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Matte Finish vs. Gloss Finish in PCBs

One of the final decisions you may make when it comes to your printed circuit boards is whether to go with a shiny solder mask, also called a glossy finish, or to opt for a matte finish. PCBs function equally well with a glossy finish or a matte finish, so this decision is not critical. In many cases, those ordering PCBs will leave this decision up to the fabricator, who will typically choose a gloss finish by default.

For information purposes, and to help you decide whether or not you have a preference, here are the differences between a glossy finish and a matte finish for your PCBs.

Choosing a Gloss Finish Over a Matte Finish

The main difference between a gloss finish and a matte finish is an aesthetic one, and many people feel that a gloss finish simply looks better. Gloss solder masks are shiny. They reflect light and look lighter, while matte finishes are dull and dark. Gloss solder mask has a hard shell finish while a matte finish is softer looking.

Matte finishes may also scratch more easily and show residue or surface cosmetics better, although scratches on a gloss finish will show more. If you expect the look of your PCB will have a positive effect on your assemblers or anyone who may end up looking at them, you may want to go with the gloss finish. Just keep in mind that the high light reflectivity can be a nuisance to vision during assembly in some cases.

Choosing a Matte Finish Over a Glossy Finish

Although it is no more cost-effective or efficient to choose a matte finish over a glossy one, there is one consideration that may cause some to prefer the matte finish, and it involves solder balls. If you are concerned that solder balls may be a problem for you, you may be inclined to choose a matte finish. This is because, while there are several factors that contribute to solder balls, one is the level of surface roughness. The smoother the surface, the more likely it is that solder will ball up.

The theory behind this is that molten solder behaves differently on rough surfaces and smooth surfaces. On rough surfaces, it tends to form a convex shape, reducing the area solder balls can attach to, while on smoother surfaces it tends to take a concave shape. Since matte finishes are softer and more porous, as opposed to the smooth, hard shell of the glossy finish, many experts feel that a matte finish will result in fewer solder balls. With all of this said, glossy finishes are used all the time on PCBs, so you may not find this to be a particular problem.

For more information on PCBs, or to order PCBs for your company, contact Millennium Circuits Limited — the printed circuit board and printed circuit board accessories experts — today.

PCB Glossary

  • Electroplating

    The electrodeposition of an adherent metal coating on a conductive object. The object to be plated is placed in an electrolyte and connected to one terminal of a direct current (DC) voltage source. The metal to be deposited is similarly immersed and connected to the other terminal.