Meeting Standards: IPC 6012 Class 3 Via Sizes and Annular Rings

Zachariah Peterson
|  Created: December 11, 2021
 Annular rings as via pads on a blue PCB

Take a look at the above image of a PCB layout, specifically the vias and drill holes poking through the silkscreen. It's quite clear that some of these vias are off-center, meaning the drill hit that created these vias was not dead-center in the receiving land. This leaves behind an annular ring, something which might be considered a defect in certain IPC product classes. Under the IPC standards for rigid boards, we have several possible fabrication characteristics that could be considered defects in different types of boards (HDI, flex, etc.); annular rings are just one of many possible structural characteristics that could be considered defects.

Designers often conflate leftover annular ring and pad sizes, something for which I am guilty of. However, the two are related; designers need to place a sufficiently large pad size on the surface layer to ensure that the annular ring that is leftover during fabrication will be large enough. As long as the annular ring is sufficiently large, the drill hit will not be considered defective and the board will have passed inspection.

In the IPC-2221 standards, annular rings are applied universally for Class 1-3 products. In the newer IPC-6012 standards, breakout is allowed for all but class 3 products. In this article, I'll discuss the limits on IPC-6012 Class 3 annular rings as these are a standard fabrication requirement for high-reliability rigid PCBs.

IPC-6012 Class 3 Annular Ring Size

The IPC standards define three product classifications (Class 1, Class 2 and Class 3) based on the required level of device reliability. Each of these classes carries its own guidelines performance and qualification requirements for fabrication, cleaning, and inspection of PCBs. Issues such as component placement, via hole plating, residual contaminants, trace sizes, and other considerations in the PCBA are all addressed in the standards for each of these classes.

In order for a fabricated plated through-hole via to be accepted after fabrication, we have to ensure that the leftover annular ring in each IP Class will be sufficiently large. Therefore, the exercise of "sizing" an annular ring is really one of picking the right land size for your via. As long as your lands on your vias are large enough, then you have successfully accommodated fabrication tolerances in your PCB.

Annular Rings Visualized

The diagram below shows how a leftover annular ring arises during drilling in the PCB fabrication process. The image on the left shows breakout, which is allowed under the IPC-6012 standards but not under the IPC-2221A standard. IPC-6012 is the primary qualification standard in use for rigid PCBs, so it should be considered when sizing pads and vias, and the Class 3 annular ring limits are consistent across the two standards.

IPC 6012 Class 3 annular ring limit
IPC Class 3 products require some leftover annular ring in order to be considered successfully fabricated.

The annular ring is measured in two ways for external and internal layers:

  • For external layers, the annular ring is measured from the edge of the via wall plating to the edge of the pad.
  • For internal layers, the annular ring is measured from the edge of the drilled hole to the edge of the pad.

This means the two values will be different by the plating thickness, which is a minimum of 0.8 mil for Class 1 and 2, or 1 mil for Class 3. Most fabricators will plate unfilled plated through-hole vias slightly thicker than the minimum Class 3 plating thickness of 1 mil in their products (see Table 3-2 in the IPC-6012 standard for minimum hole wall plating requirements in mechanically drilled holes).

Minimum Annular Ring Size Requirements

Under IPC-6012, Class 3 products require some leftover annular ring, while Class 1 and Class 2 products allow some breakout.

Product Class

6012, External layers

6012, Internal layers

Class 1

Less than 180° breakout

No less than 20% pad-trace width reduction

Class 2

Less than 90° breakout

90° breakout allowed

Class 3

2 mil

1 mil

As we can see, according to IPC 6012 standards, only Class 3 carries an appreciable annular ring requirement. To ensure some level of reliability on Class 2 and Class 1 products, I like to state that the leftover annular ring should be 0 mil (internal layers) or equal to the plating thickness (external layers). This will cause you to meet a tangency condition where the annular ring just touches the edge of the pad, so there will be no breakout and the design will be considered fabricated successfully.

Calculating Pad Size From Annular Ring Size

The pad or land size can be calculated with the simple equation L = a + 2b + c, where a = drill hole (internal) or finished hole (external) diameter, b = minimum annular ring size, and c = fabrication allowance. Think of c as the allowed wander in the CNC drill. Most fabricators will (or should) aim for Class C fabrication allowances, which is the highest classification and carries a limit of c = 8 mil (see Table 1.6.3 in the IPC-2221 standard for fabrication allowance classifications, you can download a copy from my site). From the above table and formula, we can now calculate the annular ring requirement for an example 12 mil via.

Suppose you want to place a 12 mil diameter via in a Class 3 product. According to the above plating requirements I mentioned, the finished hole will only be 10 mil diameter. With these values, we can now calculate the minimum annular ring size for a Class 3 product, assuming a Class C fabrication allowance. We would have:

  • Internal layer minimum pad size: L = 12 mil + (2 x 1 mil) + 8 mil = 22 mil
  • External layer minimum pad size: L = 10 mil + (2 x 2 mil) + 8 mil = 22 mil

So we can see that, because the plating is set to a minimum of 1 mil, we can set the minimum via land size to (via diameter) + 10 mil for all layers. This is regarded as the "safest" approach to sizing vias and pads so that you comply with IPC-6012 Class 3 annular ring requirements.

What about Class 1 and 2 pad sizes? Take a look at these guidelines:

  • For Class 3 products, we take b = 2 mil for external annular rings and b = 1 mil for internal annular rings
  • For Class 1 and 2 products, we would technically have b < 0, so to be safe you should size the pad using b = 0 internally and b = via wall thickness (1 mil) in the above formula

Therefore, if we just require 1 mil hole wall plating thickness in all classes, we could comfortably say that the via land size is (via diameter) + 8 mil.

Summary and Teardrops

Hopefully, this illustrates a basic safest-possible guideline a designer can follow when placing vias and selecting pad sizes. The (via diameter) + 10 mil for Class 3 and (via diameter) + 8 mil for Class 1/2 guidelines will be fabricable by probably every manufacturer on the planet, and this is the approach I take when sizing vias and pads.

Just for added reliability in Class 3 products, I always add teardrops to via pads, especially when the trace is thin and there is a risk that the drill hole will sever the trace from the pad. This provides an extra measure of reliability that you might need when routing on an internal layer with controlled impedance traces. Such an example situation might require thinner traces to hit your impedance target, and adding the teardrop to the via pad is an easy way to ensure reliability rather than decreasing the hole size. At some point, with thin dielectrics and thin traces, you can't decrease the mechanical drill size anymore and you will have to use teardrops to ensure reliability.

IPC 6012 Class 3 annular ring drill diameter


When you need to design your PCB vias and routing to ensure you comply with IPC-6012 Class 3 annular ring standards, use the padstack design and routing features in Altium Designer®. Once your design is ready for a thorough design review and manufacturing, your team can share and collaborate in real time through the Altium 365 platform. Design teams can use Altium 365 to share manufacturing data, project files, and design reviews through a secure cloud platform and in Altium Designer.

We have only scratched the surface of what’s possible with Altium Designer on Altium 365. Start your free trial of Altium Designer + Altium 365 today.

About Author

About Author

Zachariah Peterson has an extensive technical background in academia and industry. He currently provides research, design, and marketing services to companies in the electronics industry. Prior to working in the PCB industry, he taught at Portland State University and conducted research on random laser theory, materials, and stability. His background in scientific research spans topics in nanoparticle lasers, electronic and optoelectronic semiconductor devices, environmental sensors, and stochastics. His work has been published in over a dozen peer-reviewed journals and conference proceedings, and he has written 1000+ technical blogs on PCB design for a number of companies. He is a member of IEEE Photonics Society, IEEE Electronics Packaging Society, American Physical Society, and the Printed Circuit Engineering Association (PCEA), and he previously served on the INCITS Quantum Computing Technical Advisory Committee.

Recent Articles

Back to Home