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printed circuit board (PCB)

Contributor(s): Matthew Haughn

A printed circuit board (PCB) is the board base for physically supporting and wiring the  surface-mounted and socketed components in most electronics. 

In applications where fine conductive traces are needed, such as computers, PCBs are made by a photolithographic process, in a larger scale version of the way conductive paths in processors are made. 

Electronic components are typically placed by machine onto a finished PCB that has solder dabs in place. The PCB bakes in an industrial oven to melt the solder, which joins the connections. Most PCBs are made from fiberglass or glass-reinforced plastics with copper traces.

PCBs can be single-layer for simple electronic devices. Printed circuit boards for complex hardware, such as computer graphics cards and motherboards, may have up to twelve layers. PCBs are most often green but they can come in any color.

Other methods of PCB manufacturing include silk-screening and CNC-milling.

See a demonstration of building a four-layer PCB:

This was last updated in September 2013

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Cool bit of trivia for those playing along at home: a Printed Circuit Board isn't actually green. It's the solder mask - the coating on top of the board - that's green. According to this FAQ it's used to prevent soldering errors / short circuits. This means a PCB can actually be most any colour: red, blue, heck even purple. Just thought that as a cool tidbit for anyone who reads through to the comments :D 
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