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In the past I've used ExpressPCB's free schematic software and PCB layout software. This software works great but there's two catches: 1) it only runs on Windows machines, and 2) after you use the software, you have to use ExpressPCB to have your boards made.

Since most of the machines at Eyebeam are macs, and since it's good not to be locked into one PCB manufacturer, I decided to look into other software. The following details what I found, and my attempts at installing the software.

My criteria was that the software be free, mac-compatible, and not be proprietary to any manufacturer. After about two hours of digging on the net, I found three free packages, all through If you're OK with limiting yourself to two-layer boards that are 4" x 3.2" max, single sheet schematics, and your application is strictly non-profit, download CadSoft's Eagle Light Edition If you need software with no limitations, read on.

First, has their own schematic and pcb layout software. It looks promising, but is still in the development stage, so is not intended for any serious work yet.

2) gEDA
Requires X11. I didn't try installing gEDA because I heard it is still under development, similar to Fritzing. Let me know if anyone has any luck with this one.

3) Kicad
Requires the wxMac version of the wxWidgets GUI library. I've been using Kicad on a windows machine, and I liked the interface, so I decided to go with this one.
The above link gives a terse set of instructions on how to install Kicad. Everything that follows is entirely lifted from this link. For a long-winded explanation of how I followed these instructions, read-on.


To install Kicad, you'll need to install wxMac. To install wxMac, you'll need to install the apple developer tools (a.k.a. Xcode).

Note: Even if you already have X11 installed, you still need to install the full Xcode developer tools. If you've never done anything like this on your mac before (like me), it's a bit daunting, but it's good to learn how to do this kind of stuff. Also, beware that this installation takes a VERY LONG TIME. The actual work you have to do is minimal, but the download time and the build time add up to many hours of waiting in front of your computer. So grab a good book or something.

Also Note: I spent a solid day of my life trying different things to make this installation work, and documenting my efforts. I tried it on two different macs, both PowerPC G4's running OSX 10.4. On my desktop at Eyebeam, the Kicad build completely failed, returning tons of errors. On my laptop at home, the Kicad build seemed to go OK, and Kicad does start-up, but none of the actual applications (EESchema, PCBNew, etc.) start-up -- I get an error message that it failed to find the application. I've been broken: I requested that Eyebeam set me up with a PC. I"m also considering just designing my boards in the free version of Eagle. Maybe you'll have better luck, and can tell me what I'm doing wrong!!


Log-in to Click on "downloads", then on the right-hand side in a box labeled "Downloads," click the link for "Developer Tools." Browse through the results and download Xcode 2.5.

Note: This is the mac's "developer connection" homepage. To download software, you need to create a (free) user account. Once you have an account, dig through the site to find the Xcode download. I can't post a link direct to the download because this website is generated dynamically, but you can find the download by clicking on "downloads" at the "developer connection" homepage. Then, on the right-hand side in a box labeled "Downloads," click the link for "Developer Tools." Browse through the results, and pick the latest version of Xcode that is supported on your system. Note XCode 3.0 is only compatible with OSX 10.5. If you're running 10.4 (like me), then you want Xcode 2.5. It's a hefty download, so don't waste your time downloading the wrong version!

Download wxMac from Download version 2.6.4: it is the only version known to work with Kicad.

Note: I tried 2.8.5, and everything was going OK until the end of the installation when I started getting lots of errors while building Kicad. Also beware, OS X ships with version 2.5, which does not work with Kicad. Testing whether you have 2.5 installed, and bypassing this older version, are explained below, in the section on installing.

Download the Kicad test version "kicad-20071122-r468.tar.bz2" from

Note: I found this link on the official Kicad Wiki: If you visit the Wiki page, you'll see a link "for Mac (Universal)"-- I didn't find anything useful in there. I also tried downloading Kicad from the "KiCad current release" -- one of the files here was mac compatible, but the installation didn't work, perhaps because it didn't include the "libs.macosx" file. This file is altered in the last step of this installation. The link that I point in the previous paragraph is from the Wiki page's "sources" link. First I tried installing the most recent file (at the time of this writing): "kicad-20080825.tar.bz2", but the installation failed, so I went with the version (above) that was used in Fritzing's explanation


Install Xcode first, then wxMac, then Kicad.

To install XCode, mount the .dmg you downloaded from the apple site (to mount, double-click the file). I downloaded "xcode25_8m2558_developerdvd.dmg". When it is finished mounting, double-click the "XcodeTools.mpkg" to install. The installation takes a while, but at least you get a blue progress bar.

To install wxMac, decompress the file wxMac-2.6.4.tar.gz. I just had to double-click on it and "StuffIt" decompressed it for me, creating a folder called "wxMac-2.6.4". Go into this folder and create a folder called "osx-build". Next, I moved wxMac-2.6.4 into my "Applications" folder (I don't know if it really matters where you put this folder, but putting it in Applications made sense to me).

The next step in installing wxMac is done from the terminal: from the Finder drop-down menu "Go" select "Utilities," and double-click "Terminal". Navigate to the "wxMac-2.6.4\osx-build" directory using the cd command. Since I placed the folder in my Applications folder, this is what I typed:

cd /Applications/wxMac-2.6.4/osx-build

Now configure it by typing: ../configure --disable-shared --enable-monolithic --with-opengl --enable-universal_binary

(lifted direct from

The terminal will start doing a lot of stuff -- you'll see tons of lines of text, each starting with the phrase "checking for...".

Note: If you didn't install XCode, it would get stuck at the point where it checks for a gcc compiler. If you have X11, but didn't install the full Xcode, you'll get stuck at the point where it searches for the SDK directory. Either way, if the build fails because you didn't install Xcode, your osx-build folder will only have two files in it: "config.log" and "configarg.cache". If the build succeeds, osx-build will have tons of files in it.

When this is done, run the wxMac build from the terminal by typing "make". Again, you'll see tons of lines of text, showing you each file being compiled. This takes a very long time, on the order of several hours.

When this is finally done, before you can build Kicad successfully, you need to check to see if you have an old version of the wx-config utility:
From the terminal, go to the directory /usr/bin

cd /usr/bin

the usr directory is one level above the directory that has the standard folders "Applications", "Documents", "Movies", etc. You can navigate to this folder through the Finder also, but wx-config won't be visible in the Finder.

Type ls to list the files in the /usr/bin folder. Do you see a file called "wx-config"? If not, go ahead and install Kicad. But if you do already have wx-config installed, redirect existing system references as follows:

First, rename the existing wx-config, in case you need to bring it back later:

sudo mv /usr/bin/wx-config /usr/bin/wx-config-backup

Note: you'll be asked for your user password to use the sudo command.

Now create a symlink to the newly built version:

sudo ln -s /Applications/wxMac-2.6.4/osx-build/wx-config /usr/bin/wx-config

(lifted from

wxMac is now installed and all existing system references point to your recent build.

Last installation -- \\ Decompress the Kicad source file (double-click on kicad-20080825.tar.bz2). This creates a folder called "kicad." I moved this "kicad" folder into my Applications folder (again, I don't think this matters, but Applications is a logical place to put "kicad"). Go into this "kicad" folder and open the file "libs.macosx" in a text editor. About 14 lines down, change the line "DEBUG = 1" to "DEBUG = 0". Likewise, a few more lines down, change the line "UNIVERSAL = 0" TO "UNIVERSAL = 1". Save and close the file.

Now you can build Kicad. From the terminal, go into the kicad folder:

cd /Applications/kicad/

and type:

make -f makefile.macosx

Again, the terminal will compile a bunch of stuff. When this is done, you can run Kicad on your mac.

Note: If you get lots of errors, it means that you did have an older version of wxMac installed, so you need to redirect existing system references to your new build of wxMac. See the section above on installing wxMac.

Running Kicad for the first time

Work through the tutorial in the Kicad "doc" folder.

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Page last modified on November 06, 2008, at 07:37 AM