and later)

2. Give your project a name and click on Save button.

Importing symbols and footprints into KiCad (V4 and later)

3. Go to Tools -> Edit PCB Footprints.

Importing symbols and footprints into KiCad (V4 and later)

4. Make sure that Copy default footprint library table (recommended) selected and click on OK button.

Importing symbols and footprints into KiCad (V4 and later)
Importing symbols and footprints into KiCad (V4 and later)

5.Click on Preferences -> Manage Footprint Libraries.

Importing symbols and footprints into KiCad (V4 and later)

6. On the Global Libraries tab, click on Add existing library to table (the small folder icon below) and navigate to the folder of the downloaded .kicad_mod file. Make sure that KiCad (folder with.kicad_mod files) selected.

Importing symbols and footprints into KiCad (V4 and later)

7. Click on OK button, and the library will appear. If the path doesn’t have the same name. you can rename it as the part. In the table, make sure that the Plugin Type is set to KiCad. Then click on OK button again.

Importing symbols and footprints into KiCad (V4 and later)
Importing symbols and footprints into KiCad (V4 and later)

8.Toggle the search tree on, and navigate to the footprint you imported. Double-click over it to open the file.

Importing symbols and footprints into KiCad (V4 and later)
Using the *.mod file:

1.Repeat the steps 1-5 as described above in the Using the *.kicad_mod file.

2. On the Global Libraries tab, click on Add existing library to table (the small folder icon below) and navigate to the folder of the downloaded .mod file. Make sure that KiCad legacy (.mod) selected.

Importing symbols and footprints into KiCad (V4 and later)

4. In the table, make sure that the Plugin Type is set to Legacy. Then click on OK button.

Importing symbols and footprints into KiCad (V4 and later)

5.Toggle the search tree on, and navigate to the footprint you imported. Double-click over it to open the file.

Using the *.lbr file or the .fp file:

1.On the Global Libraries tab, click on Add existing library to table (the small folder icon below) and navigate to the folder of the downloaded *.lbr or .fp file. Make sure that Eagle 6.x (.lbr) or Geda (folder with .fp files) selected.

Importing symbols and footprints into KiCad (V4 and later)

2. In the table, make sure that the Plugin Type is set to Eagle orGEDA/Pcb. Then click on OK button.

Importing symbols and footprints into KiCad (V4 and later)

2.3 Importing (adding) symbols

The KiCad symbol libraries are the individual .lib files, with the corresponding .dcm files containing symbol metadata. The files packaged here are intended for KiCad version 5 or nightly builds that support the schematic library version 2.4 or newer. Users who wish to keep symbol libraries up to date can track the https://github.com/kicad/kicad-symbols GitHub repository. The latest complete set of KiCad symbol libraries can be downloaded from the following link: https://github.com/KiCad/kicad-symbols/archive/master.zip

First you need to download the latest complete set of KiCad symbol libraries here and extract symbol files from the kicad-symbols-master.zip with 7zip program.

Importing (adding) symbols

2. Open kiCAD. Click on Preferences -> Manage Symbol Libraries…. Click on OK button if you have Configure Global Symbol Library Table pop-up window.

Importing (adding) symbols
Importing (adding) symbols

3.On the Global Libraries tab, click on Add existing library to table (the small folder icon below) and select the .lib file. Then click on Open button. Please note that we are using 4xxx.lib just as an example and this library is already existing in the table.

Importing (adding) symbols

4.The library will appear in the table. Click on OK button.

Importing (adding) symbols

5.Toggle the search tree on, and navigate to the symbol you imported. Double-click over it to open the file.

Importing (adding) symbols

2.4 Importing 3D models

The KiCad 3D model libraries are the individual .3dshapes directories. Each directory directory contains multiple 3D model files, with the following supported file formats. WRL files provide support for material properties, allowing superior 3D rendering within KiCad. STEP files are required for integration with MCAD software. The latest complete set of KiCad 3D model libraries can be downloaded from the following link: https://github.com/kicad/kicad-packages3d/archive/master.zip. GrabCad

First you need to download the latest complete set of KiCad 3D model libraries here and extract symbol files from the kicad-packages3D-master.zip with 7zip program.

1.Open project in KiCad. Click on PCB Layout Editor button.

Importing 3D models

2.In the PCB Layout Editor, select the footprint you wanted to add the 3D model.

3.Right-click on the footprint and select Properties…

4.A pop-up window will show. Select the 3D Settings tab.

5.Select the folder icon shown below the image and navigate to your downloaded .stp file for the part and click on OK button. Note: For older versions, you may not see the folder icon. Simply click Add 3D Shape button.

6.Once imported, you can now adjust the orientation of the 3D model until it fits in the footprint. Then click on OK button.

7.Go to Viewer -> 3D Viewer and notice that you have successfully imported the 3D model.

Note: See the default location of 3D models below,

3D models kiCAD

Wrapping up

We have learnt how to install KiCad and FreeCAD; import symbols, import footprints, import 3D models in KiCad.

If you need more information on PCB and design, check out Printed circuit board and terms used in connection with PCB design and manufacturing

Thank you for reading and supporting us.

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