Altium Designer Documentation

Altium Designer Documentation

Created: July 28, 2021 | Updated: September 10, 2021
Now reading version 21. For the latest, read: Altium Designer Documentation for version 23
Applies to Altium Designer version: 21

Altium Designer combines a multitude 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 is performed within, a single Unified Design Environment – the only one of its kind, and it is 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. At the start, the perceived steep learning curve can appear to be 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 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 that allow you to arrive at the correct documentation destination for the version of the software in which you are actively designing.

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 try 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 unrestricted access to the world's finest PCB design product. Click the link below, fill out the form then see for yourself why more engineers and designers choose Altium Designer than any other product available!

Altium Designer Free Trial

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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 to generating the files needed to fabricate the bare board for a simple nine-component circuit.

The design you will be capturing 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 familiar 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 the various features and functionality of Altium Designer – depending on your purchased license – and provides a consistent user interface across all the tools and editors. Providing further flexibility, this environment is fully customizable, allowing you to set up the design space to suit the way you work.

You can explore the Altium Designer interface and its features by experimenting with the software, diving in to create a new design project, or better yet, 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 Altium Designer 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.

By 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 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. This includes 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 web link with which 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 backward and forward 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 a variety of MCAD software tools.
  • Reduce miscommunication and redesign 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

The Altium Designer Installation Management System allows you to handcraft your installation of the software at any time after the initial installation. 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 an add-on to the software that provides extended features and functionality. A core set of features and functions are installed and handled transparently as part of the initial installation referred to as System Resources. In addition, a range of Optional Extensions are available, which are 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, it includes 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 or from a third party. In addition and with the Altium Developer extension, you can extend the functionality of Altium Designer through the use of the Altium Designer SDK (Software Development Kit) and create 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 at the top right of the design space then choose Extensions and Updates from the menu).

Designing with a Connected Workspace

To handle your valuable design data while affording unparalleled collaboration, Altium Designer can connect to and work with a Workspace. The Workspace 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 Workspace is used to manage all design 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 Workspace.

By furnishing a set of reusable design 'building blocks' within the Workspace, 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, without having to reinvent the wheel as it were. The Workspace becomes both the source and destination of design elements, with each new design utilizing elements released to and managed through the Workspace. Additionally, by designing only with elements from the Workspace, the integrity of those designs is inherently assured.

Altium Designer can connect to the following Workspaces:

With an Altium 365 Workspace, you'll benefit from a richer set of collaborative features, including Global Sharing. And because it is cloud-based, you get the latest version of the Workspace without having to worry about manual upgrades.

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 at the top right of the design space). Use the controls and options available on each 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.

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

PCB Design Rules Reference

the Altium Designer 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, such as routing widths, clearances, plane connection styles, and routing via styles, 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. Additionally, since the PCB Editor is rules-driven, taking the time to set up the rules at the onset 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 success.

For a detailed overview of the rules system in Altium Designer, see Defining, Scoping & Managing PCB Design Rules. For an overview of the system used to verify adherence to defined rules, see Ensuring Design Integrity with Design Rule Checking (DRC).

Design Validation – Violations Reference

The process of compilation is integral to producing a valid netlist for a project. In fact, it is the process of compiling that yields the unified data model of a design – the single model of the data that is accessible across the design domains in the Altium Designer unified design environment. Altium Designer incorporates dynamic compilation that keeps the data model updated with design changes you make, as you make them.

In addition, connectivity awareness in your schematic diagram can be verified by performing a validation, which runs in accordance with rules defined as part of the options for the design project on the Error Reporting and Connection Matrix tabs.

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 validating a project.

For a detailed overview of validating your captured design, see Verifying Your Design Project.

Query Language Reference

Underlying the Altium Designer 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 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). 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 then 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

The Altium Designer unified design environment consists of various areas plugged into a core platform. Together with the core platform itself, these areas provide the resources of the software.

The resources are delivered in the form of commands, dialogs, panels, etc. They are documented across the following sections of the 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 then 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. If you're running a command, for example, 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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