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Different Types of PCBs and Their Applications

What are the different types of PCBs? Because applications vary, engineers design circuit boards using different types of materials, number of layers, and several other variations. For an overview of what’s available, here is a breakdown of the 21 types of circuit boards — starting with the PCB definition.

What is a PCB in Electronics?

A PCB in electronics is used to mean “printed circuit board.” This is a board made of non-conductive material (usually fiberglass) inscribed with copper pathways to create an interconnected system. This connection allows the transfer of signals and power.

PCBs find invaluable use in many different types of electronic devices today, from computers and cell phones to automobiles and medical equipment. As you would already expect, the PCB boards in these devices come in many different types.

Types of PCBs

The different types of PCBs vary in many ways, from the type of material used, board hardness, number of layers, and board performance. The types of PCBs — based on the mentioned characteristics — are explained below. They include:

Single layer PCB
Single layer PCB
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PCB Types by Layer

PCB layers refer to the number of copper layers included in the design. This is an important factor in the type of PCB chosen — as the number of layers increases, so does the complexity and cost. The types of PCBs by number of layer are:

1. Single Sided Board

Single sided PCBs, as their name implies, contain only one layer of conductive material. They’re the simplest and most cost-effective type of PCBs: A god option for low-density designs that don’t require high frequencies or signal speeds.

These types of PCBs can be found used in many consumer products, including home appliances and electronic toys. They’re also common in range of industrial and medical applications such as power supplies, amplifiers and various types of electrical equipment.

2. Double Sided PCB

Sometimes, and depending on the specific use, it may not be possible to have everything needed for a circuit on one side of a PCB. That’s when double sided PCBs come in handy.

Double sided printed circuit boards have conductive material on both sides of the board connected by plated holes called vias. They offer more routing flexibility than single-sided boards and are suitable for high-frequency digital. The component separation helps prevent electrical interference.

You can use double sided PCBs in a variety of electronics, such as medical devices, communications systems and automotive systems. Other possible uses include computers, telecommunications equipment and consumer electronics.

3. Multi-Layer PCB

Multi-layer printed circuit boards offer even more design flexibility than double sided boards as they have three or more layers of conductive material connected by vias. These are made by gluing together several double layered boards.

Because they have more layers, PCBs accommodate higher component densities and complex routing. That also makes them one of the most expensive types of PCBs today.

Multi-Layer PCBs can be found in a wide range of applications, from automotive electronics to medical devices and industrial control systems. You’re also likely to find them in communications, telecommunications and computing equipment.

Flexible PCB
Flexible PCB
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PCB Types by Hardness

Most PCBs are made with a rigid type of material, usually a combination of fiberglass and epoxy resin. But there are also PCB boards that use flexible materials like polyimide. The types of PCBs by hardness are:

4. Flexible PCB

Flexible PCBs are made of materials that can bend and twist without breaking. These are also called flex PCBs. As you would expect, the boards are popular in applications that require a high degree of flexibility, such as wearables, robotics, and medical devices.

Different materials can produce these types of PCBs. The most common include polyimide, polyester, and PEEK (polyether ether ketone). Compared the rigid types, flexing PCBs are less durable, especially where they have to be repeatedly bent or flexed. However, they offer greater design flexibility.

5. Rigid PCB

Just as the name indicates, rigid PCBs are non-flexible boards. The main benefit of these types of printed circuit boards is their durability, as they can handle the pressures of everyday use without breaking down.

These types of PCBs are the most common today and come as either single or multi-layered boards: it depends on the required level of complexity and other features such as component types.

Rigid circuit boards are used in everyday applications like computers, cell phones and laptops. They’re also the most preferred type of PCB for military, aerospace and medical applications due to their reliability.

6. Rigid-Flex PCB

Rigid-flex printed circuit boards, as you would guess, are a combination of rigid and flexible PCBs, allowing for the flexibility of a flexible board while maintaining the durability of a rigid one.

These types of PCB boards are typically used in applications that require a combination of flexibility and strength, such as automotive and aerospace electronics.

Most often, these types of PCBs are made using sections of flexible material and combining them with the rigid types. That allows for components to be mounted on both sides and eliminates the need for additional wiring or connectors.

PCB Types by Material

Different materials are used for PCBs depending on the required performance, cost, and other factors such as weight and environmental conditions. The types of PCB materials, their advantages and disadvantages are listed below:

7. Ceramic PCB

Ceramic is a material that can withstand high temperatures while showing a very low co-efficient of expansion, plus it’s highly durable. Ceramic PCBs are made in the same way in the same way as other types of printed circuit boards, just with a ceramic substrate instead of fiberglass.

This PCB material makes them ideal for high-temperature applications such as military hardware and automotive or aerospace components. In these applications, the boards maintain reliability even in higher heat levels of up to 350° C.  

Ceramic circuit boards offer excellent performance and reliability, but they tend to be more expensive than other types of PCBs or printed circuit boards. So they’re typically used in applications where the cost premium can be justified by their performance.

8. Aluminum PCBs

Aluminum PCBs are a type of printed circuit boards that have a layer of on one side. This metallic layer provides improved thermal performance as well as increased mechanical strength.

These types of PCB boards are found in consumer electronics such as laptops, tablets and smartphones. They’re also used in automotive applications, where they can be used to improve heat dissipation from a device.

9. Resin PCB

A resin PCB is made with an epoxy resin layer between the core and copper layers. Because resin is a type of plastic, it offers improved flexibility and resistance to environmental elements like dust, moisture and chemicals.

Resin PCBs are also more cost-effective than other types of printed circuit boards as they’re relatively simple and inexpensive to manufacture. This makes them a good choice for mass production applications like consumer electronics or automotive parts.

10. Metal Core PCB

Metal core PCBs are printed circuit boards with a metal layer sandwiched between the top and bottom layers. This metal layer provides better thermal conductivity than traditional substrate materials such as FR4, which makes them suitable for high-heat applications like LED lighting.

These types of PCBs also offer improved mechanical strength over traditional PCB materials. In applications where durability is essential, such as in medical devices or outdoor equipment, a metal core printed circuit board performs well.

11. Teflon PCB

Teflon is a type of synthetic plastic offers a number of advantages over other types of PCB materials. It’s highly resistant to high temperatures and chemicals, plus it has excellent electrical insulating properties and moisture resistance.

These characteristics make Teflon PCBs a great choice for applications that require extreme temperature resistance, such as aerospace and automotive or industrial devices.

A Teflon printed circuit board is also more expensive than other types of printed circuit boards, so it’s typically used in specialized applications where the additional cost is justified by improved performance.  

12. Polyimide PCB

This is another type of synthetic plastic used in printed circuit boards. Polyimide contains a number of desirable properties, including excellent thermal stability at up to 260° C, as well as great flexibility and chemical resistance.

A polyimide PCB will also have tensile strength despite its flexibility, making it a durable option for applications where there’s potential for physical stress or shock.

Most often, these types of PCBs are used in automotive, aerospace, and industrial applications. Also, computer servers, medical devices and cellular base stations are applications that can benefit from the unique characteristics of polyimide PCBs.

13. Glass PCB

Different types of glass materials, such quartz, are often used in printed circuit boards. Glass printed circuit boards offer a number of advantages: They resist moisture, dust, and are highly waterproof.

Glass, when used in a PCB allows for light to pass through, in addition to providing excellent electrical insulation. Application examples of the glass PCB include LED lighting, medical devices and military equipment. Others include solar panels, 3D printing, and a number of optical devices.

PCB Types by Performance

In terms of performance, the different types of printed circuit boards are generally classified as high-frequency, high current or voltage, high tg, high-speed, weather proof, HDI and RF type.

14. High Frequency PCBs

High frequency printed circuit boards are used for electronic components that require extremely fast signals. These types of boards are typically made of high-performance materials such Teflon, and usually offer up to 100 GHz signal speed.

High frequency PCBs offer excellent electrical performance and reliability in applications such as radio and microwave communications, radar systems and medical devices. They’re also used in industrial control systems, networking equipment and defense electronics.  

15. HDI PCB

HDI means high-density interconnects. These types of PCBs are designed to handle more components in a smaller space. HDI boards are made up of multiple layers of circuitry connected together via tiny microvias, or vias that measure less than 0.06 inches in diameter.

The designs for HDI PCB vary from through via types, buried vias and blind vias, depending on the application. HDI PCBs are used in a wide range of applications such as laptops, tablets, smartphones, medical devices and automotive electronics.

16. High Current PCB

A high current PCB is a type of circuit board that’s been designed to handle a large amount of current. These boards are typically made from materials that can withstand high temperatures and feature thick traces for better heat dissipation and low inductance.

High current PCBs are used in applications such as power converters, motor drives and switching power supplies, as well as industrial control systems, LED lighting and automotive electronics.

For most applications, a high current circuit board is typically made with around 4 OZ/Ft2 copper thickness and features large components with high current ratings. It’s good to note that the copper traces are made thicker and not wider to ensure space savings and to minimize crosstalk.

17. High Speed PCB

High voltage printed circuit boards are built to handle high voltages in the range of 100V or more, depending on the application. Just the high current types, these boards will usually include thicker copper traces and larger components to help dissipate heat and reduce electrical resistance.

High voltage PCBs are used in a variety of applications such as power supplies, transformers, switching converters and AC/DC inverters. These are normally found in industrial control systems, electric vehicles and robotics, as well as medical and military equipment.

18. High Tg PCB

High tg printed circuit boards are made with a higher temperature rating in comparison to standard PCBs. Tg refers to the temperature at which the board can still retain its original shape and mechanical properties.

High tg PCBs are, therefore, usually made with special materials such as Teflon, which has a higher heat resistance capability in comparison to other PCB materials — usually above 170°C.

These types of PCBs are used in high-level applications such as automotive and aerospace, as well as military electronics. Other uses include LED lighting and industrial control systems.

19. Weatherproof PCB

Weatherproof printed circuit boards are designed to withstand harsh environmental conditions such as extreme temperatures, moisture, dust and other contaminants. This is done using various methods such as encasing the circuit board or potting (encapsulating with resin material).

They can also be conformal coated. All of these methods help protect the PCB from water and other elements, while still allowing it to function as intended.

Weatherproof PCBs are used in a variety of applications such as outdoor lighting, industrial control systems and military electronics. They are also the types of PCBs to use in automotive, aerospace, and marine applications.

20. High Voltage PCB

High voltage pcb board are built to handle high voltages in the range of 100V or more, depending on the application. Just the high current types, these boards will usually include thicker copper traces and larger components to help dissipate heat and reduce electrical resistance.

High voltage PCB are used in a variety of applications such as power supplies, transformers, switching converters and AC/DC inverters. These are normally found in industrial control systems, electric vehicles and robotics, as well as medical and military equipment.

21. RF PCB

RF here is used to refer to radio frequency. RF PCBs are meant specifically for applications that involve the transmission and reception of radio signals. These are signals that typically range from 100 MHz and 2 GHz in frequency.

Because of their special purpose, RF printed circuit boards are made with specific materials and processes that minimize signal losses due to impedance mismatch and high frequency attenuation, among other issues.

These PCBs also feature a board design that allows for the isolation of the signals in order to reduce interference. RF PCBs are used in a variety of applications involving wireless communication systems, such as two-way radios. They are also commonly found in medical and military equipment.   

Conclusion

Different types of PCBs provide different benefits. That, in turn, makes each type fit one application better than another. Choosing the right PCB for your specified application can make a huge difference in terms of performance and reliability. In addition, different PCB types can also have a big impact on the overall cost of a product. So it’s important to consider all these factors when selecting the right board for your application.

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