Single-Sided vs. Double-Sided vs. Multilayer PCBs

When you read information about PCBs, you may see the terms “single-sided,” “double-sided” and “multilayer” used often. The circuit board industry uses these categories to determine the complexity of a board’s structure. Each type of PCB has different price points and uses. With a basic understanding of PCB production, you can discover the capabilities of these board compositions.

Single-Sided Boards

A single-side PCB, also known as a single-layer PCB, is simple and affordable to produce. The manufacturer begins with a base core material, such as fiberglass (FR4), which the core has a layer of copper on it. This copper material makes the board conductive and allows electricity to flow through. Then, they add a solder mask that insulates the conductive copper sheet below. Finally, they cover the rest of the layers with a silkscreen print that indicates the location for each part. When creating a single-sided board, the manufacturer adds these layers to one side only.

Single-sided boards may not have the same complexity as their counterparts, but they power a wide range of everyday electronics. Since they cost so little to make, you can find them in bulk-manufactured devices like:

  • Cameras
  • Audio equipment
  • Power supplies
  • Calculators
  • Solid state drives
  • Printers

Double-Sided PCBs

Making double-sided PCBs involves the same kinds of layers as a single-sided board. The difference between double-sided and single-sided PCBs is that instead of using a single-sided copper core, the manufacture will start a core with copper on both sides. During production, they also drill holes called vias that they can plate or fill with a conductive, or non conductive material. The electrical current travels from one side of the board to the other through these vias. Double-sided PCBs have a higher cost than single-sided boards, but they provide twice as much space for components.

Electronics that need an intermediate level of circuit complexity use double-sided PCBs to operate. Double-sided boards power more complicated devices than single-sided PCBs, but they can’t handle advanced applications like computers or smartphones. They appear in electronics such as:

  • LED lighting
  • Vending machines
  • Car dashboards
  • Phone systems
  • Industrial controls

Multilayer Printed Circuit Boards

Multilayer PCBs can support a high level of circuit complexity because they consist of three or more copper layers laminated together. The manufacturer starts a core that has the same materials as a typical single-sided or double-sided PCB. After etching the inner core, they add layers of prepreg, a soft fiberglass. This material keeps the layers together and becomes hard fiberglass after the board goes through a hot press. As a result of the curing process, multilayer PCBs are tough and durable. If the manufacture is building a 4 Layer pcb they typically will use one core, prepreg and they copper foil for the top and bottom layers.

We have complex technology like computers and data servers thanks to the high capacity of multilayer PCBs. Other examples of devices powered by multilayer PCBs include:

  • Fiber optics
  • Smartphones
  • GPS systems
  • Scientific and space equipment
  • Heart monitors
  • Atomic accelerators

Get Assistance From a Reliable PCB Supplier

Your choice of circuit board structure depends on your budget and intended application. When you design your PCB, you must also consider factors like your circuit board materials. To learn more about your PCB options, contact our team online or call us at 717-558-5975.