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Diving Deep in PCB Etching

Blog  /  Diving Deep in PCB Etching

Diving Deep in PCB Etching

Jan 11, 2024

Hi there! Creating printed circuit boards (PCB's) requires a complex process called PCB etching, which we will examine in this article along with the methods and innovations that have driven this field. Regardless of your background—engineering, hobbyist, student, professional, or enthusiast—JLCPCB provides insightful information about PCB etching.

Industrial scene with white machines, blue lighting, and clean environment.

Understanding PCB Etching

PCB etching is a fundamental step in the production of printed circuit boards. It involves selectively removing copper from the board's surface to create conductive pathways or traces that connect electronic components. The etching process ensures precision and accuracy in creating intricate circuit patterns.

Traditional Etching Techniques

Traditionally, PCB etching has been achieved using chemical methods. Chemical etching is the most widely used method in
PCB manufacturing. It involves applying a chemical solution, typically an acid, to selectively remove the copper or unwanted copper from the substrate. The patterned areas are protected by a resist material, which prevents the etching solution from attacking the copper. The most commonly used technique is the Ferric Chloride etching process. Ferric Chloride is a corrosive chemical that reacts with copper, dissolving it and leaving the desired circuit traces intact. This technique has been widely adopted due to its effectiveness and cost-efficiency.

Another popular method is the
Ammonium Persulfate etching process, which offers a safer alternative to Ferric Chloride. Ammonium Persulfate is a non-toxic chemical that provides a reliable etching solution, ensuring high-quality results.

Image of circuit board etching process: resist removed to reveal copper pathways.

Innovations in PCB Etching

With advancements in technology,
new techniques and innovations have emerged, revolutionizing the PCB etching process. Here are some notable developments:

Laser Etching:

Laser etching has gained popularity in recent years, is a non-contact etching method that uses a high-power laser to selectively remove the copper from the board. It offers precise control and is suitable for producing intricate patterns on PCBs. Laser etching is commonly used for rapid prototyping or low-volume production. It involves using a laser beam to selectively remove the copper layer, eliminating the need for chemicals. Laser etching provides greater flexibility and accuracy, making it suitable for complex PCB designs.

Green circuit board + white handle drill/testing process. Gray background, highlighted components, stainless steel plate: lab-like environment.

Electroless Copper Deposition:

This innovative technique involves depositing a thin layer of copper on the entire surface of the PCB, including the etched areas. The deposited copper enhances conductivity and protects the circuit traces from oxidation. Electroless copper deposition improves the overall performance and reliability of the PCB.

One-step electroless cu deposition on dielectric materials

Plasma Etching:

Plasma etching is a dry etching process that uses ionized gases to remove the unwanted copper from the board. It offers precise control over the etching depth and allows for etching on different materials, including ceramics and polymers. Plasma etching is commonly used for high-density interconnect (HDI) PCBs and microelectronics. Plasma etching is especially useful for etching very fine features that traditional chemical etching may not be able to achieve.

Image of plasma etching, a dry etching process that uses ionized gases to remove the unwanted copper from the board.

Photochemical Etching:

Photochemical etching utilizes a photographic process to create a pattern on the PCB. A photosensitive resist is applied to the substrate, exposed to UV light through a mask, and then developed to remove the uncured resist. The exposed areas are subsequently etched using a chemical solution. This method allows for high precision and is often used in the production of complex circuitry.

Close-up on gold circuit board coated with varnish, connected to other components through black lines.

Examples of Each Type of PCB Etching:

1. Chemical Etching:  

Ferric chloride solution: It is commonly used in hobbyist and low-volume PCB production due to its effectiveness and affordability.  

Ammonium Persulfate: This etchant is often favored for its faster etching speed and reduced environmental impact compared to traditional acids.  

Cupric chloride: It offers a high level of control and is frequently used for fine pitch and high-density circuit boards.

2. Plasma Etching:  

Reactive Ion Etching (RIE): It uses a combination of gases such as oxygen and fluorine to create reactive species that selectively remove the copper. RIE provides precise control for advanced PCBs with intricate features.  

Ion Beam Etching (IBE): This technique uses a focused beam of ions to etch the copper, allowing for even higher precision and control.

3. Laser Etching:

CO2 laser etching: This method uses a high-powered CO2 laser to vaporize or ablate the unwanted copper, leaving behind the desired circuit pattern. It is commonly used for rapid prototyping or small-scale production.  

Nd:YAG laser etching: This laser etching technique offers higher precision and is suitable for more complex PCB designs. It can accurately etch fine features, making it popular for high-density circuit boards.

4. Photochemical Etching:  

Dry film resist etching: It involves applying a photosensitive dry film resist to the copper surface, exposing it to UV light through a patterned mask, and developing to remove the uncured resist. The exposed areas can then be etched using a chemical solution.  

Liquid photoresist etching: This method uses a liquid photoresist that is applied to the substrate and cured under UV light. The cured resist is then selectively removed using a solvent, allowing for precise control during etching.

*The choice of etching technique depends on factors such as the complexity of the design, production volume, and desired level of precision.

Best Practices in PCB Etching

To ensure optimal results and maintain the integrity of the circuit design during the etching process, it is essential to follow best practices. Here are some recommendations:

Etchant Agitation:

Proper agitation of the etchant solution helps maintain a consistent etching rate and prevents the formation of uneven traces. Stir or agitate the etchant regularly during the etching process.

Temperature Control:

Monitor and control the temperature of the etchant solution. Higher temperatures can accelerate the etching process, but excessive heat may lead to overetching or poor quality traces.

Masking and Alignment:

Accurate alignment and proper masking techniques are crucial to ensure precise etching. Use high-quality masks and align the PCB carefully to avoid any misalignment or errors in the circuit pattern.

Image of accurate alignment and proper masking techniques


PCB etching is a vital process in the production of printed circuit boards, enabling the creation of intricate circuit patterns that drive modern electronics. In this article, we explored
traditional etching techniques as well as innovative methods. By following best practices and embracing new advancements, you can achieve high-quality PCBs with enhanced performance.

Here at
JLCPCB, our goal is to give you the most recent information on industry developments, PCB design, manufacturing, and assembly knowledge. We hope our blog has deepened your understanding of PCB etching and inspired you to explore new possibilities in your electronic projects.Watch this space for additional educational content as we immerse our readers in the world of PCB technology through inspiration, education, and engagement!