Breadboard Vs PCB: What are the Differences

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What is a Breadboard?

A breadboard is a rectangular plastic board covered with a grid of small holes. These holes are connected in a specific pattern underneath the plastic. Breadboards allow you to quickly build temporary circuits without soldering by plugging wires and components into the holes.

Underneath the breadboard’s plastic surface, the holes are connected in rows both horizontally and vertically:
– The outer rows running along the long edges are connected horizontally all the way across. These are typically used for power supply and ground connections.
– The inner rows are connected vertically in groups of 5 holes, with a gap in the middle of the board. These are used for connecting components.

So for example, if you plug two wires into the same 5-hole row, they will be electrically connected, allowing current to flow between them. But wires plugged into different 5-hole rows will not be connected.

The columns on either side of the gap are not connected, allowing you to mount DIP (dual in-line package) chips in the middle with their pins on opposite sides.

How to Use a Breadboard

Using a breadboard is quite simple. To build a circuit:

  1. Plug one lead of each component (resistors, capacitors, LEDs, etc.) into a hole on the breadboard. The other lead goes in a separate hole in the same row.

  2. Make connections between components by plugging wires into the appropriate rows. Remember, holes in the same 5-hole row are connected.

  3. For ICs (chips), plug their pins into holes on opposite sides of the center gap. Each pin will end up in its own separate 5-hole row.

  4. Use the long power rails for 5V, 3.3V, or other voltages as needed. Use the ground rails for connecting components to ground.

  5. When your circuit is finished, you can power it on. Electricity will flow through the wires and components according to how you connected them.

Breadboards are meant for temporarily prototyping circuits. When you’re done, you can simply unplug everything and reuse the components and breadboard.

Breadboard Pros and Cons

Breadboards have several advantages:

  • They are solderless and reusable. You can assemble and test a circuit, then take it apart and build something else.

  • They are great for beginners learning circuits. You can experiment freely without worrying about making permanent connections.

  • They make it easy to modify and debug circuits. If something isn’t working, you can quickly swap components or change connections.

  • They are inexpensive. A breadboard costs just a few dollars.

However, breadboards have some limitations:

  • They are not durable. The connections can become loose over time, especially if you frequently plug and unplug components.

  • They are not suitable for permanent installations. Breadboards are meant for temporary prototyping only.

  • They have limited current carrying capacity. The small metal strips can only handle about 1-2 amps.

  • Breadboard circuits can be messy with many overlapping wires. Complex circuits quickly become confusing.

So in summary, breadboards are an easy, low-cost way to quickly build temporary circuits, but they have limitations. For more permanent, durable and high-power circuits, you’ll want to consider PCBs instead.

What is a PCB?

A printed circuit board (PCB) is a board made of insulating material like fiberglass, with conductive copper traces on one or both sides. Components are soldered directly to the copper, creating a permanent circuit.

PCBs start as a bare board material, usually FR4 fiberglass. A layer of copper covers the entire board. Then, the copper is etched away to leave only the desired traces connecting pads for the components.

PCBs can have copper on one side (single-sided), both sides (double-sided), or multiple layers laminated together (multi-layer). Holes called vias allow traces to connect from one side or layer to another.

After etching, the PCB is coated with a solder mask, which covers the bare copper traces but leaves the pads exposed. Then a silkscreen layer is added to label components and show other information.

Finally, components are soldered to the pads. THT (through-hole technology) parts have wire leads that go through holes in the board. SMT (surface mount technology) parts sit on top of pads and are soldered in place.

PCB Manufacturing Process

Creating a Custom PCB requires several steps:

  1. Design the schematic – Create a diagram showing how all the components connect together electrically.

  2. Create the PCB layout – Using PCB design software, arrange the components and route the copper traces.

  3. Generate gerber files – Export the PCB design as a set of files representing each layer (copper, solder mask, silkscreen, drill holes).

  4. Send to a PCB manufacturer – A PCB fab house takes your gerber files and fabricates the physical board.

  5. Assemble the PCB – Solder the components onto the board by hand or using a pick-and-place machine.

The complexity and cost scales with the number of layers, special requirements, and quantity of boards produced. Simple 1-2 layer PCBs can be made quickly and cheaply, while complex Multi-layer Boards require more time and expense.

Advantages of PCBs

PCBs offer several benefits compared to breadboards:

  • Durability – Soldered connections are much more robust than temporary breadboard connections. PCBs can withstand vibration, impacts, and long-term use.

  • Reliability – PCB traces are specifically designed to carry the required current and avoid interference. Breadboard connections are more prone to problems.

  • High current capacity – Thick Copper PCB traces can carry tens of amps. Breadboards are limited to 1-2 amps.

  • Compact size – PCBs allow very dense circuits in a small space. The same circuit on a breadboard will be much larger and messier.

  • Professional appearance – A custom manufactured PCB with silkscreen labels looks much neater and more professional than a breadboard circuit.

The main disadvantage of PCBs is that they require more time and effort to design and manufacture compared to breadboards. And once a PCB is fabricated, the circuit is permanent and cannot be easily changed.

Breadboard vs PCB Comparison

Let’s summarize the key differences between breadboards and PCBs:

Breadboard PCB
Connections Temporary press-fit Permanent soldered
Reusability Fully reusable Not reusable once assembled
Durability Low, pins can bend/break High, solid connections
Current capacity 1-2 amps max 10s-100s of amps
Size Bulky Compact
Cost Very low ($1-$5) Low to high ($5-$1000s)
Ease of use Beginner friendly Requires soldering skills
Prototyping Ideal for quick prototypes Slow to fabricate and assemble
Design No design needed Requires schematic and PCB layout
Aesthetics Messy wires Clean and professional
Reproducibility Hard to replicate exactly Consistent and reproducible

When to Use a Breadboard

Breadboards are the best choice when you are:

  • Learning circuits for the first time
  • Quickly testing or experimenting with a circuit idea
  • Prototyping a circuit that you expect to modify
  • Making temporary one-off circuits that don’t need to be durable

Breadboards allow you to instantly start building without any upfront design or fabrication. They are great for the early stages of a project when you are still figuring out what components to use and how to connect them.

When to Use a PCB

PCBs are the better option when you need:

  • A reliable, durable circuit for long-term use
  • High current carrying capacity
  • Small size and neat appearance
  • Exact reproducibility (e.g. making multiple copies of the same circuit)
  • To manufacture a professional product

PCBs require more effort to design and assemble but the end result is a stable, robust circuit that will function consistently. Nearly all commercial electronic products use PCBs.

Many projects start on a breadboard for prototyping and then migrate to a PCB for the final permanent version. The breadboard allows you to test and perfect the circuit, while the PCB provides a polished and reliable finished product.


Can I solder components on a breadboard?

No, you should not solder components to a breadboard. Breadboards are meant for temporary solderless connections only. The plastic will melt if you try to solder to it. If you want to make permanent connections, use a PCB instead.

Are there any alternatives to breadboards and PCBs?

Yes, there are a few other prototyping options:
– Perf board – A fiberglass board with a grid of holes (no copper pads). Components are soldered together with wires on the bottom. Provides more permanent connections than a breadboard but still allows some rearrangement.
Stripboard – Similar to perf board but with strips of copper connecting one row of holes. Components are soldered to the copper strips. Allows some limited connections without wires.
– Wire wrap – Components are mounted on a board with long thin square posts. Connections are made by tightly wrapping wire around the posts. Labor intensive but allows high density and reliability.

However, breadboards and PCBs are by far the most common methods today.

How do I choose a PCB manufacturer?

There are many PCB manufacturing services available, from large overseas factories to small local shops. Some factors to consider when choosing one:

  • Capabilities (max layers, min trace/space, materials, etc.)
  • Price and volume (some specialize in small prototype runs, others in large production)
  • Turn-around time
  • Quality and testing
  • Design rules and file requirements
  • Customer support and ease of ordering

Popular online PCB fab services for low-volume orders include OSH Park, Seeed Studio, PCBWay, JLCPCB and others. It’s a good idea to compare several options to find the best fit for your project.

What software is used to design PCBs?

There are many PCB design software packages available, ranging from simple to very advanced. Some popular options:

  • EAGLE – One of the most widely used PCB design programs. Schematic and board layout integrated. Moderate learning curve. Free for small designs.
  • KiCad – Powerful and full-featured open source PCB design suite. Completely free. Steeper learning curve.
  • Altium – Professional level software used by many commercial PCB designers. Expensive and complex.
  • Fritzing – Entry level program meant for transitioning from breadboards to PCBs. Very easy to use but limited in features.
  • EasyEDA – Web-based schematic and PCB design tool. Good for beginners. Integrates with some fab houses for easy ordering.

All of these allow you to create a schematic, lay out components on a board, route traces, and generate manufacturing files. They differ in cost, capabilities, and ease of use. It’s worth trying a few to find one that works well for you.


Breadboards and PCBs are two of the most fundamental tools for building electronic circuits. Breadboards offer a quick, easy, and solderless way to temporarily prototype circuits, while PCBs provide a reliable and professional way to assemble circuits permanently.

Breadboards are cheap and reusable, making them great for beginners and casual experimentation. But they have limited durability, current capacity, and neatness. PCBs take more effort to design and manufacture, but provide a compact, robust, and manufacturable solution.

Understanding the differences between breadboards and PCBs – and when to use each one – is an important skill for any electronics enthusiast or professional. By leveraging their unique strengths, you can efficiently take your project from concept to finished product.