IPC-A-600 Acceptability of Printed Boards: Classes

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Introduction to IPC-A-600 and Board Acceptability

IPC-A-600 is the industry standard for establishing acceptability requirements for printed circuit boards (PCBs). Developed by the IPC (Association Connecting Electronics Industries), this comprehensive document provides visual references, requirements, and acceptance criteria for evaluating the quality and reliability of PCBs. Understanding and adhering to IPC-A-600 is crucial for manufacturers, suppliers, and end-users to ensure consistent and reliable PCB production.

Why is IPC-A-600 Important?

IPC-A-600 serves several critical purposes in the electronics industry:

  1. Standardization: It provides a common language and set of criteria for evaluating PCB Quality, ensuring consistency across different manufacturers and suppliers.
  2. Quality assurance: By adhering to IPC-A-600, manufacturers can produce high-quality boards that meet industry standards and customer expectations.
  3. Communication: The standard facilitates clear communication between manufacturers, suppliers, and customers regarding PCB quality requirements and acceptability.
  4. Cost savings: Implementing IPC-A-600 helps reduce costs associated with PCB defects, rework, and product failures.

Understanding IPC-A-600 Classes

IPC-A-600 defines three primary classes of PCB acceptability: Class 1, Class 2, and Class 3. Each class represents a different level of quality and reliability, catering to specific application requirements.

Class 1

Class 1 is the lowest acceptability level, suitable for general electronic products where the primary requirement is function of the completed assembly. Key characteristics of Class 1 include:

  • Allowance for a wider range of defects and imperfections
  • Focus on basic functionality rather than cosmetic appearance
  • Suitable for non-critical applications, such as consumer electronics and toys

Class 2

Class 2 is the most widely used acceptability level, striking a balance between reliability and cost. It is suitable for products where extended life and uninterrupted service are required. Key characteristics of Class 2 include:

  • Tighter control on defects and imperfections compared to Class 1
  • Emphasis on both functionality and reliability
  • Suitable for a wide range of applications, including telecommunications, automotive, and industrial control equipment

Class 3

Class 3 is the highest acceptability level, suitable for high-reliability applications where failure could result in severe consequences. Key characteristics of Class 3 include:

  • Stringent control on defects and imperfections
  • Emphasis on long-term reliability and performance under extreme conditions
  • Suitable for critical applications, such as aerospace, medical devices, and military equipment

Criteria for Evaluating PCB Acceptability

IPC-A-600 provides detailed criteria for evaluating various aspects of PCB quality. Some of the key criteria include:

Conductor Width and Spacing

Conductor width and spacing are critical factors in PCB performance and reliability. IPC-A-600 specifies minimum and maximum allowable widths and spacings based on the PCB class and the specific design requirements.

Class Minimum Conductor Width Minimum Conductor Spacing
1 0.10 mm (0.004 in) 0.10 mm (0.004 in)
2 0.08 mm (0.003 in) 0.08 mm (0.003 in)
3 0.05 mm (0.002 in) 0.05 mm (0.002 in)

Hole Size and Placement

Hole size and placement are essential for proper component assembly and soldering. IPC-A-600 defines acceptable hole sizes and tolerances based on the PCB class and the specific component requirements.

Class Hole Size Tolerance
1 ±0.15 mm (0.006 in)
2 ±0.10 mm (0.004 in)
3 ±0.05 mm (0.002 in)

Solder Mask and Legend

Solder mask and legend are important for protecting the PCB surface and providing clear component identification. IPC-A-600 specifies requirements for solder mask coverage, adhesion, and legend legibility based on the PCB class.

Class Solder Mask Coverage Legend Legibility
1 90% Readable
2 95% Clearly readable
3 98% Highly legible

Surface Finish

Surface finish plays a crucial role in PCB solderability and long-term reliability. IPC-A-600 defines acceptable surface finishes and their requirements based on the PCB class and the specific application needs.

Class Acceptable Surface Finishes
1 HASL, OSP, Immersion Tin
2 ENIG, Immersion Silver
3 ENEPIG, Immersion Gold

Inspection and Testing Methods

To ensure compliance with IPC-A-600, manufacturers employ various inspection and testing methods throughout the PCB Production process. Some common methods include:

Visual Inspection

Visual inspection is the primary method for evaluating PCB quality and identifying surface defects. Inspectors use magnification, lighting, and automated optical inspection (AOI) systems to examine the PCB surface for conformance to IPC-A-600 criteria.


Microsectioning involves cross-sectioning the PCB and examining the internal structure under a microscope. This method is used to evaluate the quality of plated through-holes, via fill, and internal layer alignment.

Electrical Testing

Electrical testing is performed to verify the functionality and performance of the PCB. Common tests include continuity, insulation resistance, and high-potential (hipot) testing.

Environmental Testing

Environmental testing evaluates the PCB’s ability to withstand various environmental conditions, such as temperature cycling, humidity, and vibration. These tests help ensure the long-term reliability of the PCB in its intended application.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

1. What happens if a PCB does not meet the specified IPC-A-600 class?

If a PCB does not meet the specified IPC-A-600 class, it may be subject to rework, repair, or rejection, depending on the nature and severity of the nonconformance. The manufacturer, supplier, and customer should work together to determine the appropriate course of action based on the specific application requirements and contractual agreements.

2. Can a PCB be certified to multiple IPC-A-600 classes?

Yes, a PCB can be certified to multiple IPC-A-600 classes for different aspects of the board. For example, a PCB may be certified to Class 2 for conductor width and spacing, but Class 3 for hole size and placement. The specific class requirements should be clearly specified in the PCB design documentation and manufacturing process.

3. How often should IPC-A-600 training be conducted for inspectors and quality personnel?

IPC recommends that inspectors and quality personnel receive initial training on IPC-A-600 and periodic refresher training to maintain their knowledge and skills. The frequency of refresher training depends on factors such as changes to the standard, updates to inspection methods and equipment, and individual performance. Typically, annual refresher training is considered appropriate.

4. Can IPC-A-600 be used for flexible and rigid-flex PCBs?

Yes, IPC-A-600 can be applied to flexible and rigid-flex PCBs, with some additional considerations for the unique characteristics of these board types. IPC has also developed a separate standard, IPC-6013, which provides specific requirements for flexible and rigid-flex PCBs.

5. How does IPC-A-600 relate to other IPC standards?

IPC-A-600 is part of a larger family of IPC standards that cover various aspects of PCB design, fabrication, assembly, and acceptance. Other related standards include:

  • IPC-6012: Qualification and Performance Specification for Rigid Printed Boards
  • IPC-A-610: Acceptability of Electronic Assemblies
  • IPC J-STD-001: Requirements for Soldered Electrical and Electronic Assemblies

These standards work together to provide a comprehensive framework for ensuring the quality and reliability of PCBs and electronic assemblies.


IPC-A-600 is an essential standard for the electronics industry, providing a consistent and reliable framework for evaluating the acceptability of printed circuit boards. By understanding the different classes, criteria, and inspection methods defined in IPC-A-600, manufacturers, suppliers, and customers can work together to produce high-quality PCBs that meet the specific requirements of their intended applications. Adhering to IPC-A-600 not only ensures the reliability and performance of electronic products but also helps streamline communication and reduce costs associated with PCB defects and failures.