Altium Designer Documentation

Altium Designer Documentation

Created: May 1, 2020 | Updated: January 22, 2021
Now reading version 20.1. For the latest, read: Altium Designer Documentation for version 23
Applies to Altium Designer versions: 20.1 and 20.2

Altium Designer combines a myriad of features and functionality, including:

  • Advanced routing technology
  • Support for cutting-edge rigid-flex board design
  • Powerful data management tools
  • Powerful design reuse tools
  • Real-time cost estimation and tracking
  • Dynamic supply chain intelligence
  • Native 3D visualizations and clearance checking
  • Flexible release management tools

All of this functionality is delivered through, and the entire design process performed within, a single Unified Design Environment - the only one of its kind, and engineered to deliver optimal productivity.

The unified nature of Altium Designer allows for seamless movement of design data from one design realm to the next, but to begin with, the perceived steep learning curve can appear a formidable blockade to this productivity-enhancing landscape, and the wealth of features it contains. This, the core space for documentation specific to Altium Designer, provides all the information needed to quickly get you up and running with the software. From high-level overviews and stepped walk-throughs, to full coverage of all the nuts-and-bolts resources delivered through the software's intuitive interface, the Altium Designer documentation literally provides a 'tree of knowledge' at your fingertips.

The Altium Designer documentation is versioned. You can switch to a particular version's documentation set manually, directly through your web browser, or you can sit back and access the correct version automatically, from within Altium Designer. F1 mapping functionality, and other documentation links, are instilled with the smarts necessary to arrive at the correct documentation destination, for the version of the software you are actively designing with.

If you like what you see but are not yet a customer, why not take Altium Designer for a test drive? By filling out a simple form, you can trial Altium Designer for free, with 15 days of access to the full software. That's right, the ability to evaluate the full Altium Designer experience, with no technical limitations, giving you unfettered access to the world's finest PCB design product. Click the link below, fill out the form, and see for yourself why more Engineers and Designers choose Altium than any other product available!

Altium Designer Free Trial

Browse Shortcut Keys.  Read FAQs.

Jumping into PCB Design (and Altium Designer!)

New to board design and/or Altium Designer, and wondering where to begin? This tutorial will take you from a blank schematic sheet all the way through to generating the files needed to fabricate the bare board for a simple 9-component circuit.

The design you will be capturing and then designing a printed circuit board (PCB) for, is a simple astable multivibrator. The circuit - shown to the left - uses two general purpose NPN transistors, configured as a self-running astable multivibrator.

The tutorial touches on many of the areas of the software that you will need to become conversant with, in your day-to-day design work - what better way to familiarize yourself with, and get to know, your powerful design 'partner'.

Exploring Altium Designer

Altium Designer includes all the editors and software engines needed to perform all aspects of the electronic product development process. All document editing, compiling and processing is performed within the Altium Designer environment. Underlying Altium Designer is the X2 Integration Platform, which brings together Altium Designer's various features and functionality - dependent on purchased license - and provides a consistent user-interface across all the tools and editors. And providing further flexibility, this environment is fully customizable, allowing you to set up the workspace to suit the way you work.

You can explore Altium Designer's features and interface by simply experimenting with the software, by diving in to create a new design project, or better still, by first scanning through this documentation to give you a head start!

Coming from a different design tool? Not a problem. Scoot on over to the area of the documentation that looks at Interfacing to Other Design Tools. No matter whether you're coming from PADS®, EAGLE™, Expedition®, xDX Designer®, Allegro®, or some other supported interface, Altium Designer has the importer and/or exporter to make joining the Altium party a smooth and reassuring experience.

Altium 365

Altium 365 takes Altium Designer to the next dimension of PCB design by creating seamless collaboration points across the PCB development process making it the most connected design experience in the industry. Altium 365 is a cloud-based infrastructure platform that connects all the key stakeholders and disciplines, from mechanical designers to parts procurement, to fabrication and assembly. In other words, Altium 365 connects electronics design to the manufacturing floor.

Experienced through having an active Altium Subscription Plan, Altium 365 enhances Altium Designer with sharing and collaboration capabilities, without having to change the way you work. With a Pro Subscription Plan your experience is enhanced further to include design data and component management with lifecycles, as well as part and supply chain intelligence for a managed design and release process.

Altium 365 makes it possible to share PCB designs and collaborate with anyone - in any time zone, at any company - as the design evolves. You can simply share a link to your design for easy, real-time collaboration and review, at no-cost to reviewers. With Altium 365, you can bring together the stakeholders and participants of your choosing (even those who do not have Altium Designer), while keeping your IP secure and design under control.

You can organize designs, libraries, and participants in one place - accessible at any time, on any device, anywhere. Altium 365 leverages CAD-specific intelligence to store design data in a way that makes projects, files and version history accessible and easy to navigate on the web (everything from being able to inspect components, nets, and other design entities for their properties, understanding how things are connected, and cross probing between different aspects of the design).

Altium 365: Altium Designer AMPLIFIED.

Some of the key benefits that Altium 365 brings to the design table:

  • Securely share PCB designs with internal and external stakeholders with a simple web link, where they can view and comment on the design via a web browser on any platform (Mac, Windows, Android or iOS) and any device (desktop or mobile).
  • Communicate true design intent early and collaboratively through commenting, co-creation and visualization of PCB designs. Work from anywhere and connect with anyone, with ease. Built-in storage and version control (tightly integrated with Altium Designer) ensures that the latest data is available at any time, from any device.
  • Conduct more effective Design Reviews by allowing users to highlight and mark-up a specific component or area, on a schematic or layout. Internal / external stakeholders (e.g. managers, other designers, part suppliers, etc) can comment and mark-up designs simultaneously (much like a collaboration on a Google® document).
  • Collaborate with multiple designers. The web browser platform simplifies how designs are visualized and marked up, while allowing other designers to connect to the same PCB design with Altium Designer to author changes.
  • Co-design with Mechanical designers. Electrical and mechanical engineers can push and pull design data backwards and forwards in real-time, with each being notified when changes have been made by the other. Altium 365 provides native integration between electronic and mechanical domains through a built-in co-designer capability that provides native integration with PTC Creo Parametric®, Dassault Systemes SOLIDWORKS® and Autodesk Inventor Professional®.
  • Reduce miscommunication and re-design iterations with manufacturing. Compress design cycles with the capability to create formal atomic design releases, ensuring a coherent set of manufacturing data. Create a manufacturing package that can be bundled up according to the needs of your specific manufacturing partner.

Extending Altium Designer

Altium Designer's Installation Management System allows you to handcraft your installation of the software at any time after initial install. This covers not only updates to the core functionality (or system resources), but also the ability to install, update, or remove additional functionality. The latter is made possible through the provision of optional Extensions.

An extension is effectively an add-on to the software, providing extended features and functionality. A core set of features and functions are installed and handled transparently as part of the initial install, referred to as System Resources. In addition, a range of Optional Extensions are available - packets of functionality that are optionally installed or removed by the user as required. It is the extension concept that enables the installation to be handcrafted in accordance with design needs. This functionality could include a new importer or exporter, a tool for schematic symbol generation, or maybe support for mechanical CAD collaboration. In short, any targeted packages of functionality that extend and enhance the feature set of Altium Designer.

Extensions are offered either free or paid (subscribed), and can be from Altium itself, or from a Third Party. In addition, and with the Altium Developer extension, you can extend the functionality of Altium Designer yourself through use of the Altium Designer SDK (Software Development Kit) - creating your own extensions for the software.

Additional software functionality, provided through optional extensions, can be browsed, installed, and managed, through the Extensions & Updates view (click on the  control at the top-right of the workspace and choose Extensions and Updates from the menu).

Managed Content Server

A managed content server works in harmony with Altium Designer to provide an elegant answer to the question of handling design data with secured integrity. The server not only provides rock-solid, secure storage of data, but also enables re-release of data as distinctly separate revisions - essentially tracking design changes over time, without overwriting any previously released data. It also caters for the lifecycle of the data to be managed, allowing people that need to use the data to see, at-a-glance, what stage the data has reached in its 'life' and therefore what it can be safely used for.

The server is used to manage all managed data, including components, domain models, schematic sheets of circuitry and design templates. Indeed, you can even create and manage your entire design projects directly within the server.

By furnishing a set of resuable design 'building blocks' within the server, you can embark on fresh projects safe in the knowledge that each model, component, and higher-order design element has been ratified and approved for use, with no having to reinvent the wheel as it were. The server becomes both the source and destination of design elements, with each new design utilizing elements realeased to, and managed through, the server. And by designing only with elements from the server, the integrity of those designs is inherently assured.

Altium Designer can work with the following types of managed content server:

  • Altium 365 Workspace - delivered through the Altium 365 platform. A single Workspace is available per company. The features and functionality available depends on your level of access to Altium 365, which in turn is dependent on the Altium Subscription Plan (Standard or Pro) you have purchased for your Altium Designer licensing.
Following industry best practices for security and data integrity, Altium 365 supports TLS (Transport Layer Security) 1.2. As such, to be able to connect to an Altium 365 Workspace from your design software, you must be using Altium Designer 20.1.14 or later, which includes support for TLS 1.2.
Should you require an agile solution for managed flows and enterprise integrations, switch to Altium NEXUS. Altium NEXUS is a turnkey solution for structured, workflow-driven PCB design by teams. It includes the capability for design, component data management, design data management, workflow authoring, process management, and more. As a complete or turnkey solution, It is comprised of configurable off-the-shelf modules and deployed with assistance from Altium professionals.

Altium Designer Preferences

Altium Designer provides a central location from where you can set up various preferences across different functional areas of the software. These are global system settings that apply across projects and relevant documents.

Configuration of preferences is performed from within the Preferences dialog (click on the  control at the top-right of the workspace). Use the controls and options available on the loaded page to configure your preferences for that area of the software as required. This could be a mixture of satisfying company policy, and your preferred working environment.

The Preferences dialog provides a number of useful tools to ensure your set of preferences is just as you require, including:

  • Ability to import preferences defined in a previous instance, or version of the software.
  • Ability to save preferences to, and load preferences from, a Preferences file (*.DXPPrf).
  • Ability to set the options and controls on the active child preferences page, or all pages, back to their defaults.

And if you have a managed content server, you can formally release your Altium Designer Preferences into a target Item (and revision thereof) in that server. Once the preferences set has been released, and its lifecycle state set to a level that the organization views as ready for use at the design level, the preferences can be reused across installations of the software.

PCB Design Rules Reference

Altium Designer's PCB Editor uses the concept of Design Rules to define the requirements of a design. These rules collectively form an 'instruction set' for the PCB Editor to follow. They cover every aspect of the design - from routing widths, clearances, plane connection styles, routing via styles, and so on - and many of the rules can be monitored in real-time by the online Design Rule Checker (DRC).

Design rules target specific objects and are applied in a hierarchical fashion. Multiple rules of the same type can be set up. It may arise that a design object is covered by more than one rule with the same scope. In this instance, a contention exists. All contentions are resolved by a priority setting. The system goes through the rules from highest to lowest priority and picks the first one whose scope(s) match the object(s) being checked.

With a well-defined set of design rules, you can successfully complete board designs with varying and often stringent design requirements. And as the PCB Editor is rules-driven, taking the time to set up the rules at the outset of the design will enable you to effectively get on with the job of designing, safe in the knowledge that the rules system is working hard to ensure that success.

For a detailed overview of the rules system in Altium Designer, see Constraining the Design - Design Rules. For an overview of the system used to verify adherence to defined rules, see Design Rule Checking.

Project Compiler Violations Reference

The process of compiling is integral to producing a valid netlist for a project. In fact it is the process of compilation that yields the unified data model of a design - the single model of the data that is accessible across the design domains in Altium Designer's unified design environment. Connectivity awareness in your schematic diagram can be verified during compilation according to rules defined as part of the options for the design project - on the Error Reporting and Connection Matrix tabs respectively.

This area of the Altium Designer documentation provides a comprehensive reference describing each of the possible electrical and drafting violations that can exist in source documents when compiling a project.

For a detailed overview of verifying your captured design, see Compiling and Verifying the Design.

Query Language Reference

Underlying Altium Designer's Schematic and PCB editors is a powerful query engine. By entering queries into this engine you can logically scope precisely those objects you require. A query is a string you enter using specific keywords and syntax, which will return the targeted objects.

Queries are primarily defined in a Filter panel, but are also used to define scoping for PCB design rules. As you build your knowledge of the Query Language, and the functions, keywords and syntax available, you will be able to type expressions directly. However, until that level of confidence is built, the Query Helper can be a beneficial crutch on which to lean! Providing an editing window in which to 'build' an expression, the Query Helper contains a full listing of query functions/keywords and related controls, as well as a handy syntax checker.

The vastness of the Query Language may seem a little daunting to begin with, but over time you will learn to appreciate its power - building a set of favorite query expressions with which to target common sets of objects (and committing them to muscle memory). And to quickly get up to speed, information is available for each of the query functions. Simply highlight (or click inside) any given keyword - in the Query Helper, a Filter panel, or the Full Query field of a PCB design rule - and press F1 to access its page within the documentation.

For a look at how queries are used in the scoping of design rules, see Scoping Design Rules.

Resource References

Altium Designer's unified design environment consists of various Servers plugged into a core platform. Together with the core platform itself, these servers provide the resources of the software - its features and functionality.

The resources are delivered in the form of commands, dialogs, panels, and the like. They are documented across the following sections of this documentation space:

Use the following methods to locate information on a particular resource:

  • Within the software, hover over a menu command, toolbar button, dialog, panel, or design object, and press F1.
  • Within the documentation, use the navigation tree to the left of this text to browse for the resource required within the aforementioned sections. Alternatively, click the Search icon  in the bar on the left.
Within Altium Designer, the F1 shortcut is definitely worth getting acquainted with. Hover the mouse over anything inside the software's environment - a button, command, dialog, panel, design object, or Query Language function/keyword - and press F1 to access documentation for it. F1 also works for specific pages in the Preferences dialog, and specific rule constraint pages in the PCB Rules and Constraints Editor dialog. And if you're running a command, say you're placing a component and you're not sure how to rotate it, press Shift+F1 for a list of command-dependent shortcuts.


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