Does Your PCB Assembly Need Conformal Coating?

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What is PCB Conformal Coating?

PCB conformal coating is a protective layer applied to printed circuit boards (PCBs) to shield them from environmental factors such as moisture, dust, chemicals, and extreme temperatures. This thin polymeric film “conforms” to the contours of the PCB, covering the components and the board itself.

Types of Conformal Coatings

There are several types of conformal coatings available, each with its own unique properties and advantages:

Coating Type Characteristics Advantages
Acrylic Easy to apply and remove, good moisture resistance Cost-effective, suitable for low-risk environments
Silicone Excellent flexibility and high-temperature resistance Ideal for high-temperature applications and vibration-prone environments
Polyurethane Abrasion-resistant, good chemical and moisture resistance Suitable for harsh environments and applications requiring durability
Epoxy High chemical and abrasion resistance, good dielectric properties Ideal for high-reliability applications and extreme environments
Parylene Uniform coating, excellent dielectric properties, and chemical resistance Suitable for critical applications requiring superior protection

Why Use Conformal Coating on PCBs?

Conformal coating offers several benefits that can significantly enhance the reliability and longevity of PCB assemblies:

1. Protection from Moisture and Corrosion

One of the primary reasons for using conformal coating is to protect PCBs from moisture and corrosion. When exposed to humid environments, PCBs can absorb moisture, leading to corrosion of the components and traces. Conformal coating acts as a barrier, preventing moisture from reaching the PCB surface and thus minimizing the risk of corrosion.

2. Insulation and Dielectric Properties

Conformal coatings provide electrical insulation and have excellent dielectric properties. This helps to prevent short circuits, current leakage, and electrical arcing between components. By maintaining proper insulation, conformal coating can improve the overall performance and reliability of the PCB assembly.

3. Protection from Environmental Contaminants

PCBs are often exposed to various environmental contaminants, such as dust, dirt, and chemical spillage. These contaminants can cause damage to the components and affect the performance of the PCB. Conformal coating creates a protective layer that prevents these contaminants from reaching the PCB surface, thus minimizing the risk of damage.

4. Mechanical Protection

Conformal coatings can provide mechanical protection to PCBs, especially in applications where the assembly is subjected to vibration or physical stress. The coating helps to dampen vibrations and prevent components from becoming loose or dislodged, thereby improving the overall mechanical stability of the PCB.

5. Thermal Insulation

Some conformal coatings, such as silicone, offer excellent thermal insulation properties. This can be particularly beneficial in applications where the PCB is exposed to extreme temperatures or temperature fluctuations. The coating helps to dissipate heat more evenly across the PCB surface, reducing thermal stress on the components.

When to Use Conformal Coating

Not all PCB assemblies require conformal coating. The decision to use conformal coating depends on various factors, such as the intended application, environmental conditions, and reliability requirements. Here are some common scenarios where conformal coating is recommended:

1. Harsh Environmental Conditions

If the PCB assembly is expected to operate in harsh environmental conditions, such as high humidity, extreme temperatures, or exposure to chemical contaminants, conformal coating is highly recommended. These conditions can adversely affect the performance and longevity of the PCB, and conformal coating provides the necessary protection.

2. Outdoor Applications

PCB assemblies used in outdoor applications are exposed to various environmental factors, such as rain, snow, dust, and UV radiation. In these cases, conformal coating is essential to protect the PCB from damage caused by these elements.

3. High-Reliability Applications

In applications where high reliability is critical, such as aerospace, medical devices, or automotive systems, conformal coating is often a requirement. The added protection provided by the coating helps to ensure the long-term reliability and performance of the PCB assembly.

4. Condensation-Prone Environments

In environments where condensation is likely to occur, such as in refrigeration systems or industrial control panels, conformal coating can help to prevent short circuits and corrosion caused by moisture buildup on the PCB surface.

5. Applications with Vibration or Physical Stress

For PCB assemblies subjected to vibration or physical stress, conformal coating can provide the necessary mechanical protection. The coating helps to dampen vibrations and prevent components from becoming loose or damaged due to physical stress.

Considerations for Applying Conformal Coating

When deciding to apply conformal coating to a PCB assembly, several factors should be considered:

1. Compatibility with Components

It is essential to ensure that the chosen conformal coating is compatible with all the components on the PCB. Some coatings may have adverse effects on certain components, such as plastics or displays. It is crucial to test the compatibility of the coating with the components before applying it to the entire assembly.

2. Application Method

There are various methods for applying conformal coating, such as brushing, spraying, dipping, or vapor deposition. Each method has its advantages and limitations, and the choice depends on factors such as the size and complexity of the PCB, the required coating thickness, and the available equipment.

3. Masking Requirements

In some cases, certain areas of the PCB may need to be masked to prevent the coating from being applied. This is particularly important for components that require direct contact, such as connectors or test points. Masking can be achieved using various methods, such as tapes, boots, or latex.

4. Curing and Drying Time

After applying the conformal coating, sufficient time must be allowed for the coating to cure and dry completely. The curing time depends on the type of coating and the application method used. It is important to follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for curing and drying to ensure optimal protection.

5. Inspection and Quality Control

Once the conformal coating has been applied and cured, it is crucial to inspect the PCB assembly for any defects or inconsistencies in the coating. This can be done visually or using specialized equipment such as UV lights or microscopes. Quality control measures should be in place to ensure that the coating meets the required standards and specifications.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

1. Can conformal coating be removed if needed?

Yes, conformal coating can be removed if necessary, but the ease of removal depends on the type of coating used. Some coatings, such as acrylics, are easier to remove than others, like epoxies. Removal methods include using solvents, abrasion, or specialized removal products.

2. How does conformal coating affect PCB repair and rework?

Conformal coating can make PCB repair and rework more challenging, as the coating needs to be removed from the affected area before any work can be done. This can be time-consuming and may require specialized tools and techniques. However, the benefits of conformal coating often outweigh the added complexity of repair and rework.

3. Can conformal coating be applied selectively to specific areas of the PCB?

Yes, conformal coating can be applied selectively to specific areas of the PCB using masking techniques. This is useful when certain components or areas of the PCB do not require coating or need to be accessible for testing or assembly.

4. How does conformal coating affect the weight and dimensions of the PCB assembly?

Conformal coating adds a thin layer to the PCB assembly, which can slightly increase its weight and dimensions. However, the impact is usually minimal, as the coating thickness is typically in the range of 25-100 microns (0.001-0.004 inches). In most cases, the added weight and dimensions do not significantly affect the overall design or functionality of the PCB.

5. Is conformal coating required for all industries and applications?

No, conformal coating is not required for all industries and applications. The need for conformal coating depends on the specific requirements and environmental conditions of the intended application. Some industries, such as aerospace, automotive, and medical devices, have strict regulations and standards that may mandate the use of conformal coating for certain applications.


Conformal coating is a valuable technique for protecting PCB assemblies from environmental factors, improving their reliability, and extending their lifespan. By understanding the benefits and considerations involved in applying conformal coating, designers and manufacturers can make informed decisions about whether their PCB assemblies require this additional layer of protection.

When deciding to use conformal coating, it is essential to consider factors such as the intended application, environmental conditions, compatibility with components, and the chosen application method. By carefully evaluating these factors and following best practices for applying and inspecting conformal coatings, manufacturers can ensure that their PCB assemblies are well-protected and able to withstand the challenges of their intended environment.

As technology continues to advance and electronic devices become more complex, the use of conformal coating is likely to become increasingly important in ensuring the reliability and longevity of PCB assemblies across a wide range of industries and applications.