High current PCB design

High current PCBs are printed circuit boards designed to safely distribute and control large amounts of electrical current within an electronic system. Where a typical PCB handles current levels up to 5-10A, high current PCBs can manage currents from 50-100A up to 1000A or more flowing through conductor traces. They enable complex power electronics and high power devices to be efficiently packaged.

High current PCB design demands managing sizable thermal loads and IR power losses. It requires the use of robust board and layout techniques to create reliable, long-lasting circuitry. When done effectively, high current PCBs unlock substantial applications requiring compact, customized power distribution solutions.

Design Considerations

To translate a high current system concept into a manufacturable PCB assembly, designers must make considerations in a number of key areas:

Power Supply

  • Selecting Appropriate      voltage/current rated power modules

  • Planning stable power input      conditioning

  • Allowing sufficient cooling of      converters

Conductor Sizing

  • Using appropriately sized copper      weights for current levels

  • Minimizing impedances for lowest      losses

  • Allowing for temperature rise at      load

Trace Routing

  • Utilizing shortest path between      terminals

  • Minimizing 90° bend angles

  • Sufficient spacing between      neighboring traces

Thermal Management

  • Calculating potential trace      temperature rise

  • Incorporating thermal reliefs and      thermal breaks

  • Allowing for sufficient conductor      heat sinking

Safety and Protection

  • Preventing access to live      terminals and bus nodes

  • Incorporating current monitoring      instrumentation

  • Adding fusing/protection elements

High Current PCB Materials

Choosing suitable PCB materials is essential to handle the demands of high current applications:


  • FR-4 Glass Reinforced Epoxy - Cost effective; usable to ~50A.

  • Polyimide - Excellent thermal performance for high temp flexibility      applications.

  • Aluminum - Direct bond substrate for highest thermal capacitance.

  • Ceramic - High dielectric insulation properties. Withstands 1000+A.

Copper Weights

Higher copper thicknesses used to minimize resistances and supply current capacity

  • 1oz (35um) copper - Only usable for very low current applications.

  • 2oz (70um) copper - Marginal current handling; minimal heat spreading.

  • 3oz+ (105um+) copper - Preferred for high current PCBs carrying 50A+.


  • Immersion Tin - Most common final finish providing excellent solderability.

  • ENIG -      Withstands high current flow but thick gold inhibits heat transfer.

  • HASL -      Lead-tin plating builds copper thickness; efficient cooling.

Layout Techniques

High current PCB layouts utilize various routing arrangements to effectively distribute large currents:

Layout StyleDescriptionStar DistributionSeparate paths radiating from central power pointDaisy ChainingSerial conductor loops strung between terminalsPower PlanesSolid copper fill areas for spreading current in 2D areaBus BarLinear row of joined pads forming high current backboneHybridMixing different distribution patterns on same board

Common high current layout practices:

  • Minimize overall trace lengths      using optimal component placement

  • Use impedance-matched symmetrical      trace splitting from nodes

  • Connect multiple vias in parallel      to share current loads

  • Expand contact areas to lower      interface resistances

Representative Applications

Some of the key application areas utilizing high current PCB technology include:

LED Lighting

  • Drive hundreds of watts into      massive LED arrays

  • Manage heat flux from high power      solid state lighting

Power Distribution

  • Replace bulky wiring harnesses and      buswork

  • Route battery/converter outputs

Motor Drives

  • Switch high DC currents in      electric vehicle systems

  • Distribute three phase outputs to      control industrial motors

Power Conversion

  • Connect high current ports in VFDs      and AC/DC converters

  • Provide precision current sensing      and measurement

Battery Management Systems

  • Route currents in electric vehicle      charging systems

  • Monitor cell-level      voltages/currents in battery packs

Thermal Considerations

The passage of high currents through printed circuitry results in resistive power losses and temperature rises which must be dissipated through adequate cooling provisions:

Sources of Heat

  • I<sup>2</sup>R losses - Joule heating from currents through metal resistances

  • Magnetic losses - Hysteresis and eddy currents in components

  • Dielectric losses - Leakage current flows across insulating substrates

Impact of Temperature

  • Thermal expansion and mechanical      stresses

  • Decreased electrical/thermal      conductivity

  • Accelerated chemical degradation      mechanisms

Cooling Methods

  • Conduction cooling - Heat sink attachments to spread heat

  • Convection cooling - Fans blowing air over circuits

  • Liquid cooling - Cold plates, embedded heat pipes

Adequate thermal design ensures conductors remain within safe operating temperatures and prevents thermomechanical damage.

Design Verification

Prior to full scale production, high current PCB designs require rigorous verification:


  • Predict current density      distribution and resistive voltage drops

  • Estimate maximum temperature rises      under load


  • Validate assembly procedures and      workmanship quality

  • Confirm proper interconnection      functionality


  • Monitor heat profiles using      thermal imaging cameras

  • Quantify voltage drops across      transmission paths

  • Assess insulation resistance and      dielectric strength

  • Verify operation during long      duration power cycling

Iterative testing enables incremental optimization of layouts, materials selections and fabrication approaches.

Future Outlook

Emergent wide bandgap semiconductor technologies including SiC and GaN will enable higher frequency, higher efficiency power electronics. This drives demands for improved high current PCB solutions. Continued materials advancements and modeling sophistication will facilitate reliably routing thousands of amps through printed circuits.


With careful planning and verification, high current PCB technology provides a customizable framework for efficiently distributing and controlling large electric currents. When layout considerations are married with appropriate materials selections, thermal management provisions and design testing, printed circuits can manage currents exceeding 1000A in advanced power electronic systems.

Frequently Asked Questions

What design tools are used?

High current PCB layouts leverage specialized modelling features within major EDA software platforms to accurately represent thermal profiles and specify constrained topologies. Advanced verification occurs through linked electrical, thermal and mechanical modelling tools.

What fabrication challenges exist?

Fabricating high current PCBs requires advanced processes to meet minimum copper thickness requirements, ensure interlaminar bond integrity, minimize burring, and properly plate/coat conductors. Careful process control prevents defects which lead to hotspots.

Is post fabrication machining used?

For extremely high current applications, additional machining like edge milling or copper shaping may be applied after standard PCB fabrication to further increase conduction area and customize current terminals.

How are components attached?

Attaching discrete components to high current pads demands very robust, low resistance soldering or bonding approaches. Reflow soldering may be supplemented with selective hand soldering. Direct bonded copper and active solders provide ideal interconnections.

What inspection modalities are used?

Inspection requires verifying copper integrity across the entire high current conduction path. X-ray imaging modalities allow inspection through overlaying structures to completely examine buried features. Thermal profiling under load highlights defects before product shipment.