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How to Use CopperCAM for PCB Prototyping
CopperCAM is a software application that allows you to manage isolation engraving, drilling and cutting of printed-circuit board (PCB) prototypes. It does not integrate the direct drive of a CNC milling machine, but simply outputs files that can be loaded and used by external driver software, or data to be sent to the machine[^1^].
In this article, we will show you how to use CopperCAM to create your own PCB prototypes from Gerber and Excellon files. We will also compare CopperCAM with another popular PCB CAM software, FlatCAM[^2^] [^3^], and highlight some of the advantages and disadvantages of each one.
Step 1: Importing Files
The first step is to import your Gerber and Excellon files into CopperCAM. You can open up to four circuit layers, plus drills, plus cut-out contours, plus centering holes. CopperCAM can read Gerber RS274-X format with macros, polygon surfaces and negative polarity traces[^1^].
To import a file, click on the File menu and select Open Gerber or Open Excellon. You can also drag and drop the files into the main window. You will see a preview of the file in the graphic area. You can zoom in and out with the mouse wheel, and pan with the right mouse button.
Step 2: Aligning Layers
The next step is to align the layers if you have more than one. CopperCAM can try to align them automatically based on common features, such as pads or holes. To do this, click on the Align menu and select Auto Align Layers. You will see a dialog box where you can choose which layers to align and how to match them. Click on OK to start the alignment process.
If the automatic alignment fails or is not accurate enough, you can also align the layers manually. To do this, click on the Align menu and select Manual Align Layers. You will see a dialog box where you can choose which layers to align and how to move them. You can use the arrow keys or enter values for translation and rotation. You can also click on two points on each layer to define a reference line. Click on OK when you are done.
Step 3: Plotting Tracks
The third step is to plot the tracks that are centerline texts, logos or references. These are tracks that you want to engrave at path center instead of isolating them from the rest of the copper. To do this, click on the Plot menu and select Plot Tracks at Path Center. You will see a dialog box where you can choose which layer to plot and how to filter the tracks by width or length. Click on OK to start the plotting process.
You will see the plotted tracks in green on the graphic area. You can edit them by clicking on them with the left mouse button. You can delete them by pressing Delete, or add new ones by clicking on an existing track with Shift pressed.
Step 4: Calculating Isolation Contours
The fourth step is to calculate the isolation contours that separate the copper areas from each other. These are paths that you want to engrave around pads and tracks to create electrical isolation. To do this, click on the Isolate menu and select Calculate Isolation Contours. You will see a dialog box where you can choose which layer to isolate and how to set the parameters for isolation width, tool diameter, overlap percentage and extension distance. Click on OK to start the calculation process.
You will see the isolation contours in red on the graphic area. You can edit them by clicking on them with the left mouse button. You can delete them by pressing Delete, or add new ones by clicking on an existing contour with Shift pressed.
Step 5: Hatching Zones
The fifth step is to hatch the zones that you want to remove all the copper from. These are areas that you want to clear completely with a larger tool or multiple passes. To do this, click on the Hatch menu and select Hatch Zones for Removing All Copper. You will see a dialog box where you can choose which layer to hatch and how to set the parameters for hatching width, tool diameter, overlap percentage and 061ffe29dd