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How do I copy a PCB layout in Altium?

How do I copy a PCB layout in Altium?


Altium Designer is a popular printed circuit board (PCB) design software used by engineers and hobbyists. It provides an intuitive and customizable interface to design schematics and layouts for printed circuit boards.

One useful feature in Altium is the ability to copy portions or entire PCB layouts. This allows you to reuse existing layouts and accelerate the design process. Whether you want to replicate an identical layout or make modifications to create a new design, understanding how to copy in Altium will save you time and effort.

In this comprehensive guide, we will cover the steps to copy PCB layouts in Altium Designer, including:

Following these methods will enable you to quickly duplicate or modify existing PCB designs in Altium. Let’s get started!

Why Copy a PCB Layout?

There are several benefits to copying a PCB layout in Altium:

  • Reuse existing designs: Copying allows you to leverage previous work instead of starting from scratch. This saves significant design time.
  • Modify and iterate: Copying provides a foundation to tweak an existing layout to meet new requirements. Changes can be made quickly compared to a new design.
  • Rapid prototyping: Multiple copies of a layout can be created with minor modifications to test different implementations during prototyping.
  • Consistent manufacturing: Copying proven layouts from previous builds ensures consistency for manufacturing without introducing new variables.
  • Replicate sub-circuits: Portions of a layout containing complex sub-circuits can be copied to reuse in new designs. This is faster than re-designing from schematics.

Understanding these benefits will allow you to utilize copying effectively in your PCB design workflow. Next, we’ll cover how to prepare for copying in Altium.

Preparing to Copy a Layout

Before copying a PCB layout, it is important to prepare your Altium environment to ensure the process goes smoothly:

Check Design Rules

  • Open the PCB panel and inspect the PCB Rules and Constraints to understand the design rules, clearances, widths, etc. that apply to the board.
  • Knowing the rules in advance allows you to assess if the copied layout will abide by the design rules of your new board. Adjustments may be required after pasting.

Layer Stack Manager

  • Open the Layer Stack Manager and check the layer structure defined in the PCB document you want to copy from.
  • Confirm that your target PCB document has the necessary signal and plane layers to support the copied layout. Add or remove layers as needed.

Clean Up Source Files

  • Tidy up the source PCB document by removing any unneeded features or artifacts.
  • This will prevent redundant objects or references from cluttering your new design when copying.

With these preparations complete, you are ready to copy PCB layouts between documents in Altium.

Copying an Entire PCB

When your goal is to replicate an entire PCB layout from one document to another, follow these steps:

  1. Open both the source and target PCB documents in Altium.
  2. In the source PCB document, go to Design » Board Planning Mode to view the full extent of the layout.
  3. Select Edit » Select » Select All to choose the entire design.
  4. Next, go to Edit » Copy to copy the selected objects to the clipboard.
  5. Switch to the target PCB document.
  6. Go to Edit » Paste Special to paste the copied board into the new document.
  7. In the Place Positions dialog, choose the Absolute Offset method and enter X=0 and Y=0 for the offsets to paste the layout aligned at the origin.
  8. The entire PCB layout from the source document will now be pasted into the target document, ready for use!

Using this efficient process allows you to quickly copy even large and complex PCB designs between documents with ease.

Copying Part of a PCB

In many cases, you may not need the entire PCB layout but rather just a specific section. Here is how to copy a portion of a layout in Altium:

  1. On the source PCB document, pan and zoom to frame the section of the layout you want to copy.
  2. Use the PCB panel to selectively enable the layers that contain objects you want to copy. Other layers can be disabled to avoid copying unnecessary objects.
  3. Select the objects to copy. You can click and drag to box select or use hotkeys like Ctrl+A to assist with selection.
  4. With the desired objects selected, go to Edit » Copy or Ctrl+C to copy them.
  5. Switch to the target document and go to Edit » Paste Special or Ctrl+V to paste the copied layout section.
  6. Use the cursor to position the pasted objects as needed.
  7. Repeat as necessary to copy additional sections of the layout.

Some key pointers when copying partial PCB layouts:

  • Focus on copying functional blocks, sub-circuits, or other logical divisions rather than arbitrary areas. This aids reuse.
  • Copying objects across multiple layers may require alignment or minor cleanup of the pasted selection.
  • If prompts appear about duplicate net names or designators, you can Let Go to retain the original names from the source rather than incrementing new names.

Pasting the Copied Selection

Once you’ve copied a PCB layout selection, the next step is pasting into the target document. Here are some tips for smooth pasting:

  • Paste Special: Use Paste Special rather than standard paste to access positioning options and other modes like Let Go for names/designators.
  • Absolute vs Relative Offset: Choose Absolute Offset to paste the exact coordinates from the source document. Use Relative to shift the position based on cursor.
  • Paste on Cursor: Position the cursor at the desired insertion point before pasting to easily align the layout.
  • Net and Component Modes: Set to Let Go to retain original names to avoid issues like duplicate nets. Default modes may increment names instead.
  • Review After Paste: Check for any overlap or alignment issues after pasting. It may require selecting and nudging the objects into proper position relative to existing features.

Proper pasting technique will get your copied PCB layout into the correct position with minimal cleanup required.

Modifying the Copied Selection

Once pasted, it is likely that the copied selection will need edits or adjustments in the new design:

Type of ModificationSteps
Add connectionsUse routing tools to connect terminals or nets to existing traces
Change component parametersOpen properties menu to alter component values, footprints, etc.
Delete unneeded sectionsSelect and delete excess portions not required in the target design
Realign objectsSelect and nudge or realign to conform to surrounding features
Alter design rulesModify clearances, spacings, etc. per the design rules defined in the target document
Update silkscreen markingsDelete, alter, or add new graphics and text legends as needed

It is best to make modifications early before proceeding with the new design. This prevents accumulating changes later that could have been addressed up front.

Now let’s go over some general tips and best practices when copying PCB layouts in Altium.

Tips for Effective Copying

Follow these tips for the best results when copying layouts in Altium:

  • Copy functional blocks rather than arbitrary shapes whenever possible
  • Delete any unneeded layers or objects in the source before copying
  • Use paste special for optimal control over the copy process
  • Review and adjust the pasted selection to fit properly in the target design
  • Make required modifications early in the design process
  • Copying from similar target designs minimizes the amount of changes needed
  • Take advantage of absolute coordinates when appropriate
  • Enable/disable layers, turn off paste filtering to only copy necessary objects
  • Set object and net/pin naming modes carefully when pasting

Copying layouts with these tips in mind will enable you to work faster and smarter. Over time you will learn techniques that best suit your specific PCB design flow.


In summary, knowing how to efficiently copy PCB layouts in Altium provides huge time savings versus creating every board from scratch. We covered key techniques like copying entire designs or partial sections, proper pasting methods, and necessary modifications to integrate the copied layout. Along with general tips and best practices, these skills will enable you to leverage copy and paste to accelerate your design process.

The productivity gains from copying layouts make it an invaluable tool for any PCB designer using Altium. Both novices and advanced users will find ways to utilize copying to their benefit. Feel free to reference this guide whenever you need assistance copying all or part of a PCB in your Altium projects.

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