An Introduction to Electroless Nickel Immersion Gold ENIG by RAYPCB

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What is ENIG?

Electroless Nickel Immersion Gold (ENIG) is a surface finish for printed circuit boards (PCBs) that involves depositing a layer of nickel followed by a thin layer of gold onto the copper traces and pads of the PCB. The nickel layer provides a barrier to prevent the copper from diffusing into the gold, while the gold layer provides excellent solderability, corrosion resistance, and a stable surface for wire bonding.

ENIG is a popular choice for PCBs used in high-reliability applications such as aerospace, military, and medical devices, as well as for boards with fine-pitch components or High-Density Interconnects. It offers several advantages over other surface finishes, including:

  • Flat surface for better component placement
  • Good shelf life and storage stability
  • Excellent solderability and wire bondability
  • Resistant to oxidation and corrosion
  • RoHS compliant and lead-free compatible

The ENIG Process

The ENIG process involves several steps to deposit the nickel and gold layers onto the copper surfaces of the PCB:

  1. Cleaning: The PCB is thoroughly cleaned to remove any contaminants or oxides from the copper surfaces. This typically involves a micro-etch process to slightly roughen the copper and improve adhesion of the subsequent layers.

  2. Activation: The copper surfaces are activated with a palladium catalyst to prepare them for the electroless nickel plating. The palladium particles serve as nucleation sites for the nickel to deposit onto.

  3. Electroless Nickel Plating: The PCB is immersed in an electroless nickel bath containing a nickel salt solution and a reducing agent. The nickel ions are reduced by the reducing agent and deposit onto the activated copper surfaces, forming a thin, uniform layer of nickel phosphorus alloy. The nickel layer is typically 3-6 microns thick.

  4. Immersion Gold Plating: After rinsing, the nickel-plated PCB is immersed in an immersion gold bath. The gold displaces some of the nickel on the surface, forming a thin layer of pure gold that is typically 0.05-0.2 microns thick. The immersion process is self-limiting, so the gold only deposits to a certain thickness.

  5. Rinsing and Drying: The ENIG-plated PCB is thoroughly rinsed to remove any residual plating chemicals and then dried, ready for the next manufacturing steps.

The entire ENIG process is carefully controlled to ensure a consistent, high-quality finish. The plating baths are constantly monitored and replenished to maintain the proper chemical concentrations and operating conditions.

Advantages of ENIG

ENIG offers several key advantages compared to other PCB surface finishes:

Flat Surface

The thin, uniform layers of nickel and gold in ENIG provide a flat, planar surface on the PCB pads and traces. This flatness is important for achieving good contact and joints when soldering components or wire bonding. Other finishes like HASL (Hot Air Solder Leveling) can have uneven surfaces that make component placement more difficult.

Excellent Solderability

The gold layer in ENIG provides excellent wettability and solderability. The solder readily flows onto the gold surface, forming strong, reliable solder joints. The gold also protects the underlying nickel from oxidation, ensuring the solderability remains good even after extended storage periods.

Corrosion Resistance

The nickel layer in ENIG acts as a barrier to prevent corrosion and oxidation of the underlying copper. This protection is especially important for PCBs used in harsh environments or with long service lives. The gold layer further enhances the corrosion resistance by providing a non-reactive, stable surface.

Wire Bonding Compatibility

The smooth, non-porous gold surface in ENIG is well-suited for gold or aluminum wire bonding processes used in some advanced packaging technologies. The gold-to-gold interface forms a reliable bond without intermetallic compounds that could degrade the connection over time.

RoHS Compliance

ENIG is a lead-free and RoHS compliant surface finish. It contains no hazardous materials restricted by environmental regulations. This makes ENIG an attractive choice for PCB manufacturers looking to produce eco-friendly, sustainable products.

ENIG Challenges and Considerations

While ENIG has many benefits, there are some challenges and considerations to keep in mind:

Black Pad

One potential issue with ENIG is a phenomenon known as “black pad” or “black nickel”. This occurs when the phosphorus content in the electroless nickel deposit is too high, leading to the formation of brittle, porous nickel phosphide phases. During soldering, these phases can break away, leaving behind a black, non-solderable surface.

Black pad can be prevented by carefully controlling the electroless nickel bath chemistry and operating parameters to keep the phosphorus content in the desired range (typically 7-9%). Using a slow, low-temperature soldering profile can also help minimize thermal shock that could exacerbate black pad.

Higher Cost

ENIG is generally more expensive than simpler surface finishes like HASL or OSP (Organic Solderability Preservative). The cost of gold, even in thin layers, adds to the overall cost of the PCB. However, for high-reliability applications, the benefits of ENIG can outweigh the added cost.

Shelf Life

While the gold layer in ENIG protects the nickel from oxidation, it can still degrade over extended storage periods. The shelf life of ENIG is typically 12 months, after which the solderability may start to deteriorate. Proper storage conditions (low humidity, constant temperature) can help extend the shelf life.

Design Considerations

ENIG is suitable for most PCB Designs, but there are some guidelines to follow:

  • Minimum pad size: ENIG can be used with pad sizes down to 0.004 inches (0.1mm), but larger pads are preferred for better plating uniformity and solder joint strength.
  • Spacing between pads: A minimum spacing of 0.006 inches (0.15mm) is recommended to ensure good plating separation between adjacent pads.
  • Via protection: The thin gold layer in ENIG does not provide sufficient coverage inside small vias. Tenting or plugging vias is recommended to prevent solder wicking and maintain signal integrity.

ENIG Thickness Specifications

The thickness of the nickel and gold layers in ENIG is carefully controlled to ensure optimal performance. The typical specifications are:

Layer Thickness Range (microns)
Nickel 3 – 6
Gold 0.05 – 0.2

The exact thicknesses can be customized based on the specific requirements of the PCB design and application. Thicker nickel layers provide greater corrosion protection and mechanical strength, while thicker gold layers offer better wire bondability and shelf life. However, thicker deposits also increase the cost and can affect the fine-pitch solderability.

It’s important to work closely with the PCB manufacturer to determine the appropriate ENIG specifications for each design. Many manufacturers have standard ENIG recipes that have been optimized for reliability and performance.

ENIG vs Other Surface Finishes

ENIG is just one of several surface finish options available for PCBs. Here’s a comparison of ENIG with some other common finishes:

Finish Advantages Disadvantages
ENIG Flat surface, excellent solderability, corrosion resistant, wire bondable, RoHS compliant Higher cost, potential for black pad, limited shelf life
HASL Low cost, good solderability, easy to inspect Uneven surface, thermal shock to PCB, not suitable for fine-pitch
OSP Low cost, flat surface, easy to apply Limited shelf life, not as solderable as ENIG or HASL
Immersion Silver Flat surface, good solderability, lower cost than ENIG Prone to tarnishing and oxidation, limited shelf life
Immersion Tin Flat surface, good solderability, lower cost than ENIG Prone to tin whiskers, limited shelf life

The choice of surface finish depends on the specific requirements of the PCB design, including the components used, the operating environment, the manufacturing processes, and the budget. ENIG is often selected for high-reliability applications where its superior performance and stability justify the added cost.


Electroless Nickel Immersion Gold (ENIG) is a versatile, high-performance surface finish for printed circuit boards. Its unique combination of flat surface, excellent solderability, corrosion resistance, and wire bonding compatibility make it an ideal choice for a wide range of applications, from consumer electronics to aerospace systems.

While ENIG does have some challenges, such as the potential for black pad and higher cost compared to other finishes, these can be managed through proper process control and design guidelines. The benefits of ENIG far outweigh the drawbacks for many PCB designs.

As PCB technology continues to advance, with ever-finer pitches and denser interconnects, the demand for reliable, high-quality surface finishes like ENIG will only grow. By understanding the capabilities and limitations of ENIG, PCB designers and manufacturers can make informed decisions to optimize the performance and reliability of their products.


  1. Q: Is ENIG suitable for all PCB designs?
    A: ENIG is suitable for most PCB designs, but it is especially beneficial for boards with fine-pitch components, high-density interconnects, or those requiring wire bonding. However, ENIG may not be the most cost-effective choice for simpler designs where its advanced features are not needed.

  2. Q: Can ENIG be used with lead-free solder?
    A: Yes, ENIG is fully compatible with lead-free solder alloys. The gold surface provides excellent solderability and wetting for lead-free solders, which typically have higher melting points and can be more challenging to work with than traditional tin-lead solders.

  3. Q: How does the shelf life of ENIG compare to other surface finishes?
    A: ENIG has a relatively long shelf life compared to finishes like OSP or immersion silver, which can degrade quickly over time. The gold layer in ENIG protects the underlying nickel from oxidation, maintaining good solderability for up to 12 months under proper storage conditions. However, HASL has an even longer shelf life due to the thicker solder layer.

  4. Q: Can ENIG be reworked or repaired?
    A: Yes, ENIG can be reworked using standard soldering techniques. The gold layer is dissolved into the solder during the rework process, exposing the nickel surface underneath. However, repeated rework can degrade the ENIG finish and may require touch-up plating or spot repair to restore the surface quality.

  5. Q: How does the cost of ENIG compare to other surface finishes?
    A: ENIG is generally more expensive than finishes like HASL, OSP, or immersion tin/silver, due to the cost of the gold and the more complex plating process. However, the higher cost is often justified by the superior performance and reliability of ENIG in demanding applications. The exact cost difference depends on factors like the PCB Size, layer count, and production volume.