Onshape PCB Studios, available to Enterprise and Professional plan subscribers, allows you to create models using ECAD files for reference. PCB Studios helps you create shapes for printed circuit boards using Onshape, export those models created in Onshape in an IDF format and send them to an electrical engineer to use to create PCB designs in an ECAD system.

You can also import ECAD files in IDF, IDX and Eagle formats and use them to create Onshape Part Studios and Assemblies for use as reference when creating enclosures for the circuit boards.

Creating a PCB Studio in OnshapeCopy link

To add a PCB Studio to your Onshape document:

  1. Click the Plus sign icon icon in the bottom left of your Onshape window.

  2. Select Create PCB Studio.

User interfaceCopy link

Once you have a PCB Studio in your document, you see a tab like this:

Initial tab when opening the PCB Studio in your document

Icons and actions

import files icon Import ECAD files into the PCB Studio tab of your Onshape document.
export files icon Export out of PCB Studio in IDF format and download the files locally.
Import a board icon Import a board from an Onshape Part Studio into PCB Studio.
Export current board icon Export the current board in the PCB Studio tab into an Onshape Part Studio.
Search component or board icon Search for a specific component or board.
Clear search icon Clear search.
Display all boards icon Display all boards in the current PCB Studio tab.
Display components stored in PCB Studio icon Display all components stored in PCB Studio.
Settings icon Set user preferences including where to store component information by default and a default folder for newly created Onshape documents.
Opens the PCB Studio help topic in another window

On the left of the interface, you can view:

  • Boards - A list of all the boards that have been imported into the PCB Studio in this Onshape document specifically. Boards can be generated from imported ECAD files or generated from imported Onshape Part Studios or Assemblies that contain a board.

    When importing from Onshape Part Studios or Assemblies, the model must be parallel to one of the three default planes, and the part name should also include the keyword “Board” or "PCB" to ensure proper translation. See Naming parts, below.

  • Components - A list of all components from all ECAD data that has been imported into PCB Studio, together with their shapes and a link to their associated Onshape model, when such model exists. Onshape PCB Studio creates an Onshape Part Studio in a new document automatically for each ECAD component using the simple shape defined in the ECAD data. However, you can also select a Custom part to use to represent a component instead.

    By default, all component information is stored in another Onshape document which acts as a central library. This ensures that component shapes and associated Onshape models can be reused by multiple documents and multiple users. The location of this document is defined in the PCB Studio Settings.

    When one or more boards are shown in PCB Studio, the components referenced by those boards are shown under the main Components node.

Settings

Use component information settings to set a default document in which to store all ECAD component mappings so the component mappings are available in PCB Studio regardless of which Onshape document you work in. Also use these settings to specify a folder in which to create new model documents (documents created upon the export of an ECAD model from the app to Onshape).

Click Settings iconto access Settings:

PCB Studio Settings dialog

The component information setting allows you to collect all the ECAD component mappings to a single document so you can use PCB Studio in any document while connecting to a single document for sourcing component mappings. Select the URL for the document in this field. (You can click the box-arrow to open that document in a new browser tab for your convenience.)

When specifying a folder in which to store model documents (documents created upon the export of an ECAD model from the app to Onshape), make sure the folder exists and that you have access to it in Onshape.

Moving ECAD data into and out of OnshapeCopy link

You import your ECAD files into PCB Studio , where it exists as electrical data. The next step is to translate that data from PCB Studio into Onshape where it is converted to an Onshape Assembly. Once you have made any required modifications to the design, return to the PCB Studio tab and move the Onshape data back into the PCB Studio, translating it back to electrical data.

There are four major steps to bringing electrical CAD data into PCB Studio, using it in Onshape and exporting it back out:

  1. Import an ECAD file into the PCB Studio (in a tab in Onshape).

  2. Translate the ECAD data into 3D CAD data in an Onshape Part Studio and Assembly and make any necessary changes.

  3. Translate the new data created in Onshape, back into the PCB Studio.

  4. Export the ECAD data out of PCB Studio for delivery to an electrical engineer or vendor.

Each of these steps is explained in more detail below.

Import the ECAD file

After you have a PCB Studio in your Onshape document, you import the ECAD file:

  1. Activate the PCB Studio tab in your Onshape document.

  2. Click Import ECAD file icon to import an ECAD file containing a partially or fully-defined circuit board into the PCB Studio.

    Supported file types include:

    • IDF 2.0 and 3.0 (.emn / .emp, .bdf / .idf, .brd / .pro, .brd / .lib)

    • IDF 3.0, 3.5 and 4.0 (.idx)

    • Autodesk Eagle v6 and up (.brd)

      Example of an imported ECAD file containing a circuit board

At this point, the data is loaded into the app and you can elect to map the footprint of each ECAD component to:

  • No model

  • The original ECAD footprint from the uploaded file

  • Custom part from an Onshape document

For more information on creating mappings, see Copy link later in this topic.

Translate the ECAD data

After loading the ECAD file into the PCB Studio, you need to translate that data to 3D CAD data for use in an Onshape Part Studio and Assembly:

  1. With the PCB Studio tab active, clickExport current board icon to translate the ECAD data from the PCB Studio tab into Onshape. The data is represented in the Onshape document as a Part Studio representing the board and any keep-out and keep-in areas, and an Assembly containing the board Part Studio and all components on the board.

    A new Onshape document is created for each ECAD component and saved in a folder specified by the default specified in User settings. All generated parts will appear in a specific folder containing a separate document for each linked and versioned part. For example, the folder on the Documents page, shown below:

    Example showing a new board and components in an Onshape document

    The name of your folder may differ from the one shown above.

    You are free to restructure the contents within the folder, or move contents out of the folder, if desired.

  2. Select the features you wish to include in the Onshape model:

    • Board - Include the board in the Onshape Assembly

    • Components - Include all components found in the file in the Onshape Assembly

    • Keep-in and Keep-out areas - Include all keep-in and keep-out areas in the Onshape Assembly.

  3. Click the Export button.

    Two new tabs are created, a Part Studio and an Assembly, and both are named using the Board or PCB name as defined in the ECAD file, if available.

At this point, you can activate the Part Studio or Assembly tab named for the board you just translated, and do any modeling necessary. You can use the translated data as reference for your modeling and even use Onshape tools to edit the data, if necessary. For example:

  1. Activate the newly created Part Studio tab.

  2. Using Onshape modeling tools, design the board enclosure or edit the board itself (as shown in this example), as necessary, using the ECAD data as reference within the Part Studio. (You can use the ECAD data not only as reference points for your model, but you can also edit the ECAD data itself if necessary.)

    Example of the newly created Part Studio and assembly

    Notice the newly created Part Studio (Adafruit Feather.) and Assembly (Adafruit Feather), above

    Example of edited area of the board with additional holes modeled in Onshape (outlined in red)

    An example of an edited area of the board, with additional holes modeled in Onshape, above.

Keep in mind that should you model any additional components for the board, each single component must be in its own Part Studio.

When modeling is completed in the Part Studio, you can update the Assembly to reflect the changes made in the Part Studio.

Translate the CAD data to ECAD

When all modeling has been completed in Onshape, and the Assembly has been updated with the new information, you need to translate the CAD data that exists in Onshape back into the PCB Studio before you can export that information back out of the app as an IDF file.

Before you reference the Onshape data from the PCB Studio, it’s important to understand what’s happening and what to expect.

This action (translating the data from Onshape to PCB Studio) analyzes the shapes and positions of the parts in the Assembly, then converts that information into ECAD data. To this end, it’s important that the parts are named correctly, they each reside in their own Part Studio, and that the Assembly is assembled so that PCB Studio can properly determine what each part represents.

A single Part Studio representing the board or PCB should contain a Part named Board or PCB, and optionally parts representing keep-out or keep-in areas named using the convention below. Any Part Studio containing a Part with a name different from Board or PCB is assumed to represent a component.

  1. Click Import a board icon to translate the data from the Onshape Part Studio or Assembly back into the PCB Studio tab. When this action is successful, a board is created in the list of boards, as seen below in the list on the left, under Boards:

    Example of the imported board

  2. Select the appropriate Onshape tab (Part Studio or Assembly), the plane that the top face of the board is parallel to.

  3. Click the Import button.

What is happening is:

For each part in the Assembly, PCB Studio checks to see if there is already an existing component mapping to that part. If the mappings exists, the translation process assumes the part represents a pre-existing ECAD component. If the component is pre-existing, then only the component's position is translated, as its shape is already known.

If no mapping exists, the process assumes the part represents a board, a keep-out or keep-in area, or a component without a mapping.

Naming parts

The names of each part within a Part Studio are used to determine which ECAD feature types, or types, the Part Studio contains. ECAD assumes the following part name>ECAD item type pairing (note that names are not case-sensitive):

Part's name contains ECAD item type assumed
Board Board outline
PCB Board outline
Zone Rigid board zone or area (IDX file type only)
Rigid Rigid board zone or area (IDX file type only)
Flex Flexible board zone or area (IDX file type only)
Keep-in/Keepin A keep-in area (an area where items should be placed)
Keep-out/Keepout A keep-out area (an area where items should not be placed)
Outline A generic area for any other use

Combining the following text with a keep-in, keep-out, or outline name specifies its intention to ECAD. For example, a feature named Place keepout is interpreted as a Component Keep-out area, an area where ECAD should not place components:

  • Components or Place - A component keep-in, keep-out, or outline

  • Via - A via keep-in, keep-out, or outline

  • Route / Routing / Copper/ Trace - A routing keep-in, keep-out, or outline

Use of Routing, Route, Copper, or Trace name without any additional text to specify if the feature is a keep-in, keep-out, or outline is interpreted as an area of copper traces or routing. Export of these feature types is not yet supported, so these names are currently reserved for future use.

Parts with any other name (for example 0402C) are interpreted as components. If the component is not already referenced by a mapping, then the part name is used as both the ECAD part name and part number. It is recommended that adding new ECAD components directly from an Onshape Assembly be avoided.

Export the data and download the file

Now, if desired, you can export the data from the PCB Studio tab and out of Onshape to an IDF file to return to the electrical engineer, if necessary.

Click Export icon:

Export ECAD files dialog

Select the desired IDF version and click Export. The file is downloaded locally.

Component propertiesCopy link

In the Component properties tab on the right side of the window, you can view the properties of a board or component that is selected in the graphics area:

Example of the component properties tab to view the properties of the selected board or component in the graphics area

The selected component, above, in gold highlight, and the Component properties pane

From this point, you can elect to add or change the model with which the component is associated:

  1. Select the type of model you wish to map to:

    1. None (nothing will be added to Onshape for this ECAD part)

    2. From ECAD data (keep it as the shape supplied from the ECAD system)

    3. Custom part (a part from an Onshape Part Studio)

  1. If you select Custom part, more fields appear:

    Selecting Alternative model

  2. If an existing Onshape model is already being used to represent the component, then a thumbnail image and the name of the component are displayed. Click the thumbnail image to browse to another Onshape part, if desired.

  3. Where there is no existing Onshape part, click Select custom part.

  4. A dialog opens where you can select an Onshape document containing a part that you wish to substitute for the selected part on the board.

  5. Select the part from the list.

The new part replaces the selected part.

Click Alternative model icon to open the Part Studio containing that part in a separate tab in Onshape.

Components view Copy link

The Components view lists every ECAD part name and part number (or component footprint) from every ECAD file that has been imported into PCB Studio to date.

The left-hand two columns show each ECAD component footprint's part name and number. The right-hand column shows how PCB Studio represents that ECAD component in Onshape. This relationship is called a 'component mapping.'

By default, PCB Studio uses the simple shape defined in the ECAD data to automatically create a simple Onshape model for each ECAD footprint. However, you can also optionally use a Custom part for a more detailed Onshape representation of the component or opt not to show a component at all in Onshape.

The icons shown next to each component indicate how that component will be represented in Onshape:

Component not represented by an Onshape model icon- The component is not represented by an Onshape model either because there was no shape data defined in the ECAD file, or because a user has chosen not to include this component in Onshape.

Component represented by an Onshape model icon- The component is represented in Onshape by a model automatically created from the simple shape data in the ECAD file. However, the Onshape model hasn't been created yet.

Component represented by an Onshape model created from simple shape data in the ECAD file icon- The component is represented in Onshape by a model that was automatically created from the simple shape data in the ECAD file.

Component represented by an alternative Onshape model selected by a user icon- The component is represented in Onshape by a custom Onshape part selected by a user. However, the graphical data hasn't been created for this component yet, so it isn't currently shown in the PCB Studio preview image.

Component represented by an alternate Onshape model, without graphical data created yet icon- The component is represented in Onshape by a custom Onshape part chosen by a user. However, graphical data hasn't been created for this component yet, so it won't currently be shown in the PCB Studio preview image.

To view (and edit) component mappings:

  1. Select Components Components icon on the left to show a list o all ECAD footprints and associated Onshape models in the right pane (also called Components). When a board is open in PCB Studio, selecting a child Components node for that board shows only the component mappings relating to that board.

    A list of ECAD footprints and Onshape models appears in the right pane.

    Example showing ECAD footprints and Onshape models

  2. You can locate the part you are looking for in the list manually, or you can search for it:

    1. Using the search bar:

      Search bar

    2. Press Enter or click the Search button to view the results. The search bar indicates how many instances were found, with the first one highlighted. Click the down or up arrow to cycle through the appropriate results. Note that the list of mappings doesn't change, you cycle through the results using the arrows:

      Example of navigating through the search results

  3. When you have located the part you need, click it to open the ECAD footprint pane.

    You can change the representation of the component to a custom Onshape part if required as detailed in Copy link

Bill of MaterialsCopy link

PCB Studio supplies an automatic bill of materials for the board and any components in the PCB Studio.

To view the BOM:

  1. Click BOM table icon to open the Bill of Materials panel:

    Example of the BOM panel

  2. To understand which component in the graphics area is represented by a row in the BOM table, either select a row, or select a component - notice the cross-highlighting that appears:

    Selecting a component in the graphics area to highlight it in the BOM panel

To select, click on the item in the graphics area or click on a row in the table. To deselect, click the item again (in the graphics area), click in empty space, or click another item.

If specified, update the reference designator for a component. In the BOM table, double-click the component's Reference designator (Ref. des.) cell, and edit its value (shown in the image below).

Editing the Reference designator field in the BOM

Use caution when editing reference designator values, as there is nothing to prevent you from duplicating the value of another component or updating to a non-compliant value. This can lead to ECAD system issues.

TipsCopy link

After editing a board in a Part Studio, you can replace that board in the Assembly by opening the Assembly tab, right-click on the board and select Replace instance. Select the part with which to replace the instance in the assembly, and the assembly is updated with the new instance of the board.

For an additional Learning center resource, follow the self-paced course here: PCB Studio Fundamentals (Onshape account required).