4 Layer PCB manufacturing

Posted by

What is a 4 Layer PCB?

A 4 layer PCB is a printed circuit board that consists of four conductive layers laminated together with insulating material. These layers include:

  1. Top layer: This is the outermost layer where components are placed and soldered.
  2. Ground layer: Located beneath the top layer, this layer provides a reference ground plane for the circuit.
  3. Power layer: Situated below the ground layer, this layer is responsible for distributing power to the components.
  4. Bottom layer: The final outer layer, which can also accommodate components and serves as an additional routing layer.

The four layers are interconnected through carefully designed vias, which are conductive pathways that allow signals to travel between layers.

Request PCB Manufacturing & Assembly Quote Now

Advantages of 4 Layer PCBs

Enhanced Signal Integrity

One of the primary benefits of using a 4 layer PCB is improved signal integrity. By dedicating specific layers to power and ground, the design can minimize electromagnetic interference (EMI) and reduce crosstalk between signals. The ground layer acts as a shield, isolating the sensitive signals on the top and bottom layers from noise and interference.

Increased Routing Density

With four layers available for routing, designers have more flexibility in placing components and routing traces. This increased routing density allows for more complex circuits to be implemented in a smaller footprint. The inner layers can be used for power distribution and signal routing, freeing up space on the outer layers for components and critical traces.

Better Power Distribution

The dedicated power layer in a 4 layer PCB ensures efficient and stable power distribution to all components. By providing a low-impedance path for power, the design can minimize voltage drops and maintain consistent power delivery across the board. This is particularly important for circuits with high current requirements or sensitive analog components.

Improved Thermal Management

The additional layers in a 4 layer PCB contribute to better thermal management. The inner layers can be used to spread heat more evenly across the board, reducing hot spots and thermal stress on components. This enhances the overall reliability and longevity of the circuit.

4 Layer PCB Manufacturing Process

The manufacturing process for 4 layer PCBs involves several stages, each requiring precision and attention to detail. Let’s explore the key steps involved:

Step 1: Design and Preparation

The process begins with the PCB design, where the schematic and layout are created using specialized software. The design is carefully reviewed and optimized to ensure proper functionality, signal integrity, and manufacturability. Once finalized, the design files are prepared for fabrication.

Step 2: Inner Layer Fabrication

The inner layers (ground and power) are fabricated first. The process involves the following sub-steps:

a. Material Selection: High-quality copper-clad laminate (CCL) is selected based on the desired thickness and dielectric properties.

b. Drilling: Holes are drilled through the CCL to accommodate vias and other features.

c. Patterning: The copper layers are patterned using photolithography. A photoresist layer is applied, exposed to UV light through a photomask, and developed to create the desired circuit pattern.

d. Etching: The exposed copper areas are etched away using a chemical solution, leaving behind the desired conductive traces.

e. Inspection: The inner layers undergo a visual inspection to ensure accuracy and quality.

Step 3: Lamination

Once the inner layers are fabricated, they are laminated together with the top and bottom layers using heat and pressure. The layers are aligned precisely, and a prepreg material (pre-impregnated fiberglass) is placed between them to provide insulation and bonding. The lamination process creates a solid, multi-layer structure.

Step 4: Drilling and Plating

After lamination, additional holes are drilled through the entire stack-up to create vias and component mounting holes. These holes are then plated with copper to establish electrical connections between layers. The plating process involves the following sub-steps:

a. Desmear: The drilled holes are cleaned and roughened to ensure proper adhesion of the copper plating.

b. Electroless Copper Deposition: A thin layer of copper is chemically deposited onto the hole walls and surfaces.

c. Electrolytic Copper Plating: Additional copper is electroplated onto the electroless copper layer to achieve the desired thickness and conductivity.

Step 5: Outer Layer Patterning

With the inner layers laminated and the vias plated, the outer layers (top and bottom) undergo a similar patterning process as described in Step 2. The photoresist is applied, exposed, and developed to create the desired circuit pattern on the outer layers.

Step 6: Solder Mask Application

A solder mask, typically green in color, is applied to the outer layers. The solder mask serves as an insulating and protective layer, exposing only the areas where components will be soldered. It helps prevent Solder Bridging and short circuits during the assembly process.

Step 7: Surface Finish

To enhance solderability and protect the exposed copper surfaces, a surface finish is applied. Common surface finishes include:

  • Hot Air Solder Leveling (HASL): A thin layer of solder is applied to the exposed copper pads.
  • Electroless Nickel Immersion Gold (ENIG): A layer of nickel is plated onto the copper, followed by a thin layer of gold.
  • Immersion Silver: A thin layer of silver is chemically deposited onto the copper surfaces.

The choice of surface finish depends on the specific requirements of the application, such as durability, shelf life, and compatibility with the assembly process.

Step 8: Electrical Testing

Before the PCBs are shipped, they undergo rigorous electrical testing to ensure functionality and reliability. Various tests are performed, including:

  • Continuity Test: Verifies that all connections are intact and there are no open circuits.
  • Isolation Test: Checks for any short circuits or unintended connections between different nets.
  • Impedance Test: Measures the impedance of critical traces to ensure they meet the specified requirements.

Automated testing equipment, such as Flying probe testers or bed-of-nails fixtures, is used to perform these tests efficiently and accurately.

Step 9: Final Inspection and Packaging

After electrical testing, the PCBs undergo a final visual inspection to check for any defects or anomalies. Once approved, the PCBs are packaged and shipped to the customer.

Considerations for 4 Layer PCB Design

When designing a 4 layer PCB, several key considerations should be kept in mind to ensure optimal performance and manufacturability:

  1. Layer Stack-up: Determine the appropriate layer stack-up based on the circuit requirements. Consider factors such as signal integrity, power distribution, and EMI Shielding.

  2. Via Design: Carefully plan the placement and size of vias to minimize signal reflections and ensure reliable connections between layers.

  3. Impedance Control: For high-speed or RF circuits, impedance control is crucial. Work closely with the PCB manufacturer to specify the desired impedance values and tolerances.

  4. Thermal Management: Consider the Thermal dissipation requirements of the components and design the PCB layout accordingly. Use thermal vias and copper pours to enhance heat transfer.

  5. Design for Manufacturing (DFM): Adhere to the manufacturer’s design guidelines and rules to ensure the PCB can be efficiently fabricated. This includes minimum trace widths, clearances, and drill sizes.


  1. What is the typical turnaround time for 4 layer PCB manufacturing?
  2. The turnaround time for 4 layer PCB manufacturing varies depending on the complexity of the design and the manufacturer’s workload. Typically, it ranges from 5 to 15 business days, but expedited options may be available for urgent projects.

  3. Can 4 layer PCBs be manufactured with different thicknesses?

  4. Yes, 4 layer PCBs can be manufactured with different thicknesses based on the specific requirements of the application. Common thicknesses include 0.062 inches (1.6 mm), 0.093 inches (2.4 mm), and 0.125 inches (3.2 mm). The choice of thickness depends on factors such as component size, mechanical stability, and thermal management needs.

  5. What is the minimum feature size achievable in 4 layer PCB manufacturing?

  6. The minimum feature size in 4 layer PCB manufacturing depends on the capabilities of the manufacturer and the chosen fabrication technology. With advanced processes, minimum trace widths and clearances of 3-4 mils (0.075-0.1 mm) can be achieved. However, it’s important to consult with the manufacturer and adhere to their design guidelines to ensure manufacturability.

  7. How does the cost of 4 layer PCBs compare to 2 layer PCBs?

  8. 4 layer PCBs are generally more expensive than 2 layer PCBs due to the additional materials, processing steps, and complexity involved. The cost difference can vary depending on factors such as the PCB size, quantity, and specific manufacturing requirements. However, the benefits of 4 layer PCBs, such as improved signal integrity and routing density, often justify the increased cost for certain applications.

  9. Can 4 layer PCBs be used for high-frequency applications?

  10. Yes, 4 layer PCBs are well-suited for high-frequency applications, such as RF and microwave circuits. The dedicated ground and power layers help minimize EMI and provide a stable reference plane for high-frequency signals. However, careful design considerations, such as impedance control and signal routing, are essential to ensure optimal performance in high-frequency applications.


4 layer PCB manufacturing is a complex process that involves multiple stages and requires precise control over materials, processes, and design parameters. By understanding the advantages, manufacturing steps, and design considerations involved in 4 layer PCBs, engineers and designers can leverage their benefits to create more advanced and reliable electronic devices.

From improved signal integrity and routing density to better power distribution and thermal management, 4 layer PCBs offer a range of advantages over simpler 2 layer designs. However, the increased complexity also demands careful planning, adherence to design guidelines, and close collaboration with experienced PCB Manufacturers.

As technology continues to evolve and the demand for high-performance electronics grows, 4 layer PCBs will remain a crucial component in the development of cutting-edge devices. By staying informed about the latest advancements in PCB manufacturing and design techniques, engineers can unlock new possibilities and push the boundaries of electronic innovation.