Whether you are a small business owner or a novice electronics enthusiast looking to learn more about PCB design, you are bound to encounter some confusing jargon. Thus, learning the intricacies of PCB fabrication and assembly is not easy, especially for autodidacts and non-engineering (electronics) professionals. However, a glossary of some of the most important terms can make things a little easier for you. It can at least come in handy when you are trying to read verbose documentation. Whatever the reason may be, you will find a vital list of some of the most important PCB terminology in the following guide.
List of Important PCB Design Terminology
In essence, annular rings are fortified vias, often used to connect components to a PCB. We define vias further down this guide. So to learn more, visit our guide on annular rings.
The artwork describes the shape and pattern of the conductive pathways on a PCB. Furthermore, we use the artwork master to reproduce the artwork during PCB fabrication. To learn more, visit our guide on PCB Artwork.
PCB Terminology-- Aspect Ratio
The PCB aspect ratio refers to the PCB density compared to the diameter of the smallest drilled hole.
In PCB design, the bill of materials (BOM) refers to an invoice of the fabrics required to manufacture a printed circuit board. A BOM will commonly contain the name of the material/part, the manufacturer part number, a description, the name of the supplier/manufacturer, comments, and additional information.
Board thickness refers to the density of the board without components, soldering, plating, etc.
Computer-aided design (CAD) commonly refers to software and hardware that helps designers and engineers graphically conceptualize and build PCBs. Thus, it makes the design process a lot easier.
Computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) describes the software and hardware used to build the PCB in various fabrication processes. Consequently, this helps streamline the production process.
Computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) files are digital documents used in the PCB manufacturing process. In conclusion, these files include the Gerber files, NC drill files, and fabrication drawings. Collectively, CAM files constitute the complete PCB design.
It refers to using a PCB’s materials, trace locations, and size to control the strength of a signal.
This term refers to the weight and thickness of the inner and outer copper layers on a PCB. The copper contained in a PCB is one of its most important constituents. Commonly, we use copper for traces and the conductive layer of the PCB. Thus, it is important to understand how much weight in a PCB we can credit to copper.
Creepage refers to the space between two conductive elements on the surface of the PCB. This includes the pad-to-pad, pad-to-trace, and trace-to-trace distance. Often, creepage is confused with clearance. Thus, we erroneously use Clearance rules and creepage rules interchangeably.
Clearance describes the space between conductive elements or the height of a conductive element from its tip to where it is bound on the board. In fact, in devices or machines like computers, clearance refers to how much space a board or component has between it and another component.
A slot or hole cut into a PCB with a routing bit. Therefore, we commonly use cut-outs to mount another board onto the PCB or mount the PCB on a chassis.
Design Rule Check (DRC)
We perform a DRC to ensure that your design matches a list of guidelines and standards for manufacturability. Often, a technician usually performs it through computer analysis.
A footprint refers to the pad or through-hole/thru-hole placement pattern on a PCB. And It is also known as a footprint pad layout or land pattern. We commonly use it for new component packages.
The Gerber file is a 2D image file depicting the PCB’s design. And this includes copper traces, plating, decals, etc. Firstly, designers produce it through computer software and then send it to a manufacturer to build the PCB.
A ground plane is a layer of conductive material (usual foil) connected to the PCB’s power supply ground terminal to provide a pathway for return currents from components.
Manufacturer Part Number (MPN)
MPN refers to an identifier in the BOM that allows engineers to track PCB components. Thus, it allows engineers to trace and source part suppliers and acquire additional information about the PCB.
Identifies where we should place components on a PCB in the footprint.
PCB design file
The PCB design files are a list of documents that we use to fabricate and assemble your PCB. To sum up, this includes Gerber (ODB+) files, centroid files, BOMs, assembly drawings, and preliminary files.
Pitch refers to the amount of space between the pads for a component on the PCB.
Routing (often referred to as wire routing) is where designers/engineers plot how copper tracing will connect from element to element on a PCB. It often proceeds a step known as placement. This is where designers decide where they will place each component/element on a PCB.
Generally, a PCB consists of multiple layers. However, it is possible to get a single-layer PCB. The number of layers a PCB has will depend on its application and other factors such as the pin density, components, and operating frequencies. Typically, a signal layer contains the traces of the board. It carries the signal. A PCB can have multiple layers depending on its stack.
These are the decals or legends painted on the board. And we also refer to it as a silk legend. Legends are essentially printed figures that denote information about the PCB. For instance, part numbers of components and reference designators. We press the decals on the PCB using epoxy ink.
A trace is an electric line or route that the PCB uses to deliver a charge or data between PCB elements.
A via is essentially a small drilled hole used to connect multiple layers of a PCB. On a two-layer board, the via will connect the top layer to the bottom layer.
PCB Terminology-- Layer Stack-up
The layer stack-up refers to the arrangement of the various layers of a PCB.
Understanding a few key terms can help you contextualize important design PCB concepts even if you do not plan to become an engineer or designer. Thus, in this guide, to help you along with your journey, we explored a list of the most important PCB terminology. We expect this list to be of great service to beginners and seasoned professionals who want to refresh their knowledge on certain terms. Nevertheless, we hope that you have found this guide to be helpful. As always, thank you for reading.