We test PCBmodE with Python 3.7 under Linux, but it may or may not work on other operating systems.

It comes in the form of a installable tool called pcbmode which is run from the command line.

What you’ll need

  • Python 3.7+
  • Inkscape 1.0+
  • Text editor

Installation in a virtual environment

Use a virtual environment to keep PCBmodE in its own isolated environments, for example Python3’s venv. If you don’t have venv, get it like this:

sudo apt-get install python3-venv

These instructions describe how to build PCBmodE for use in a virtual environment. To be able to build python-lxml (one of PCBmodE’s dependencies) you need to install some system-level development packages. On Debian based systems these are installed like this:

sudo apt-get install libxml2-dev libxslt1-dev python-dev


You’re reading the documentation for version 5 of PCBmodE, ‘Cinco’. The link below will get you that branch while we’re working on it, and before its release.

Get the PCBModE source from GitHub.

git clone

Now run these commands to create a virtual environment, for example in the directory pcbmode-env/ next to pcbmode/. Then create the virtual environment like this:

python3 venv -m pcbmode-env
source pcbmode-env/bin/activate
cd pcbmode

If you want to just run PCBmodE, run

python3 install

but if you want to develop it, run

python3 develop

After installation, PCBmodE will be available in your path as an executable pcbmode. But since it was installed in a virtualenv, the pcbmode command will only be available in your path after running source pcbmode-env/bin/activate and will no longer be in your path after running deactivate, which gets you out of the virtual environment. You will need to activate the virtualenv each time you want to run pcbmode from a new terminal window.

Nothing is installed globally, so to start from scratch you can just follow these steps:

deactivate         # skip if pcbmode-env is not active
rm -r pcbmode-env
cd pcbmode
git clean -dfX     # erases any untracked files (build files etc). Save your work!

Running PCBmodE


To see all the options that PCBmodE supports, use pcbmode --help

By default PCBmodE expects to find the board files under


relative to the place where it is invoked.


Paths where PCBmodE looks for things can be changed in the config file pcbmode_config.json.

Here’s one way to organise the build environment

    my-board/                # a PCB project
    cordwood/                # another PCB project

To make the my-board board, run PCBmodE within beautiful-pcbs

pcbmode -b my-board -m

Then open the SVG with Inkscape

inkscape beautiful-pcbs/boards/my-board/build/my-board.svg

If the SVG opens you’re good to go!


PCBmodE processes a lot of shapes on the first time it is run, so it will take a noticeable amount. This time will be dramatically reduced on subsequent invocations since PCBmodE caches the shapes in a datafile within the project’s build directory.