PCB and PCBA are two very different concepts, but many people use the terms interchangeably. While these terms are related and both used regularly within the electronics industry, they have distinct definitions. In this article, we’ll discuss what PCBs and PCBAs are, how they are related, and the key differences between the two terms so you can use them both confidently when placing orders and describing products.

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An image of a bare printed circuit board (PCB)

What Is PCB?

PCBs serve as a mechanical foundation in which various electrical components can be mounted to complete the intended circuit. PCBs feature a conductive pattern and a substrate that is typically made of epoxy resin material. Some of the most common types of printed circuit boards include:

  • Single-layer
  • Multi-layer
  • Rigid
  • Flexible
  • Rigid-flex

With all of these different types available, manufacturers and product designers can create a diverse array of electronic displays, standalone devices, and more for consumer, commercial, and industrial applications.

An image of a printed circuit board assembly (PCBA).

What Is PCBA?

PCBA is the complete electronic assembly and relates to how the components are placed onto the PCB. More specifically, it refers to the process of passing the PCB through Surface Mounted Technology (SMT) and Plated Through Hole (PTH) processes to place and solder the various electrical components onto the PCB.

  • During this assembly process, product builders mount the electronic components into holes running through either the whole board or just specific layers. The holes have conductive pads to ensure the flow of electricity is not interrupted.
  • During this assembly process, the components are not mounted through holes. Instead, they are mounted onto the surface layer with pins along the conductive pads.

PCBAs are fitted will all necessary components and are ready to be used for their intended purpose.

Differences Between PCB and PCBA

As a simple way to keep the two terms straight, think of a PCB as the inert, unfinished foundation of a circuit and a PCBA as the complete product with active and passive components. PCBs are just the boards of substrate layers themselves that can support electronic components. The boards have conductive pads and tracks, etched features, and other details in the non-conductive layers, but they don’t yet have all the components. PCBAs are PCBs with solder paste and electronic components on the surface, and they are plug-in ready.

Printed Circuit Boards From USTEK

While PCBA refers to the finished, fully assembled board with all the electrical components it needs to perform, PCB only refers the bare circuit board that is used as the foundation for all of the electrical components. These terms are often used interchangeably, so understanding the differences between the two is crucial.

At USTEK Incorporated, we specialize in the design and construction from single-layer to multi-layer PCBs for a wide range of industries. We can work with you to create a custom solution for your needs no matter how complex. To learn more about our custom PCB capabilities, contact us today.

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