When mentioning circuit boards, most people’s first impression is often a green electronic board. This is a stereotype, although green PCB still dominates, there are other colors. For some users pursuing unique personalities, the monotonous green might not satisfy their bold character. Therefore, they might choose red, black, or blue as the main color for the circuit board. Some exclusive electronics for women even use pink for decoration. So, what are the differences between different colors, and how should users make their choices? To answer these questions, TechSparks will explore the topic of PCB colors in this article, helping you choose by analyzing the advantages and disadvantages between different colors!
What Determines PCB Color
The substrate layer constitutes the main body of the circuit board, typically made of glass fiber cloth and resin. It naturally appears as a pale yellow or light brown. However, since it is located within the entire board and is not visible in the finished product, it is not discussed further.
The solder mask layer is the topmost layer of the PCB, the part that is visible to users. It exists to protect the circuit pattern. Solder mask ink is applied to the surface of the PCB and then cured, forming the color that we commonly refer to as the PCB color.
The silkscreen layer refers to the characters on the PCB used to label components, providing useful information for component placement and replacement. A silkscreen printer is used to densely print ink on the surface, and the resulting display is typically white. When creating white PCBs, black silkscreen is used to improve visibility.
Types of PCB Colors
In the following content, we will introduce the impact of six colors on your project: green, black, white, blue, red, and yellow. According to popularity rankings, the top three are black, blue, and green, while by usage frequency, it’s green, black, and blue.
Green is the most classic PCB color, often considered the default choice. The green solder mask layer provides a sharp contrast with white silkscreen fonts, highlighting component information. Manufacturers frequently stockpile large quantities of green ink due to its high usage, which can lead to cost-effectiveness for your PCB project. Green is also considered eye-friendly, which can help reduce eye strain for operators during mass assembly orders, preventing errors caused by eye fatigue.
Further Reading: Why Are Circuit Boards Green and What’s the Significance?
Black is a cool color highly favored by electronic enthusiasts. Additionally, if your project involves high-tech electronic products, using a black PCB is a bonus as it lends a sense of sophistication to your product, similar to Apple’s products, which include black PCB boards.
Typically, we assume that PCB color has no impact on electronics or circuits. However, black is considered to have a higher heat absorption rate. If your project is highly heat-sensitive, it might be advisable to avoid using this color. Excessive heat can be generated during both soldering and circuit operation. Furthermore, black surfaces can make visual inspections more challenging. To inspect a black PCB for scratches or imperfections, you’ll often need to tilt it under well-lit conditions. This not only adds to the complexity of the task but can also result in oversights during inspections.
White has always been synonymous with cleanliness and purity. Traditionally, white is associated with figures like nurses or angels. However, in the realm of printed circuit boards, white is almost like a “demon” – a color that can strike fear into the hearts of production line workers.
A smooth surface is ideal for light reflection, and white accentuates this phenomenon. Prolonged exposure to these conditions may lead to discomfort for operators, particularly straining their eyes. Additionally, white’s contrast with stains amplifies even minor smudges, making them more noticeable. When using white solder mask layers, it’s often necessary to change the silkscreen color to black for better visibility. Most importantly, the white surface makes manual inspections challenging. Even under well-lit conditions, tilting the board can make scratches and defects hard to detect, potentially introducing risks.
If you’re tired of the mundane green, using blue as the primary color for your PCB is a good alternative. Blue PCB is both popular and practical in terms of visibility and cost-effectiveness. The visual effects and cost are similar to green, and it avoids some of the potential drawbacks associated with black PCB.
Red is a vibrant color choice that sets your PCB apart, making it visually distinct and drawing attention from users. Some companies use red PCB to enhance their brand image. While red may slightly lag behind in terms of visibility and contrast compared to green and blue, it’s not a significant difference.
Yellow seems to be the least common choice, even less popular than white. Some individuals find it challenging to distinguish between yellow and white, possibly due to the use of white silkscreen. The specific reasons for this low usage are not well-known, and it might be attributed to differences in PCB designers’ aesthetics.
PCB Color Selection Principles
Based on the previous discussions regarding different PCB colors, it is clear that the color of a PCB doesn’t impact its electrical performance. This means that you have the freedom to choose based on your needs. However, even with a wide range of color options for customization, there are still some fundamental principles to follow when selecting a PCB color to ensure it meets your design and manufacturing requirements.
Most importantly, cost factors come into play. While PCB manufacturers offer various customization options, not all colors of solder mask are pre-stocked. Typically, common colors have their raw materials prepared in advance, while less common colors (such as pink or purple) might need to be ordered separately. To ensure an adequate supply of raw materials, extra stock is often set aside, but if a color is exceedingly rare, this portion of stock might go to waste. All these additional costs can eventually be passed on to customers, increasing manufacturing expenses.
Another key consideration is avoiding color choices that could adversely affect the PCB’s manufacturability. For instance, black or white PCB might make manual inspection processes more challenging. Therefore, it’s advisable to steer clear of selecting dark-colored PCB unless there are specific requirements. Additionally, ensure there’s a distinct contrast between the solder mask color and the silkscreen color, as this simplifies assembly and maintenance work.
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