Ask Hackaday: What Color Are Your PCBs?

A decade ago, buying a custom-printed circuit board meant paying a fortune and possibly even using a board house’s proprietary software to design the PCB. Now, we all have powerful, independent tools to design circuit boards, and there are a hundred factories in China that will take your Gerbers and send you ten copies of your board for pennies per square inch. We are living in a golden age of printed circuit boards, and they come in a rainbow of colors. This raises the question: which color soldermask is most popular, which is most desirable, and why? Seeed Studio, a Chinese PCB house, recently ran a poll on the most popular colors of soldermask. This was compared to their actual sales data. Which PCB color is the most popular? It depends on who you ask, and how you ask it.

But first, let’s examine the rainbow of PCB options. Seeed’s Fusion PCB service offers six different colors of soldermask for every PCB order: white, black, red, blue, green, or yellow. These are the colors you’ll find at most board houses, and remain constant with few exceptions; OSH Park only offers purple, but you can get purple from a few other manufacturers. There are rumors of orange soldermask. Matte black and matte green are generally the seventh and eighth colors available from any PCB manufacturer. We’ve seen pink PCBs in the wild, as well.

I just so happened to order PCB color swatches from Seeed last month for an unrelated project.

Seeed’s service, unlike most others, doesn’t include an upcharge for colors other than green, so in some sense it makes the ideal experiment. In their poll, Seeed asked customers what color soldermask was their favorite. Black soldermask topped the list, closely followed by blue. Green picked up third, red was a bit behind green, and white and yellow combined barely made a dent in the numbers. But when you look at actual Seeed Fusion PCB orders, a significant difference is revealed. By far, the most popular color of soldermask ordered on Seeed’s service is green, comprising nearly half of all orders. Black was the second-most popular color ordered, followed by blue, red, white, and yellow.

Yellow is a terrible soldermask color

The fact that there’s a difference between what people say they want and what they will buy should come as no surprise to anyone. The reason for this difference is worthy of discussion, though. The traditional color for soldermask is green because it performs better and because ‘slightly different shades of green’ lend themselves better to visual inspection than other colors.

Green is also the default color when ordering through Seeed’s Fusion service, and if someone just wants a working PCB, they probably don’t care too much about the color. This would easily explain its higher rank among all orders, but its lower rank among people who had color preferences.

However, the popularity of green soldermask says nothing about the relative popularity of black and blue versus yellow soldermask. Why are blue and black soldermask so popular when white and yellow soldermask is so unpopular? While traces are exquisitely visible on yellow, I would suggest that the fact that Seeed’s yellow PCBs come with white silkscreen makes it difficult to read any names or part numbers on a yellow PCB. White soldermask, however, looks really good and provides a great contrast for the black silkscreen. It’s just nearly impossible to follow a copper trace.

So, we’re opening up the comments. What color do you use for your printed circuit boards? Do you go for pure performance, or do artistic concerns weigh in? If you’ve ever done anything artistic with yellow soldermask, what was it? Does picking green for your soldermask mean you’re lazy? This is an Ask Hackaday, so put your thoughts below.

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