Welcome to our insightful blog, where we unravel Flex vs Rigid PCB Cost issues. We aim to help you make informed decisions while considering your budget. Curious about the difference between Flex PCB vs Rigid PCB Cost? We’ve got you covered.
Very Basics of Flex PCB vs Rigid PCB
But before we go ahead, let’s set two things straight.
What are Flex PCBs?
Flex PCBs, or Printed Circuit Boards, offer flexibility that allows them to bend and twist. Their flexible nature makes them ideal for compact and space-constrained applications. These PCBs will enable the possibility of creating sleek wearable devices or curved electronics.
What are Rigid PCBs?
On the other hand, Rigid PCBs consist only of rigid parts that provide stability and support. Contrast that to the Rigid-flex PCB.
In Rigid-flex PCBs, these hard parts are strategically placed to enhance the overall structure of the PCB. Rigid sections act as anchor points for rigid-flexible PCBs, so there’s mechanical strength and durability. For rigid-flex PCBs, the design allows for integrating rigid and flexible elements, making rigid-flex PCBs ideal for applications that require both robustness and flexibility.
The concise information in our blog will equip you with the knowledge to make smart decisions, so you can choose what is cheaper for you, flex or rigid PCB or rigid-flex PCBs.
Ready? Let’s discover Flex PCB vs Rigid PCB Cost and how to optimize without compromising quality.
Factors Influencing PCB Manufacturing Costs
When it comes to PCB manufacturing costs, several factors come to mind. Understanding these factors can help you make informed decisions and lower your expenses. Let’s get into them.
Design complexity influences Flex PCB vs Rigid PCB Cost
The complexity of your design, including the number and density of components, directly impacts the manufacturing cost. Designs with intricate layouts or high component density generally require more advanced production techniques, increasing costs.
Traces and Routing
Complex routing patterns, narrow traces, and tight spacing between components can increase manufacturing complexity. They may require more precise fabrication processes, leading to high costs.
Incorporating specialized features like microvias, or controlled impedance traces adds complexity to the manufacturing process. These features require advanced techniques and specialized equipment, impacting the overall cost.
Total board size influences Flex vs Rigid PCB Cost
Why does the size of your board matter? Here are the reasons:
The overall size of the PCB directly affects the amount of raw material required for its fabrication. Larger boards consume more material, leading to increased costs. However, remember that material cost per square inch may vary between flex and rigid PCBs.
When we say penalization, we mean combining multiple PCBs onto a single panel. This process helps maximize production efficiency and reduce costs. Optimizing the utilization of the panel can lead to cost savings, especially when producing smaller-sized PCBs.
Handling and Assembly
Larger flexible PCBs come in sheets that often require specialized handling and assembly processes. These extra steps can increase labor costs. Additionally, larger boards may have higher transportation and logistics costs due to their size and weight.
Flex PCB layer count influences Flex PCs vs Rigid PCB Cost
Here’s our explanation:
Number of Layers
Flex PCBs can vary in layer count, ranging from single-layer to multilayer configurations. (Some multilayer flex PCBs can be up to 14 layers! As the layer count increases, the complexity of the manufacturing process intensifies, leading to higher costs. Additional layers require more materials, intricate assembly techniques, and precise alignment, all contributing to increased expenses.
Flex Layer Stacking
Some PCBs incorporate flexible layers, such as polyimide, in addition to rigid layers. The number and arrangement of flex layers impact the manufacturing complexity and overall cost. More flex layers and intricate stacking configurations may require specialized equipment and expertise, driving up production costs.
Material to Choose From
Material selection count influences Flex vs Rigid PCB Cost
Mainly, the choice of substrate materials largely affects the manufacturing cost. For flex PCBs, you have the following selection for substrate material:
The choices that will affect Flex vs Rigid PCB Cost are:
This material is king in flex PCBs. Polyimide is popular for flex PCBs due to its excellent flexibility, high-temperature resistance, and good electrical insulation properties. It is widely available and relatively cheaper, making it a common and affordable option for many flex PCB applications.
The second alternative is polyester. It’s another flexible substrate material used in certain applications. It offers good dimensional stability and moisture resistance. Polyester is generally less expensive than polyimide, making it a cost-effective choice for less demanding flex PCB requirements.
Nonstick PTFE is a high-performance material known for its exceptional thermal stability, chemical resistance, and low dielectric loss. However, PTFE is typically more expensive than other substrate materials due to its advanced properties and more intricate manufacturing processes.
This material is the one primarily associated with rigid PCBs. FR-4 is used as a substrate material also in rigid-flex PCBs. It offers good electrical insulation and mechanical strength. While FR-4 is generally less expensive than specialized flex materials like polyimide or PTFE, its use in rigid-flex configurations may increase manufacturing complexity and cost.
An advanced option is the use of ceramic materials. These are known for their excellent thermal properties and mechanical stability. In rigid-flex PCBs, ceramics can be used in the rigid sections to provide enhanced heat dissipation and increased rigidity. Including ceramic layers adds to the manufacturing complexity and material costs, making rigid PCBs with ceramic components generally more expensive than those without.
The Copper foils are used for conducting electrical signals on the PCB. The thickness and quality of the copper foil can impact the cost.
Let’s assume you are considering two options for copper foil thickness: Option A with a thickness of 1 oz (approximately 35 µm) and Option B with a thickness of 2 oz (approximately 70 µm).
Option A (1 oz copper foil): This standard thickness is commonly used in many PCB applications. It offers sufficient conductivity for most designs. As a result, it tends to be more cost-effective than thicker foils.
Option B (2 oz copper foil): This is a thicker copper foil that provides higher conductivity and can handle higher current loads. However, the increased amount of copper used generally incurs higher material costs compared to Option A.
Common copper foil measurements
The actual copper foil thickness used in a PCB design will depend on the specific requirements. But here are general measurements in ounces (oz) for flex and rigid PCBs:
For Flex PCBs
- 1/3 oz (approximately 12 µm): This is a very thin copper foil option suitable for ultra-flexible and lightweight applications.
- 1/2 oz (approximately 18 µm): This standard thickness is used in many flexible circuit designs.
- 1 oz (approximately 35 µm): This is the most commonly used copper foil thickness for flex PCBs. It offers a good balance between flexibility and conductivity.
- 2 oz (approximately 70 µm): This thicker copper foil is chosen for applications requiring higher current handling capacity or more robust mechanical properties.
For Rigid PCBs
- The rigid sections of the board typically follow standard copper thicknesses used in rigid PCBs, such as 1 oz or 2 oz.
For Rigid-Flex PCBs
- Rigid-flex PCBs typically combine rigid and flexible sections so that they may have varying copper foil thicknesses depending on the specific design requirements.
- The copper foil thicknesses mentioned above for flex PCBs can also apply to the flexible parts of rigid-flex PCBs.
Solder mask, also known as solder resist, is a protective layer applied over the copper traces on a PCB to prevent solder bridges and ensure proper soldering during assembly. Flex vs Rigid PCB Cost is affected by solder mask color decision.
The choice of solder mask color can vary depending on personal preference, industry standards, or specific design requirements. Here’s an example to illustrate the cost implications:
Green: For rigid components of Rigid PCBs, green is the most common and widely used solder mask color. Choosing green as the solder mask color usually does not incur additional costs beyond the standard pricing.
Orange: Orange is often associated with flex PCBs and can provide a distinctive appearance. Opting for the standard orange color may not result in extra charges as it is considered a common color for flex circuits.
If you prefer a custom color other than the standard options, such as red, blue, yellow, or black, the PCB manufacturer may charge additional fees for the customization. These fees typically cover the extra steps and resources required to accommodate the specific color request.
Orange Solder Mask
Why Orange Solder Mask is Cost-Effective in Flex vs Rigid PCB Cost?
Flex PCBs often have an orange appearance due to using a polyimide substrate with a characteristic yellowish-brown color. Since polyimide is the standard material for flex PCBs, it is common to see orange solder masks.
Polyimide’s transparency or translucency influences the solder mask color choice for flex PCBs. The solder mask serves as a protective layer over the copper traces and components, safeguarding them against oxidation and short circuits. Since polyimide is not completely opaque, the substrate’s yellowish-brown color affects the solder mask’s overall color.
Manufacturers can achieve a Flex vs Rigid PCB Cost lowering solution without compromising quality, functionality, or aesthetic appeal by opting for an orange solder mask in flex PCBs. This color choice is readily available, reducing customization costs and ensuring efficient production. Furthermore, the visually striking orange color complements the inherent characteristics of flex PCBs.
A protective Surface finish provides a coating and facilitates soldering. Flex PCBs typically avoid HASL (Hot Air Solder Leveling) due to its inflexibility. In contrast, rigid PCBs may utilize HASL predominantly. Valid options you can choose from include:
It’s an affordable surface finish for flex and rigid PCBs. It offers good solderability and a flat surface. However, it is worth noting that silver can be susceptible to tarnish over time, which may affect long-term reliability.
ENEPIG (Electroless Nickel Electroless Palladium Immersion Gold)
This is a surface finish that combines multiple layers, including nickel, palladium, and gold. It provides excellent corrosion resistance, solderability, and wire bondability. However, ENEPIG is a more expensive option due to its multilayer composition.
Soft Gold Plating
It is a surface finish that involves depositing a thin layer of gold onto the PCB surface. Soft Gold Plating provides good corrosion resistance and solderability. Soft gold plating is commonly used in areas that require fine-pitch components or gold wire bonding. It is generally more expensive than other surface finish options.
OSP (Organic Solderability Preservative)
The last option is OSP. It’s suitable for both flex and rigid PCBs. It offers good solderability and is environmentally friendly. OSP can be a viable option for low-cost applications.
These surface finish options for flex and rigid PCBs should be carefully considered based on your requirements, budget constraints, and desired performance. Consult with a reputable partner like MV Flex Circuit to discuss the most suitable surface finish option that strikes the right balance between cost and functionality for your project.
What is Cheaper?
What is Cheaper? Flex or Rigid PCB?
The short answer is: it depends on the application you intend to use. There are Flex vs Rigid PCB cost advantages depending on the device or application they make function.
When is it cheaper to use flex PCBs?
Here are some scenarios where it is typically cheaper to use flex PCBs:
Flex PCBs are ideal for applications with limited space or intricate layouts. Their thin and flexible nature allows them to fit into tight spaces, eliminating the need for connectors and bulky interconnects. This reduction in components and interconnects leads to cost savings regarding material, assembly, and overall PCB size.
In addition, Flex PCBs are lightweight compared to rigid PCBs, making them advantageous in weight-sensitive applications such as aerospace, automotive, and portable electronics. Using flex PCBs can contribute to weight reduction, leading to lower transportation costs, improved fuel efficiency, and enhanced portability.
Increased Reliability and Durability
Expecting you vibration, shock, and thermal stress? Due to their flexible nature and absence of solder joints, use the flex type. Their enhanced durability reduces the risk of component failure, minimizing maintenance and repair costs over the product’s lifespan.
Simplified Assembly Processes
Most Flex PCBs can streamline the assembly process, particularly for complex designs or products with multiple interconnections. The flexibility allows for easier routing and bending, simplifying the assembly steps and reducing the overall manufacturing time and costs.
Custom Form Factors
If specific form factors are what you worry about, use Flex PCBs. They can conform to non-standard shapes or fit around existing components or structures. This customization eliminates the need for additional connectors or adaptors, reducing assembly and material costs.
When is it cheaper to use Rigid PCBs?
Now that you know about when to rightly use flex PCBs, here are some scenarios when it is typically cheaper to use rigid PBCs or rigid-flex PCBs:
Rigid PCBs are well-suited for applications that require sturdy interconnects. For rigid-flex PCBs, instead of using separate rigid and flex PCBs connected with connectors and cables, a single rigid-flex PCB can integrate the necessary interconnects, reducing the overall component count and assembly complexity.
Tight on Space?
Space optimization is achievable by combining the benefits of rigid and flex PCBs. If you have more space, use the rigid type instead. If you want a compromise, using rigid-flex PCBs will help your fit things into compact spaces or conform to specific shapes, eliminating the need for additional connectors, cables, or wiring harnesses. This reduction in components and interconnects saves space and simplifies the assembly process.
Most Rigid PCBs offer enhanced reliability due to their tightly soldered joints. But rigid-flex PCBs, compared to traditional rigid PCBs with connectors are better for reliability. Eliminating connectors and cables minimizes the risk of failure points and improves signal integrity, leading to higher overall system reliability. This increased reliability can result in Flex vs Rigid PCB cost savings associated with maintenance, repairs, and product returns.
Weight and Size Reduction
Because Rigid-flex PCBs are lightweight and compact, they’re suitable for weight-sensitive applications. Integrating rigid and flexible sections into a single board reduces the overall weight and size compared to using separate rigid and flex PCBs. This weight and size reduction can lead to cost savings in transportation, material, and assembly processes. If you are OK with heavier weights, you can always use a rigid PCB.
Here’s a video on how to improve your PCB designs, if you are interested:
Rigid PCBs can be of limited use in terms of innovative designs. But using Rigid-flex PCBs simplifies the design process by eliminating the need for additional connectors, cables, and wiring harnesses. This simplification reduces the overall design complexity, shortens the development time, and lowers the risk of design errors. The streamlined design process can contribute to cost savings regarding engineering hours and prototyping iterations.
The bottom line is that assessing your application’s specific requirements and considering the benefits can help you make a justifiable choice in terms of Flex PCBs vs Rigid PCB Cost.
Use a PCB Cost Calculator to Compute Flex vs Rigid PCB Cost
A PCB cost calculator is highly recommended to simplify the process and get accurate cost estimations.
PCB cost calculators are online tools designed to help you compute the cost of your Flex PCBs vs Rigid PCB Cost based on your specific requirements. They consider board size, layer count, material selection, copper thickness, surface finish, solder mask color, and more.
These calculators provide instant cost estimates for Flex vs Rigid PCB Cost. They allow you to compare the differences between flex and rigid PCBs. They allow you to experiment with different configurations and make informed decisions based on your budget and project needs.
Several PCB manufacturers and suppliers offer cost calculators on their websites. Visit their websites and look for the PCB cost calculator section. By entering your PCB specifications, you can quickly estimate the manufacturing cost.
Flex & Rigid Flex PCBs by MV Flex Circuit
How to Choose a Cost-Effective PCB Manufacturer for Flex vs Rigid PCB Cost
When choosing a manufacturer for Flex vs Rigid PCB Cost for your projects, several factors should be considered to ensure the best value for your investment. Here are some key points to keep in mind:
Chinese manufacturers have gained a strong reputation for their expertise, advanced technology, and lower-cost solutions.
In line with that, we at MV Flex Circuit pride ourselves on being a trusted and reliable PCB manufacturer in Shenzhen, China, with years of experience in the industry.
Contrast the pricing differences between Chinese manufacturers and American/European providers.
It’s no secret that manufacturing costs can vary significantly between regions. Chinese manufacturers often offer competitive pricing without compromising on quality. This can be attributed to lower labor costs and efficient supply chain management. You can save substantially by choosing a Chinese manufacturer like us without compromising quality or service.
A PCB Manufacturer to Cut Down on Flex vs Rigid PCB Cost
When it comes to minimizing the cost of your flex and rigid-flex PCB projects, we’re here to be your trusted partner. We understand the importance of providing lower Flex vs Rigid PCB cost solutions without compromising on quality. Our team of experts works closely with you to optimize your design, select the most suitable materials, and streamline the manufacturing process to reduce costs.
Pick MV Flex Circuit as your PCB manufacturing partner and experience the benefits of our cost-effective solutions, exceptional service, and reliable delivery. We are dedicated to helping you achieve your project goals while controlling costs.
Contact us now!