Altium Designer Documentation

Exploring Altium Designer

Created: June 13, 2019 | Updated: January 24, 2020

Welcome to Altium Designer, which is 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, 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 in that 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 64-bit application that you launch is referred to as the X2 platform. Each different document type opens inside the X2 application with the appropriate editor-specific menus, toolbars and panels appearing automatically as you move from one document-kind to another.

Why are all the tools inside the one environment, you ask? Doing this allows you to shift your 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. 
  • Provides the ability to easily move back and forth between the schematic and 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.
  • When you select a set of components on the schematic and they are also selected on the board, they are ready to be added to a PCB component class or to be repositioned and aligned or flipped to the other side of the board.
  • You can flip 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 are back on track.
  • You can add a new component on the schematic and see it appear immediately in the BOM document, ready to have its supply chain details finalized. 
  • Provides the ability for the software to work with a single, unified model of the entire design in memory - delivering the advantages detailed above, along with a host of others. 

These are just a few 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 on which you will enjoy crafting your next great idea. 

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

Learn As You Go

F1 Key

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.

Within this comprehensive information, there are links to related information about how to place it, edit it, or use it. You also will find links to richer content about how it fits into the overall design process.

If you prefer to browse and explore the overall structure, use the navigation tree on the left. At the bottom of the tree, there are various reference sections. 

Available shortcuts also are listed in the various panels; look for the shortcut key strokes displayed next to the controls in the panel.

While you are running a command, for example, during Interactive Routing, press Shift+F1 to display a list of in-command shortcuts.

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 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 drop on one of the four icons to split in that direction. You can also hold Ctrl to inhibit panel stacking.

The X2 Environment

Search feature

Regardless of the editor currently being used, the Preferences dialog can always be accessed using the Preferences access button button located at the top right of the application.  

The software also includes a number of handy Search boxes, for example, at the top of the Projects and Properties panels, and for the X2 application itself, located at the top right.

The X2 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

To access the properties of the components placed in the design from the X2 Search box, compile the project first (Project » Compile <project name>).

The X2 environment is highly customizable. Menus and toolbars can be edited to add, remove or re-arrange their contents. Right-click anywhere in the menu bar then choose Customize to access the Customizing Editor dialog, which gives you access to all of the available commands. They can be dragged and dropped onto a menu or toolbar. Perform Ctrl+click to access the command behind an existing 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 number of scripting languages are supported.

Where to Next?


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