Cadsoft Eagle review by a new user

in software by DP | 31 comments

Pete decided to try out Cadsoft Eagle and write about his experience. The first impression wasn’t the best.

I finally decided to download and learn to use the industry-standard PCB and schematic layout software: Eagle. I’ve tried a bunch of others, and quite frankly, got tired of always using “also ran” software. The majority of the info on the web is for Eagle. It certainly doesn’t have the best UI or the best workflow, but it has absolutely the most amount of information and the best support from PCB manufacturers. It’s the industry standard, and like most industry-leading technical software (ever use industry-leading 3d modeling software? Gak!), it has some crazy issues.

We’d suggest that Eagle is more a hobbyist and open hardware standard, with much more expensive software dominating most pro design shops. We stick with Eagle for exactly the same reasons though. Most people have it, and there’s a ton of documentation out there for it. We’d prefer an open program like KiCAD, but it’s not going to appeal to as many people.

Don’t let the file format dictate your choice though. Every PCB manufacturer worth using supports Gerbers, and every CAD program worth using should have a way to export them.

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  1. Brendan Powers says:

    I hate that button…

    • Jorge Garcia says:

      That button does not delete a library. It simply removes it from the active search list. Some users where overwhelmed by the number of libraries or they simply like to just use certain libraries.

      That’s what the drop button is for.

      You can restore everything by typing Use * followed by enter in the command line. There are GUI mechanisms to do this, but it’s easier to explain the typed method.

      Jorge Garcia
      Cadsoft Support

      • Todd Carney says:

        In English, the word “drop” would never be used in that way. “Hide” might be appropriate to the function you’ve described, but to the English-speaking user, “drop” would mean “drop the component on the schematic.” I might add that even “Hide” would not make much sense in that context since the immediate screen shows a single component rather than an entire library.

        This is only one instance of dozens where either bad translation or just plain poor word choice mars the functioning of your product. “RTFM” you say? It’s no better, and when nomenclature on the interface confuses rather than enlightens, the manual means nothing.

        CadSoft needs to stop the denial and face up to the fact it has a serious language problem. It doesn’t need useless admonitions to “read the F…… manual.” It’s no better than the interface.

      • Jorge Garcia says:

        Hi Todd,

        The RTFM comment was not mine, that was another Jorge although I understand where the confusion stems from.

        The confusion with the Drop button has been recognized before, as well as the GUI complaints. These issues are being discussed, changes will be made. Keep in mind the enormity of the task, EAGLE’s development team is small, and a GUI overhaul(should they decide to do that) takes some time.

        Thank you for your suggestions and comments.

        Best Regards,
        Jorge Garcia
        Cadsoft Support

  2. Jorge says:

    Classic RTFM candidate.


  3. Jacek says:

    Dear DP,

    I don’t agree with you on sticking to Eagle. It’s true that many hobbyists use it, but keep in mind that they use it because of a closed cycle: since open source shops use Eagle, many beginners think that it is the best choice and start to use. Since many hobbyists use Eagle, more and more OSHW companies use it and the cycle closes. While Eagle is an excellent CAD package for a commercial company, for a hobbyist it’s a trap. Limitations of the free version make the program suitable for work only on small projects. For someone who will never design anything bigger than an Arduino shield, the limitations are not a concern. However, those who will mature to design bigger and more complicated circuits will face the choice: either throw away their customs libraries and existing designs and find and learn another PCB package, or spend $$$ on the commercial version.
    Somebody has to break the cycle and show people that they do not have to use Eagle.

    j, former Eagle user.

    • bluehash says:

      What do you use?

    • Sjaak says:

      You forget the cost of learning a new program.

      I never ran into the limitations of the free version for hobby use. THe only ‘limitation’ is that the whole schematic needs to be on one page. but that page is unlimited in size so it is not a very big limitation.

  4. Todd Carney says:

    I’m with Pete. It’s good of CadSoft to offer a free limited version for hobbyists, but after a year of constant hassles, I’ve given up on it. At best I need to do a schematic/layout maybe six times a year, and without constant use and practice, Eagle is all-but useless to me. Here are my main reasons.

    1. Its functions, user interface, and terminology are among the most counter-intuitive of any software I’ve ever used over the past 30 years. I’m a strong believer in some degree of standardization that allows for the accumulation of “meta-knowledge”–knowledge that works across models, brands, and even languages. Example: the layout and operating interface of any automobile in the world. The order and function of the pedal, the sequence and pattern of shifters (H-pattern, etc), the general location of switches, etc. As a Linux user, I don’t like to admit it, but Windows or Mac GUIs work the same for all programs (and of course so do Linux GUIs). Microsoft likes to monkey with their interface for every 18-month Windows (XP, Vista, 8, etc) release in the interests of novelty, but some of us remember the old days when each application had its own hotkeys, menu items and structure, and the learning curve was steep for new programs or even versions. It’s a step in the wrong direction, then that the CadSoft Volk have designed an interface and methodology too unique and too particular. I hate it.

    2. A really big problem in at least the English version is that many of the translations for the function names or procedures are very poor, some are absolutely misleading in English. Frankly, I can’t imagine paying any money at all for software so poorly documented. Germans may know a lot more English than most English speakers know German, but they really need a native speaker of English–one British and one American–to make Eagle’s English interface something other than a maddening pain in the ass.

    3. Like a lot of software (and cameras and DVD players and you-name-it) that has too many obscure and rarely-used features, Eagle makes it hard to just do something simply and without hassle. Über example: Eagle forces the user to define component pin-outs and footprints before a symbol can be used in a schematic. Uh, I often don’t know precisely what package or footprint I’m going to use when I draw a schematic to develop a circuit at the breadboard stage. Because of the nature of what I do, I’m not even sure I’ll be using an SMD or through-pin version for something at that stage. You know what I’ve been doing to get around this with Eagle? I use a pencil and paper to draw out a working draft of the circuit. After I’m okay with the design, then I have to enter it into Eagle. It’s B.S.

    4. Because I’m a committed open-source kind of guy, I’m learning to use the gEDA suite. So far, so good. Since it’s goal anyway to weed out every bit of proprietary software I can, Eagle is now one for the compost pile, along with the horse and cow manure I get from local farmers (they’re open-source, too).


    • Sjaak says:

      I do exclusively my schematic/pcb design with eagle so I’m a bit colored in my opinion. I tried many (windows) alternatives, but eagle is my favorite.

      The user interface is a bit different then a regular windows program, but this is a common thing for socialistic software. An other (comparble) example is autocad. it can be operate purely with the mouse, but they have lots of keyboard shortcuts to make it easier. These program look a bit diffcult/counterintuitive at first but after working a bit longer you know why they chosen to do it different. And yes i’ve been around for quite some days and seen the early days of userinterfaces.

      If your library contains all the shapes of a particular chip then changing the package is a simple thing. It puts a constrain on adding parts, but most packages are already added and can be reused. You can use the command replace part and then choose a different package of the chip.

      BTW no flame intended.

  5. JB says:

    Even the commercial version of Eagle is relatively cheap (US$1640 for a single user with all features – cheaper for multi-user). Good CAD software is *expensive* – you can easily pay US$2500+ per seat. Unless you have a lot of money anyone not designing in a commercial environment is unfortunately stuck with stuff that is often less than brilliant.

    You can’t compare prices for this kind of software with things like Microsoft Windows or Office – they are only as cheap as they are because they sell in tens or hundreds of millon copies. Making quality software commercially is a time-consuming and therefore expensive business. Something that will sell only a few thousand copies will of necessity be expensive.

  6. Niklas Jansson says:

    Todd, I saw your point number 3:
    ..I often don’t know precisely what package or footprint I’m going to use when I draw a schematic to develop a circuit at the breadboard stage. Because of the nature of what I do, I’m not even sure I’ll be using an SMD or through-pin version for something at that stage…

    I was using Eagle 4.16 Professional for several commercial projects a few years ago and had a similar problem. For me it was clearance and creepage distances for MOSFET pins in a high voltage enivironment. My solution was to add more packages to the same component and then change them in the layout editor.
    Lets say I needed another shape of the Drain pin, my workflow was:
    1. Open up the library, footprint editor and the selected footprint.
    2. Display all layers, mark all the component as a group and copy
    3. Create a new footprint with a similar name, ie TO220_SpecialDrainPin
    4. Paste the original footprint and make the changes
    5. Now open the component that needs the new footprint
    6. Add the footprint and do all the connecting stuff. Not nice for 80 pins TQFPs…
    7. Save the library and go back to the layout editor
    8. From the library menu select Update and the library you just edited
    9. Usually some message box about possible board changes may appear, no problems
    10. Select Change package and the component you want to change.

    Perhaps not the most intuitive way to do it, but that was how I did it back then. I will try the newer versions of Eagle to see whats new since 4.16… I am lucky enough to have commercial licences at my work place for Altium Designer. It has a lot of nice and handy features but also a lot of flaws in both functionality and the user interface.

  7. octal says:

    I’m using DipTrace, free edition and it’s really very intuitive. I used eagle, but I never really liked it. Its developpers seems to still work on PC under GEM or Win 1.0. They never saw how a GUI should be these days. Everything is counter intuitive in Eagle, you need to spend more than 2 or 3 weeks working with it to learn to make simple circuits and do simple things like switching a component from one side to the other, or to split a schematics in multiple parts. Learning to Do all that (including creating your own parts) in diptrace or designspark takes less than 3 hours with the provided PDF tutorials in both softwares.
    I really cannot understand or defend a software under windows that does not handle Copy/Paste like 99.99999% of software in the world on ANY desktop manager.
    Eagle is the most used by hobbists because it was the first software (since MSDOS vers) provinding an autorouter that was providing a free version for hobbist. Things are changing these days, and I’m sure it will not keep ruling.
    As for hundreds of provided libs with eagle, I can only say onething: Check ANY part you are going to use especially for SMD ones, there are a lot of errors there!!!!
    With eagle you can do ANYTHING, I’m not saying it’s unable to let you make some kind if circuit, but this does not make eagle a “great” software. “great” software HELPs you, makes things more fun and give you the ability to do all you wants in an easier manner: eagle is just the contrary of all that.
    While I used personally a lot LaTex as a wordprocessor for making high quality scientific papers, I would never recommand it against Winword for 99% of users. Eagle is just as difficult to learn as LateX and it adds the fact that (contrarily to Latex) it’s completely illogic, completely trashy !!!!

  8. Tom says:

    I have to politely disagree with DP’s comment about using KiCad. From my perspective, it is the industry and community makes any software an industry standard. Been there done that, I had been an Eagle user for pretty much my whole career and it took only a few days worth hard work and a little patience before I could use KiCad as comfortably as I did with Eagle. In my opinion, KiCad is way better than Eagle for the reasons like online DRC, text bases file formats, unlimited layers, unlimited board size etc… after all it is free and open. We have switched to KiCad completely and now porting every single design and hopefully, there is no going back. We have even posted some of the designs publicly for the community (Including Ian’s CPLD design). I’m pretty confident that KiCad will become hobbyist’s industry standard one day.

  9. toto says:

    as Free Eagle alternative I used KiCAD or DesignSpark PCB

  10. Jorge says:

    I was the one with the RTFM comment. Page 111 Eagle Manual Version 5, 8 Edition:

    “If a certain library should not be listed in the ADD dialog anymore, select the
    library name in the tree and click the Drop button. Now it is not in use

    Another useful feature about taking particular libraries out of the list is that parts from those
    libraries don’t show up as results doing wildcard searches.

    And last but not least, while we accept and deal with English as sort of a universal
    language for technology, not all developments on technology happen in English speaking
    countries, and yes some documentation could be prone to have some confusing or
    misleading translation.

    If you don’t like the English version of the manual, just try the original in German, it is much
    better :-)

    In that case it would be LDVH

    (The other Jorge :-)

    • anonymus says:

      :) even their manual is arrogant.
      Frankly, If I were a small company with a small staff, the first thing I would have my people do is change the GUI to fit the 100% standard GUI that is adopted and accepted all over the world. Frankly I would gladly not have any of the updates/upgrades made to eagle in the last few years, if in their place I had a GUI that is normal. I am talking about the Select, Move, Move group, cut, copy, paste…all of these need to be replaced with standard now used everywhere.

      Cadsoft this is a serious appeal. You need to realize that your GUI doesn’t work, and needs to be fixed. The function of a GUI is not only to allow you to do something, but to let you do that with ease.

  11. db says:

    I have to agree that this cut paste copy thing they do kept me away for many years. Yuck.

  12. john says:

    I last used Eagle in 2004. The user interface was awful then. Simple tasks like cut, copy and paste were extremely cumbersome. No easy panning; you have to stop what you are doing to use scroll bars. Group selection does not scroll the screen when hitting the edge.

    Fast forward to 2103 and version 6 – nearly a decade later. I was amazed to see the same crappy user interface! Even worse is the license I purchased no longer works.

    What a terrible experience.

    • I suppose the XP licence key you bought 10 years ago works in a downloaded Win8? Silly argument there man….

      • john says:

        If they had improved the product substantially as Microsoft has I would pay for an upgrade. Alas it is the same junk, 10 years later.

        Compare that to – now they have a licensing model I support.

        Speaking of licenses, I did send an inquiry email to cadsoft about an upgrade price (they don’t even have it on their site) – I have yet to hear back from them.

      • Jorge(Cadsoft Support) says:

        This reply is meant for John, but for some reason I can’t reply to him.

        Hi John,

        What constitutes substantial improvement is very subjective. It can very well be the case that many of the new features are of no use to you, that doesn’t mean the program hasn’t changed just that the changes don’t benefit your particular situation.

        The upgrade price can be obtained from our website by going -> Shop -> Upgrade EAGLE. Enter your license number and then follow through the prompts to arrive at an upgrade cost. If you don’t wish to do that you should have a response from sales before the end of the day, we’re having some e-mail issues over here.


        His license will still work under Windows 8, he just has to download the version his license is good for. I would be inclined to believe that he likely used V4.16 or one of the V4 releases which is the oldest version of EAGLE that will work in modern operating systems.

  13. Jorge(Cadsoft Support) says:

    Hi John,

    I hope you’re doing well. Panning in EAGLE is easily achieved by clicking the scroll wheel and holding it down. Rolling the scroll wheel forwards and backwards allows you to zoom in and out so there really isn’t much need to ever mess with the scroll bars.

    The license you have has likely not been upgraded since you last used it, therefore it won’t work with newer versions of EAGLE. It’s still and always will be valid for the version you purchased originally.

    When working with EAGLE the big thing to keep in mind is that you have to select what you want to do before you select what item to perform the action on. It’s true that this is different to the typical Windows noun-verb workflow, but for PCB design verb-noun is more efficient and that’s why it’s such an integral part of EAGLE.

    The efficiency claim stems from the fact that you often want to perform the same action on multiple components, so having the move command stay active saves you clicks and unnecessary motion. In V6 the cut, copy, and paste commands were reworked to be closer to what people expect of these functions.

    Jorge Garcia

    • Sleepwalker3 says:

      For what it’s worth, the user interface is the main reason I haven’t got into Eagle. I’m the type who likes to get on a program, use it a bit and figure it out as I go, then RTFM if I need to for more specific things. But I couldn’t figure Eagle and even went through various tutorials, but for me, it simply wasn’t intuitive – others may feel differently, but I do hear this as being the biggest complaint over and over. So whether or not it’s ‘efficient’, for me, comes down to whether I can ‘just do it’ without having to think about it. For the most part I find Altium flows very quickly and lets you think about the board instead of the PCB program, which is really what is supposed to happen, especially if you’re doing this as part of your living. Yes there are some odd things in Altium and things I don’t like, but for the most part I can get back on it after a long break and be back up to speed in a few minutes, without even thinking about it.

      Perhaps Eagle could think about a different route, something along the lines of what UltraEdit has done for Editors – Just about everything is configurable, from where you put the bars, to what buttons you have on your toolbars, what lists, etc. you have docked and even right down to what functions appear on the menus and what hotkey combination does what – in other words, the user interface is almost completely configurable to what the user wants, from the extremely ‘full’, to a very sparse interface and with Hotkey combinations I know intuitively. Yes something like that would be a huge undertaking, but it would solve the UI problems many have with Eagle. Anyway, just my 2 cents worth.

      • Jorge(Cadsoft Support) says:

        The idea you’re presenting is very interesting and to a certain extent is already possible within EAGLE. I’ve written it down as a future topic for a webinar since I’m sure many would be interested in setting up custom menus in EAGLE.

        Some will disagree, but IMHO the eagle.scr is the best single location to configure EAGLE. Users are given one menu that they can customize and adjust to their liking, and even though I’ve never seen any user do this it would be entirely possible to remove the normal toolbars and display a single custom toolbar with the commands setup as you want.

        Shortcuts are also very easy to setup in the eagle.scr. The depth of this feature isn’t immediately apparent from reading the manual, so I thank you for the idea and keep you’re eyes open for a future webinar on this. Might even be a good idea to create a ULP that simplifies modifying the eagle.scr.

        Thanks for your feedback.

        Jorge Garcia

  14. john says:

    I appreciate the reply. I learned from your response that holding down the scroll wheel provides pan support. Thanks for that – it does help – although I know of no other application that pans this way.

    We will have to agree to disagree on the UI efficiency. For example, while moving an object to the edge of the window almost all other programs automatically pan. This doesn’t – although I now see I can force this by holding down the scroll wheel.

    Speaking of moving, if I click nowhere near an object and drag the default action should be corral. Your program calls this ‘group’ when it really should be ‘corral’ or ‘multi select’.

    In short, the UI is simply counter intuitive to me, and seems to be the case to others as well. Perhaps as you try to justify the design here you may want at the same time to go back to your UI team and convey our frustrations.

    • Jorge(Cadsoft Support) says:

      Hi John,

      Don’t worry these types of issues are conveyed to the Developer team. In fact if you look at the EAGLE suggestions forum, you’ll notice a series of posts directly dealing with GUI complaints started by one of our long time users Andreas Weidner.. It discusses possible solutions and improvements that could be implemented without affecting EAGLE too much. We’re working through them and I’m sure you’ll find that most of the issues you’re bringing up have been concisely treated there.

      Jorge Garcia

  15. nocalls says:

    I have been using eagle as a hobbyist for 2 years and a professional for 5 years now. It does not make sense initially, perhaps group doesn’t group anything. I just ctrl + G select, ctrl + M, ctrl + right click, move rotate, etc. ctrl + shift + r? Rip up some traces. Ctrl + r? Route ‘em back. Even my custom ctrl + alt + r for ratsnest!

    The libraries are the worst part, but it is livable. That ‘drop’ button though…

  16. john says:

    I tried the website. I got the following: “Your license is a Non Profit license. Please contact our sales office. ”

    So I wrote the sales office on August 2. Still awaiting a response.

  17. Jorge(Cadsoft Support) says:

    Hi John,

    I see, that is correct. We require non-profit upgrades to go through sales, to verify the use of the license and try to minimize abuse.

    We recently had trouble with our e-mail system, would you mind resending the e-mail. I’m very sorry for the inconvenience.

    Let me know if there’s anything I can do for you.

    Best Regards,
    Jorge Garcia

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