Jeff (The Brown-Eyed Albino)
Once you're past the solderless breadboard stage in developing your circuit, you may want to prototype it. This is where EAGLE CAD comes in. EAGLE is very similar to just about every other CAD (Computer Aided Drafting (and Design)) program out there, but it specializes in the production of schematics, rather than homes or appliances. The main difference between most CAD softwares is the layout. Knowledge of other CAD programs could come in quite handy, since alot of shorcuts and hotkeys are about the same as AutoCAD, but it's easy enough to get started from scratch. And hey, it's free!
In fact, some wonderful fellows have already gone about and detailed their process of getting used to, and actually using this program for professional quality schematics. No more Microsoft Paint schematics for you, reader! No longer will you have to freehand draw your PCB's! Just read these brief articles, and you'll be on your way to greatness in no time!
Our first stop (and the rest of the stops today as well) is done by the lovely folks over at SparkFun Electronics. This first article goes over downloading and installing EAGLE, installing and using third party libraries, starting a new project, adding (and removing) components, connecting and labeling components, and copying and pasting. That should keep you busy, eh?
If that's not enough, SparkFun continues on with a peice on how to turn your schematic into a PCB layout. I quote, "Layout is an art, and engineers make bad artists. It's all about the small polishing - text labels, stand off holes, correct footprints. Just keep turning out PCBs and you'll see your layouts improve dramatically with practice." Practice is the key word here, so don't get upset if it takes you hours to get used to this. Some people do this for a living, if it were easy, they'd be out of a job. This article even shows you how to make a Gerber file, so you can take your layout to a fab house.
This third peice explains the process behind creating a new part, or symbol, and adding it to your library. Heck, it even tells you how to make the solder traces for your new custom component. Pretty handy stuff to know.
Next up is a writeup on how to make your overall experience with EAGLE an enjoyable one. If you follow the guidelines given, you shouldn't have a worry in the world when your PCB's go to get fabricated. Throughout this article, it explains how to place your traces so that it's easier to be fabbed, and also how to get the best results with silkscreening.
Remember, traces that are less than 10mm apart are harder to fabricate, so why not play it safe? Give yourself some extra room when designing your layout, you'll be happier when you don't end up with a handful of coasters.
If you're looking for more information, or just a different person writing, check out this Instructable! It goes over his process for getting accustomed to EAGLE CAD, as well as some new resources via other Instructables members.
You can get EAGLE CAD directly from Cadsoft for free, as long as you're a student, or nonprofit organization. It's available for Mac, Linux, and Windows.
The Brown-Eyed Albino