PCBWay, one of the most popular PCB manufacturers among makers adds Orange, Grey, Pink and Transparent solder mask color options to their capabilities. These are in addition to the existing and widely used colors such as Green, Blue, Red, Yellow, White and Black. The new options are available on Advanced PCB order section. Not only you have multiple options for solder mask, but also gets colors such as White, Black, Yellow, Blue and Grey silkscreen colors. These silkscreen colors when combined with the many solder mask colors can turn your PCBs into true artistic pieces.
What is a Solder Mask?
Solder mask as the name suggests, covers areas of a PCB where insulation is needed. Bare copper traces are prone to chemical reactions such as oxidation and electrical shorting if handled carelessly. A solder mask is a thin layer of insulating material (a resin) that covers the PCB where we do want to expose the copper. Solder masks is a permanent layer that does not react with ordinary chemicals and is heat-proof to a high extent. There are though, peelable solder masks that are used for temporary protection during processing, assembly and transportation. These are mostly removed once the entire process of fabrication and assembly is complete. PCBWay also offers peelable solder mask.
Areas such as pads, where we solder components, will be free from solder mask. A tiny gap will be left around the periphery of every pad. This is to make sure the solder mask material is never applied on the pads in case of a slight shift in the layer alignment process. This solder mask clearance is automatically added by most EDA (Electronic Design Automation) softwares when you create footprints. It can also be customized.
Another advantage of having a solder mask is that it will prevent solder from spreading to unneeded areas. If you ever tried to solder on a bare copper board (CNC milled boards, for example), you would know how difficult it is to make sure the solder is not spreading. This is because solder exhibits the same properties of a liquid when it is melted by high temperatures. Solder mask is solder-phobic that solder can’t stick to it. The high temperatures will also not destroy the solder mask. All of these mean, the solder we apply on a pad will stay within the pad without spreading to nearby tracks or pads.
Historically, Green has been the most popular color for solder masks. There are multiple competing theories that explain why it so. Green remains to be the popular and cheapest choice for solder mask even to this day. You have to admit, green is the most beautiful and pleasing color for a PCB. Our brains are evolved that way. Also, white silkscreen on a green PCB offers better contrast for reading the labels, making assembly and inspection processes less difficult for humans.
Here is all the color options available for solder mask and silkscreen at PCBWay Advanced PCB section.
The standard PCB section colors remain the same, with the most widely used colors.
The advanced options do increase the cost though. For example, see the below pricing for a 50 x 50 mm PCB with 1.2 mm thickness, Black solder mask, Yellow silkscreen and ENIG finish. It costs $116 for 10 PCBs. The cost will obviously go down if we increase the quantity.
PCBWay has recently became a sponsor of KiCad open source project. KiCad has been amassing a large userbase in recent times, thanks to the active development that is going on. KiCad v6 could be out real soon. We will soon have an article on taking your KiCad designs ready for fabrication and automated assembly (PCBA). Stay tuned.
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