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How to Design PCB Stackup

What is a PCB Stackup?

A PCB (Printed Circuit Board) stackup refers to the arrangement of copper and insulating layers that make up a PCB. It is a cross-sectional view of the board, showing the order and thickness of each layer. The stackup is a crucial aspect of PCB design as it determines the board’s electrical properties, signal integrity, and manufacturability.

Key Components of a PCB Stackup

  1. Core: The base material, typically made of FR-4 (glass-reinforced epoxy laminate).
  2. Copper layers: Conductive layers for routing signals and power.
  3. Prepreg: Pre-impregnated bonding material used to laminate layers together.
  4. Solder mask: Protective coating applied to the outer layers to prevent short circuits.
  5. Silkscreen: Text and symbols printed on the solder mask for component identification.

Importance of a Well-Designed PCB Stackup

A properly designed PCB stackup is essential for several reasons:

  1. Signal integrity: Ensures proper Impedance Control and minimizes crosstalk.
  2. Power integrity: Provides adequate power distribution and reduces noise.
  3. Manufacturability: Facilitates reliable and cost-effective production.
  4. Reliability: Enhances the board’s durability and longevity.

Factors to Consider When Designing a PCB Stackup

1. Number of Layers

The number of layers in a PCB stackup depends on the complexity of the design and the required functionality. More layers allow for higher component density and better signal routing but also increase manufacturing costs.

Number of Layers Typical Applications
1-2 Simple, low-cost designs (e.g., LED boards)
4 Common for many applications (e.g., Arduino Boards)
6-8 Complex designs with high component density
10+ High-speed, high-density designs (e.g., server boards)

2. Layer Arrangement

The arrangement of layers in a PCB stackup should be optimized for signal integrity and power distribution. Some general guidelines include:

  • Outer layers: Used for component placement and routing of high-speed signals.
  • Inner layers: Used for power and ground planes, as well as additional signal routing.
  • Symmetry: Maintain a symmetrical stackup to minimize warpage and improve manufacturability.

Example 4-layer stackup:
| Layer | Function |
| Top | Component placement, high-speed signals |
| L2 | Ground plane |
| L3 | Power plane |
| Bottom| Component placement, high-speed signals |

3. Dielectric Material

The choice of dielectric material between layers affects the board’s electrical properties and manufacturability. The most common material is FR-4, but other options like Rogers or Isola materials may be used for high-frequency applications.

Material Dielectric Constant Loss Tangent Typical Applications
FR-4 4.3-4.6 0.02 General-purpose, cost-effective
Rogers 2.2-10.2 0.0009-0.0035 High-frequency, low-loss
Isola 3.0-4.5 0.0020-0.0170 High-speed digital, RF, and microwave

4. Impedance Control

Controlling the impedance of signal traces is crucial for maintaining signal integrity, especially in high-speed designs. The target impedance is typically 50Ω for single-ended traces and 100Ω for differential pairs. To achieve the desired impedance, consider:

  • Trace width and thickness
  • Dielectric thickness
  • Dielectric constant

Use PCB design software or online calculators to determine the appropriate trace dimensions for your target impedance.

5. Via Placement and Design

Vias are used to connect traces between layers in a PCB stackup. Proper via placement and design are essential for signal integrity and manufacturability.

  • Minimize via count to reduce manufacturing costs and improve reliability.
  • Use appropriate via sizes based on the trace width and current requirements.
  • Avoid placing vias in high-speed signal paths to minimize discontinuities.
  • Consider using blind or buried vias for high-density designs.

PCB Stackup Design Process

  1. Define requirements: Determine the number of layers, target impedance, and any special requirements based on the application.

  2. Choose materials: Select the appropriate core, prepreg, and dielectric materials based on the electrical and mechanical requirements.

  3. Arrange layers: Develop a symmetrical stackup with optimized power and ground plane placement.

  4. Calculate trace dimensions: Use PCB design software or calculators to determine the appropriate trace widths and thicknesses for the target impedance.

  5. Place components and route traces: Arrange components and route traces on the outer layers, considering signal integrity and manufacturability.

  6. Optimize via placement: Place vias strategically to minimize signal disruption and improve manufacturability.

  7. Review and iterate: Review the stackup with the manufacturing team and make any necessary adjustments to ensure a reliable and cost-effective design.

Common PCB Stackup Configurations

2-Layer Stackup

Layer Function
Top Components, signal traces
Bottom Ground plane

4-Layer Stackup

Layer Function
Top Component placement, high-speed signals
L2 Ground plane
L3 Power plane
Bottom Component placement, high-speed signals

6-Layer Stackup

Layer Function
Top Component placement, high-speed signals
L2 Signal traces
L3 Ground plane
L4 Power plane
L5 Signal traces
Bottom Component placement, high-speed signals

Best Practices for PCB Stackup Design

  1. Keep the stackup symmetrical to minimize warpage and improve manufacturability.
  2. Use dedicated power and ground planes for better power distribution and noise reduction.
  3. Maintain consistent dielectric thickness between layers to ensure uniform impedance.
  4. Avoid splitting ground or power planes, as this can create discontinuities and degrade signal integrity.
  5. Use appropriate via sizes and placement to minimize signal disruption and improve manufacturability.
  6. Collaborate with the manufacturing team to ensure the stackup is optimized for their processes and capabilities.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

1. What is the most common PCB stackup for general-purpose applications?

A 4-layer stackup with signal layers on the outer layers and power and ground planes on the inner layers is the most common configuration for general-purpose applications. This stackup provides a good balance between signal integrity, power distribution, and cost.

2. How does the dielectric material affect the PCB stackup design?

The dielectric material’s properties, such as dielectric constant and loss tangent, influence the signal propagation speed and losses in the PCB stackup. The choice of dielectric material depends on the application’s requirements, such as frequency, signal integrity, and cost. FR-4 is the most common dielectric material for general-purpose applications, while high-frequency materials like Rogers or Isola are used for more demanding applications.

3. What is the purpose of maintaining a symmetrical PCB stackup?

Maintaining a symmetrical PCB stackup helps minimize warpage during the manufacturing process. Warpage occurs when the board experiences uneven thermal expansion and contraction due to asymmetrical layer distribution. A symmetrical stackup ensures that the board expands and contracts uniformly, reducing stress and improving manufacturability.

4. How do I determine the appropriate trace dimensions for my PCB stackup?

To determine the appropriate trace dimensions for your PCB stackup, you need to consider the target impedance, dielectric material properties, and layer thickness. PCB design software often includes tools for calculating trace dimensions based on these parameters. Alternatively, you can use online calculators or consult with your manufacturing partner for guidance.

5. What are blind and buried vias, and when should I use them in my PCB stackup?

Blind vias connect an outer layer to an inner layer without going through the entire board, while buried vias connect inner layers without reaching the outer layers. These types of vias are used in high-density designs to save space and improve signal routing. However, they are more expensive to manufacture than through-hole vias and should be used only when necessary.


Designing a PCB stackup is a critical aspect of PCB design, as it directly impacts the board’s electrical performance, manufacturability, and reliability. By understanding the key components, factors to consider, and best practices for PCB stackup design, you can create a stackup that meets your application’s requirements while ensuring cost-effective and reliable production.

Remember to collaborate with your manufacturing partner throughout the design process to optimize your stackup for their capabilities and processes. With a well-designed PCB stackup, you can achieve excellent signal integrity, power distribution, and overall performance in your electronic devices.