How to export Gerber file from 4 design software

What is a Gerber file?

Gerber file is a file extension that one can use in many different software design programs. It’s to export the board layout to CAM or PCB fabricating machines. A Gerber file is a file that contains information about the layout of a PCB, such as circuit board dimensions and mounting holes. It is often used as a source file to generate other files such as Gerber bit files and pcbnet data files. We can also use it for sharing with other users to print the design to a customer or engineer.

A Gerber file can hold multiple layers of data. So, it enables you to produce engineering drawings, e-drawings, photo plotting, and other technical artwork.

The program referred to as “Gerbers” is a specific set of three programs installed into your computer by the CAD system software. Gerber is essentially a file format, and Gerber (the program) is the application that reads and writes these files. The pass number and layer data are not included in the file name but are “hardcoded” into the Gerber files program.

The files it produces are often helpful in creating circuit boards by photo plotting and image output for manufacturing. The manufacturing will use the dxf file to make a stencil; the gbr file to make an engraving; and the gko file to make a photomask (flash, photo).

What program makes Gerber files?

The program in the industry that is most common to make Gerber files is the Autodesk-Autocad or AutoCad. There are different versions of this company, including Autodesk, which produces mainly architecture design software. If you are not familiar with this software, visit the official website of Autodesk.

Other types of CAD software that can read Gerber files are Altium Designer, KiCAD, EasyEDA, Eagle, etc.

However, we know how hard it is to choose the best CAD software for your company. That is why we offer you a free Gerber viewer and Gerber file maker.

 

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Versions of Gerber Files

kicad gerber

Many file formats have their limits depending on their versions. You need to understand the version of Gerber Files to use them in PCB fabricating process. Below are some of the most popular versions:

The difference between G22 and G64 is due to the change of data structure on the design file on the PCB. The G64 version is very popular since it conforms to the ISO 10303-21 standard and can handle any data from a design file. The G22 version uses a very different data structure from the G64. It was in use before the ISO 10303-21 standard came into the market and is not as widely used as it once was.

In the Gerber file format, all elements comprise of a sequence of ASCII symbols. For example, we can define one layer by its color, thickness, etc. In this case, Gerber uses a set of ASCII characters to represent the layer. The G-code language used in a Gerber file’s GSUB and GCODE fields depends on a Pcode programming language subset.

In practice, it isn’t easy to make a Gerber file manually since a human cannot parse it. So there are different tools to help users generate them by themselves.

How do I make a Gerber file?

Using a CAD drawing or any other source, you file a Gerber file and then export it to a Gerber file. When you have the Gerber file, you have what we refer to as “complete board layout.”

NOTE: This article does not explain how to use CAD software but only how to create Gerber files.

  • Design your PCB or PCB package into CAD software such as Eagle, Altium, KiCAD, or any other piece of CAD software you can access.
  • Export the design using the software’s “Export to Gerber” or “Export to PDF” function. You can export your design as an image and then open it in a vector drawing program such as Inkscape and trace around it, so you get a Gerber file. Or you can export the design as a PDF and convert it back into JPG.
  • Open up the Gerber file that your CAD program saved on your computer.
  • You should see a window that shows a single Gerber file. Click on it to open the file in the Gerber viewer.
  • Click on “Plot” (the green play button). You should be able to see your PCB design printout of the Gerber writer.

How do Gerber files work?

If you know what Gerber files are and how to make them, you can understand how they work. Your printed circuit board (PCB) manufacturer needs the Gerber file to make a photomask or an engraving. Or, if you want to make a PCB, you need to export the Gerber file from your CAD.

The Gerber file you make will be a sequence of layers per the layers used in the PCB layout. The layers are “numbered” from 0 to n, where n is the number of layers, from most inner to the outer layer.

They do not print the text “Bottom” on your PCB. If you want to print texts on your circuit board, you should use the text layer.

The Gerber file for the DVD layer will only hold the information about this layer. If you draw a text on this layer, it will appear on your PCB.

How to Generate Gerber Files based on Different PCB Design Software

The Gerber files are different from the PCB design software. You can find them at PCB design software or PCB design service provider.

Gerber is widely useful in the industry. Especially in production lines of electronic products and in other fields such as car manufacturing, mechanical integration of PCBA panels, and chip cooling.

Gerber format has been the standard version for PCB since its creation in 1992 by GSIG. Gerber is an open standard, and free tools are available for all to use. Leading companies such as RayMing PCB and Assembly are playing a major role in using Gerber file to produce excellent PCB products.

It is also widely used to design printed circuit boards in the electronics industry. Especially in satellite TV production lines. Rigol Systems won the Gerber Award for its use of the Gerber file format for PCB layout.

Theoretically, there are two other possible formats for PCB data: BSDL and MDF. However, they are rarely used in practice and are not documented or standardized.

Gerber has the following formats:

Each layer of Gerber has a unique layer number. By default, the first layer is layer 0. Usually, the first layer of Gerber files represents an outermost surface on an electronic circuit board (PCB). By convention, all layers have a connection to the top of the file. The layers have unique numbers from 0 to 5 (we can refer to 5 as “layer 5”) at each end of the Gerber file. For example, if you have an area on the PCB exposed to the outside of the board, it will be on layer 0. Also, many PCB manufacturers use four layers on each side of a PCB. However, some use more.

The layer name may contain eight characters and must start with a letter or an underscore (“_”) character. This layer name is useful for Gerber Viewer and Gerber Plotter programs since they do not support layer 5.

Each layer is a map showing the pattern of copper on the corresponding surface. There are also designated bits, called “tristate bits” or “masked pads,” which can be helpful as copper orl as a no-connect pad. In this case, if you want to use these bits as copper pads, you will have to open them first. Tristate bits are suitable for power and ground distribution. Especially for signal layers that carry high-density signals.

Initially, neither Gerber nor RS-274X contained a way to add color to the PCB. The color is only used for the background and does not affect the actual layout of the PCB. This kind of “background” color is not present in Gerber. Nowadays, it is possible to add color in some file formats:

 

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The Layers format

A Gerber file can contain different layers, and each layer can have up to 32 copper layers. The layers also have a mark with the layer number, layer name, tristate bits color, and wire color.

The Gerber file has a standard format called the “LAYERS” section. It starts with <GCLAYER> or <GCLAYER>/<RESULT> (note that you should not leave a space after the end of the Layers section. Also, there is no space before the /RENDER directive, which follows). It has no other header (i.e., it does not have a section called “END” as the previous file format).

The LAYERS section precedes the <RESULT> section. In this section, there is a field named “END,” which indicates the end of the result. There are three types of RESULT sections:

We refer to the last section as “BEGIN” and must be present. It consists of a line starting with “<END>.” E use it to mark the end of a <INPUT> section. If it is missing, then all the following areas will appear in the result.

A result section defined in a <INPUT> section can be any section that follows this <INPUT> statement. The only exception is when the “<END>” for <BEGIN> does not appear in this input, in which case it can be any other input.

An input section can have an optional second line starting with “<RESULT>.” If its value is missing, then we consider all the following sections as an error.

Why should you use Gerber files?

Gerber files are essential for communicating with other computer programs because they are so common in the PCB industry. The system stores the data about your PCB in these graphics files. So if you want to send them to another computer program, you will not have any problems doing it. You can read the Gerber file using a CAD software and CAM software, PCB fabricating machines, and PCB assembly machines. As long as the machine reads Gerber files.

How do I read a Gerber file?

You can read Gerber files by CAD software. When you open a Gerber file, you should see the layers one by one. The beginning of the file contains information about your PCB board size, area, etc. You also see which layers you are using in your Gerber file.

The layer order is very important because if you have a wrong layer order. It will result in bad use of your PCB boards and high production and transportation costs.

How to make a Gerber file viewer?

The easiest way to make a program that reads Gerber files is to use the Qt framework or wxWidgets framework. You can copy-paste a piece of code from the internet, but it will be hard for you to do it correctly. So we want to give you a tutorial about making a program that can read Gerber files.

  • Add header and lib files:

Open the project that you want to make Gerber viewer and add header and lib files. For Qt framework:

For wxWidgets framework:

  • Create the main class:

We will refer to the main class a the “Viewer.”

  • Create the window (for wxWidgets):

For Qt framework:

For wxWidgets:

  • Create the widget’s layout file (for wxWidgets):
  • Add your GUI code:

Here is an example of how to load a Gerber file in the Viewer class you just created. It should be very easy for you to understand after reading this example.

  • Adjust the Viewer class:

Since you know how to read Gerber files, you should understand how to convert the layer order to the number of layers. The layer order is very important, so remember it. We number it from 0 to 1, where n is the number of layers. If your layer order is wrong, you will get bad use of your circuit boards and high production costs.

  • Run your Gerber viewer program:

It will call the main function.

How to use Gerber file viewer

Once you have your Gerber viewer program, you can use it in different ways.

  • Use the viewer program to look at the layers of your Gerber file.
  • Save your Gerber file as a new file.
  • Modify some layers. For example, change its color.
  • Load the modified Gerber file into some CAD software that can read Gerber files. You can then export your design into that program or edit it using this CAD software.
  • Run the modified Gerber file through CAM software on a PCB fabricating machine to make your PCBs.
  • Run the modified Gerber file through CAM software on a PCB assembly machine to make your PCB assemblies.
  • Import your completed PCBs into an electronic board maker or an electronic prototype to make your finished boards.
  • Implement your Gerber files into production to mass produce your circuit boards.

What are Gerber viewer programs?

eagle gerber

Gerber viewer programs are software that allows you to read Gerber files. We call them viewers because they are not used for making PCB boards but only for reading the files.

Altium Gerber

How do I export from Gerber from Altium?

Altium export Gerber files.

  • Open Altium Designer.
  • On the main menu, select “File,” then select “Plot” to start drawing your circuit board.
  • To view your components, right-click the “Schematic” tab and click “Components.”
  • Change any component by double-clicking it in the schematic window or right-clicking and selecting “Modify Component.”
  • On the main menu, select “File,” then select “Export Gerber.”
  • Change the design size and click “OK.”
  • The system will generate and save theGerber file with all the layers into a given folder.

Alternative

  • Open Altium Designer.
  • On the main menu, select “File,” then select “Import Gerber.”
  • It will open a window, and you will see all the Gerber files on your PCB board.
  • Select the Gerber files you want to add to your PCB board, and then click “Import.”
  • The system will display a message saying that your Gerber files are in the design after the system completes importing them.
  • After that, the system will open a window to see how your added Gerber files are on your PCB board.
  • The size of the Gerber file is very small, so you cannot see how the system adds the files to your PCB board.
  • To close the exporter window, click “Close” on the bottom left.

How to export a GCode file using Altium

  • Open Altium Designer.
  • On the main menu, select “File,” then select “Export Gerber.”
  • The system will open a GCode file.
  • Change the design size in this GCode file, and then click “Plot.”
  • A small window will show you the Gerber file the system exported to your PCB board.
  • Close this small window by clicking “Close” on the bottom left.

 

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How do I change my existing footprint in Altium?

  • Select the component that you want to change.
  • Right-click the component and choose “Modify Component.”
  • In the modify component dialog box, click the “Components” tab.
  • In this tab, you can change all your footprint settings.
  • After that, click the “OK” button.
  • The system will display a message will about saving your file to a location of your choice.
  • Right-click the component and click “Update” to see if your changes have succeeded.

 

EasyEDA Gerber

How do I export the Gerber file from EasyEDA?

By using an EasyeEDA export Gerber files easily.

  • Create or open any drawing.
  • From the main menu, select “File” > “Plot” to start drawing your circuit board.
  • To view your components, right-click the “Schematic” tab and click “components.”
  • Select all components located on the outer side of your PCB board. For example, you can select “unconnected pins.”
  • After selecting these components, right-click the component and select “Plot… > Plot this component out as a Gerber file”.
  • Then, click the “Plot” button to generate the Gerber file.
  • The program will open a Gerber file with all the layers will by default.
  • You can open each layer one by one and see what information will be visible on it.
  • Close this window and close easyeda.

Importing a GCode file using EasyEDA Gerber

  • Open EasyEDA.
  • On the main menu, select “File” > “Export Gerber.”
  • The system will open a GCode file.
  • Change the design size in this GCode file, and then click “Plot.”

 

KiCad Gerber

How do I export the Gerber file from KiCad?

KiCad export Gerber files.

  • Open KiCad.
  • From the main menu, select “File” > “Export Gerber.”
  • The system will open window by default, and you should check the checkbox of “Export Gerber” on it.
  • You can now see all the components located on the outer side of your PCB board.
  • move them into your circuit board using your mouse.
  • The size of the Gerber file is very small, so you can not see how it added the files to your PCB board.
  • To close the KiCad window, click “Close” on the bottom left.

Eagle Gerber

How do I export the Gerber file from the Eagle?

You can also export Gerber files from eagle.

  • Open eagle.
  • On the main menu, select “File,” then “Plot,” and then click “Plot file” to open the plot window.
  • Change the design size in this window and click “OK.”
  • The system will generate and save the Eagle Export Gerber file with all the layers into a given folder.
  • To close the Gerber viewer program, click “Close.”

Conclusion

Exporting your Gerber files from the latest software version may be very easy, but it can also be very complicated if you use older versions. So it is essential to know the different ways to export your Gerber files and how you can easily open them on different software. You should also know how to create the Gerber file so that your PCB board will look attractive and professional. If you can better understand it, you can easily get a better design quality and save more time. After that, you should use the best Gerber viewer to export and open your Gerber files. The output of the Gerber file will also be very beneficial for your PCB board.