Even though Fritzing sounds like alcopop, it’s actually an incredible free software that you can use to create circuit diagrams and component diagrams for use with high-speed electronic boards like the fantastic open source Arduino

As such, it’s also open source, fully cross-platform, and well supported — you can almost guarantee it can be used in any Arduino project to show you how to wire everything together using it.

Starting my journey with the Arduino Hardware Wizard, I tested it as a way to document any changes I make to the projects I create from tutorials.

Before I get started, let me show you the final diagram I made in less than 10 minutes. Pretty good, huh?

electronics sketch

It’s pretty messy and very obscure, I know — but that’s because I’m working in hindsight — drawing what I actually did, not figuring out what to do. If I had used this first, it would have been much neater. This is a modification of one of the first projects in Beginning Arduino — a traffic light and crosswalk system — to which I added a simple buzzer.

The circuit itself changes very little, but the programming behind it required some serious tweaking to make sure the LEDs buzz and flash at different speeds at the same time. I’ve uploaded some of the code to embed the bin for those who are interested, but that’s irrelevant for this review and hopefully I’ll teach you the basics of Arduino programming later if there’s enough interest.

Download

Go to the Fritzing download page. It’s an executable and doesn’t need to be installed, so just unzip or mount the .dmg file and then just run the application.

Characteristics

Today I will focus on the functionality of prototypes, but it can also be used for both electronic circuits and full PCB design if you decide to make your project more permanent. In fact, they even offer a PCB manufacturing service that costs about $40 for a shield-sized Arduino PCB (usually used to place your own PCB on top of the Arduino for a snug fit).

Basic controls

Here’s what you’ll see when you first run it:

electronics application diagrams

Drag components from the toolbar in the top right corner. Scroll down for microcontrollers and you can find Arduino. The next block at the bottom of the sidebar is the inspector. In my case, I’m using two mini-layouts, so I added them from the toolbox and resized them with the inspector.

electronics application diagrams

Note. To rearrange the elements in the diagram, drag the component to any place where it does not function, i.e. not from one of the holes, use the edges. You can also zoom in if you find it difficult to take a non-functional piece of the board.

Then add a few more components and connect them all together. Here is a photo of the actual project I am trying to document here:

electronics application diagrams

Drag and drop your first component, in my case it is the buzzer. To connect terminals, simply drag and drop from one point to another. When you hover over a specific pin on the Arduino, a tooltip will let you check the number.

electronics diagram drawing

Since the wiring is a little messy, you can click and drag anywhere on the line to add another point and «bend» the wire around.

electronics diagram drawing

Note that while you are doing this, it also builds the circuit diagram on other screens. Click for schematic or even PCB view. It doesn’t tidy them up automatically — if you want to keep the PCB neat and tidy, it’s best if you go through and clean it, when you make the diagram . You can drag and drop on any screen just as easily, and use the rotate and flip buttons on the bottom left if needed.

electronics diagram drawing

If you hold pressed key CTRL when you click on a component, an options menu will appear with various menu items.

cmd-d (Mac) or CTRL-D (Windows) will duplicate the current item — useful if you’re trying to place an array of LEDs.

To move the entire component, simply click and drag on the component itself (not the legs). Moving individual legs can be a little tricky and you may find a connection instead.

Once the legs are correctly placed, you can hold ALT and drag the component without affecting its pins.

electronics sketch

Layouts showing connected lines automatically turn green when something is connected to them.

Overall, it’s incredibly easy to use, and the fact that it’s free is a testament to the strength of the open source community. I hope you have a chance to play around with the software and design your own circuits. If you’re interested in learning the basics of Arduino programming, including some fundamental electronics in the process — and building a complete robot or something equally impressive — let me know in the comments. I’d love to post a complete 10 part guide, but without feedback from you guys, it’s hard to gauge the interest.

Hope you have a happy weekend on hacker equipment!

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