How is solder mask applied on PCB

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Introduction to Solder Mask Application

Solder mask, also known as solder resist or solder stop, is a crucial component in the manufacturing of printed circuit boards (PCBs). It is a thin layer of polymer that is applied to the copper traces on a PCB to protect them from oxidation, prevent solder bridges, and provide electrical insulation. The application of solder mask is a critical step in the PCB Manufacturing process, as it ensures the reliability and longevity of the finished product.

In this article, we will delve into the various methods of solder mask application, the materials used, and the benefits of each approach. We will also discuss the importance of proper solder mask application and its impact on the overall quality of the PCB.

Types of Solder Mask

There are two main types of solder mask used in PCB manufacturing:

  1. Liquid Photoimageable Solder Mask (LPSM)
  2. Dry Film Solder Mask (DFSM)

Liquid Photoimageable Solder Mask (LPSM)

LPSM is a liquid-based solder mask that is applied to the PCB using a screen printing or spraying process. It is composed of a photosensitive polymer that hardens when exposed to UV light. The main advantages of LPSM include:

  • Excellent conformity to surface irregularities
  • Ability to cover fine pitch traces and vias
  • Wide range of available colors
  • Cost-effective for low to medium volume production

Dry Film Solder Mask (DFSM)

DFSM is a solid film-based solder mask that is laminated onto the PCB surface using heat and pressure. It is composed of a photosensitive polymer sandwiched between two protective films. The main advantages of DFSM include:

  • Excellent thickness uniformity
  • High resolution and sharp edge definition
  • Faster processing time compared to LPSM
  • Suitable for high volume production

Solder Mask Application Process

The solder mask application process varies depending on the type of solder mask used and the specific requirements of the PCB. However, the general steps involved in solder mask application are as follows:

1. Surface Preparation

Before applying the solder mask, the PCB surface must be cleaned and prepared to ensure proper adhesion. This typically involves:

  • Cleaning the PCB to remove any contaminants or debris
  • Micro-etching the copper surface to improve adhesion
  • Applying a surface treatment, such as plasma or chemical etching, to further enhance adhesion

2. Solder Mask Application

The solder mask is then applied to the PCB surface using one of the following methods:

Screen Printing (LPSM)

  • A stencil with the desired solder mask pattern is placed over the PCB
  • The liquid solder mask is spread across the stencil using a squeegee
  • The stencil is removed, leaving the solder mask pattern on the PCB

Spraying (LPSM)

  • The liquid solder mask is sprayed onto the PCB surface using a spray nozzle
  • The thickness of the solder mask layer is controlled by adjusting the spraying parameters

Lamination (DFSM)

  • The dry film solder mask is placed on the PCB surface
  • The PCB and solder mask are fed through a laminator, which applies heat and pressure to bond the mask to the PCB

3. Exposure and Development

After the solder mask is applied, it must be exposed to UV light to harden the photosensitive polymer. This is typically done using a photoplotter or direct imaging system. The exposed areas of the solder mask become insoluble, while the unexposed areas remain soluble.

The unexposed areas of the solder mask are then removed using a developer solution, leaving the desired solder mask pattern on the PCB.

4. Curing

The final step in the solder mask application process is curing. The PCB is heated to a specific temperature for a set duration to fully crosslink and harden the solder mask. This ensures that the mask is durable and resistant to mechanical and chemical stresses.

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Solder Mask Materials

There are several types of solder mask materials available, each with its own unique properties and benefits. The most common solder mask materials include:

Epoxy-based Solder Mask

  • Excellent chemical and thermal resistance
  • High durability and adhesion
  • Suitable for harsh environments

Acrylic-based Solder Mask

  • Good electrical insulation properties
  • Fast curing time
  • Lower cost compared to epoxy-based masks

Polyurethane-based Solder Mask

  • Excellent flexibility and crack resistance
  • Good adhesion to copper surfaces
  • Suitable for Flexible PCBs

Importance of Proper Solder Mask Application

Proper solder mask application is crucial for ensuring the reliability and performance of a PCB. Some of the key benefits of a well-applied solder mask include:

Protection against Oxidation

The solder mask protects the copper traces on the PCB from oxidation, which can lead to reduced conductivity and poor solderability.

Prevention of Solder Bridges

The solder mask helps prevent solder from bridging between adjacent traces during the soldering process, which can cause short circuits and other electrical issues.

Electrical Insulation

The solder mask provides electrical insulation between the copper traces, preventing current leakage and improving the overall electrical performance of the PCB.

Improved Aesthetics

A well-applied solder mask can enhance the visual appearance of the PCB, making it more attractive to customers and easier to inspect for defects.

Solder Mask Application Challenges and Solutions

While solder mask application is a critical step in PCB manufacturing, it is not without its challenges. Some of the most common issues encountered during solder mask application include:

Poor Adhesion

Poor adhesion between the solder mask and the PCB surface can lead to delamination, cracking, and other defects. This can be caused by improper surface preparation, incompatible materials, or incorrect curing parameters.

Solution: Ensure proper surface preparation, select compatible solder mask materials, and optimize curing parameters.

Thickness Variation

Uneven solder mask thickness can result in areas of the PCB being insufficiently protected or having poor electrical insulation properties.

Solution: Use a thickness gauge to monitor solder mask thickness during application and adjust parameters as necessary.

Incomplete Coverage

Incomplete coverage of the PCB surface by the solder mask can leave areas of the copper traces exposed, leading to oxidation and other issues.

Solution: Ensure proper stencil design and alignment for screen printing, optimize spraying parameters for even coverage, and use a vacuum laminator for dry film solder mask application.


  1. Q: What is the difference between LPSM and DFSM?
    A: LPSM is a liquid-based solder mask that is applied using screen printing or spraying, while DFSM is a solid film-based solder mask that is laminated onto the PCB surface using heat and pressure.

  2. Q: What is the purpose of surface preparation before solder mask application?
    A: Surface preparation, such as cleaning, micro-etching, and surface treatment, is essential for ensuring proper adhesion between the solder mask and the PCB surface.

  3. Q: What are the benefits of using epoxy-based solder mask?
    A: Epoxy-based solder masks offer excellent chemical and thermal resistance, high durability, and strong adhesion, making them suitable for use in harsh environments.

  4. Q: How does solder mask prevent solder bridges?
    A: The solder mask covers the copper traces on the PCB, preventing solder from flowing between adjacent traces during the soldering process and causing short circuits.

  5. Q: What can cause poor adhesion between the solder mask and the PCB surface?
    A: Poor adhesion can be caused by improper surface preparation, incompatible materials, or incorrect curing parameters. Ensuring proper surface preparation, selecting compatible materials, and optimizing curing parameters can help prevent adhesion issues.


Solder mask application is a critical step in the PCB manufacturing process, providing essential protection and insulation for the copper traces on the board. By understanding the different types of solder mask, application methods, and materials available, PCB Manufacturers can select the best approach for their specific requirements.

Proper solder mask application is essential for ensuring the reliability, performance, and longevity of the finished PCB. By addressing common challenges, such as poor adhesion, thickness variation, and incomplete coverage, manufacturers can produce high-quality PCBs that meet the demands of today’s electronic devices.

As the electronics industry continues to evolve, the importance of effective solder mask application will only continue to grow. By staying up-to-date with the latest technologies and best practices, PCB manufacturers can remain competitive and deliver products that meet the highest standards of quality and reliability.