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You’ve got the perfect electronic project ready to roll.
Now all you need is the right circuit board.
Before you rush out to buy, you might want to know a little more about what you’re getting into, especially if you’re new to the game.
Asking what are circuit boards made of can help lead you in the direction of finding a quality high-end PCB for your electronic components.
Printed Circuit Boards
Before you understand what printed circuit boards are typically made of, it is essential to know what a circuit board is and what it does.
A circuit board is a series of components, including wiring, resistors, and capacitors, that work together to manage the electrical flow.
Managing electrical flow means controlling current and voltage, and this is what the printed circuit board does exclusively.
Being able to manage electrical flow means engineers, hobbyists, or designers can fashion electrical devices to do whatever they want.
From televisions to personal massage devices, you’ll find a PCB in anything that requires electricity.
Ever wonder why older electronics components were so HUGE?
In part, it’s because their circuit boards were bulky. Not only were components like the resisters, transistors, and capacitors larger, but they required entire wires to carry the current.
Decades later, components become more compact. More importantly, all that honkin’ wiring became paper-thin trails made of copper foil.
Printed circuit boards are also known as printed wiring boards. The name says it all.
With compactness came more versatility. Electronics could not have evolved to fit inside your pocket without the printed circuit board.
While there are millions of different ways to design a PCB, it is essential to know its tired and try elements.
What Are Circuit Boards Made Of?
You may be a hobbyist, inventor or designer needing a specific type of circuit board.
Whether you are looking for a highly customized PCB or something you can easily use to prototype a wide variety of projects, here are the main components of a PCB.
It’s helpful to understand the structure of a PCB like a sandwich. The thickest, middle layer is the substrate.
The substrate is the solid foundation of your PCB. Everything else gets embedded into the substrate, so it should be sturdy and thick.
And, by PCB standards, thick means an average of 1.6mm for the average prototyping board.
Some hobbyist boards, like the Arduino, intended for mass production and popular use, can be as thick as 1.8 mm.
Fiberglass is the most common substrate material known in manufacturing as F4.
Laminate is the thin resin layer that holds all parts of the PCB sandwich together.
Typically made of a thermal-tolerant resin, it is every bit as important to the structural integrity of the PCB as the substrate.
Thin, copper foil channels carry the charge that wires in older circuit boards once did.
Cut to any desired specification; the copper wire “traces” are the road system through which electrons will travel.
Copper traces come affixed to the substrate and can exist on one or both sides of the PCB.
Most boards include copper traces on either side. Lower end electronics will likely have copper traces on just one side.
Whether it is on one or both sides of the base, copper traces can come as a single layer or as many as 16 or more, depending on the PCB’s desired function.
The soldermask is a thin lacquer layer of polymer that covers the copper traces.
Without this covering, the copper traces run the risk of damage when you solder close to them.
Finally, the silkscreen is a thin layer of ink print that can identify different components, as well as logos and product codes.
Board components vary by functionality. You may need more of some of the essential elements, like capacitors. Some, like relay switches, you may not need at all.
Here is a list of of the major PCB components:
These are small, cylindrical components, usually covered in colored stripes. Resisters limit the circuit’s flow of current.
Sometimes called “variable resistors,” potentiometers can alter how they limit the current flow.
Usually marked with a “C,” capacitors come in the form of thick cylinders or small discs. They store electricity to distribute it more evenly throughout the circuit.
Connect your PCB to devices as well as to other boards.
Small components that direct the electrical current.
Other standard PCB components include relays, transistors, inductors, crystals and oscillators, and integrated circuits (ICs).
With so much functionality to choose from, how do you find the best circuit board for your project?
How To Find The Best Circuit Board
Some of the most important questions to ask when choosing a circuit board are:
What do you need your circuit board to do?
Are you building a board for a computer? Do you need something small enough to fit into a portable device? How “smart” do you want it to be?
Electrical functionality is the biggest factor you’ll want to consider when choosing a circuit board.
The more functionality you want, the more layers of copper traces you’ll likely need, and the more intricate the component structure will be required.
You may even need a multi-board structure if your project requires a higher level of functionality.
Many companies will help you draw up schematics and manufacture your PCB for you.
Visit this page for detailed schematics of typical PCBs, and for more information on manufacturing your customized boards.
How hot is it going to get?
The amount of functionality, power, and the amount of time you’ll expect the device to be in work mode all translate to one thing: current.
How much current will your board need to accommodate? More current typically means more heat, so your components will need to take heat tolerance into account.
For example: while typical substrates consist of F4, which is versatile and moderately heat tolerant for most types of devices, you may need more.
Ceramic PCB substrates that include aluminum or beryllium oxide are some of the most heat tolerant substances around.
Plan It Then Build It
What are circuit boards made of? Now you know the essential components.
Drawing up a schematic is the vital next step to making your project a reality. Whatever you can dream up, there’s a circuit board for that!
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