What is Copper Clad Laminate Used for PCB

Posted by

What is Copper-Clad Laminate?

Copper-clad laminate is a composite material that combines a dielectric substrate with a layer of copper foil. The dielectric substrate acts as an insulating base, while the copper foil provides the conductive layer necessary for creating the PCB’s circuitry. The copper foil is typically available in thicknesses ranging from 18 microns to 105 microns (0.5 oz to 3 oz per square foot).

Types of Dielectric Substrates

Several types of dielectric substrates are used in the production of copper-clad laminates. The most common ones include:

  1. FR-4: A fire-retardant epoxy resin reinforced with fiberglass. FR-4 is the most widely used substrate due to its excellent mechanical and electrical properties, as well as its cost-effectiveness.

  2. CEM-1/CEM-3: Composite epoxy materials that combine epoxy resin with paper or fiberglass reinforcement. CEM-1 and CEM-3 offer lower costs compared to FR-4 but have slightly inferior performance.

  3. Polyimide: A high-performance polymer that offers excellent thermal stability, chemical resistance, and electrical properties. Polyimide is often used in applications that require high reliability and the ability to withstand extreme conditions.

  4. PTFE: Polytetrafluoroethylene, also known as Teflon, is a fluoropolymer with outstanding dielectric properties, low dissipation factor, and high thermal stability. PTFE is commonly used in high-frequency applications, such as RF and microwave circuits.

Copper Foil Types and Grades

Copper foil used in CCL is available in different types and grades, each with specific characteristics:

  1. Electrodeposited (ED) Copper: Produced by electroplating copper onto a rotating drum, ED copper foil has a matte side (drum side) and a shiny side (copper deposit side). It is the most common type of copper foil used in PCB manufacturing.

  2. Rolled Annealed (RA) Copper: Manufactured through a rolling and annealing process, RA copper foil has a more uniform grain structure and higher ductility compared to ED copper. It is often used in applications that require better thermal management or higher mechanical strength.

  3. Standard Grade: Standard grade copper foil is suitable for most general-purpose PCB applications.

  4. Low Profile (LP) Grade: LP grade copper foil has a smoother surface finish, which is beneficial for fine-line circuitry and high-density interconnect (HDI) PCBs.

  5. High Temperature Elongation (HTE) Grade: HTE grade copper foil offers improved thermal stability and elongation properties, making it suitable for applications that experience high-temperature fluctuations.

Manufacturing Process of Copper-Clad Laminate

The production of copper-clad laminate involves several key steps:

1. Substrate Preparation

The dielectric substrate, such as FR-4 or polyimide, is cut to the desired size and shape. The substrate may undergo a cleaning process to remove any contaminants or debris that could affect the bonding process.

2. Copper Foil Preparation

The copper foil is also cut to the appropriate size, ensuring that it is slightly larger than the substrate to account for any shrinkage during the lamination process. The copper foil may undergo a surface treatment, such as roughening or chemical cleaning, to enhance its adhesion to the substrate.

3. Lamination

The prepared substrate and copper foil are placed in a lamination press, where they are subjected to high temperature and pressure. The heat and pressure activate the adhesive properties of the substrate, causing it to bond with the copper foil. The lamination process typically takes place at temperatures ranging from 180°C to 200°C and pressures of 300 to 400 psi, depending on the specific substrate and copper foil combination.

4. Cooling and Inspection

After lamination, the copper-clad laminate is allowed to cool gradually to room temperature. The CCL then undergoes a visual inspection to check for any defects, such as blisters, delamination, or copper foil wrinkles. Quality control measures, including dimensional checks and electrical testing, may also be performed to ensure that the CCL meets the specified requirements.

Applications of Copper-Clad Laminate in PCB Manufacturing

Copper-clad laminate is an essential material in the PCB manufacturing process. It serves several critical functions:

1. Circuit Formation

The copper foil layer of the CCL is used to create the conductive traces, pads, and planes that form the PCB’s circuitry. Through a series of photolithography, etching, and plating processes, the desired circuit pattern is transferred onto the copper foil, creating the electrical interconnections between components.

2. Insulation

The dielectric substrate of the CCL provides electrical insulation between the conductive layers of the PCB. This insulation prevents short circuits and ensures the proper functioning of the electronic device.

3. Mechanical Support

The CCL acts as a structural backbone for the PCB, providing mechanical support for the mounted components and ensuring the overall integrity of the board.

4. Thermal Management

The copper foil layer of the CCL helps in the dissipation of heat generated by the electronic components. The thermal conductivity of copper allows heat to be efficiently transferred away from the components, preventing overheating and ensuring reliable operation.

Factors Affecting the Selection of Copper-Clad Laminate

When choosing a copper-clad laminate for a specific PCB application, several factors need to be considered:

1. Dielectric Properties

The dielectric properties of the substrate, such as dielectric constant (Dk) and dissipation factor (Df), play a crucial role in determining the signal integrity and high-frequency performance of the PCB. The choice of substrate material depends on the specific electrical requirements of the application.

2. Thermal Stability

The thermal stability of the CCL is essential for applications that involve high operating temperatures or thermal cycling. The substrate material should have a glass transition temperature (Tg) that exceeds the maximum operating temperature of the PCB to prevent delamination and maintain the board’s structural integrity.

3. Mechanical Strength

The mechanical strength of the CCL is important for applications that require high reliability and durability. Factors such as the substrate’s flexural strength, impact resistance, and dimensional stability should be considered based on the specific mechanical requirements of the PCB.

4. Cost

The cost of the copper-clad laminate is a significant factor in PCB Production. The choice of substrate material, copper foil thickness, and grade all influence the overall cost of the CCL. A balance between performance requirements and cost-effectiveness must be achieved to ensure the viability of the PCB project.

Advancements in Copper-Clad Laminate Technology

As the electronics industry continues to evolve, so does the technology behind copper-clad laminates. Some of the recent advancements include:

1. High-Frequency Materials

The demand for high-frequency applications, such as 5G networks and millimeter-wave devices, has driven the development of advanced dielectric materials. These materials, such as low-loss hydrocarbon ceramics and modified PTFE, offer excellent high-frequency performance and enable the design of high-speed, high-bandwidth PCBs.

2. Thermally Conductive Substrates

Thermally conductive substrates, such as metal-backed laminates and ceramic-filled composites, have been developed to address the increasing thermal management challenges in high-power electronics. These substrates provide enhanced thermal conductivity, allowing for more efficient heat dissipation and improved reliability.

3. Flexible and Stretchable Laminates

The growth of flexible and wearable electronics has led to the development of flexible and stretchable copper-clad laminates. These laminates use flexible substrates, such as polyimide or thermoplastic elastomers, and thin copper foils to create bendable and conformable PCBs that can be integrated into various form factors.

4. Embedded Components

Embedded component technology involves the integration of passive components, such as resistors and capacitors, directly into the PCB substrate. This approach reduces the surface area required for component placement and improves signal integrity. Specialized copper-clad laminates with embedded component layers are being developed to enable this technology.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

1. What is the difference between FR-4 and CEM-3 substrates?

FR-4 is a high-performance substrate made from epoxy resin reinforced with fiberglass, while CEM-3 is a composite substrate that combines epoxy resin with paper or fiberglass reinforcement. FR-4 offers better mechanical and electrical properties compared to CEM-3, but CEM-3 is more cost-effective.

2. Can copper-clad laminates be used for multi-layer PCBs?

Yes, copper-clad laminates are used in the production of multi-layer PCBs. The individual CCL layers are stacked and laminated together, with insulating prepreg layers in between, to form the complete multi-layer structure.

3. What is the purpose of surface treatments on copper foil?

Surface treatments, such as roughening or chemical cleaning, are applied to the copper foil to enhance its adhesion to the dielectric substrate. These treatments increase the surface area and improve the mechanical interlocking between the copper foil and the substrate, resulting in a stronger bond.

4. How does the thickness of the copper foil affect PCB performance?

The thickness of the copper foil influences several aspects of PCB performance. Thicker copper foils provide lower electrical resistance, allowing for higher current carrying capacity. However, thicker foils also make it more challenging to achieve fine-line circuitry and may increase the overall thickness of the PCB.

5. Can copper-clad laminates be recycled?

Yes, copper-clad laminates can be recycled. The recycling process typically involves separating the copper foil from the dielectric substrate through mechanical or chemical means. The recovered copper can be reused in various applications, while the substrate material may be repurposed or disposed of in an environmentally friendly manner.


Copper-clad laminate is a fundamental material in the production of printed circuit boards. Its combination of a conductive copper foil layer and a dielectric substrate provides the necessary electrical and mechanical properties for PCB manufacturing. Understanding the types of dielectric substrates, copper foil grades, and the factors affecting CCL selection is crucial for designing and manufacturing reliable and high-performance PCBs.

As the electronics industry continues to advance, innovations in copper-clad laminate technology, such as high-frequency materials, thermally conductive substrates, and flexible laminates, are enabling new possibilities in PCB design and functionality. By staying informed about these advancements and selecting the appropriate copper-clad laminate for each application, PCB Manufacturers can ensure the production of cutting-edge electronic devices that meet the ever-growing demands of the market.

Copper Foil Thickness Inches Microns
0.5 oz/ft² 0.0007 in 18 µm
1 oz/ft² 0.0014 in 35 µm
2 oz/ft² 0.0028 in 70 µm
3 oz/ft² 0.0042 in 105 µm
Substrate Dielectric Constant (Dk) Dissipation Factor (Df) Glass Transition Temperature (Tg)
FR-4 4.3 – 4.7 0.02 – 0.03 130°C – 140°C
CEM-1 4.5 – 5.0 0.03 – 0.05 105°C – 125°C
CEM-3 4.5 – 5.0 0.02 – 0.03 105°C – 125°C
Polyimide 3.5 – 4.0 0.002 – 0.003 250°C – 260°C
PTFE 2.0 – 2.3 0.0002 – 0.0009 327°C