What is PCB?

  • January 11,2019.
PCB stands for printed circuit board. It's the next step beyond a breadboard: like a template with all the wires already laid out, just waiting for you to solder on the components. A proto-board is also a PCB, usually laid out like a breadboard, and you apply solder instead of plugging wires in.

Pretty much any electronic circuit you’ll use is mounted on a PCB. It’s the physical foundation of the circuit, the core of the Arduino. All the electrical components of the circuit are wired together via copper traces (which can also be made out of gold or other conductive materials).

Anatomy Core: The base of the PCB is usually a sheet of fiberglass saturated with resin. It’s usually beige, and is the majority of the thickness of the board. You might hear this called prepreg: this means “pre-impregnated”, fiberglass that was filled with resin before it was heated and hardened. Fun fact: some types of prepreg fluoresce blue or green in UV light! There are also flexible PCBs, which can be made with kapton tape or other materials.

Copper: A layer of conductive metal, usually copper or gold. You’ll mostly find pours, big flat areas of copper (usually connecting things to ground), and traces, thinner “wires” connecting components. Occasionally, you will also find vias — small holes through the PCB itself, connecting pours on different layers.

Solder mask: Before, this was pretty much always green. You’ll also find some really old circuit boards without any solder mask at all. Now, solder mask comes in all kinds of colors — including transparent. OSH Park uses a signature shade of purple.

Silk screening: Usually white, this is ink screenprinted on top of the solder mask for labels and branding. Yes, like how T-shirts are made.

Some PCBs have more than one layer. A single-layer PCB has a single copper pour on one side. A double-layer one (like most Arduinos) has copper and components on both sides. But you can also add more layers: a 3-layer board has another layer of fiberglass and another of copper, like a double-decker sandwich. I’ve heard of ones that go all the way up to 16!

You’ll also see varying thicknesses: regular and half-height are the most common. (SparkFun’s LilyPad series are all half-height PCBs.)

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