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Understanding PCB Copper Weight and Thickness in Altium Designer

Zachariah Peterson
|  Created: April 9, 2020  |  Updated: November 14, 2020
Understanding PCB Copper Thickness in Altium Designer

Your design needs the best PCB design tools to accurately prepare it for error-free manufacturing; your design needs Altium Designer.


Officiating the process of getting your product from schematic to manufacturing with ease.

At one time it was a simple process for printed circuit board designers to get their design manufactured. Board sizes and layer stacks were more generic, and usually, someone else made all the hard layer configuration choices for you. It is a completely different game now with multi-layer PCB designs ranging from two to over thirty layers. In addition, trace widths, ground planes, hole sizes, substrate materials, characteristic impedance, dielectric constants, thermal resistance, and even solder mask and solder paste requirements can all have an impact on your circuit board’s stackup. You need to know those factors that will affect your PCB stackup design so that you can make the correct layer decisions upfront for your PCB layout.

To help we’ve included some PCB copper thickness guidelines below that will give you a better understanding of what you need to know in order to create the best possible layer stack for your design. Additionally, we will look at the tools and resources within Altium Designer that will help you to define your PCB design layer stack. Finally, we will look at the manufacturing side and help you to understand how Altium Designer can help you to create the documentation that your manufacturers will need in order to build your design.

What to Know about PCBs and Copper

There is a lot that goes into the fabrication of a printed circuit board, much more than the standard trace thickness, vias, and pads that we are familiar with as PCB designers. You need an accurate understanding of what is involved in a cross-sectional area of your design in order to specify the PCB materials and thickness that will be used in the construction of the final board. You may have a lot of questions on the process, such as what are standard sizes of PCB traces, how does copper weight impact printed circuit board production, and how thick is heavy copper on a Printed Circuit Board, and what is its relationship to heat and temperature rise? To help with these questions and to learn more about copper foil and copper plating, we have included three documents below to get you started. These will give you a better understanding of what goes into the creation of the PCB design layer stack and open the door to you for more research.

PCB Copper Thickness Guidelines

Don’t leave your PCB thickness down to short-term memory and information available on components. To create the perfect layer stack for your PCB design, you need as much information on PCB copper thickness guidelines as possible.

Screenshot of Altium Designer layer stack manager in PCB copper thickness

The Layer Stack Manager in Altium Designer will help you to set up your PCB layers accurately

Altium Designer Will Help Determine PCB Copper Thickness Questions

Once you’ve determined what the fabrication process will be for your PCB design and what configuration your board layer stack will be, you will need to assign those layers in your design system. Altium Designer gives you tools to help you determine what your layer stack should be, as well as a layer stack manager to assign materials to the layers and specify how thick the copper will be on your Printed Circuit Board. Once you’ve set it up, you will also find that Altium Designer gives you the best functionality for interactively routing traces on your PCB layers. Altium Designer has been created to help PCB designers like you to set up and accurately design printed circuit boards for the most error-free manufacturing possible.

PCB Copper Thickness Design

Whether it’s traces and trace width, pad size, or hole-size and cross-sectional area, you’ll want layout software that can make your circuit board get printed easily. Altium Designer gives you the ability to set up your design with the specific layer stack and copper weight specifications for fabrication.

Screenshot of Altium Designer Draftsman in PCB copper thickness

Altium Designer’s Draftsman will free up your time by auto-generating precision manufacturing drawings

Communicating Copper Weight and other Data to Your PCB Manufacturers

Setting up your design for precision is one part of the battle, and completing the design to your specifications is another part. There is still one more hurdle to overcome though, and that is in sending the correct and accurate Gerber files, drawings, and other design documents to your manufacturer. Once again, Altium Designer shines here with its ability to create and package the manufacturing documentation that you need in order to get your boards built as you want. Altium Designer gives you the functionality to panelize your designs, auto-generate manufacturing drawings, specify different design variants, and package them all up automatically in reusable configurable batch job output files.

Altium Designer Has the Tools You Need to Send Printed Circuit Board Designs to Your Fabricators

Ensure each pad is placed properly on whatever plane they are being placed on. Whether you’re working in units of mil or larger, Altium Designer has any feature you need to get your design produced.

A lot needs to go into your PCB design in order to get it manufactured with as few errors as possible. Altium Designer has the tools and functionality built into it to help you achieve this goal.

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 2500+ technical articles 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). He previously served as a voting member on the INCITS Quantum Computing Technical Advisory Committee working on technical standards for quantum electronics, and he currently serves on the IEEE P3186 Working Group focused on Port Interface Representing Photonic Signals Using SPICE-class Circuit Simulators.

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