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What Are Rigid PCBs? Pros & Cons, Examples & Applications

Rigid PCBs are the most common type of PC board. Printed circuit boards are found in every electronic device – without them, there would be no electrical connections and no device would work!

They also provide mechanical support for electrical components to function together safely and effectively. Rigid PCBs are the gold standard for mechanical strength, but understanding the difference between rigid and flexible PCBs is key to choosing the right one.

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What are Rigid PCBs?

Rigid printed circuit boards (PCBs) are the flat, inflexible boards found within most electronic devices. Once they are manufactured, they cannot be bent or flexed. They consist of electronic circuits printed on a solid substrate material, typically FR-4 (a combination of fiberglass and reinforced epoxy laminate), selected for its electrical insulation and mechanical strength.

Most rigid PCBs have multiple layers, with conductive tracks and insulation on each layer. The outermost layers have pads and holes for soldering components. Unlike a flex PCB, which can bend, rigid PCBs maintain their shape. This makes them ideal for applications that require a stable base or fitting within a rigid enclosure.

Rigid-flex PCBs are a combination of rigid and flexible sections, offering the benefits of both. They may use FR-4 with a flexible material like Rogers to create boards with specific bending points.

Key Characteristics of Rigid PCBs


Due to their solid substrate, rigid PCBs are highly resistant to bending, warping, and physical stress. This durability helps maintain the integrity of the electrical connections, keeping them reliable even in demanding environments or under mechanical strain.

Temperature Resistance

Rigid PCBs are designed to withstand a wide range of operating temperatures. The most common substrate material, FR-4, has a glass transition temperature (Tg) of around 130–140 °C, allowing it to function reliably in various applications.

However, specialized materials like polyimide can be used for high-temperature applications exceeding 250 °C. This makes rigid PC boards the more versatile type of PCB in most industries.

Ease of Assembly

The rigid structure of the PCB board makes it easy to assemble electronic components using both thru-hole (THT) and surface-mount technology (SMT). The flat, stable surface makes placement and soldering processes simpler, leading to efficient and reliable manufacturing.

Design Simplicity

While PCB design is inherently complex, rigid PCBs offer a less intricate design process compared to flexible PCBs. This is because rigid PCBs don't require considerations for bending or dynamic flexing, which can significantly complicate the design of flexible circuits.

Pros and Cons of Rigid PCBs

Rigid PCBs Pros and Cons Pros and Cons of Rigid PCBs


  • Durability: Rigid PCBs are robust, withstanding vibrations, shocks, and physical stressors, which makes them ideal for harsh environments or applications with movement.
  • Ease of Mounting: Their rigid form makes mounting within enclosures much easier. This reduces damage risk during assembly and operation.
  • Cost-Effective (High Volume): Well-established manufacturing processes make rigid PCBs cost-effective for large-scale production.
  • Electrical Performance: Rigid substrate and precise copper traces contribute to excellent signal integrity and electrical performance, crucial for high-speed and high-frequency applications.
  • Heat Dissipation: Rigid PCBs dissipate heat better than flexible PCBs due to the solid substrate's thermal conductivity, which benefits power-hungry components.


  • Limited Flexibility: Unlike flex PCBs, rigid PCBs can't bend or conform to curved surfaces, limiting their use in a wide range of applications requiring flexibility. They may be less suitable for applications like wearable tech.
  • Size Constraints: They aren't suitable for extremely compact or irregularly shaped devices where space is limited and flexibility is needed.
  • Higher Initial Design Cost: The design process can be more costly upfront due to the need for precise layout and routing to accommodate inflexible substrates.

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What are Rigid PCBs Used for?

Rigid PCBs are generally used in most electronic devices. There are exceptions, but here's where you'll find these stable boards.

What are Rigid PCBs Used for? Rigid PCBs Applications

Consumer Electronics

Rigid PCBs are commonly used in smartphones, tablets, laptops, televisions, and gaming consoles, providing electrical connections and structural support.


This type of printed circuit board is used for motherboards, graphic cards, and other essential computer components to allow communication and power delivery between them.

Medical Devices

Rigid PCBs are used in diagnostic tools like MRI machines and implantable devices like pacemakers, where rigid materials are key for precision and stability.

Industrial Equipment

Rigid PCBs play a vital role in controlling and monitoring complex processes of industrial equipment. They are found in control panels, sensors, and automation systems, ensuring the efficient and safe operation of industrial machinery.


Rigid PCBs are used in electronic control units (ECUs), power distribution systems, and various sensors. They contribute to engine management, safety features, and convenience functions.


Chosen for their durability and reliability, rigid PCBs are used in avionics, navigation systems, communication equipment, and satellite systems.

How are Rigid PCBs Designed?

Designing a rigid PCB involves several detailed steps, from initial schematics to the final layout. The process requires planning and the use of specialized software to make sure the PCB will function correctly and can be manufactured efficiently.

Popular PCB design software includes Altium, Eagle, and KiCAD, which provide tools for creating detailed circuit diagrams and layouts.

Schematic Design

Schematic Design

The design process starts with creating a circuit diagram, which is a detailed representation of the electrical connections and components. This schematic acts as the blueprint for the printed circuit board and includes all the necessary information about the components and their connections.

  • Component Selection: Choose the right components based on the requirements of the electronic device. Consider factors like power rating, size, and availability.
  • Drawing the Schematic: Using PCB design software, draw the schematic by placing components and connecting them with wires to represent the electrical connections.
  • Verification: Check the schematic for errors, such as incorrect connections or missing components. This step is important to avoid issues during the PCB layout phase.

PCB Layout

PCB Layout

Once the schematic is complete, the next step is to create the PCB layout. This involves placing the components on the board and routing the electrical connections (traces) between them.

  • Component Placement: Strategically place components to optimize space and performance. Important factors include minimizing signal path lengths, avoiding interference, and ensuring adequate heat dissipation.
  • Signal Routing: Route the electrical connections (traces) between components. This step takes careful planning to avoid crossing traces and to ensure signal integrity.
  • Trace Width Considerations: Determine the appropriate trace widths based on the current they will carry. Wider traces are used for higher currents to prevent overheating and ensure reliability.
  • Ground and Power Planes: Implement ground and power planes to provide stable voltage references and reduce electromagnetic interference (EMI). These planes are solid layers of copper that distribute power and ground connections across the PCB.
  • Design Rules Check (DRC): Run a DRC to ensure the layout meets the manufacturing requirements and design standards. This step checks for issues such as trace spacing, trace width, and component placement.

Key Design Considerations for Rigid PCBs

Signal Integrity

Signal integrity refers to the quality of electrical signals as they travel through the copper traces on the board. Poor signal integrity can lead to signal distortion, timing errors, and overall system malfunction. Here’s how PCB design maintains signal integrity:

Impedance Control

Matching the impedance of traces to the source and load is crucial. This involves carefully calculating and controlling trace widths, thickness, and spacing. It’s especially important for high-speed signals.

Termination Strategies

Proper termination of signal lines prevents reflections and ensures signals reach their destination without distortion.

Crosstalk Minimization

Crosstalk, the unwanted coupling of signals between adjacent traces, can be minimized through careful trace routing, increased spacing, and the use of shielding.

Grounding Schemes

A well-designed grounding scheme is essential for minimizing noise and ensuring a stable reference voltage for the circuits.

Power Delivery

Adequate power delivery is crucial for the proper functioning of all components on the board. This involves:

  • Trace Width Calculation: Trace widths must be carefully calculated based on current requirements, allowable temperature rise, and voltage drop tolerances.
  • Power Distribution Network (PDN) Design: PDNs, such as power planes or star configurations, ensure even power distribution across the board and minimize voltage fluctuations.

Component Placement

The placement of components on the board can significantly impact thermal management and EMI performance. Key considerations include:

Thermal Management

Heat-generating components should be strategically placed and spaced to allow for adequate heat dissipation. Thermal vias, heatsinks, and other cooling techniques may be employed to maintain safe operating temperatures.

EMI Mitigation

Careful component placement can help minimize EMI. Sensitive components should be shielded from potential noise sources, and proper filtering techniques may be used to suppress unwanted electromagnetic radiation.

Design for Manufacturing

Design for Manufacturing

Design for Manufacturing (DFM) involves several steps to make sure that the printed circuit board design aligns with the capabilities and requirements of the PCB fabrication process. Here’s how DFM can be implemented effectively:

  • Manufacturer Collaboration: Early communication with PCB manufacturers ensures that the design aligns with their capabilities and design rules, addressing potential issues early in the design process.
  • Standard Component Selection: Choose standard components to make sourcing easier and faster. It will also make it less likely that your parts will go out of production, making the PCB assembly process smoother for both prototype and production quantities.
  • Clear Design Specifications: Provide clear and detailed design specifications to help manufacturers understand the exact needs. This also ensures the final product will meet the design intent, especially with complex rigid-flex designs.

Base Material

The choice of base material affects the rigidity, thermal properties, and dielectric characteristics of a rigid PCB. Here are some of the most common rigid PCB laminate materials used:

  • FR-4: FR-4 is the most common material used for rigid flex printed circuit boards. It offers flame retardancy and a moderate Tg of 130 to 140 °C.
  • Polyimide: Polyimide is used in high-temperature applications, with a Tg of around 250 °C, and is used in applications like military and aerospace.
  • PTFE (Teflon): PTFE is ideal for RF and microwave applications due to its low dielectric constant but is more challenging to process than FR-4.
  • BT Epoxy: BT Epoxy, with a Tg of 185 °C, is suitable for high-performance applications due to its low CTE and moisture absorption.
  • Cyanate Ester: Cyanate Ester, with a Tg of 250 °C, offers low loss at high frequencies and is used in high-speed applications.

Copper Thickness

Copper thickness impacts the current carrying capacity of a rigid PCB. Heavier copper is used for power traces to handle higher currents without overheating, while thinner copper is used for signal traces to maintain signal integrity. This is especially important in PCB fabrication to ensure reliability.

Solder Mask

A solder mask prevents solder bridging and protects the rigid circuit board from oxidation and short circuits. Choosing the right solder mask color enhances visibility and aids in inspection during the PCB assembly process. This step is crucial for both single-sided PCBs and double-sided PCBs.


A clear silkscreen layer is important for component identification and assembly. Design guidelines include using appropriate font sizes and line thicknesses to ensure legibility and accuracy. This is important in both traditional rigid PCB and flexible and rigid board technologies.

Surface Finish

Common surface finishes for rigid printed circuit boards include HASL, ENIG, OSP, and Immersion Silver/Tin. Each finish has pros and cons:

  • HASL (Hot Air Solder Leveling): Good solderability, but may be less suitable for fine-pitch components.
  • ENIG (Electroless Nickel Immersion Gold): Excellent flatness and reliability, but comes at a higher cost.
  • OSP (Organic Solderability Preservative): Cost-effective, but may be less durable over time.
  • Immersion Silver/Tin: Good for specific applications, but with varying durability and cost .

Trace Design

Determining appropriate trace widths, spacing, and thickness is essential for maintaining signal integrity and current capacity. Using trace width calculators and online tools helps ensure accurate and efficient circuit design. This is important for both flexible PCB and rigid PCB designs.

Rigid PCB Manufacturing Process Steps

Standard rigid PCBs are constructed in a meticulous step-by-step process. This keeps them consistent in quality.

Rigid PCB Manufacturing Process Step by Step Manufacturing Process of Rigid PCB

1. Design

The design process involves creating schematics, laying out components, and generating Gerber files. This connects the previous section on circuit design seamlessly.

2. Photolithography

Film negatives or positives are created from the Gerber design data. These films are used as masks in subsequent steps.

3. Etching

A chemical solution is used to dissolve unwanted copper areas exposed after the imaging stage.

4. Drilling

Vias (plated through-holes) and mounting holes are created using computer-controlled (CNC) drilling machines for precision.

5. Plating

Electroplating or electroless plating deposits copper within holes and builds up conductive traces.

6 Solder Mask Application

The solder mask acts as a protective coating, applied using screen printing or liquid film to prevent solder bridging.

7. Silkscreen

A silkscreen layer is added with component markings and identifiers, following design guidelines for clarity.

8. Surface Finish

A surface finish is applied to enhance solderability and protect the PCB circuit board during the PCB assembly process. The choice of finish impacts both the durability and functionality of the rigid PCB.

9. Testing

Electrical testing ensures continuity and checks for open or short circuits. Techniques include visual inspection, flying probe testing, and automated optical inspection (AOI).

What are the IPC Standards for Rigid PCBs?

The IPC (Association Connecting Electronics Industries) sets standards for the design, manufacture, and assembly of printed circuit boards. These standards ensure that PCBs are manufactured to maintain quality and reliability. Key standards include:

  • IPC-2221: Generic Standard on PCB Design
  • IPC-6012: Qualification and Performance Specification for Rigid PCBs
  • IPC-A-600: Acceptability of Printed Circuit Boards

How Do Rigid PCBs Compare to Flexible PCBs?

Flexible PCBs are more suited to different applications compared to traditional rigid PCBs. Understanding the subtle differences between rigid and flex PCBs will help you select the right one for your needs.

Feature Rigid PCBs Flexible PCBs
Flexibility Solid, unbending Bendable, extensible
Cost Less expensive to manufacture More expensive due to complex materials
Design Simpler design process Complex design to account for bending and 3D shapes
Durability Multiple rigid layers are strong and resistant to mechanical stress Prone to damage from improper handling, but ideal for dynamic applications
Thermal Management Better heat dissipation in multilayer designs Limited heat management, especially in multilayer applications


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