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What Is a Solder Bridge? Best Practices in PCB Design

Zachariah Peterson
|  Created: October 5, 2020  |  Updated: March 10, 2021
Solder Bridge Jumper Best Practices in PCB Design

A PCB variant is often simply thought of as a new layout created from an old design. However, if you’re creative with your routing and layout, you can use a solder bridge jumper to configure portions of a single PCB layout for multiple variants. This lets you quickly create variants of a PCB layout without rerouting traces or changing your schematics. If you plan to use jumpers in your PCB layout, there are some important guidelines to follow to ensure you do not create other design problems. Let’s take a closer look at them and how they can quickly create variants of your design.

What is a Solder Bridge Jumper?

A solder bridge jumper in PCB design is simply a pair of pads on a PCB trace that can be easily bridged with a solder ball. You’ll get a much cleaner layout if you use 0 Ohm resistors to create the bridge; 0 Ohm resistors are very low cost and are available as surface-mount components. In some cases, a PCB jumper need not be solderable, as shown in the example below.

In the image below, I’ve placed bridged and unbridged PCB jumpers at specific points in the layout. Rather than worry about soldering or placing 0 Ohm resistors, I can quickly modify my layout to create a new variant by replacing a PCB bridged jumper with an unbridged PCB jumper, or vice versa. Even after the variant is produced, I can still configure my device by solder bridging any PCB jumpers after assembly.

 Solder bridge jumper in a PCB layout
Example bridged and unbridled solder jumpers in a PCB layout.

The CAD tools in your PCB design software can be used to easily create a schematic symbol and a PCB footprint for a solder bridge jumper. In the example above, I’ve created two symbols and PCB footprints; one pair is for the bridged jumper, and the other pair is for the unbridged PCB jumper. My schematic symbols for the PCB jumpers shown in the above layout can be seen in the image below. By simply swapping the bridged and unbridged jumpers, I can easily create a new board with different circuit blocks activated or deactivated.

Solder bridge jumper in a PCB layout
Schematic symbols for solder bridge jumpers.

Why Use a Solder Bridge Jumper?

Well, they are a great way to make a board configurable. By “configurable,” I mean that a single board design can be produced with defined layout and routing, but the signal paths involved can be chosen during assembly. A designer can create a PCB bridge layout that is used for multiple variants by carefully selecting where to place different PCB jumpers.

They can be placed on different signal paths to open or close a circuit, depending on if it is needed for a particular peripheral. To close the PCB jumper, simply place a small amount of solder paste between the two pads to be bridged. This creates a closed circuit and allows current to flow across the PCB jumper to a downstream component. This takes a bit of creative routing on the front end. Still, it allows the designer to create multiple variants of a single layout, rather than producing additional layouts for each variant.

You might want to use a solder bridge jumper to easily turn on a particular circuit block. In a recent project, we used multiple to create prototypes and production variants using the same layout. Merely opening or closing a PCB bridge allows you to activate or deactivate a component, circuit block, or connection to a peripheral.

Some Best Practices on the How to Solder Bridge Jumpers

The most important thing to think about when choosing to place them in your layout is who will assemble your board, if you need to configure your board after assembly, or if your manufacturer can accommodate variants of the same board in a panel. If you’re using 0 Ohm resistors or you plan to solder your PCB jumper closed, your fabricator might act like the sky is falling when you ask them to DNP different components on different boards in the same panel. If you want to avoid a long explanation for your fabricator (as I recently experienced), you’re better off using the copper-bridged jumpers I’ve shown above.

You need to pay careful attention to routing in your schematic and PCB layout to make easy use of solder bridge jumpers. In addition, pay attention to the following design points.

Watch Out for Transmission Lines

If you plan to place a 0 Ohm resistor or solder on a transmission line, you should use it very close to the driver’s end. If the PCB jumper is placed far from the driver and left open, you’ve just created an open transmission line, which will act as an antenna at specific frequencies. Placing the jumper close to the driver ensures that the leftover copper will not act as a transmission line if the jumper is left open.

Avoid Solder Bridge Jumpers on High Voltage Lines

An open solder bridge jumper on a high-voltage line may violate IPC 2221B or IPC-9592B standards. This will happen if the distance between each end of the PCB jumper is very small. For safety and reliability’s sake, you should use a rugged switch or relay rated for the voltage/power in your board.

Solder Bridge Jumpers Are Not Reusable

If you plan to use solder bridge jumpers in your PCB layout, remember that they should not be reused, meaning they should not be repeatedly soldered and opened. You might get away with multiple placements and removals of a 0 Ohm resistor since you aren’t drawing solder across a gap on the PCB surface, but these should also not be reused.

If you know, you will need to open and close PCB jumpers repeatedly, use SMD jumper pins. You can then pull off the jumper design as needed. This is a good strategy when designing a first-run prototype, and you need to experiment with different operating modes or peripherals. You can still use standard solder bridge jumpers and PCB jumper pins in the same layout. Plastic jumpers are also useful for peripherals that will connect to your board over a pin header. You might not need to use one, depending on your routing and layout.

Solder bridge jumper and pin header with jumper
A jumper on a pin header is an easy way to configure circuitry.

If you want a convenient way to include solder bridge jumper designs in your PCB bridge, try using the powerful CAD tools in Altium Designer®. Altium Designer on Altium 365 delivers an unprecedented amount of integration to the electronics industry until now relegated to the world of software development, allowing designers to work from home and reach unprecedented levels of efficiency.

We have only scratched the surface of "what is a solder bridge jumper," and it's all possible to do with Altium Designer on Altium 365. You can check the product page for a more in-depth feature description or one of the On-Demand Webinars

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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