Altium Designer Documentation

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Created: January 17, 2023 | Updated: January 17, 2023

Altium Designer provides a unified electronic product development environment, catering for all aspects of the electronic development process, including:

  • Front-end design and capture
  • Physical PCB design
  • Mixed-signal circuit simulation
  • Signal integrity analysis
  • PCB manufacturing

Altium Designer includes all the editors and software engines needed to perform all aspects of the electronic product development process. All document editing and processing is performed within the Altium Designer environment. Altium Designer also interfaces seamlessly to supporting tools, such as route software or third-party simulation software. Underlying Altium Designer is the X2 Integration Platform, which brings together Altium Designer's various editors and software engines and provides a consistent user interface across all the tools and editors. The exact set of features and functionality that is available will depend on the specific license that has been purchased. The Altium Designer environment is fully customizable, which allows you to set up the workspace to suit the way you work. A consistent selection and editing paradigm across different editors allows you to easily and smoothly switch between various design tasks within the Altium Designer environment.

Getting Help

Altium Designer provides various ways for you to locate additional information and help. 

  • Press F1 over any object, editor, panel, menu entry, or button to open the documentation for that item.
  • Press Shift+F1 while running a command for a list of shortcuts you can use in that command.
  • Use the navigation tree on the left side of the documentation to read about a particular subject.

Elements of the Environment

Altium Designer is unique in its ability to support all aspects of electronic design, from capture to generation of PCB manufacturing output. It does this in a single software application, through the support of the underlying X2 integration platform. The platform supports all of the standard user-interface elements, such as menus and toolbars (also called resources), with each editor plugging in its own specific set of resources and commands. See the below section for descriptions, access, etc., to Altium Designer's environment elements.

The following sections describe some of the main elements of the design space highlighted in the image above.

Preferences 

Preferences dialogs are a central location in which you can set up global system settings across different functional areas of the software. These preferences apply across projects and relevant documents. The various dialogs are accessed by clicking  at the top right of the design space. Use  on the left side of the dialog to open the selections for the required area then choose the desired title to open that specific preference page.

Active Workspace Control

The Active Workspace control located at the right of the  icon allows you to connect to a Workspace available for you. Depending on whether you are currently signed in to your Altium account and connected to a Workspace, the control might be presented as follows:

  • – you are currently connected to an available Workspace. The text reflects the name of the connected Workspace.
  • – you are currently not connected to a Workspace. Click the control to connect to an available Workspace or select Custom connection from the Current User control menu to connect to an Enterprise Server Workspace.
  •  – you are currently not connected to a Workspace and not signed in to your Altium account. Select Sign in from the Current User control menu to connect to your Altium account or select Custom connection from the menu to connect to an Enterprise Server Workspace.
Refer to Accessing Your Workspace for detailed information.

Current User Control

The Current User control reflects whether you are signed in to your Altium account and provides access to a menu that allows you to configure some aspects of your Altium Designer installation such as licensing and extensions.

Sign In

When you are not signed in to your Altium account, Current User control is presented as . To sign in to your Altium account, click on the control, then click the entry on the associated menu. Use the subsequent Sign In dialog that appears to enter your AltiumLive account credentials, then click . Alternatively, sign in using your Google® or Facebook® account and, in doing so, link/associate that account with your AltiumLive account. If you don't have an AltiumLive account, you can click the control to register for one.

If you have Altium Designer Pro/Enterprise Subscription and your organization is set up for SAML Single Sign-On (SSO) with an Identity Provider (e.g. Okta®), then you can sign in to your Altium account in this way by clicking the control.

How you are permitted to sign in to your organization's Altium account is determined by an Administrator for that account on the Authentication page of the Altium Dashboard. An Administrator can configure and enable SSO to AltiumLive (the service) from this page. This entails providing the SAML configuration for your Identity Provider (IDP) – either through upload of a Metadata XML file acquired from that provider or by configuring the SSO connection manually.
Linked accounts (Google® or Facebook®) will be listed on your AltiumLive profile page. Controls are provided there to unlink accounts if required.

Ensure you are signed in to your Altium account, using your AltiumLive credentials. Ensure you are signed in to your Altium account, using your AltiumLive credentials.

  • Email – enter your email. This is the email that was used when your Altium Account credentials were created. Contact your local Altium administrator if you do not have your Altium account credentials available.
  • Password – enter your Altium password.
    • Sign in automatically – enable this option to automatically sign into Altium's online services when you start Altium Designer using the specified User Name and Password.
    • Forgot password? – select this option to open the Reset Password dialog, where you may receive a new temporary password that will then be sent to your email address.
  • – click this button to be directed to Google, where you may sign in using your Google account credentials.
  • – click this button to be directed to Facebook, where you may sign in using your Facebook account credentials.
  • – if your organization has set up single sign on access, you may sign in through the Single Sign On dialog by clicking this button.
  • By signing in you agree to Altium's Privacy Policy and Terms of Use – you may select Privacy Policy to be directed to the Altium Privacy Policy, or Terms of Use to be directed to Altium's General Terms of Service.
  • Register an account – select this option to be directed to the Altium 365 registration page, where you may register for a new Altium 365 account, or sign in to a preexisting one.
  • Sign in – once the email and password are entered, this button becomes available. Click to continue with the sign-in process.
The control will change to reflect you are having signed in to your Altium account by displaying your AltiumLive profile picture, or avatar (e.g. ). The menu will display this also, with full name and with a link to quickly access your AltiumLive account (profile) through your default browser.

Licenses

Altium Designer provides various license types and each is designed to suit your individual needs. The licensing system enables you to get up and running with Altium Designer software in a timely and efficient manner. To access the License Management page, click  next to your sign-in credentials at the top right of the design space then select Licenses from the drop-down menu.

For full licensing information refer to Licensing System

Extensions & Updates

Extensions are add-ons to the software that provide extended features and functionality. You have the ability to install, update or remove additional functionality, which includes a new importer or exporter, a tool for schematic symbol generation, and support for mechanical CAD collaboration.

To access the Extensions & Updates page, click  next to your sign-in credentials at the top right of the design space then select Extensions and Updates from the drop-down menu.

Updating Altium Designer gives you the most recent release of the core platform software and any extensions you have installed.

To access Updates, click  next to your sign-in credentials at the top right of the design space then select Extensions and Updates from the drop-down menu. On the Extensions & Updates page, select the Updates tab as shown in the image below.

The (n) displays the total number of updates that are available. If there is no (n), there are no updates.The (n) displays the total number of updates that are available. If there is no (n), there are no updates.

The Updates page displays any core platform updates that are available and a listing of System Extensions and Software Extensions for which there is an update available.

Refer to Extending & Updating Altium Designer for detailed information.

Custom Connection

The Custom connection entry of the Current User control menu allows you to connect to your Enterprise Server Workspace from within Altium Designer. Select the entry, and Sign in dialog will appear, with which to connect to the target Workspace. Enter the URL for the Workspace and your Workspace access credentials, then click the Sign in button.

Refer to the Connecting to Your Enterprise Server Workspace section of the Accessing Your Workspace for detailed information.

Buy Online Now

If you are using an Evaluation License, the  button will be displayed at the top-right of the main application window. Click the button to open a new tab in your browser on which you can select and buy the license you require. 

Panels

Panels are essential elements of the Altium Designer environment. Whether specific to a particular document editor, or used on a more global, system-wide level, they present information and controls that aid productivity and allow you to design more efficiently. For example, the PCB panel can be used to browse by Components or Nets. When Altium Designer is first started, the Projects panel will already be open and pinned/docked on the left side of the design space. To open other panels, click the Panels button at the bottom right of the design space then select the desired panel. Each editor has panels specific to that editor.

Panels are used to work across the environment, for example, the Projects panel is used to open any document in the project, as well as display the project hierarchy. Document-specific panels can only be displayed when that document type is the active document.

Left image: PCB panels; right image: Schematic panelsLeft image: PCB panels; right image: Schematic panels

For detailed information about accessing panels, panel display modes (i.e. pinned/docked, pop-up, floating), moving and closing panels, and more, refer to Working with Panels

Two panels of interest that are widely used when working in virtually every editor in Altium Designer are the Properties and Messages panel.

Properties Panel

The Interactive Properties panel provides universal editing access to the properties of documents and objects available in each design editor. The panel dynamically determines its content (or, in other words, changes its mode) based on the document or object that is currently selected and presents specific properties and settings that relate to that document/object. The Properties panel also supports editing the properties of multiple selected objects.

The Properties panel in its Components mode. This mode is active when a component is selected in a schematic sheet.
The Properties panel in its Components mode. This mode is active when a component is selected in a schematic sheet.

Among other standard methods of accessing a panel, the Properties panel can be accessed by double-clicking on an object in the design space or using the F11 keyboard shortcut.

Because the fields available in the Properties panel change to suit the document/object currently selected, information about each instance of the panel is distributed throughout the documentation. The best way to learn more about a specific instance of the Properties panel is to press F1 when the cursor is hovering over the panel in Altium Designer. For example, pressing F1 over the panel when a PCB component is selected for editing will open the Component Properties collapsible section on the PCB Placement & Editing Techniques in Altium Designer page.

Messages Panel

Whether validating a project, running a design rule check for the active PCB document, performing a mixed-signal simulation, or using any of the other message-enabled features of the software, the Messages panel provides an intelligent way of listing any warnings and/or errors that may be present, as well as any status information. The panel supports cross-probing from the selected message in the panel to the object responsible for the message in the associated document.

The Messages panel
The Messages panel

Active Bar

The Active Bar gives you quick access to frequently used functions that are also found in the main menus. You can hover over an icon to view a pop-up of the icon's description. To use the icon displayed, click on it. For placement icons, the object will appear on the cursor, allowing you to drag the object to the required location. When a white triangle is displayed at the bottom right of an icon, there is a group of other icons available. Click and hold the cursor over that icon to display a list of additional icons available then select the desired command/icon. The most recently used icon is displayed for that group.

Top image: PCB Active Bar; Bottom image: schematic Active BarTop image: PCB Active Bar; Bottom image: schematic Active Bar

If desired, the Active Bar can be disabled. To disable the Active Bar, on the Advanced Settings dialog (accessed by clicking the Advanced button on the System - General page of the Preferences dialog), uncheck the Value field of the UI.UseActiveBar Preference Name. As stated in the Advanced Settings dialog, Altium Designer will need to be restarted for the new setting to take effect.

Main Menus

The main menus allow access to commands and functions for the active document. The menus appear across the top left of each editor and each editor has its own set of menus.

Main menus for PCB (top image) and SCH (bottom image)

To use commands, click the title (e.g., Design) then select the desired command from the drop-down menu.

Some commands have sub-menus, which are indicated by a . When you hover the cursor over such a command, the sub-menu opens.

Quick Access Bar

The Quick Access Bar is located at the top left of the design space and is used to quickly perform frequently used functions. 

  •  - use to exit and close Altium Designer.
  •  - use to save the currently active document.
  •  - use to save all documents in which changes have been made.
  •  - use to access the Open Project dialog in which you can choose the project to open.
  •  - use to undo the last action. The icon is available only if an action has occurred.
  •  - use to redo the last action. The icon is available only if an undo action has been performed.

Status Bar

The Status Bar displays summary information, such as the coordinate position of the cursor, command prompts, shortcut key information, and access to various panels (using the Panels button at the right of the Status Bar). You can toggle the display of the Status Bar by choosing View » Status Bar from the main menus.

Command Status Bar

The Command Status Bar provides information about the command currently being used. When a command is not currently being used, this will be reflected in the bar through the status Idle state - ready for command. You can toggle the display of the Command Status Bar by choosing the View » Command Status command from the main menus.

The Command Status Bar when the Interactive Routing command of the PCB editor is being used.
The Command Status Bar when the Interactive Routing command of the PCB editor is being used.

Windows System Resource Monitor

When resource consumption gets to a level considered to be high, a resource warning indicator appears at the bottom-right of Altium Designer. Hover the cursor over the indicator for information about which resource(s) are exceeding associated levels of consumption. Note that the color of the indicator changes to highlight the level of resource consumption.

A warning indicator appears when Altium Designer's resource consumption becomes high, and changes color to indicate when action is required.A warning indicator appears when Altium Designer's resource consumption becomes high, and changes color to indicate when action is required.

The following resources are monitored:

  • Memory used by Altium Designer
  • Count of allocated GDI handles
  • Percentage of allocated global and session atoms

The resource monitor triggers and displays a warning indicator when any of the above resources reach the following levels:

  • < 60% normal level (no resource indicator is displayed)
  • 61% to 75% is considered a high level, indicated by a yellow indicator
  • 76% to 90% is considered a very high level, indicated by an orange indicator. In addition, the message indicates that a restart of Altium Designer is advisable.
  • > 90% is considered a critical level, indicated by a red indicator. In addition, the message indicates that a restart of Altium Designer is advisable.
Only resources that have exceeded the permissible levels will be included in the hover tip message.
It is important to be aware that Windows has a default limit of 10000 GDI handles available per application, it is strongly recommended that you restart Altium Designer when advised to do so.

Home Page

The Altium Designer Home Page is a standalone web page that can be opened as a tab in Altium Designer. The page gives you access to user-focused content, including new features, webinars, videos, blogs, and tutorials. The information on this page is continuously updated and videos are added to help keep you up-to-date on Altium Designer's functionality.

The Home Page is opened when the application is started. You can close the Home Page tab by right-clicking on the tab then choosing Close Home Page. To access the Home Page after the tab has been closed, click the  icon at the top-right corner of the design space.

If you do not want the Home Page to open upon starting Altium Designer, disable the Open Home page on start option on the System - General page of the Preferences dialog.

Projects and Documents

All project-related data is stored in documents, which are also referred to as files. Documents, projects and project groups can be opened using the relevant commands available from the main File menu. Alternatively, you can drag and drop a document, project file, or project group file directly into Altium Designer to open it. As well as storing links to each document in the project, the project file also stores project-specific options, such as error check settings, compiler settings, and so on.

When you open a document, it becomes the active document in Altium Designer's main design window. Multiple documents can be opened simultaneously. Each open document has its own tab at the top of the design window. Documents can occupy the entire design space, or the design space can be shared between multiple open documents via the Split commands in the Window menu. Documents can then be dragged from one split region to another.

Refer to the Working with Projects and Working with Document pages to learn more.

Refer to Configuring and Customizing Altium Designer for detailed information regarding design environment configuration.

Additional References

Configuring and Customizing Altium Designer

Altium Designer Tutorial

Management of Projects in Altium Designer

Project Navigation

Shortcut Keys

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