What is PCB Impedance?
PCB impedance is a crucial factor in designing highspeed electronic circuits. It refers to the opposition to the flow of alternating current (AC) in a printed circuit board (PCB) trace. Impedance is measured in ohms (Ω) and is affected by various factors such as the trace width, thickness, and the dielectric constant of the PCB material.
Controlling PCB impedance is essential for maintaining signal integrity and reducing signal reflections, which can cause distortion and errors in highspeed digital systems. By carefully designing PCB traces with the correct impedance, engineers can ensure that signals propagate smoothly and reliably throughout the circuit.
Factors Affecting PCB Impedance
Several factors influence the impedance of a PCB trace:

Trace width: The width of the copper trace on the PCB. Wider traces have lower impedance, while narrower traces have higher impedance.

Trace thickness: The thickness of the copper trace. Thicker traces have lower impedance, while thinner traces have higher impedance.

Dielectric constant: The dielectric constant (Dk) of the PCB material determines how much the electric field is affected by the material. Materials with higher Dk values, such as FR4, result in lower impedance traces.

Dielectric thickness: The thickness of the dielectric material between the trace and the reference plane (usually ground or power plane). Thicker dielectric layers result in higher impedance traces.

Trace geometry: The shape of the trace, such as microstrip (trace on the outer layer) or stripline (trace embedded between layers), affects the impedance.

Frequency: The frequency of the signal propagating through the trace. At higher frequencies, the impedance of the trace becomes more significant.
PCB Impedance Calculator
To calculate the impedance of a PCB trace, engineers often use a PCB impedance calculator. These calculators take into account the various factors mentioned above and provide an estimate of the trace impedance based on the input parameters.
Here’s an example of how to use a PCB impedance calculator:
 Select the trace geometry (e.g., microstrip or stripline).
 Enter the trace width and thickness.
 Specify the dielectric constant and thickness of the PCB material.
 Enter the desired characteristic impedance (e.g., 50Ω or 100Ω).
 The calculator will output the required trace dimensions to achieve the target impedance.
Some popular online PCB impedance calculators include:
 EEWeb PCB Impedance Calculator
 Saturn PCB Toolkit Impedance Calculator
 Altium Designer Impedance Calculator
Here’s an example of a table comparing the impedance of different trace geometries:
Trace Geometry  Trace Width (mm)  Trace Thickness (mm)  Dielectric Constant  Dielectric Thickness (mm)  Impedance (Ω) 

Microstrip  0.2  0.035  4.5  0.2  70.8 
Stripline  0.2  0.035  4.5  0.2  50.0 
Microstrip  0.5  0.035  4.5  0.2  50.0 
Stripline  0.5  0.035  4.5  0.2  35.4 
Impedance Matching
Impedance matching is the process of designing PCB traces and components to ensure that the impedance of the source, trace, and load are equal. When impedances are matched, signal reflections are minimized, and maximum power transfer occurs.
Here are some techniques for impedance matching:

Termination resistors: Adding termination resistors at the end of a trace can help match the impedance of the trace to the load. Common termination schemes include series termination, parallel termination, and Thevenin termination.

Impedancecontrolled traces: Designing PCB traces with a specific impedance (e.g., 50Ω or 100Ω) ensures that they match the impedance of the source and load components.

Impedancematching networks: In some cases, discrete components such as inductors and capacitors can be used to create impedancematching networks that transform the impedance of the load to match the source.
Measuring PCB Impedance
After designing and fabricating a PCB, it’s essential to measure the actual impedance of the traces to ensure they meet the desired specifications. There are several methods for measuring PCB impedance:

Time Domain Reflectometry (TDR): TDR measures the impedance of a trace by sending a fastrising pulse down the trace and analyzing the reflections. By measuring the amplitude and timing of the reflections, the impedance profile of the trace can be determined.

Frequency Domain Reflectometry (FDR): FDR measures the impedance of a trace by sweeping a range of frequencies and measuring the reflected energy at each frequency. This method provides information about the impedance of the trace across a wide frequency range.

Vector Network Analyzer (VNA): A VNA measures the Sparameters of a PCB trace, which characterize the reflection and transmission properties of the trace. From the Sparameters, the impedance of the trace can be calculated.
Designing for Impedance Control
When designing PCBs for highspeed applications, it’s crucial to consider impedance control from the start. Here are some tips for designing PCBs with controlled impedance:

Define impedance requirements: Determine the target impedance for the traces based on the system requirements and the components being used.

Choose appropriate PCB materials: Select PCB materials with suitable dielectric constants and thicknesses to achieve the desired impedance.

Use impedance calculators: Utilize PCB impedance calculators to determine the trace dimensions required to achieve the target impedance.

Follow layout guidelines: Adhere to layout guidelines for highspeed designs, such as maintaining consistent trace widths and spacings, avoiding sharp bends, and providing adequate ground planes.

Simulate and verify: Use PCB design software with builtin impedance simulation tools to verify that the traces meet the impedance requirements before fabrication.

Specify impedance requirements to the manufacturer: When ordering PCBs, clearly specify the impedance requirements to the manufacturer to ensure they use the appropriate materials and processes.
FAQ

What is the difference between microstrip and stripline traces?
Microstrip traces are located on the outer layers of a PCB, with a single reference plane beneath them. Stripline traces are embedded between two reference planes, typically in the inner layers of the PCB. Microstrip traces are easier to route but more susceptible to external noise, while stripline traces offer better signal integrity but are more challenging to route. 
How does the dielectric constant affect PCB impedance?
The dielectric constant (Dk) of the PCB material determines how much the electric field is affected by the material. A higher Dk value results in a lower impedance trace, as the electric field is more confined within the dielectric. Conversely, a lower Dk value results in a higher impedance trace. 
What is the purpose of impedance matching?
Impedance matching ensures that the impedance of the source, trace, and load are equal. When impedances are matched, signal reflections are minimized, and maximum power transfer occurs. This is crucial for maintaining signal integrity and reducing distortion in highspeed digital systems. 
What is the typical impedance for PCB traces in highspeed designs?
The most common characteristic impedances for PCB traces in highspeed designs are 50Ω and 100Ω. These values are chosen because they match the impedance of common connectors, cables, and components used in highspeed systems. 
What are some common methods for measuring PCB impedance?
Three common methods for measuring PCB impedance are Time Domain Reflectometry (TDR), Frequency Domain Reflectometry (FDR), and Vector Network Analysis (VNA). TDR measures impedance by sending a fastrising pulse down the trace and analyzing the reflections, while FDR sweeps a range of frequencies and measures the reflected energy. VNA measures the Sparameters of a trace to characterize its reflection and transmission properties.
In conclusion, calculating and controlling PCB impedance is essential for ensuring signal integrity and reliable operation in highspeed electronic systems. By using PCB impedance calculators, following design guidelines, and verifying impedance through measurements, engineers can create PCBs that meet the demanding requirements of modern highspeed applications.