Tutorial: How to Design Your Own Custom STM32 Microcontroller Board

Posted by


Microcontrollers are the backbone of modern electronics, powering everything from household appliances to industrial automation systems. Among the most popular microcontroller families is the STM32 series from STMicroelectronics, known for its powerful performance, low power consumption, and extensive peripheral set. While pre-made development boards are readily available, designing your own custom STM32 board can be a rewarding experience, allowing you to tailor the hardware to your specific project requirements.

In this comprehensive tutorial, we’ll guide you through the process of designing your own custom STM32 microcontroller board from start to finish. We’ll cover essential topics such as selecting the right STM32 microcontroller, creating schematics, laying out the printed circuit board (PCB), and assembling the final board. Whether you’re a hobbyist, maker, or professional engineer, this article will equip you with the knowledge and skills necessary to bring your custom STM32 board to life.

Understanding the STM32 Microcontroller Family

Before diving into the design process, it’s important to have a basic understanding of the STM32 microcontroller family and its key features.

STM32 Microcontroller Architecture

The STM32 microcontrollers are based on the ARM Cortex-M processor architecture, which offers a range of performance levels and peripheral sets to suit various applications. The Cortex-M processor cores used in STM32 microcontrollers include:

  1. Cortex-M0: Low-power, cost-effective core for simple applications.
  2. Cortex-M0+: Enhanced version of the Cortex-M0 with better performance and energy efficiency.
  3. Cortex-M3: High-performance core suitable for a wide range of applications.
  4. Cortex-M4: Advanced core with digital signal processing (DSP) and floating-point unit (FPU) capabilities.
  5. Cortex-M7: High-performance core with DSP and FPU capabilities, designed for demanding applications.

STM32 Microcontroller Series

STMicroelectronics offers several series of STM32 microcontrollers, each targeting different application areas and performance requirements. Some of the popular series include:

  • STM32F0: Low-power, cost-effective series for simple applications.
  • STM32F1: Mainstream series with a wide range of performance levels.
  • STM32F2: High-performance series with DSP and FPU capabilities.
  • STM32F3: Low-power series with advanced features for motor control and digital power conversion.
  • STM32F4: High-performance series with DSP and FPU capabilities, suitable for various applications.
  • STM32F7: High-performance series with DSP and FPU capabilities, designed for demanding applications.
  • STM32L0: Ultra-low-power series for battery-powered applications.
  • STM32L4: Low-power series with advanced features for various applications.

STM32 Peripheral Set

One of the strengths of the STM32 microcontroller family is its rich peripheral set, which includes:

  • Communication interfaces (UART, SPI, I2C, CAN, USB, Ethernet, etc.)
  • Analog-to-digital converters (ADCs)
  • Digital-to-analog converters (DACs)
  • Timers/counters
  • Direct memory access (DMA) controllers
  • Real-time clocks (RTCs)
  • Low-power modes
  • Cryptographic accelerators
  • Digital signal processing (DSP) capabilities
  • Floating-point units (FPUs)

Selecting the Right STM32 Microcontroller

With a wide range of STM32 microcontrollers available, selecting the right one for your project is crucial. Here are some key factors to consider:

Performance Requirements

Evaluate the performance requirements of your application, such as processing power, memory needs, and peripheral support. Higher-performance microcontrollers like those from the STM32F4 or STM32F7 series may be necessary for demanding applications involving complex computations, signal processing, or multimedia tasks.

Power Consumption

If your project involves battery-powered or energy-constrained devices, you’ll want to consider low-power microcontrollers from the STM32L0 or STM32L4 series. These series are designed for ultra-low-power applications and offer various low-power modes and power-saving features.

Peripheral Support

Evaluate the specific peripherals required for your application, such as communication interfaces, analog-to-digital converters, timers, and specialized features like DSP or FPU support. Choose a microcontroller that provides the necessary peripheral set to avoid the need for external components or complex workarounds.

Development Tools and Software Support

Consider the availability of development tools, software libraries, and community support for the specific STM32 microcontroller series you’re considering. STMicroelectronics provides a comprehensive ecosystem of tools and software, including the STM32CubeMX initialization tool, STM32CubeIDE integrated development environment (IDE), and various software libraries and middleware.

Cost and Availability

While STM32 microcontrollers are generally cost-effective, different series and packages may have varying price points. Additionally, consider the availability and lead times of the microcontrollers, especially for high-volume projects or long-term product development.

Creating Schematics

Once you’ve selected the appropriate STM32 microcontroller for your project, the next step is to create the schematic diagram for your custom board. The schematic serves as a blueprint, depicting the electrical connections and components required for your design.

Essential Components

A typical STM32 microcontroller board schematic includes the following essential components:

  1. STM32 Microcontroller: The heart of your board, responsible for executing your application code.
  2. Power Supply: Circuitry for providing regulated power to the microcontroller and other components, often involving a voltage regulator, decoupling capacitors, and power input connectors or pads.
  3. Clock Source: A crystal oscillator or external clock source to provide the system clock for the microcontroller.
  4. Reset Circuit: A reset circuit, often incorporating a reset button and external reset supervision circuitry, to ensure proper reset functionality.
  5. Programming Interface: Circuitry for programming and debugging the microcontroller, such as a JTAG or serial wire debug (SWD) interface.

Additional Components

Depending on your project requirements, you may need to include additional components in your schematic, such as:

  • Communication interfaces (UART, SPI, I2C, CAN, USB, Ethernet, etc.)
  • Analog input/output circuitry (ADCs, DACs, amplifiers, filters, etc.)
  • External memory (SRAM, SDRAM, Flash, etc.)
  • Real-time clock (RTC) circuitry
  • Power management circuitry (voltage supervisors, power sequencing, etc.)
  • User interface components (buttons, LEDs, displays, etc.)
  • Sensor interfaces (temperature, humidity, pressure, etc.)
  • Motor control circuitry (drivers, amplifiers, etc.)
  • Specialized peripherals (cryptographic accelerators, DSP, FPU, etc.)

Schematic Design Tools

There are various schematic design tools available, both commercial and open-source, that you can use to create your STM32 board schematic. Some popular options include:

  • KiCad (open-source)
  • Altium Designer (commercial)
  • Cadence Allegro (commercial)
  • Eagle (commercial and free versions)
  • Proteus (commercial)

When choosing a schematic design tool, consider factors such as ease of use, component library availability, integration with PCB design tools, and overall cost.

Printed Circuit Board (PCB) Design

After creating the schematic, the next step is to translate it into a physical PCB layout. The PCB layout defines the arrangement of components, traces, and vias on the board, ensuring proper electrical connections and signal integrity.

PCB Design Considerations

When designing your STM32 board’s PCB layout, keep the following considerations in mind:

  1. Component Placement: Arrange components in a logical and efficient manner, considering factors such as signal routing, heat dissipation, and mechanical constraints.
  2. Trace Routing: Route traces carefully, adhering to best practices for signal integrity, impedance control, and electromagnetic compatibility (EMC).
  3. Power and Ground Planes: Incorporate power and ground planes to provide low-impedance power distribution and minimize noise and interference.
  4. Thermal Management: Consider thermal management strategies, such as heat sinks or vias for heat dissipation, especially for high-power components.
  5. Manufacturing Constraints: Ensure your PCB design adheres to the manufacturing constraints and guidelines of your chosen PCB fabrication service.

PCB Design Tools

Many of the schematic design tools mentioned earlier also include PCB layout capabilities, allowing you to seamlessly transition from your schematic to the PCB design phase. Some popular PCB design tools include:

  • KiCad (open-source)
  • Altium Designer (commercial)
  • Cadence Allegro (commercial)
  • Eagle (commercial and free versions)
  • Proteus (commercial)

Additionally, there are dedicated PCB design tools like Mentor Pads and Pulsonix available for professional PCB design workflows.

Design Rule Checking (DRC)

Before sending your PCB design for fabrication, it’s crucial to perform design rule checking (DRC) to ensure compliance with manufacturing guidelines and identify potential issues. Most PCB design tools include built-in DRC capabilities, allowing you to check for clearance violations, trace width and spacing violations, and other potential design flaws.

Component Selection and Sourcing

In addition to the STM32 microcontroller, your custom board will likely require various other components, such as passive components (resistors, capacitors, inductors), connectors, and specialized integrated circuits (ICs). Selecting the right components and sourcing them from reliable suppliers is essential for the successful assembly and operation of your board.

Component Selection Criteria

When selecting components for your STM32 board, consider the following criteria:

  1. Electrical Specifications: Ensure that the components meet the electrical requirements of your design, such as voltage ratings, current ratings, and tolerance levels.
  2. Package Type and Footprint: Choose components with package types and footprints that are compatible with your PCB design and manufacturing capabilities.
  3. Temperature Range: If your application involves extreme temperature environments, select components rated for the appropriate temperature range.
  4. Power Dissipation: For high-power components, consider the power dissipation and thermal management requirements.
  5. Availability and Lead Times: Ensure the components are readily available from reputable suppliers and have acceptable lead times for your project timeline.

Component Sourcing

Once you’ve identified the required components, you’ll need to source them from reliable suppliers. Here are some popular options for component sourcing:

  1. Distributor Websites: Major electronic component distributors like Digi-Key, Mouser, Arrow, and Farnell offer extensive online catalogs and convenient ordering processes.
  2. Manufacturer Websites: Some component manufacturers, such as STMicroelectronics, Texas Instruments, and Analog Devices, offer direct purchasing options through their websites.
  3. Online Marketplaces: Platforms like Octopart, FindChips, and LCSC can help you search for and compare components from multiple suppliers.
  4. Local Electronics Stores: For hobbyists and makers, local electronics stores can be a convenient source for common components and prototyping supplies.

When sourcing components, consider factors such as pricing, minimum order quantities, lead times, and supplier reliability.

Board Assembly

With your PCB design completed and components sourced, the next step is to assemble your custom STM32 board. There are two main approaches to board assembly: manual assembly and professional assembly services.

Manual Assembly

For low-volume projects or prototyping purposes, manual assembly can be a cost-effective option. This approach involves the following steps:

  1. Preparing the PCB: Ensure your PCB is clean and ready for component placement.
  2. Solder Paste Application: Apply solder paste to the component pads, either manually or using a solder paste stencil.
  3. Component Placement: Carefully place the components on the PCB, aligning them with the corresponding pads.
  4. Reflow Soldering: Use a reflow oven, hot air rework station, or alternative soldering method to reflow the solder paste and secure the components in place.
  5. Inspection and Testing: Inspect the assembled board for any soldering defects and conduct initial testing to verify functionality.

Manual assembly can be time-consuming and may require specialized tools and equipment, such as tweezers, magnifying lenses, and soldering equipment. However, it allows for hands-on experience and can be a rewarding process for hobbyists and makers.

Professional Assembly Services

For larger production volumes or complex boards, it may be more practical to outsource the assembly process to professional assembly services. These services typically offer the following advantages:

  1. Automated Assembly: Utilizing specialized assembly lines and pick-and-place machines for efficient and accurate component placement.
  2. Quality Control: Strict quality control measures and inspection processes to ensure high-quality assemblies.
  3. Scalability: The ability to handle various production volumes and accommodate future scaling requirements.
  4. Expertise and Experience: Access to specialized knowledge and experience in assembly processes, ensuring best practices are followed.

When using professional assembly services, you’ll need to provide the necessary manufacturing files, such as Gerber files for the PCB design and a bill of materials (BOM) with component information. It’s essential to work with reputable assembly services and clearly communicate your requirements and quality expectations.

Firmware Development

With your custom STM32 board assembled, the next step is to develop the firmware that will run on the microcontroller. STMicroelectronics provides a comprehensive ecosystem of tools and software to support firmware development for STM32 microcontrollers.


STM32CubeMX is a graphical tool that simplifies the initialization and configuration of STM32 microcontrollers. It allows you to easily select the desired peripherals, configure their settings, and generate initialization code for various development environments, including the STM32CubeIDE.


The STM32CubeIDE is an integrated development environment (IDE) based on Eclipse and specifically tailored for STM32 microcontroller development. It provides a user-friendly interface for writing, building, and debugging firmware code, as well as seamless integration with other tools in the STM32Cube ecosystem.

Software Libraries and Middleware

STMicroelectronics offers a wide range of software libraries and middleware components for STM32 microcontrollers, including:

  • STM32Cube Hardware Abstraction Layer (HAL): A hardware abstraction layer that simplifies peripheral configuration and access.
  • STM32Cube LL: A low-layer driver library for direct register-level access and optimization.
  • STM32Cube Middleware: A collection of middleware components for various applications, such as USB, Ethernet, graphics, and more.
  • STM32Cube Expansion Packages: Additional software packs for specific STM32 microcontroller series or application domains.

These libraries and middleware components can greatly accelerate firmware development by providing pre-built and optimized code for common tasks and peripherals.

Third-Party Tools and Libraries

In addition to the official tools and libraries provided by STMicroelectronics, there are numerous third-party tools and open-source libraries available for STM32 firmware development. Some popular options include:

  • ARM Keil MDK: A commercial IDE and toolchain from ARM for Cortex-M microcontroller development.
  • IAR Embedded Workbench: A commercial IDE and toolchain from IAR Systems for embedded development.
  • GNU Tools for ARM Embedded Processors: A free and open-source toolchain for ARM Cortex-M microcontroller development.
  • FreeRTOS: A popular open-source real-time operating system for embedded systems.
  • mbed: An open-source operating system and development environment for ARM-based microcontrollers, including STM32.

These third-party tools and libraries can provide additional features, optimizations, or alternative development workflows based on your preferences and project requirements.

Testing and Debugging

Testing and debugging are crucial steps in the development process to ensure the proper functioning of your custom STM32 board and firmware. STMicroelectronics provides several tools and features to assist with these tasks.

On-Board Debugging

Most STM32 microcontrollers include on-chip debug capabilities, allowing you to debug your firmware directly on the target board. The STM32CubeIDE and other development environments support various on-board debugging interfaces, such as:

  1. JTAG (Joint Test Action Group): A standard interface for testing, programming, and debugging embedded systems.
  2. SWD (Serial Wire Debug): A simpler and more compact debugging interface based on a two-pin interface (SWCLK and SWDIO).

To enable on-board debugging, your custom STM32 board must include the necessary circuitry and connectors for the chosen debugging interface.

In-Circuit Debugging Probes

In addition to on-board debugging capabilities, you can use external in-circuit debugging probes to connect to your STM32 board for debugging purposes. STMicroelectronics offers several options, such as the ST-LINK/V2 and ST-