Download production and Solder paste files

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What are solder paste files and why download them?

Solder paste files, also known as stencil files or cream files, are an essential part of the surface mount technology (SMT) assembly process. These files contain information about where solder paste should be applied on a printed circuit board (PCB) to attach components during reflow soldering.

Downloading solder paste files is crucial for several reasons:

  1. Manufacturing: Contract manufacturers and PCB Assembly facilities require these files to program their solder paste printing machines. Without the correct solder paste file, they cannot accurately apply solder to the board.

  2. Design verification: Reviewing solder paste files allows designers to double-check that adequate amounts of paste will be deposited for proper component attachment. They can make adjustments if issues are spotted.

  3. Troubleshooting: If soldering defects occur, examining the solder paste file used in production can help identify potential causes such as incorrect aperture sizes or misaligned openings.

  4. Documentation: Maintaining a record of the solder paste files used for each PCB design revision is important for traceability and future reference.

Common solder paste file formats

Solder paste files come in various formats depending on the software used to create them and the requirements of the manufacturing equipment. Some common file extensions include:

  • .GBR or .GBL – Gerber files
  • .GTP – Gerber X2 format
  • .CAM – CAM350 or BoardStation format
  • .LMD – P-CAD or LineModeler format
  • .SPF – Solder Paste Format used by Valor

It’s essential to consult with your manufacturer to determine which format they prefer and to ensure you are providing files that meet their specifications.

How to generate solder paste files

Solder paste files are typically generated from within PCB design software such as Altium Designer, KiCad, Eagle, or OrCAD. The process usually involves the following steps:

  1. Define the solder mask expansion and paste mask clearances in the design rules. This specifies how far the solder mask will extend beyond the copper pads and how much smaller the paste openings will be compared to the pads.

  2. Create a solder paste layer in the PCB design software. This is usually done automatically based on the footprint pad sizes and the design rules.

  3. Review and modify the solder paste layer if needed. Designers may need to manually adjust paste apertures for fine-pitch components or add extra paste deposits.

  4. Generate the solder paste file in the desired format. This is typically done through the PCB design software’s CAM processor or file export options.

  5. Verify the generated file to ensure it matches the PCB design and manufacturing requirements. This can be done using a Gerber viewer or CAM software.

Tips for creating high-quality solder paste files

To ensure the best possible soldering results, consider these tips when generating solder paste files:

  • Use appropriate aperture sizes: The openings in the solder paste stencil should be sized to deposit the right amount of paste for each component. Consult component datasheets and work with your manufacturer to determine optimal sizes.

  • Maintain adequate clearances: Ensure there is sufficient space between paste deposits to prevent bridging or short circuits. IPC standards provide guidelines for minimum clearances based on component pitch and density.

  • Consider stencil thickness: The thickness of the solder paste stencil affects how much paste is deposited. Thinner stencils are often used for fine-pitch components, while thicker stencils are better for larger deposits. Typical stencil thicknesses range from 0.1 to 0.2 mm.

  • Optimize paste release: The design of the solder paste apertures can impact how easily the paste releases from the stencil. Using rounded corners and tapered walls can improve paste release and result in more consistent deposits.

  • Validate the files: Always review the solder paste files before sending them for manufacturing. Use Gerber viewers or CAM software to check for any errors, misalignments, or unintended openings.

Downloading solder paste files from PCB manufacturers

If you don’t have access to PCB design software or prefer to outsource the file generation, many PCB manufacturers offer the service of creating solder paste files from your design files. The process typically involves the following steps:

  1. Submit your design files: Provide the manufacturer with your PCB design files, usually in Gerber or ODB++ format. Make sure to include all the necessary layers and drill files.

  2. Specify your requirements: Inform the manufacturer of any special requirements for your solder paste files, such as specific aperture sizes, stencil thickness, or file format.

  3. Review and approve: The manufacturer will generate the solder paste files based on your design and requirements. They should provide you with a copy of the files for review before proceeding with manufacturing. Carefully check the files to ensure they match your expectations.

  4. Download the files: Once you have approved the solder paste files, the manufacturer will provide you with a download link or send the files directly to you. Make sure to save a copy of the files for your records.

Choosing a reputable PCB manufacturer

When selecting a PCB manufacturer to generate your solder paste files and produce your boards, consider the following factors:

  • Experience: Look for manufacturers with a proven track record of producing high-quality PCBs and working with a variety of designs and technologies.

  • Capabilities: Ensure the manufacturer has the equipment and expertise to handle your specific requirements, such as fine-pitch components, complex designs, or special materials.

  • Communication: Choose a manufacturer that is responsive and easy to communicate with. They should be able to answer your questions and provide guidance throughout the manufacturing process.

  • Quality control: Inquire about the manufacturer’s quality control processes and certifications. They should have systems in place to ensure consistent quality and conform to industry standards such as IPC.

  • Pricing and lead times: Consider the manufacturer’s pricing and lead times to ensure they fit within your budget and project schedule. However, be cautious of extremely low prices, as they may indicate compromises in quality or service.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

  1. What is the difference between a solder paste file and a solder mask file?
    A solder paste file defines where solder paste should be applied on the PCB, while a solder mask file specifies the areas of the PCB that should be covered with solder resist. Solder paste files are used for applying solder during assembly, while solder mask files are used for protecting the PCB during soldering and preventing solder bridges.

  2. Can I use the same solder paste file for different PCB designs?
    No, each PCB design requires its own unique solder paste file that matches the specific component placement and pad sizes. Using the wrong solder paste file can result in insufficient or excessive solder paste, leading to assembly defects.

  3. What happens if I provide the wrong solder paste file to my manufacturer?
    Providing the wrong solder paste file can cause significant issues during PCB assembly. It may result in components not being soldered correctly, solder bridges, or even damage to the components or PCB. Always double-check your solder paste files before sending them to your manufacturer.

  4. How do I know what size apertures to use in my solder paste file?
    Aperture sizes depend on various factors, including component size, pad size, and desired solder volume. Consult component datasheets, IPC standards, and your manufacturer’s guidelines to determine appropriate aperture sizes. In general, apertures should be slightly smaller than the component pads to prevent solder bridging.

  5. Can I modify the solder paste file generated by my PCB design software?
    Yes, most PCB design software allows you to manually edit the solder paste layer and make adjustments as needed. This can be useful for fine-tuning aperture sizes, adding or removing paste deposits, or optimizing the stencil design for better paste release. However, be cautious when making manual changes and always verify the final file before manufacturing.


Solder paste files play a critical role in the successful assembly of surface mount PCBs. By accurately defining where solder paste should be deposited, these files ensure that components are properly attached and the final assembly functions as intended.

When creating solder paste files, it’s essential to consider factors such as aperture size, clearances, and stencil thickness to achieve optimal results. Designers should also take care to validate their files and communicate any special requirements to their manufacturing partners.

Whether you choose to generate solder paste files in-house or outsource the task to a PCB manufacturer, the key to success is attention to detail and close collaboration between design and manufacturing teams. By following best practices and working with reputable partners, you can ensure high-quality solder paste files that lead to reliable and robust PCB assemblies.