PCB Routing Tips for Beginners

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What is PCB Routing?

PCB routing is the process of creating the conductive traces on a printed circuit board (PCB) that electrically connect the various components. It is a critical step in PCB design that requires careful planning and execution to ensure optimal performance, manufacturing yield, and reliability of the final product.

For beginners, PCB routing can seem daunting due to the many factors that need to be considered, such as signal integrity, electromagnetic compatibility (EMC), power delivery, and manufacturing constraints. However, with the right knowledge and tools, anyone can learn to route PCBs effectively.

In this article, we will cover some essential PCB routing tips for beginners to help you get started on your PCB design journey.

Planning Your PCB Layout

Before you start routing your PCB, it is important to plan your layout carefully. A well-planned layout can make the routing process much easier and result in a better final product.

Component Placement

The first step in planning your PCB layout is to place your components strategically. Here are some tips for component placement:

  • Place components in a logical order based on their function and interconnections
  • Group related components together to minimize the length of traces
  • Place sensitive components away from sources of noise and interference
  • Consider the mechanical constraints of your enclosure and connectors
  • Leave enough space between components for routing traces and vias

Power and Ground Planes

Power and ground planes are large copper areas on the PCB that provide a low-impedance path for power and ground signals. They also help to reduce electromagnetic interference (EMI) and improve signal integrity.

When planning your PCB layout, consider the following:

  • Use separate power and ground planes for analog and digital circuits to minimize crosstalk
  • Place decoupling capacitors close to the power pins of ICs to reduce power supply noise
  • Use wide traces or copper pours for high-current paths to minimize voltage drop and heat generation

Signal Routing Layers

Most PCBs have multiple layers for routing signals. The number of layers needed depends on the complexity of the design and the routing density required.

Here are some guidelines for choosing the number of signal routing layers:

Number of Layers Typical Applications
1 Simple, low-density designs
2 Low to medium-density designs with mostly digital signals
4 Medium to high-density designs with analog and digital signals
6 or more High-density, high-speed designs with complex routing requirements

Routing Grid and Trace Width

The routing grid is the smallest increment that traces can be placed on the PCB. A smaller grid allows for denser routing but may increase manufacturing costs.

Trace width is the width of the copper traces on the PCB. Wider traces have lower resistance and can carry more current, but they also take up more space.

Here are some recommended trace widths for different current requirements:

Current (A) Trace Width (mm)
< 0.5 0.15 – 0.25
0.5 – 1.0 0.25 – 0.50
1.0 – 2.0 0.50 – 1.00
> 2.0 > 1.00

Routing Techniques

Once you have planned your PCB layout, it’s time to start routing the traces. Here are some techniques to help you route effectively:

Manual vs. Autorouting

PCB routing can be done manually or with the help of autorouting software. Manual routing gives you complete control over the placement of traces but can be time-consuming for complex designs. Autorouting can save time but may not always result in the most optimal routing.

As a beginner, it is recommended to start with manual routing to develop a good understanding of the routing process. You can then use autorouting as a tool to help you route more efficiently.

Routing Order

The order in which you route your traces can have a big impact on the final result. Here are some tips for routing order:

  1. Route critical signals first, such as high-speed signals, clocks, and sensitive analog signals
  2. Route power and ground traces next to provide a stable reference for other signals
  3. Route shorter traces before longer traces to minimize congestion
  4. Route traces on the top and bottom layers first, then move to inner layers if needed

Trace Spacing and Clearance

Trace spacing is the distance between adjacent traces on the same layer. Clearance is the distance between traces and other objects, such as components, vias, and board edges.

Adequate spacing and clearance are important for manufacturing reliability and signal integrity. Here are some recommended values:

Trace Voltage (V) Minimum Spacing (mm) Minimum Clearance (mm)
< 50 0.15 0.20
50 – 100 0.20 0.30
100 – 150 0.25 0.40
> 150 0.30 0.50

Vias and Through-Hole Components

Vias are used to connect traces on different layers of the PCB. They can be Through-hole vias that go through the entire board or blind/Buried Vias that only connect certain layers.

When routing vias, consider the following:

  • Place vias close to the components they are connecting to minimize trace length
  • Avoid placing vias under components or in areas that will be soldered
  • Use a via size that is appropriate for the current and manufacturing process
  • Use thermal relief pads for vias that will be soldered to prevent Solder Wicking

Through-hole components require special consideration when routing. The component leads must be connected to traces on the top or bottom layer of the PCB, and the traces must be wide enough to handle the current.

Length Matching and Differential Pairs

Length matching is important for high-speed signals to ensure that they arrive at their destination at the same time. Differential pairs are two traces that carry opposite signals and must be routed together with equal length and spacing.

Here are some tips for length matching and differential pairs:

  • Use the same routing layer and path for both traces in a differential pair
  • Keep the spacing between differential pair traces constant along their entire length
  • Use serpentine routing to add length to shorter traces and match the length of longer traces
  • Avoid sharp bends or vias in differential pairs to minimize impedance discontinuities

Signal Integrity and EMC

Signal integrity and EMC are important considerations in PCB routing to ensure that the board functions as intended and does not cause or receive electromagnetic interference.

Impedance Control

Impedance control is the process of designing traces with a specific characteristic impedance to match the impedance of the source and load. This is important for high-speed signals to minimize reflections and signal distortion.

The characteristic impedance of a trace depends on its width, thickness, and the properties of the dielectric material. PCB design software can help you calculate the required trace width for a given impedance and dielectric.

Crosstalk and Electromagnetic Interference (EMI)

Crosstalk is the unwanted coupling of signals between adjacent traces. EMI is the unwanted radiation or reception of electromagnetic energy that can cause interference with other electronic devices.

To minimize crosstalk and EMI, consider the following:

  • Route sensitive signals away from noisy signals or sources of interference
  • Use ground planes and power planes to provide shielding and reduce loop area
  • Use differential signaling for high-speed signals to cancel out electromagnetic fields
  • Follow recommended trace spacing and clearance guidelines for the signal voltage and frequency

Testing and Verification

After routing your PCB, it is important to test and verify the design before sending it for manufacturing. Here are some steps you can take:

Design Rule Check (DRC)

Most PCB design software includes a DRC tool that checks your design against a set of predefined rules for manufacturability and reliability. Running a DRC can help you catch errors such as insufficient clearance, missing connections, or traces that are too narrow or too close together.

Signal Integrity Simulation

Signal integrity simulation tools can help you analyze the behavior of your high-speed signals and identify potential issues such as reflections, crosstalk, or EMI. These tools can also help you optimize your routing for better signal quality and reliability.

Prototype and Testing

Before mass production, it is recommended to manufacture a prototype of your PCB and test it thoroughly. This can help you identify any issues with the design or manufacturing process and make necessary changes before committing to a large production run.


What is the best PCB design software for beginners?

There are many PCB design software options available, ranging from free and open-source to paid and professional-grade. Some popular options for beginners include:

  • KiCad: A free and open-source PCB design suite that includes schematic capture, PCB layout, and 3D viewing.
  • Eagle: A popular PCB design software that offers a free version for non-commercial use and a paid version with more advanced features.
  • EasyEDA: A web-based PCB design platform that offers schematic capture, PCB layout, and simulation tools.

Ultimately, the best software for you will depend on your specific needs and budget. It’s a good idea to try out a few different options and see which one works best for your workflow.

How do I choose the right trace width for my PCB?

The trace width depends on several factors, including the current carrying capacity, manufacturing constraints, and signal integrity requirements. Here are some general guidelines:

  • For low-current signals (< 0.5 A), use a trace width of 0.15 – 0.25 mm.
  • For medium-current signals (0.5 – 1.0 A), use a trace width of 0.25 – 0.50 mm.
  • For high-current signals (> 1.0 A), use a trace width of 0.50 mm or wider.

It’s also important to consider the manufacturing capabilities of your PCB fabricator and the available space on your board. Consult with your fabricator and use PCB design software to calculate the appropriate trace width for your specific design.

What is the difference between through-hole and surface-mount components?

Through-hole components have leads that are inserted through holes in the PCB and soldered on the opposite side. Surface-mount components are mounted directly on the surface of the PCB and soldered in place.

Surface-mount components are generally smaller and cheaper than through-hole components, and they allow for higher routing density and automated assembly. However, through-hole components are still used for certain applications, such as high-power devices or connectors that require mechanical strength.

How do I ensure good signal integrity in my PCB design?

To ensure good signal integrity, consider the following tips:

  • Use controlled impedance traces for high-speed signals to match the impedance of the source and load.
  • Use differential signaling for high-speed signals to cancel out electromagnetic fields and reduce crosstalk.
  • Route sensitive signals away from noisy signals or sources of interference.
  • Use ground planes and power planes to provide shielding and reduce loop area.
  • Follow recommended trace spacing and clearance guidelines for the signal voltage and frequency.

It’s also a good idea to use signal integrity simulation tools to analyze the behavior of your high-speed signals and identify potential issues.

What are some common PCB routing mistakes to avoid?

Here are some common PCB routing mistakes to avoid:

  • Routing traces too close together or too close to board edges, which can cause manufacturing issues or signal integrity problems.
  • Routing high-speed signals or sensitive analog signals near noisy digital signals or power traces.
  • Forgetting to add thermal relief pads for vias or pads that will be soldered, which can cause solder wicking or manufacturing defects.
  • Not following recommended trace width and spacing guidelines for the signal current and voltage.
  • Not testing and verifying the design before sending it for manufacturing, which can result in costly errors or delays.

By following best practices and using PCB design software tools, you can avoid these common mistakes and create reliable, high-quality PCBs.


PCB routing is a critical step in the PCB design process that requires careful planning and execution. As a beginner, it’s important to understand the basics of PCB routing, including component placement, power and ground planes, signal routing layers, and routing techniques.

By following best practices for signal integrity, EMC, and manufacturing reliability, you can create PCBs that meet your design requirements and perform well in the intended application. Remember to always test and verify your design before sending it for manufacturing to catch any errors or issues early in the process.

With practice and experience, PCB routing can become a rewarding and enjoyable part of the PCB design process. Keep learning and experimenting, and don’t be afraid to ask for help or advice from more experienced designers. Happy routing!