This article is an in-depth comparison of two widely used EDA (Electronic Design Automation) programs, KiCad vs OrCAD PCB Designer You can find all the details about their features, performance, pricing, design experience and more.
PCB designing is rapidly growing as an industry and a field of design engineering. With a rise in the demand for modern technology, increased automation and a general shift towards mechatronics, PCB design is a lucrative field to be working in.
Both KiCad and OrCAD are capable design software programs, with a wide user base. They have been in the market for over a decade, and have improved greatly based on user feedback in that time.
In our comparison between Cadence OrCAD vs KiCad EDA, you will find the major differences and sections to guide you on how to pick the best one for you.
 Major Differences Between KiCad Vs OrCAD
Picking the right PCB design software is not an easy task. Especially between the two programs we are discussing today, since both are pretty capable applications. They have a lot of differences, and we have discussed those in detail.
In the section below, you will find a detailed comparison of the 7 main differences between KiCad Vs OrCAD. We have compared them on all major technical factors, proceeding in a manner that represents the common workflow.
 Pricing Plans
While purchasing PCB design software, the pricing can be anywhere from free to more than $10k. There’s a wide range of options to suit different needs. And so, you can pick the one that suits your requirements and your budget.
OrCAD provides a variety of software versions, and you can purchase them as license based packages.
You can try OrCAD with a free trial for 30 days, or opt for student versions, with some limitations. The price for an annual license is $1300.00, and the cost for purchasing a perpetual license, it will cost $2630.00.
OrCAD offers more plans and versions for different requirements in both annual and perpetual license types. The details can be found on the OrCAD website.
KiCad is freeware. This means you can download and use it for free. Moreover, it can also be used commercially. It is also open source, and works on multiple platforms. There are no additional payments required for maintenance etc., and there are no locked features either. It is totally free of cost.
 Schematic Capture and Editing
PCB design begins with a schematic. Your layout and routing is also done on the basis of the schematic. Hence, it is pretty important to have a smart and quick schematic editing workspace which can speed up your work without compromising on accuracy.
If you are looking to work on advanced projects, ensure that the program you pick supports multi-sheet schematic editing and reusable design blocks, as these two features can really help in reducing time and effort while designing.
To perform these tasks in OrCAD, you can use the OrCAD Capture Schematic Entry tool. This is an advanced package with features like hierarchical conversion, or flat schematics, and a smooth interface.
With OrCAD, another feature included is schematic manager, which allows you to arrange and manage sheets thematically through functional blocks. This tool is conveniently placed on the navigation panel.
KiCad users can work on schematics through its Eeschema module. The workspace is simple and has a modern look. Moreover, you can arrange the toolkits as per your convenience. This can be done by simple undocking and docking the required and placed where you need them for easier access.
In addition, KiCad also includes hierarchical schematic conversion, which helps in simplifying high level designs involving multiple sheets by arranging them in a hierarchy. The simplified view makes it easier to work on large and complicated projects.
KiCad also supports file export in a variety of formats such as PDF, Postscript, HPGL, SVG and more, for wider compatibility.
 Layout and Routing
Creating the layout for the PCB and routing it are two vital tasks in the design process. A lot of factors depend on these processes, such as signal performance, the cost for fabrication.
Routing, or the process of laying traces and connections on the PCB, is an integral part of PCB design and affects the performance, manufacturability, cost to fabricate and other such important parameters.
You can find both automatic and manual modes in both OrCAD and KiCad. OrCAD provides you with the advanced SPECCTRA autorouter. Among the many user settings it offers, you can also configure it to work with any number of layers, as well as edit parameters to optimize the routing.
OrCAD has set the autorouting to work with the design rule checking systems. Moreover, you can even work on high speed designs as the system is configured to work in compliance with high-speed design rules also.
You can also run a quick feasibility check to ascertain whether the routing settings are feasible or if something needs changing.
KiCad users get a separate module for layout and routing called PCBNew. It features a host of tools and is designed pretty well. It includes in-built rule checks that work dynamically as you lay traces and connect components.
You can choose either manual or automatic routing. We recommend the manual routing mode, as it helps you develop your skills as a designer and gives you more flexibility while routing.
KiCad includes interactive routing features like push and shove routing and obstacle avoidance routing. This system finds alternative routes around obstacles, and you can select whichever one seems the best.
The rule checks are active while you are routing, and help in validating the design, so that you can work without errors. Some other great tools you get are diff pair routing, 32 layer Copper layouts, interactive trace length tuning, among others.
 Performing Simulations
A necessary part of design validation and quality control, simulations test the circuit under simulated real-life environments, to determine its behaviour and performance capabilities. This can also help identify potential errors which can thus be corrected before production.
So if you are looking to get the board manufactured, a simulation is a good idea before sending the design for fabrication.
KiCad uses a SPICE simulation engine. SPICE, which stands for Simulation Program with Integrated Circuit Emphasis, can be used to perform analog, digital and even mixed-signal PCB analysis to test various parameters.
To run a simulation in KiCad, you can use the ngspice simulation module. You can fine-tune some settings to perform more accurate analyses.
OrCAD also uses a SPICE based simulation platform, but with some added functionality. You get more types of simulations that can be done, including a pretty helpful signal integrity validation feature. This works on both default Cadence models or IBIS models.
All you need to do is select a net in the schematic and run a simulation, for a quick check. Alternately, you can define settings and adjust parameters such as length and impedance to improve signal properties and perform a detailed analysis.
 3D Rendering and Viewing
KiCad includes a functional 3D viewer, with which you can view your PCB in 3D with good quality renders. It can generate 3D models using 2D drawings. The viewer wizard is interactive, and allows you to orient the model in different views, zoom, pan, rotate and inspect the model.
The 3D capability opens up many opportunities to inspect a prototype version of how the model will look after fabrication. You can modify the model generation settings, and change parameters such as quality, render resolution, select features to hide or show in the model and so on.
OrCAD also has a great 3D feature set. The software provides high-quality 3D visualizations through their interactive 3D Canvas. With this, you get a 3D to 2D move option, cross-probing 3D to 2D, zone-aware 3D and a 3D collision detection system.
 Supported Platforms
Platform compatibility is quite an important factor to consider while selecting PCB design software. Because. There’s no use of getting software that isn’t even compatible with your existing system, and you end up having to change either the system or the software.
Hence, to avoid such hassles, it is better to have a look at the program’s compatibility with your system.
KiCad is an open source program, which can be downloaded and used free of charge. Being cross-platform, you can run it on Windows, Mac OS and Linux systems as well. And since it is open source, the source code is available on their website and at sites such as Github.
The benefits of being open-source are many. Since the source code is available to everyone, software developers can work on the code to debug a release version, add improvements and work on releasing faster updates.
OrCAD, on the other hand, can only be used on 64 bit Windows devices. The versions of Windows that are supported are 7 onwards, and for server editions, 2008 R2 server onwards.
 Simplicity of Use
PCB design programs often include a variety of advanced features and complex terminologies. This can be a deterrent for beginners and users with less experience.
To make the software more user-friendly for novice users, KiCad has a simple and clean UI, with all essential tools available easily. The advanced features are available through menus and represented through easy-to-understand icons.
There are tutorials and documentation available within the software as well, to serve as guides when you need assistance. Furthermore, KiCad has an active user community online, through forums and discussion groups.
You can talk about your issues, or share knowledge and ideas, ask doubts, and even put in requests for features in upcoming versions.
OrCAD is somewhat more oriented towards users with some experience in PCB designing. It is still user friendly and the UI has been designed well. But, between KiCad vs OrCAD, the one that is easier to use from a beginners’ point of view, is KiCad.
However, if you are a designer with a basic understanding of design software programs, OrCAD has features to streamline your workflow and enhance productivity greatly.
It includes customizable toolbars, a new cross-section editor, color dialog with a simple view and more, to reduce navigation and working time.
Which Software Is Best For PCB Designing, KiCad Vs OrCAD
In terms of design functionality and performance, the answer would be OrCAD. The set of features provided and the ability to handle complex design tasks makes this a better choice for intermediate to professional level designing.
But at the same time, compared to KiCad, it is much more expensive. KiCad is also really simple and easy to use. Beginners can quickly understand the interface and tools, and get started with designing straight away.
The tools available in KiCad may be limited as compared to OrCAD, but as freeware, it does a great job.
KiCad Vs OrCAD PCB Designer: Who’s the Winner?
To select one from KiCad vs OrCAD PCB Designer is an individual choice, since both programs are different and serve different types of design requirements. KiCad is more suited to beginners and intermediate designers. It is not ideal for advanced industrial use, even though it is widely used.
The OrCAD workspace contains a host of tools that can make working with high level designs easier. For users looking to send designs for production, or collaborate over an online platform, OrCAD will suit their needs better. But at the same time, it will also cost much more than KiCad.
So, both of them have their pros and cons, which we have listed out. To put it simply, if you can afford the license costs and are required to work on complex projects, go for OrCAD. This is assuming that you have decent experience working with PCB design programs.
So, Which One Should You Pick? (CONCLUSION)
To know which one is better for you, you can start by listing out your requirements and constraints. The software should be able to meet your requirements and be within your budget and be compatible with your work device.
That being said, for beginners, novices and hobbyists, KiCad is the perfect solution. It is also used by more experienced users. You will get a great mix of simplicity and functionality with KiCad and that too for free.
OrCAD is better suited to more high-level designing and designers with some experience. It also only runs on Windows systems, and needs to be purchased. The functions are quite handy and do make the design process more efficient.
If you still are confused between KiCad vs OrCAD PCB Designer, you can go ahead and try them, as a free trial is available for both.
Hopefully, you have found this KiCad EDA v OrCAD comparison guide worthwhile and it has helped you to make an informed choice about these two PCB Design Software.