Altium Designer Documentation

Exploring Altium Designer

Modified by Jason Howie on Apr 11, 2017

Welcome to Altium Designer, a complete, end-to-end design environment for electronic printed circuit board design. Altium Designer enables you to bring your ideas to life with the most efficient and collaborative PCB design environment available. From a tiny, foldable rigid flex board that goes into a hearing aid, through to a large, 20+ layer high-speed network router, Altium Designer works with you to deliver a successful design.

New to Altium Designer?

The way you work in Altium Designer is much like other Windows applications - commands are accessed through familiar menus, graphical views can be zoomed and panned using standard Windows keyboard and mouse actions, and many of the commands and features can be accessed through keyboard shortcuts.

Where Altium Designer differs from other Windows applications is the way that it brings all of the editing tools that you need, into the one environment. That means you edit the schematic and lay out the printed circuit board in the same software application. You also create the components, configure the various output files, and can even open the ASCII outputs, in that same environment.

The application that you launch is referred to as the Design Explorer platform, or DXP for short. Each different document type opens inside DXP, with the appropriate editor-specific menus, toolbars and panels appearing automatically as you move from one document-kind to another.

Why have all the tools inside the one environment, you ask? Doing this allows the designer to shift their focus from being tool-oriented, to being design-oriented. Working in a design-oriented environment delivers you, the designer, significant advantages, including:

  • Easily access any document in the project from the Projects panel. All of the project documents are displayed, and the schematics are also organized to reflect the design structure. 
  • The ability to easily move back and forth between the schematic and the PCB. Tasks such as moving design changes from the schematic to the board, or the board back to the schematic, are quick and non-intrusive.
  • Select a set of components on the schematic and they're selected on the board, ready to be added to a PCB component class, or to be repositioned and aligned, or flipped to the other side of the board.
  • Flick back and forth from a 2D view of the board to a highly realistic 3D view, detect a mistake, switch to the schematic and make an edit, update the PCB, and you're back on track.

These are just a few simple examples of the many advantages a design-oriented environment delivers. Regardless of whether you work as a solo designer, or as a member of a large, geographically dispersed team, Altium Designer delivers an easy-to-use, immersive design space that you'll enjoy crafting you next great idea in. 

If this is the first time you've designed a printed circuit board in Altium Designer, then why not start with the go-to-whoa tutorial. With only 9 components it's quick and easy, fast-tracking you through the entire design process.


Learn As You Go

Backing Altium Designer is a comprehensive set of online documentation. Wherever you are in the environment, over a menu command, a dialog, a panel, or a design object, press F1 to display comprehensive information about whatever was under the cursor.

From this introductory, explain what this thing is reference documentation, you'll find links to related information about how to place it, edit it, or use it. You'll also find links to richer content about how it fits into the overall design process.

Or if you prefer to browse and explore the overall structure, try the navigation tree just to the left . Down the bottom of the tree you'll see the various, explain what this thing is, reference sections. In the upper sections of the tree you'll find the, how do I do that, content.

Available shortcuts are listed in the Shortcuts panel, click the  button down the bottom right of the software to display the panel. And while you're running a command, for example during Interactive Routing, press Shift+F1 to display a list of in-command shortcuts.


The DXP Environment

The menu is always available, regardless of the editor currently being used. The menu is used to configure and manage the DXP environment. As well as giving easy access to commonly used commands, such as your account or the Preferences, the menu also includes a handy Search feature. To access the properties of the components placed in the design, Compile the project first (Project menu).

The Search will return:

  • Component text properties, including: the schematic Designator, Comment and Description fields; and the PCB Designator and Comment fields.
  • Recent Documents
  • Menu entries for the active editor
  • Panels for the active editor

The DXP environment is highly customizable. Menus and toolbars can be edited to add, remove or re-arrange their contents. The Customize command gives you access to all of the available commands, which can be dragged and dropped onto a menu or toolbar. Ctrl+click to access the command behind a menu entry or toolbar button, where you can see the software Process and any Parameters that executes that command.

All of the editors and the documents open in them, can also be manipulated by scripts. A variety of scripting languages are supported, including: DelphiScript, EnableBasic, VB Script, Java Script and TCL Script. A script can be run directly from the built-in script editor, or assigned to a menu, toolbar or hot key.


Editors, Panels and Toolbars

Each editor has its own set of panels, menus, toolbars and shortcut keys. Panels can be enabled via the buttons down the bottom right of the software.

Panels can be docked along any edge of the DXP environment, or float independently. When they are docked, they can be pinned open , or set to popout mode . Click a popout panel's button to display it, the popout speed and delay are configured in the System - View page of the Preferences.

To move an individual panel, click and hold on the panel name, then drag. To move a stack of panels, click and hold elsewhere in the panel caption bar.

When a panel is being moved over another panel, icons appear to show the available panel splitting options . Drop in the center to stack, or on an icon to split in that direction. You can also hold Ctrl to inhibit stacking.


Where to Next?

 

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