PCBWorks Documentation

PCBWorks delivers a powerful design solution that unites the electrical (ECAD) and mechanical (MCAD) worlds by facilitating streamlined collaboration between the two. Engineered specifically for collaboration with SolidWorks®, an electrical designer can export changes to the board design that are needed (and of value) by the mechanical designer. Conversely, the mechanical designer can float change proposals back to the electrical designer, who can then import those changes back into their design. Ultimately, this level of collaboration and integration brings harmony to the overall design process - a process that while traversing these two distinct parallel paths, ultimately delivers a single product to market.

And from the PCB design perspective, PCBWorks meets all of your expectations. With a streamlined interface built atop a powerful PCB Design engine, it provides the tools necessary to capture and layout your boards, and produce the manufacturing data with which to turn your ideas into physical reality. And all from within a single, powerful-yet-intuitive, unified design environment.

Getting Started

Design Components

Related article: Component Management in PCBWorks

PCBWorks offers a variety of component management methodologies to meet your preferred approach to working with the components used in your designs:

  • Standard Component Libraries - Schematic Symbol (*.SchLib) and PCB 2D/3D Component Model (*.PcbLib) libraries.
  • Integrated Components - in this model the higher level component is modeled within the schematic symbol in a Schematic library file (*.SchLib). Other models are linked from the symbol, and component parameters are added to the symbol. All source libraries – symbol and linked models – are defined within a Library Package project (*.LibPkg), which is subsequently compiled into a single file; an Integrated Library (*.IntLib). The advantage of compiling into an integrated library is that all component information is available in a single portable, and secure file.
  • Vault Components - this 'next-generation' model effectively maps the concept of a design component – in the traditional electronics design arena – to the component as seen by the rest of the organization in the bigger 'product arena'. A model that not only represents the component in the different design domains (Schematic Capture, 2D/3D PCB Layout) but is extended to include real-world physical component information, creating a component that spans, or rather unifies, the Design and Supply Chain arenas; a Unified Component.

Libraries (SchLib, PcbLib, IntLib, and collections of targeted folders of vault components) can be made available to all board design projects in PCBWorks, by adding them to the Installed Libraries list through the Available Libraries dialog. Access this dialog directly from the Libraries panel by clicking the Libraries button. Alternatively, management of installed libraries can be performed from the Data Management - Installed Libraries page of the Preferences dialog.

Vault components for use in your PCBWorks designs can be sourced from your own Altium Vault. In addition, Altium makes available an extensive and impressive array of components in its own vault - the Altium Content Vault. To connect to this vault, simply access the Data Management – Vaults page of the Preferences dialog (File » System Preferences), and click the Add Altium Content Vault button. Provided you have a licensed instance of PCBWorks, a connection to the vault will be made instantly. Once connected to a vault, access and place content from that vault, directly into your designs, through the Vaults panel (File » Vault Explorer). Note that data from the Altium Content Vault is strictly for consumption only.

Resource Reference

Parent page: Resource Reference

PCBWorks'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. These are delivered in the form of commands, dialogs, panels, and the like. These resources are documented and collated by server. Use the following methods to locate information on a particular resource:

  • Within the software, hover over a Ribbon button, menu command, dialog, panel, or design object, and press F1.
  • Within the documentation, either:
    • Use the pop-up navigation tree to the left of this text (accessed by clicking the  button at the top-left of a page) to browse for the resource required across the various servers (under the Resource Reference section of the tree).
    • Use the Search field at the top-right.
Within PCBWorks, the F1 shortcut is definitely worth getting acquainted with. Hover the mouse over anything inside PCBWorks – 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.

The following sections highlight, and provide quick navigation to, some key areas within the resources documentation.

Design Environment

Schematic Capture

PCB Design

Text Editing

PCB Design Rules Reference

Parent page: PCB Design Rules Reference

PCBWorks'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.

The following categories of design rules are available:


Press F1 within the constraints page for a specific design rule, to access documentation for that rule.

Project Compiler Violations Reference

Parent page: 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 PCBWorks'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 PCBWorks documentation provides a comprehensive reference describing each of the possible electrical and drafting violations that can exist in source documents when compiling a project. The various categories of violation are:

Compiler violations are reported in the Messages panel.

Query Language Reference

Parent page: Query Language Reference

Underlying PCBWorks's PCB Editor, and facilitating customized scoping of design rules, 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.

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, or the Full Query field of a PCB design rule – and press F1 to access its information within the documentation. For convenience, quicklinks to types of functions are listed below: