What’s the right term – PCB or PWB?

I saw this mini-discussion on Circuit Mart this morning. With the amount of communications coming into and going out from IPC, this is a challenge for the staff. We’ve actually met and decided that printed board is our preferred term in most cases. Of course, it’s a challenge with so much material coming in from volunteers worldwide.

The response from IPC Director of Certification Jack Crawford below is a good summary of all the varieties. Makes me think of tomato, tomahto.

“This question has been discussed numerous times at IPC meetings and usually enables a fair amount of emotion.

All of the following are possible uses, depending on your age, geographic location (slang usage), and where/how you got your training. I’m sure there are more.

PB – printed board. the most generic term for a bare board

PWB – printed wiring board, one of the first uses when the issue was only a point to point connection.

PCB – printed circuit board, where the width, side to side and multi-layer relationship(spacing) of conductor runs has or is designed to have a specific effect on circuit operation other than just a point to point connection. Circuit impedance is a primary issue. In approximately 1999 the IPC Technical Activities Executive Committee made a mandate to only use the term PCB for all new document development because more often than not the printed circuitry design will have an impact on function.

PWA – printed wire assembly – older use

PCA – printed circuit assembly – logical to use with the 1999 change to PCB.

PCBA – printed circuit board assembly – multiplerequests/comments (strong push) from users and technical committees in Asia and Europe to use this as the preferred term.

Embedded active or passive components opens up a whole new range of possibilities as well.

While it would be good to have a single term (or pair of terms for bare boards and assemblies) reality is that there are many IPCdocuments of various age using different terms and many more book and magazine article authors, conference lecturers, etc., that pretty much use whatever term they are most comfortable with.

If preparing a document; it would be appropriate to use a term that most of the expected users would understand. In the world of electronics technology, it would seem that most usersshould be able to understand the content when any of these terms are used.”

Jack Crawford Jack Crawford, Director – Certification & Assembly Technology

Mr. Crawford is Director of Certification and Assembly Technology for IPC. He is technical liaison to the IPC committees that maintain critical industry standards and has presented numerous papers internationally.


  1. Posted June 20, 2012 at 11:34 am | Permalink

    Interesting post.

    Over the years I’ve heard many variants and have concluded that everyone will has preferences. I just go with the flow.

    I would like to add a couple more to the list:

    I agree PWB is one of the first uses. I once saw some very old literature in the Western Electric company library referring to PWBs (1940s to 1950s). This goes back to the days when boards were made of metal and thick epoxy coatings. Traces and eyelets were added for connecting and mounting components. Great fun.

    Western Elec. also distinguished a PWB from a component-loaded board by calling it a “Circuit Pack” or CP. For example CP101 would be circuit pack #101.

    I have found there are also companies who use in-house terminology, possibly invented long ago. Today, I heard someone mention refer to “E&D” as an abbreviation for “etch and drill”, implying this is the bare board with no components.

    And there you go, another term “bare board” vs. “loaded board”.


  2. Posted June 20, 2012 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

    Thanks Doug. Such is the way with technology, I guess.

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