Flexible PCB Cost: The Ultimate Guide


Oakley Mae

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Flexible PCB cost will influence many decisions you make, including the choice of manufacturer and the use case.

Undoubtedly, given a chance, you will choose a flexible PCB manufacturer that produces cheaper PCBs.

Similarly, most expensive flex circuit boards are designed with high-quality features that support use in harsh conditions. 

Generally, flexible PCBs cost more than rigid circuit boards.

Fortunately, there are practices you can implement to reduce flex PCB costs. 

In this piece, we highlight everything about flexible PCB costs. Read on. 

Table of Contents

What’s a flexible PCB?

A flexible PCB is a circuit board that can bend or fold without experiencing damage.

And in most cases, these boards have unique fabrication, design, and applications different from rigid boards.

Case example, since you can fold them, it becomes easy to fit them in tight spaces.

Therefore, manufacturers prefer using flexible boards in designing wearables. 

When developing these boards, you bond metallic copper layer traces on a dielectric polyimide layer.

Also, you use different bonding mechanisms, including vapor depositions and adhesives, to hold the layer together. 

And since copper oxidizes when you leave it open, you must cover it with protective layers of solder or gold.

But since gold is expensive, most manufacturers prefer to solder. 

The Cost of Flex PCB

A stock photo close view of flexible PCB

(A stock photo close view of flexible PCB)

There is no constant price for flexible circuit boards.

In most cases, the price varies depending on several factors, including the manufacturer and board size.

However, you should have at least 50 cents to $300 to purchase a reliable circuit board. 

Some manufacturers give a major discount if you purchase in mass.

Regarding production costs, flexible boards are higher than rigid boards.

We can attribute this to the complex technology that goes into developing them. 

Factors Affecting Flexible PCB Cost

Closeup electronic flexible PCB

(Closeup electronic flexible PCB)

There are several factors affecting flexible PCB cost, as we’ll highlight below:

Material Choice

If the manufacturer employs a high-quality material to design circuit boards, expect the cost to be high.

However, factors such as strength, thermal stability, and flexibility determine the actual cost of a material. 

In some cases, the material thickness also significantly affects cost.

The main material for circuit boards includes flexible FR-4, fiberglass laminate, and epoxy laminate. Some factors impacting materials are: 

  • Mechanical properties like shear strength and bending strength
  • Signal performance, including coupling, infrared radiation, and Raman scattering
  • Heat transfer
  • Thermal reliability
  • Temperature reliability

Circuit Board Size

The size of a circuit board will determine the components it’ll hold.

Generally, a larger board means more effort and time goes into development.

Also, it shows that more materials were employed in the development.

Therefore, a higher area represents a higher cost if the cost is taken per square area. 

The Number of Layers

A flexible circuit can be single-layer, double-layer, or multi-layer.

A single-layer PCB means that only a single layer was used during development, while two were used for a double layer.

A multi-layer board can have at least three layers. 

Isn’t it obvious that the higher the number of layers, the higher the cost of manufacturing the PCB?

And if a manufacturer uses more money for manufacturing, they’ll automatically transfer the same cost to the buyer. 

Circuit Board Finish

After you complete circuit board manufacturing, you must finish it to improve the PCB’s overall properties.

A good example is finishing the board with a transparent layer to allow light transmission.

Also, if you want your PCB to be more transparent, you need more materials.

And since finishing adds an extra layer to the board, it increases the overall PCB cost. 

The common finishing process involves the following: 

Size of hole

Circuit board with holes

(Circuit board with holes)

The circuit board holes should be big enough to allow components through.

There is some process that we do manually and others that are automatic.

However, larger holes are easier to assemble than small ones.

Small holes need more precision, accuracy, and complex equipment.

Therefore, expect the hole size to affect the overall PCB cost. 

The hole size will depend on the following:

  • Hole drilling since you can use rectangular or circular holes
  • Laser cutting
  • Manual or automatic drilling

Minimum Trace and Space

Green PCB layout tracks

(Green PCB layout tracks)

These two touches on the copper line size and the distance between the copper layers.

Therefore, the trace represents the copper line width while the space represents the distance between two layers.

To eliminate cases of the ghosting effect, use a 90% trace width of the PCB available signal. 

PCB Thickness and Aspect Ratio

The aspect ratio is PCB length-to-width ratio.

Most circuit boards have a width of 3.2 mils; anything extra means spending more on materials.

Therefore, the thicker the circuit board, the more it’ll cost to manufacture and buy. 

Custom or Unique Specification

Manufacturers allow customers to specify what they want them to design and manufacture.

Therefore, you can take this opportunity to request additional unique features. However, such unique and custom features come at an extra cost. 

Normally, the flexible PCB essential features include: 

  • Voltage divider
  • Resistors
  • Power, ground, and signal
  • Connectors
  • Varistors
  • Capacitors
  • Inductors

Tips for Reducing Flexible PCB Cost

An engineer working in a lab

(An engineer working in a lab)

How does it feel knowing that the power to reduce PCB cost is within your hand?

Well, you can follow the tips below to achieve this:

  • First, use the different parts and aspects you use to create circuit boards over each other. 
  • Secondly, create a small-sized circuit board to save on materials. Also, it reduces the amount of copper laminate, thus reducing the overall cost. 
  • Thirdly, in the case of PCB mass production, use fewer parts. Therefore, consider using single-sided boards as opposed to double-sided options. 
  • Fourthly, you should employ simple assembly-run requirements.
  • Also, buying long-lasting circuit boards will save costs in the long term. This means buying products with coatings. Although they might appear expensive, the lack of repairs and replacements saves you more money. 
  • Moreover, manufacturing costs increase with the availability of human errors. Therefore, you should work to minimize these errors in the design and fabrication processes. 
  • Limit the testing costs by eliminating errors during fabrication.
  • Furthermore, you must minimize the controlled impedance requirements
  • Finally, it would be best if you embraced specialized processing.

Why are flexible PCBs more expensive than other PCB types?

You might be wondering why flexible PCBs cost more than other types. Below are the answers: 

High-density features: Generally, flexible PCBs are designed with high-density features such as microvias.

Such features give the circuit boards improved IC usage, reliability, and high electrical performance. 

Expensive materials: Flexible circuit boards use more expensive materials than traditional boards.

And even though they employ common copper materials, they also use thick polyimide films, copper clad-laminate, and no flow prepregs.

Complex assembly: Designing and creating circuit boards that bend without breaking is no joke.

Also, it would be best to have complex software to design flex PCBs. And apart from using complex materials, the process follows complex steps, thus costing more to produce circuit boards. 

How is flex PCB price compared to rigid PCB?

The overall cost of manufacturing and buying flexible circuit boards is higher than rigid boards.

We can attribute this to the complex flexible manufacturing process that requires more equipment and expertise. 

However, regarding assembly charges, we still consider flexible PCBs cost-effective.

These boards are smaller and have fewer connections, thus using fewer materials. 

Final Verdict

From our experience in the circuit board industry, we understand that flexible circuit boards cost more than rigid ones.

However, to get a high-performance and top-quality product, have between 50 cents and $300. 

As we’ve seen, the circuit board cost depends on factors like material choice, hole size, the board size, and the number of layers.

In addition, it also depends on board thickness, unique specifications, and circuit board finish. 

If you want to reduce PCB costs, don’t ignore our tips above.

But don’t let the higher cost of any circuit board prevent you from finishing your project.