The PCB design software market is admittedly a little stagnant. Newcomers often traverse old forum posts where PCB veterans suggest the same few design applications for the same few superficial reasons. The bottom line is that until recently, there were only a few good offerings and most engineers choose by experience or comfort with a particular brand of PCB software.
EAGLE is one very popular PCB design software created by Germany-based Cadsoft Computer GmbH. The name “EAGLE” is almost ubiquitous with amateur PCB design, probably due partly to its freeware option but certainly mostly due to the fact that everyone keeps mentioning it whether for better or worse. Yeah, I’m guilty too.
In a number of forums you’ll see mentions of KiCAD, EAGLE, gEDA, Fritzing, ExpressPCB, and AutoTRAX DEX. They range from free to commercial products, but regardless of their cost they all seem to be good for different reasons and it’s best to try out a bunch of them before deciding which to use for a project. Take a look at this comparison on Wikipedia for starters.
EAGLE is an old-timer: it’s been around for a while and as such has become somewhat of a standard. In fact, Sparkfun usually uploads EAGLE format files for their open-source hardware. The problem is that if you spend some time with EAGLE and then some more time with other, newer EDA (that’s Electronic Design Automation) software and you will realize that EAGLE’s UI is definitively out of date. In an industry of software where the features are similar across the board, it’s the user interface and user experience that makes all of the difference.
With the number of more modern EDA products on the market that are free, many of which have fewer (to no) board size restrictions than EAGLE Free, I think it’s worth taking a detailed look at several EDA options for PCB design newcomers.