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2/19/2016

AltiumTricksAndStandards|mbedded.ninja

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Theembeddedengineeringwebsitethat'sgotyourback.

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Altium Tricks And Standards

Contents

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Contents
1. Overview
2. Schematic Symbol Snap
3. One PCB Per PcbDoc And PcbPrj File
4. Folder Structure
5. Stopping Rooms From Being Added To The PCB
6. My Vias/Tracks disappear WhenIm Routing!
7. Version Control Systems
8. The Board Shape
9. PCB Layer Standards
10. Layer Colours
11. PCB Symbol Naming Convention
12.
1.
13. Component Description Standards
1. Capacitors
2. Resistor Description
14. Quickly Adding Vias To Nets
15. Getting To Datasheets Quickly
16. Using Transparent Layers
17. Direct Connect For Specific Pads
18. Opening Internet Links In External Web Browser
19. Removing Exposed-Pad Vias That Are Automatically Added By The Footprint Wizard

Overview

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Overview
After using Altium for many years, you begin to pick up on little tricks to make your PCB design life easier.
This page is intended to help you fast-track that!
It pays to have some basic standards/protocolswhen working with Altium, otherwise things can get ugly real
quick.

Schematic Symbol Snap


Rule: Keep schematic snap when designing symbols to DXP defaults.
This is because most schematic symbol libraries use this setting, and if you dont, using other peoples
symbols dont connect properly.I recommend you use a snap that is a multiple of 5mill. This only applies
when placing the pins, you can choose whatever you want for the rest of the symbol! I regularly use 1mill
snap for designing graphics for the symbol.
If you dont get thesnap right, it is really hard to connect pins up on the schematic, and Altium will produce
Component off grid warnings when compiling. An overload of these can mask any true mistake where a
component is not connected to the intended net.

One PCB Per PcbDoc And PcbPrj File


Altium was designed so that there is only one PCB per .PcbDoc file. And it was designed so that there is only
one .PcbDoc file per .PcbPrj file.A single PCB is defined as one continuous board region.
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Problems with having multiple PCBs per .PcbDoc:


1. Altium only supports a board outline which outlines a single continuous region. To add multiple PCBs,
you have to add a joining link of board between the two actual PCBs, which looks ugly in both 2D and 3D
modes.
2. All the nets have to be unique between the two PCBs. This becomes a problem for commonly used names
such as 5V and GND. If you dont have unique names, Altium will want you to join the two PCBs together
with copper, thinking you have an unrouted net.
3. Designators have to be unique acrossthe two PCBs. This means that designators on one of the PCBs wont
start from R1, C1, e.t.c.

Folder Structure
Create a different folder for each project With all the files Altium creates for a project, directories can get
really, really messy.

Stopping Rooms From Being Added To The PCB


Also, rooms can get annoying when you dont need them. To disable rooms, click Project -> Project Options ->
ECO Generation. Select Add Rooms and then choose Ignore Differences from the drop-down menu on the
right. Delete any existing rooms, and Altium will no longer automatically add them when you update the
PCB.

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AscreenshotshowinghowtostopAltiumfromaddingroomstothePCB.

My Vias/Tracks disappear WhenIm Routing!

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My Vias/Tracks disappear WhenIm Routing!


This is caused by Altiums Automatically Remove Loops function removing vias and tracks when you have
more than one connected to the same trace. To stop this from happening, begin routing, and then press TAB.
The routing options windows will pop up. Navigate to the Interactive Routing Options section and deselect
Automatically Remove Loops.

Version Control Systems


If you are using Mercurial source control software for you Altium project, here is a recommendedMercurial
Ignore Fileto prevent the un-necessary files from being put under version control.

The Board Shape


Altium allows close integration between the mechanical and electrical design with the ability to define the
board shape from DXF/DWG files or step models. I personally find the DXF format perfect for defining the
board shape from a mechanical design, in where you can create a board-outline DXF by exporting from CAD
software such as SolidWorks or GeoMagic.

PCB Layer Standards


These conform to the default layers that Altiums IPC Footprint Wizard automatically uses for certain parts
of a component. Some of the layers are paired, so that Altium automatically switches the objects on these
layers when the component is changed from top layer to bottom layer and vise versa.
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Note that Mechanical 1 (the board outline), Mechanical 2 (PCB info) and Mechanical 11/12 (the dimension
layers) are notchosen by Altium , but ratherjust personal preferences.
Layer

Usage

Mechanical

Board outline (it is not recommended to use just the keep-out layer,

1 (M1)

since that can be used for other things also).

Mechanical

PCB notes and comments for the PCB manufacturer/assembler

2 (M2)

(included in Gerber output).

Mechanical

General notes and comments that the PCB manufacturer/assembler

3 (M3)

does not need to know about (not included in Gerber output).

Mechanical
11 (M11)
Mechanical
12 (M12)

Top layer dimensions (paired with M12).

Bottom layer dimensions (paired with M11).

Mechanical

Top layer component body information (3D models and mechanical

13 (M13)

outlines, paired with M14).

Mechanical

Bottom layer component body information (3D models and

14 (M14)

mechanical outlines, paired with M13).

Mechanical

Top layer courtyard and assembly information (paired with M16).

15 (M15)

This normally includes a cross-hairs at the origin of the component.

Mechanical
16 (M16)

Bottom layer courtyard and assembly information (paired with


M15).This normally includes a cross-hairs at the origin of the
component.

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The pairing of the mechanical layers is done as shown below.

PairingmechanicallayersinAltium.

Layer Colours

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Layer Colours
I find that when using many Altium layers, the default colour scheme can get very confusing. To make
things simple to understand, I like using a hot and cold colour scheme.
All layers related to the top side (Top Layer, Top Overlay, Top Paste, Top Solder, Top Dimensions, Top
Component Outlines/3D Bodies, and Top Courtyard are all chosen to be hot colours, while conversely all the
bottom side layers are chosen to be cold colours.

AnexampleshowingtheuseofhotandcoldPCBlayercoloursinAltiumtohelpdistinguishbetweentopandbottomassociated
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objects.

Here is a table showing the RGB values I set various layers to:
Layer Name

RGB Value

Top Layer

255, 0, 0

Top Silkscreen

Top Soldermask

Top Paste

Bottom Layer

Bottom Silkscreen

Bottom Soldermask

Bottom Paste

Top Dimensions (Mechanical 11)

Top Dimensions (Mechanical 12)

Top Component Body (Mechanical 13)

BottomComponent Body (Mechanical 14)

Top Courtyard (Mechanical 15)

BottomCourtyard (Mechanical 16)

PCB Symbol Naming Convention

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PCB Symbol Naming Convention


A good idea is to follow Altiums PCB symbol naming convention, which can be downloaded from the Altium
websitehere,

Component Description Standards


The component description is commonly used to convey all the important parameters of the component that
that are vital for the BOM. For example, the description of a capacitor might indicate that its a capacitor, the
type of capacitor, the package size, the temperature coefficient, tolerance, voltage and capacitance in a short
hand notation.
The idea is that the Description field will be added to the BOM, and it will be solely responsible for
describing the part to whatever detail is neccessary.
It is useful to use the component description for this purpose to make the BOM easy to understand and use.
Because each type of component has its own unique set of parameters, If all these values where included in
their own separate parameter fields, the BOM would become large, full of empty fields (e.g. a resistor
typically does not have a temperature coefficient) and unnecessarily messy.
I use the following notation for the description field. The parameters are listed in short-hand from most
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generic to least generic (this allows for good grouping when sorting alphanumerically). The symbol
reference is set the manufacturers part number, as this has to be a unique field.

Capacitors

SearchingthroughanAltiumschematiclibrary.

1 Capacitor, <type>, <package size (imperial)>,<capacitance>, <voltage>,<temperature coefficient>, <tol

e.g.
1 Capacitor, Ceramic, 0603, 10nF, 35V,X7R,5%

Resistor Description

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Resistor Description
1 Resistor,<package size (imperial)>, <resistance>, <tolerance>, <rated power>

e.g.
1 Resistor, 0402, 2.70k, 1%,63mW

Note thatthe Omega symbol (aka the Ohm symbol) is not supported in the PCB editor as part of the
component description.You can use the symbol R instead.

Quickly Adding Vias To Nets


To quickly associate a via to a net, when placing the via, make sure to place it over a track or pad with the
same net. The via automatically inherets the connected net.

Getting To Datasheets Quickly


Over and over during the PCB design process youll find yourself wanting to go to the datasheet of a
component you can see on a schematic. There is a quick way to add a link to the right-click context menu of
the component in Altium by adding a component parameter that follows a special syntax.
These special component parameters are called component links, and follow the syntax:
Parameter Name

Parameter Value

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ComponentLink1Description Enter the name you want to see in the right-click


menu
ComponentLink1URL
ComponentLink2Description
ComponentLink2URL

Enter the URL you want to go to when you click.


Enter the name you want to see in the right-click
menu
Enter the URL you want to go to when you click.

This can be repeated for as many component links as you wish. The URL can be any valid path (i.e. the path
to a file on your computer/server, or to a website URL). They can be added to both schematic library
component parameters, and component library parameters which will the be released to a vault. The
component links get added to the References sub-menu when you right-click on the component in the
Altium schematic editor.
For example, I would add these component parameters to a buffer IC:
Parameter Name

Parameter Value

ComponentLink1Description

Datasheet

ComponentLink1URL

http://www.ti.com/lit/ds/symlink/sn74lv126a.pdf

As shown in the following image:

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AddingaspecialcomponentlinktothecomponentsdatasheetinAltium.

I would then be able to quickly go to the datasheet by right-clicking the component, navigating to the
References sub-menu, and clicking Datasheet.

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Quicklygoingtothecomponentdatasheetbyusingacomponentlink
parameterinAlitum.
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Using Transparent Layers


Use Transparent Layers is a menu option hidden away in Altium that makes the layers go semitransparent. It is really useful when dealing/routing with multi-layer objects (such as vias). I found I use
Transparent mode more often than not now since I discovered it. To enable it, go into the View
Configurations Menu, click the View Options tab, and then make sure the Use Transparent Layers box is
ticked as shown below.

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TurningonthetransparentlayeroptioninAltium.Veryusefulwhenroutingcomplexmulti-layerboards!

Here is an example showing layers when set to Transparent mode.

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AnexampleofthePCBviewinAltiumwhenusingtransparentlayers.

Direct Connect For Specific Pads


When designing a PCB, you often find yourself wanting to direct connect from polygon pours and power
planes to specific pads of a component, while leaving the others with thermal relief connections. This is
usually to reduce the copper track resistance tohigh current pins (e.g. V+ and GND).

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Aterminalblockpadwithdirectconnectionstoapolygon(+24V-MOTOR)and
apadwiththermalreliefconnections(GND).

The simplestway to do this is to add a custom pad region around the pin of interest. However, this is time
consuming as you have to do it for every pin and on every layer. A better way is to use pad classes.
To add pads to a pad class, first take note of the component the pad is part of in the Altium PCB editor, and
the pin number of the pad itself (e.g. component J3, pin number 2). Now click Design->Classes.Navigate the
folder Pad Classes,and add a new pad class called DirectConnect (the exact name does not matter). Now
add all thedesired pads to this new pad class.

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AddingpadstothenewDirectConnectpadclass.

We now need to make a direct connect rule for all pads in this pad class.Click close, and now click Design>Rules. Add a new Polygon Connect Style rule. Select Advanced (Query) for the first object match, and
then enter InPadClass('DirectConnect') into the Full Query window. Change the Connect Style to
Direct Connect.

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MakinganewDirectConnectruleforthepadclass.

Save and exit the Rules dialog, and rebuild your polygons. Done! You should now have direct connects to all
the pads you added to the DirectConnect pad class. If you want to do the same thing for power planes, add
a similarPower Plane Connect Style rule for the same pad class, as shown in the above picture. If you want
to add pads to class which dont belong to any component, look for them under Free-xx (e.g. Free-0) in the
pad classes dialogue.
If all the pads that you are wanting to direct connect are located in the same area, you may want to use a
PCBroom object to envelop all the pads instead of adding each pad to apad class. Another disadvantage of
the pad class trick is that this direct connection information will be lost if you change the designator (or
worse still, will be assigned to completely wrong pads who just happen to have the same name as the old
ones).
Note: Direct connect rules can also be added to specific pins on the schematic, through the pin editor menu
for a selected component. However, as of Altium v15.1, this feature seems buggy, and causes basic (as vital)
features like Compile and Update Changes To PCB to crash from that point on.

Opening Internet Links In External Web Browser


By default, Altium tries to open internet links in its own internal browser. Its no surprise that because
Altium is a EDA tool and not a dedicated browser, its not the best at displaying web pages.Thankfully, you
can force Altium to use your default external web browser by navigating to DXP->Preferences->System->View
and checking the Open internet links in external Web browser option.

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CheckingOpeninternetlinksinexternalwebbrowserwillstop
Altiumfromtryingtoopenthem.

Removing Exposed-Pad Vias That Are Automatically Added


By The Footprint Wizard
The Alitum footprint wizard automatically adds vias to the exposed pad of component
packagefootprintssuch as QFN. Although it is recommended to have thermal vias conducting heat away
from the exposed pad to the other PCB layers, it causes problems when these vias are added to the footprint,
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because of the inflexibility to change them during the PCB design stage. Without unlocking the primitives of
the footprint (which I do not recommend you do unless absolutely needed), there is no way tomodify these
vias during the PCB design. You may wish to move them to allow for nets to pass underneath the component
footprint on another layer, you may wish to add morefor better thermal properties, or you may wish to
remove them altogether because it recommends for that specific chip to leave the thermal pad unconnected.
For these reasons, I recommend that you delete these automatically added vias from all affectedcomponent
footprints, and instead add vias as needed during the PCBrouting stage of the design process.

ThefootprintwizardinAltium

Irecommendthatyouremove
theseviasandinsteadaddthem
asneededatthePCBrouting
stageofthedesignprocess.

hasautomaticallyaddedthree
thermalviastothisQFN
package.

Also,Iprefertorenamethe
thermalpintopinnumber0.

SHARETHIS:

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Jointhediscussion
JorgeCubas amonthago

Hello,isitpossibleforyoutosendmetheviewconfiguration(layercolorsconfiguration
file)tomyemail?iwastryingtodoitlikeyoursbutijustdon'tgetitthatgood..
cubas89@gmail.comthankyouverymuch!!

Reply Share

gbmhunter

Mod >JorgeCubas

amonthago

Hi,I'llseeifIcangetaconfig.filesavedanduploadittothispageforeveryoneto
downloadiftheywish.

Reply Share

VicMain 10monthsago

Thanksverymuchforthetips,someofthesehavebeenannoyingmeforawhile!!I've
doneafairlylarge(over12K)partsdatabase,includingthecomponentlinks,andallthe

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doneafairlylarge(over12K)partsdatabase,includingthecomponentlinks,andallthe
necessaryinfoaboutalltheparts..WithpartsthathaveapadI'vefounditusefultoadda
soldermaskcutoutonthebottomsopartscanberemoveeasilybyhand.

Reply Share

gbmhunter

Mod >VicMain

10monthsago

A12kpartdatabaseismassive!:O.Haveyoulooked/usedanyAltiumvault
componentsbefore?

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